How One Woman Made a Career Change That Terrified Her (Would You?)
You spent your 20s working toward building your dream career, but now that you’re in your 30s, what do you do when you’ve, well, changed your mind? Or maybe you never quite figured it out, and you’re now ready to commit to something you’re passionate about, whether it’s a job, a city, or just a new way of life. To celebrate the career changes that can come at any age, we’re debuting a new series called Second Life. Each month, we’ll hear from women who got over their doubts and fears and made the biggest changes of their lives.
Why did Mia Saini Duchnowski, 34, give up a successful career as a TV reporter and anchor to launch a men's grooming brand? The MIT and Harvard Business School graduate shares matter-of-factly that when she would interview her colleagues who started billion-dollar businesses, she would wonder Why not me? Raise your hand if you've experienced this sentiment. We certainly have.
Also a mother of three, Mia tells us that she wanted to build something with a legacy component to it. In November 2016, she and co-founder Laura Lisowski Cox, 34, set out to do just that with the launch of Oars + Alps: a three-product line including a facial cleansing stick; a hydrating two-in-one facial moisturizer and eye cream; and an active armor deodorant. The female founders who started their company with $50,000 of their own money received $1.3 million in their first round of seed funding in June 2017.
Though the career change was successful, the decision to quit Bloomberg TV was scary. In our interview, Mia admits that it was terrifying to leave a stable, fun, and glamorous job. But she says, "If I wasn't going to do it now, I wasn't going to do it." Keep reading to learn what inspires the Chicago-based CEO to get out of bed every morning, and the advice she has for women who want to make a major change in their lives.
"Stop overanalyzing it, and just do it. It's always hard to identify the right time to do anything, and it's always going to be really scary."
MYDOMAINE: Where did you go to school, and what did you study?
MIA SAINI DUCHNOWSKI: I went to MIT. I studied computational neuroscience and civil engineering. I thought I was going to be a rocket scientist, which is why I did my internship working at NASA. And then I discovered finance and Wall Street in my third year at MIT, and I did an internship at Goldman Sachs. I fell in love with the fast-paced nature of the trading floor and took a job there after graduation.
MD: Before starting Oars + Alps, how long were you in your previous career?
MSD: There's an overall problem-solving theme to my career. I started a couple years out of college working at Goldman Sachs. I saw that people on TV were struggling to explain what was happening in the financial market, and I wanted to be a part of that change. So I applied and went to Harvard Business School. From there, I worked at Forbes as one of its first on-air video anchors, and then I joined Bloomberg TV.
MD: How did you make the shift to Oars + Alps?
MSD: By being on camera, I had access to some of the best skincare products, and my husband, who is very much a guy's guy, was always putting his fingers into my SPF moisturizer or eye cream… [Laura and I] quickly realized women are the gatekeepers to their husband's skin.
MD: Where does the name come from?
MSD: Oars because my husband is a professional rower, and Alps because both Laura's husband and my husband are avid snowboarders and skiers.
MD: In addition to the realization that women are the gatekeepers to their husband's skin, did you have any life-changing experiences that made you reevaluate your career path?
MSD: I was living in New York, and a couple things were happening. The first was I started realizing I was interviewing a lot of my friends on camera, and they were starting these billion-dollar businesses, and I would look at them thinking, I could do that. Why not me? The engineer in me wanted to create something from scratch and build something from the ground up. The second thing was I have little kids, and when you have kids, you realize you want to build something that has a legacy component to it. The timing was right. If I wasn't going to do it now, I wasn't going to do it. This was the time to do it, to build something.
MD: Was making the change scary at all?
MSD: It was terrifying to leave a stable job that's very fun and glamorous—I had my hair and makeup done every day—to do something where no one cares what I wear or if my hair is done. That was hard: to step away from the limelight, so to speak. I had access to interviewing some of the best people: billionaires, politicians, celebrities, and economists. To step away from that lifestyle was very hard. It wasn't easy at all. I saw this huge white space in men's grooming, and I knew I could be impactful in creating something that's better than what was out there.
"It was terrifying: to leave a stable job that's very fun and glamorous—I had my hair and makeup done every day—to do something where no one cares what I wear or if my hair is done."
MD: What makes you jump out of bed in the morning?
MSD: The fact that I am creating something that is bigger than myself, and I am working on changing the way men engage with skincare products and take care of their skin. My husband is prone to skin cancer: His grandfather has it, and his father has it. It's really important to me to get him and other guys to really think about how important it is to take care of their skin.
MD: What advice would you give women who want to start a new venture or make a career change after 10 years pursuing one career?
MSD: Stop overanalyzing it, and just do it. It's always hard to identify the right time to do anything, and it's always going to be really scary.
Would you give up a glamorous career to start from scratch? Why or why not? We'd love to hear from you!