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Career: Changing Lanes at 55

Gorham woman loses her job of 23 years and embarks on an 11-month job search that brought frustration, financial stress and left her reevaluating her professional relevance

By Melody Burri

Gretchen Daugherty loved her job of 23 years. It was a perfect fit for her lifestyle, paid well and allowed her to care for the unique needs of her young triplets and busy husband. Making a major career change was not on her list of things to do in 2015.

Because she could work about 90 percent of her job from her Gorham home, Daugherty could be around to make lunches and put kids on the bus, while tending to ongoing and significant family medical issues. The remaining 10 percent of her week was spent making sales calls to other large businesses to pitch products and ideas.

It was an ideal and very manageable situation for more than two decades. Which made it a bitter pill to swallow when Daugherty saw the three-generation family-owned company she loved begin to struggle, downsize and eventually be sold.

At 55 she was suddenly jobless and, after 23 years, without any of the tools needed to market herself.

Daugherty launched an aggressive, 11-month job search that brought frustration, financial stress, technical challenges, and left her reevaluating her professional relevance.

But after dead ends and disappointments, Daugherty’s work finally paid off, and she landed the role of her dreams in a brand new setting and new arena. Working for United Natural Foods, she now pitches ideas to one client: Wegmans.

She now works just two days a week from home and three days in Rochester at Wegmans’ corporate office. It’s a whole new world, said Daugherty, who’s now the primary breadwinner for her family.

“I went from selling lipsmackers and cosmetics to selling groceries,” said Daugherty. “When I first started, the learning curve was straight up. But this is the job that proves you can teach an old dog new tricks.”

Now she’s on the hunt to find new and unique products for Wegmans, like “almond butters, cricket flour, and ready-to-drink beverages.”

“I just love presenting new products and watching them get to the shelf,” she said.

For others facing a big career change — one they didn’t choose — Daugherty recommends talking with friends and family and getting the word out.

“Go to the New York State Department of Labor,” she said. “Sign up for one of the classes that help you update your resume, practice interview techniques, learn about social networking and new technology.”

One interview she had was particularly discouraging.

“I didn’t get the position because I was overqualified,” she said. “That’s disappointing when you know you could do the job, but it goes to someone younger.”

Find ways to keep yourself relevant, she said. Learn what’s trending in terms of job openings. And reinvent yourself for the next step in your professional journey, she said.

“At this point in my life I thought I‘d be kind of coasting through,” she said. “I thought I’d have 10 more years [before retiring], but I’m working harder than I ever have and I do love what I’m doing. The job keeps me sane.”

Family medical issues continue to be demanding, but Daugherty is taking it all in stride.

“With three kids, two dogs and a husband, it’s quite the ride,” she said.