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Trying Out New Careers: A Risk Worth Taking


Laura Engelhardt '95
Laura Engelhardt '95

When I arrived at Hamilton, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted for my future; I only knew three things: I was going to be a history/English double-major, I was NOT going to be a lawyer, and I was NEVER having children. So naturally, after majoring in German and theater, I’m now a lawyer with four children. Having goals for the future is a great way to structure your present, but be prepared for your dreams to change as you go along.

Studies show that the average American will have more than 11 different jobs in their lifetime. However, the data on the average number of different careers they will have is sparse. The truth is that most people will make at least one career shift in their lives, and many will make several. Depending on what you consider a career, I’ve already made a lot of career changes since graduating from Hamilton. 

My first career was teaching English as a second language in Germany. Then I moved back to New Jersey, where I taught ballroom dance and wrote plays. That’s three careers right there, even though I compressed them into a brief two-year period before law school. At my law school graduation, fellow classmates were surprised that I wanted to leave California to practice corporate finance (at the time, venture capital was booming and local firms were offering huge signing bonuses for new attorneys). But structuring debt sounded more interesting to me, so I headed to the center of finance to start my new career in New York City.

While I started out as a corporate finance attorney, I soon decided that I wanted to move into bankruptcy law, an area I still feel quite passionately about. But despite loving my practice, I knew I needed to make another switch when I decided to have children. At the time, the only work-life balance available at big law firms required you to sacrifice the kind of work you did in order to have regular hours. So I moved in-house, becoming a fixed income compliance officer at Goldman Sachs, and spent 11 years managing legal risk for practically every product area within the Securities Division — including Equities, and I finally began to appreciate its appeal to my former law school classmates.

A few years ago, I realized that I would need to adjust my work-life balance yet again, and quit full-time work in 2017. Since then, I founded Neutrality Now, a provider of dispute resolution services in New York and New Jersey. This summer, I published my first novel, Sirens Unbound

Life takes you down unexpected paths and every experience you have only adds to your skillset. I’m only in my mid-forties, but I’ve been an ESL teacher, a playwright, a dance teacher, and an author. I’ve been a corporate finance attorney, a bankruptcy lawyer, a compliance officer, a mediator, and an arbitrator. Trying out new careers is a risk, but one well worth taking.

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