January 3, 2010 in Features

Inland NW women change, recharge careers

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Christopher Anderson photo

Erica Curless sinks her hands into the shoulders of her horse Tuesday December 22, 2009 at her home in the Spokane Valley. Curless, a former journalist, has changed careers and after taking training is now involved in equine and canine massage therapy.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Pondering a radical change in 2010? Then read up right here. These two Inland Northwest women know about radical changes.

Shirley Bonuccelli, a former school librarian and financial planner, has an educational leadership doctoral degree from Gonzaga University. She now details cars. And loves it.

Erica Curless, a former journalist, now does therapeutic massage for horses and dogs. And loves it.

These women’s radical-change strategies can be adapted to any life alteration in 2010, large or small.

“You should follow your heart and make choices that will make you happy, even if they don’t make you rich or famous,” Curless says. “But you have to be realistic. Do your research.”

And Bonuccelli advises: “Plug your nose and jump in. People will criticize you, tease you, make fun. Don’t listen.”

Shirley Bonuccelli

Back story: Bonuccelli loved school and excelled at it. Bachelor’s degree from University of Washington in English education with a French and geology minor. Master’s degree in education from Eastern Washington University. And while going through a divorce 20 years ago, she went to Gonzaga University at night and on the weekends and earned a doctoral degree in educational leadership.

“Divorce therapy,” she says.

Career history: Taught middle school for three years in the late 1960s. Then stayed home five years with young son, Dominic. Owned the Lady Bug Boutique in Spokane and Sandpoint in the 1970s. Librarian at University High School from 1981 to 1998. Stockbroker and financial planner, 1998 to 2004. She retired at 58, but still wanted and needed to work.

Her change strategy: “At night,” she says, “I would make lists of the 11 descriptors of the perfect job for Shirley.” Here’s the list:

•No boss. “I’d had a boss my entire life – my father, my husband and in every job I ever had, a boss.”

•Physical exercise.

•Low set-up costs.

•No cubicle. “I am not a cubicle dweller. My spirit cannot be confined and soar.”

•Make a positive difference.

•Adequate profit.

•Quality, not quantity. “In the library, I’d have 120 kids in there at a time. In financial planning, you got paid according to the quantity of money you brought to the company.”

•Peaceful.

•Comfortable clothes. “I wanted to get away from a dress code.”

•Nice people.

•I love cars. “They can be rattle traps, and I still love them. They are works of art that work for us.”

Retraining: Lots of Internet research. And then, she learned by doing. A friend’s husband opened an automotive shop about the same time Bonuccelli made her radical shift in 2004.

She asked him, “Would you let me detail your car for free and if I do a good enough job, may I put my cards on the counter?” She did a good job. The business began rolling in.

Biggest fear: Engines. “When I first started, I said, ‘I’ll do anything but engines.” I was afraid of them, especially the battery. Then I decided to (try) and I was cleaning an engine and it was huge and I thought, ‘I’m not afraid of this engine. If I could go to doctoral school at night after working all day, and I had a 14-year-old then, too, this is nothing compared to what I’ve been through.”’

Her life now: Works out of her garage and in her driveway. Takes off the winter months, due to cold weather. A typical car takes her eight hours. Does between four and 10 cars a month. She charges between $99 and $139, depending on the vehicle’s size.

Bonuccelli named her business “Detail Divas Car Care,” and detailing cars fulfills all 11 perfect-job-for-Shirley descriptors.

“I have not met an ornery person. I’ve not had a check bounce,” she says. “People who take care of their cars are pretty decent people.”

Radical change advice: “Think outside the box. Don’t be afraid. And don’t put others’ opinions of you above your own opinion of you.”

Final thoughts: “Both my parents died at 70. I’m 63. I have X number of breaths left. Why do I want to waste it in fear of what others think?”

Erica Curless

Back story: Grew up in Sandpoint, raised around horses. Loved them, but loved writing even more. Dreamed of being a newspaper journalist “since I was a kid.” Journalism degree from the University of Montana in 1998.

Career history: Covered the statehouse in Helena for Lee Newspapers. Then, reporter for The Spokesman-Review from 2000 to 2008, covering education, politics and growth and development issues.

Her change strategy: Because of the ongoing recession, and the shrinking of newspapers locally and nationally, Curless, 34, realized one day: “I wasn’t likely to have a job in journalism much longer. I thought, ‘Oh crap, what am I going to do now?’ ”

Working with horses, her other big love, surfaced as a logical career change. She didn’t want to do any of the conventional horse businesses – train them, shoe them or stable them. So she brainstormed some other options.

Curless is athletic. She ran marathons for awhile and used massage therapy in her training. How about horses and massage? She Googled it.

She discovered that equine horse massage therapy, its official name, is popular in places where athletic horses abound – near racetracks, show rings and polo fields. Not so much in the Inland Northwest. Mmm. Perhaps she could change that, Curless thought.

Retraining: She spent two months at the Prairie Winds Equine Massage Therapy College in Wellington, Colo. She graduated with honors on Oct. 11, 2008, the day she considers the first day of the rest of her new career.

Curless also took North Idaho College workforce training courses on marketing and finance and on starting a small business.

Others in those classes wanted to be artists, own chocolate factories and aviation schools. Curless recommends checking out community college classes that help people with career choices.

“You can take your business plan in there and they’ll go over it,” she says.

Curless named her business “Dog and Pony Show Massage.” The dog part evolved when she realized that athletic dogs (and some pampered pet dogs) could use massage, too.

Biggest fear: Marketing herself. She’s not shy by nature, but selling her skills as a horse massage therapist took practice. A marketing buddy role-played with her, listening outside the door when she did a mock marketing spiel.

“My success depends on how much I put into it,” she says. “It’s all word of mouth, pretty much.”

Her life now: Travels throughout the Inland Northwest to horse barns and to homes where dogs live. Horse massage sessions last about an hour and cost $65. Dog massage sessions are slightly shorter in duration and cost $50.

She also educates people on what she now does for a living. Hint: It’s not horse whispering.

“I found out early on that I had to explain it in human terms so people would not just laugh. Performance horses and performance dogs have a job to do. They work very hard. They train hard. It takes a toll on their bodies.

“People put a huge investment in these animals. To have them break down and get injured is not a financially sound way to do business.”

Radical change advice: Be skeptical of your own plan. Do your homework.

“We all daydream about doing something different with our lives,” Curless says. “It’s sexy in the mind, but it’s a lot of work.”

Final thoughts: Curless and her husband, Matt Folwell, will welcome their first child in February.

“Kids weren’t part of the plan before, because I was so career-oriented,” Curless says. “With this change, I’ve become more flexible and not as deadline-driven. The whole world has opened up for me.”


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