Ulrike Rodrigues looks back on the two decades she spent working as a graphic designer in the print publishing field with fondness. But she was in her late 40s when she found herself with an outdated skill set in an industry that was evolving because of the digital revolution.
The avid cyclist took an unconventional approach when it came time to contemplate her next career move. She rented her condo on Vancouver’s east side and headed to India for a six-month solo bike trip.
“One of the best things I’ve ever done in my life for my career, for my learning, and for my spiritual growth is travel,” Ms. Rodrigues says. “When you travel and you see and experience what other people live with, it puts things into perspective. I came back feeling so blessed with what I have.”
She also came back with a clear idea of where she wanted to go professionally. Ms. Rodrigues, who has a bachelor of arts degree with a major in psychology from the University of Guelph, enrolled in the technical writing program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s School of Computing and Academic Studies. She earned her certificate in the spring of 2011 and started a new job the day after she graduated.
Her contract at a software company ended after nearly a year, but Ms. Rodrigues went on to land a job this past November in her dream industry: Now 51, she is the integrated Web-content co-ordinator at Live to Play Sports. Formerly Norco Products Ltd., the Port Coquitlam, B.C.-based company distributes premium bicycles, parts and accessories nationally.
The position, which involves the development of the organization’s online presence, called for someone with a passion for cycling and who possessed strong communication skills and advanced knowledge of Web technology.Ms. Rodrigues, who doesn’t own a car, submitted her résumé by e-mail but also made the somewhat treacherous 30-kilometre trek on her bike so that she could deliver her application in person. Although she’s not taking home the highest salary she’s ever earned, she says her retraining and career change have been worth it.
“Because it’s an industry that I love, I feel like I have a lot of energy, enthusiasm and passion to bring to the job, and hopefully that shows,” Ms. Rodrigues says. “I’m not afraid to start at a modest rate and prove my worth. There’s a lot to learn, and that has always been one of my rules – there has to be something I can learn.”
She admits that financing her education – as well as her many other travels over the years, which have included solo-cycling trips in Thailand and Laos – took some sacrifices. She borrowed money from her brother to go back to school, a loan that came complete with interest (albeit at a low rate) and a payment schedule. She paid it off before it was due.
She downsized in a big way, renting her condo (which she bought in the mid-1990s in Mount Pleasant, which wasn’t the gentrified, hip and pricey area it is today) and living with up to five roommates. Ms. Rodrigues also says living without a car has made for huge savings.
She began contributing to registered retirement savings plans in the early ’90s when the retail music company she was working for offered a matching RRSP program. She admits she’d never even contemplated putting money into such funds, but the firm’s comptroller urged her to do it. “She said, ‘If you don’t do it, it’s like turning down a raise. Trust me on this.’”
Ms. Rodrigues sees a financial adviser annually at the credit union that holds her mortgage. Aside from that, she says her financial strategy is fairly simple.
“My mother survived the war, so I learned, ‘Don’t spend what you don’t have,’ ” Ms. Rodrigues says. “It’s just common sense. I pay off my credit cards every month, because it just makes sense to me. I’m pragmatic, not materialistic.
“In the early ’90s, when I bought my condo, interest rates were low like they are now,” she adds. “I said to a realtor, ‘If you can find me a place to live where I’m paying the same for a mortgage as I do in rent I’d be crazy not to.’ I bought in at a reasonable rate with a down payment of $6,000. It doesn’t have a gas fireplace or granite counter tops, but it’s mine.”
Having embarked on a new career only recently, retirement is the last thing on Ms. Rodrigues’s mind. And her retirement will look quite different than most.
“In Thailand and Laos, I observed that an older person is well respected and can continue to work as a teacher,” she explains. “And when I was in India, I discovered that you can get by there for a fraction of the cost of living in Vancouver. So as I get older – we won’t call it retirement – I’d like to blend work and travel by doing contracts as a writer, ESL instructor, or whatever in warm, beautiful and inexpensive places. I can use my condo as a home base or sell it and live somewhere else. It doesn’t seem practical to retire here in Vancouver, with the increasing cost of living.
“I may not be object-rich,” Ms. Rodrigues adds, “but I feel very lucky and wealthy in other ways, and, dare I say, successful.”