The Double Life of Dual Careerists

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Dr. Daniel Kalla | BCBusiness
Image by: Peter Holst
Writing novels before and after his ER shifts provides Dr. Daniel Kalla—shown here in both vocations— a complementary life balance.

Prosperity, variety, pursuit of passions, the opportunity to be creative—these are the hallmarks of a successful and meaningful work life. The chances of a single career providing all that? Slim. That’s why today’s professionals are often choosing to boost their career satisfaction by doubling up. If you want it all, why settle for just one career?

Dual careerist Dr. Daniel Kalla is an emergency-room physician and international best-selling novelist. In 1998, after establishing his medical career in his mid-20s at Vancouver’s St. Paul’s and Mount Saint Joseph hospitals, he took a screenwriting course at SFU that inspired him to write. “I loved creative writing right through elementary school and early high school,” Kalla says. “I wrote a postcard in Grade 10 that was very well received, and then I went into retirement for 15 years,” he jokes. Kalla’s seven books—written before and after ER shifts—have been published to great acclaim. In particular, his novel Pandemic sold more than 200,000 copies and was translated into 11 languages, and Resistance is currently optioned for film, with a producer and director attached and with the project edging closer to production.

One Life, Two Careers

Video: Hear more about how professionals are doubling up.

With his eighth novel being published this September, Kalla continues to embrace his dual passions for medicine and writing. “One’s an escape for the other; one feeds the other,” he says. “My medicine benefits from me having the outside interest of writing; it invigorates me once I get back to the emergency room and vice versa. The writing is an escape, it’s an inspiration.”

Although Kalla sometimes finds it challenging to balance his medical practice, administrative duties (he’s also ER department head for both hospitals) and writing career, it’s worth it and he sees medicine and writing continuing concurrently into his future. “The variety is fantastic,” he says. “I’m blessed with my two particular careers. Emergency medicine is the jack-of-all-trades of medicine—you never know what’s going to come through the door. And with writing, I write what I want. I’ve written four or five medical thrillers, a couple of mystery novels and my seventh and eighth are historical novels set in Shanghai in World War II.”

Kalla doesn’t rely on his income as a novelist, although one year his writing income topped his doctor’s salary, allowing him to reduce his medical practice to half-time. “There’s a small percentage of writers who are making huge incomes. I feel fortunate to get paid at all,” he says.

Marlene Haley, career expert and designated master career counsellor at Careers You Love Inc., often advises dual careerists. Her clients are looking for more quality in their work, and often that means thinking outside of a conventional career in order to blend other interests into their business lives. “People in dual careers usually see their career as an adventure and themselves as lifelong learners,” she says, “and it’s a dual career that allows them to expand themselves into something new.” The reasons for developing two careers are varied and cover more ground than simply putting extra money in the bank; among the motivators Haley cites are increasing one’s circle of friends, wanting more networking opportunities, needing a change of scene or contributing to a cause.

Blending a primary income career with a secondary passion career not only maximizes income, but also enhances professional satisfaction, and finding fulfillment at work is a top priority today. “Many people are trying to find the full expression of who they are,” says Norman Amundson, professor at UBC’s Educational & Counselling Psychology and Special Education department, a career consultant with 30 years’ experience. “A basic human need is to have meaning in one’s life. Sometimes meaning is not found simply in one work activity and the search needs to be expanded.”


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