The Double Life of Dual Careerists

Dr. Daniel Kalla | BCBusiness
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.”


Image: Pamela Hooper
When not at his desk working as a liability analyst, Nathan Parsons tours with his successful
indie band, Louder Than Love.

Perry Ehrlich enjoys the best of all professional worlds, with a dual career that pairs business law and producing musical theatre. A partner for the last 32 years at Kahn Zack Ehrlich Lithwick LLP in Richmond, Ehrlich’s clients include Costco Wholesale Ltd., Keg Restaurants Ltd., Shoppers Drug Mart Corp. and Patrick Roberge, international entertainment producer and creative director for the PNE. Ehrlich sees himself first and foremost as a business lawyer, but it was a natural choice to make room for musical theatre in his professional life.

“I’m very passionate about my law work; I’m very passionate about my musical-theatre work. Music has been a source of much joy throughout my whole life.” He works at least 40 hours a week at the law firm, but sometimes spends all day or all evening at his musical theatre job. “After 35 years of being a business lawyer, you need time where you’re in an environment that’s completely different.”

Ehrlich studied music from an early age and later paid his way through law school by playing the piano in bars and teaching piano lessons. In 1994, inspired by his musical-theatre-loving daughter, he co-founded Sound Sensation, a teen show choir. When that ended in 2000, he founded Show Stoppers, a show choir for younger children, which performs to this day. “I was doing Glee before Glee was even in the womb,” he notes. Aside from making television appearances, Ehrlich’s show choirs have performed for events such as the World Figure Skating Championships, the 2010 Vancouver Olympics (including opening for The Canadian Tenors in Robson Square), and the choir once performed the national anthem at a Vancouver Canucks game. He also directs Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance!, an intensive summer musical-theatre program for children, which he founded 18 years ago.

He acknowledges that in order to run his dual careers effectively he simply has to work harder. A typical dual- career day starts at 7 a.m. at the office and ends at 10 p.m. in a rehearsal or performance. Time management becomes crucial—organization and discipline are everything. “I’m anal retentive and a micromanager,” Ehrlich says, “but that’s what makes it work.”

As is normally the case with dual careers, the first—or primary—career provides the bulk of income, while the secondary career offers some income, but its primary value is in offering quality of life. Ehrlich says the money he makes as a musical-theatre producer may be insignificant, but the joy is substantial. (He estimates only four per cent of his total income comes from his work for the stage.) His dual career allows him to honour his passion for musical theatre as well as make a difference in children’s lives. He is also quick to recognize the support and understanding of his wife of 36 years as a major factor in his success. “If I didn’t think I was handling both careers, I wouldn’t be doing both. I love my life. I have everything I could ever have imagined and more.” With two decades of being a dual careerist behind him, he’s in it for the long haul.

Nathan Parsons, on the other hand, is at the beginning of his dual-career adventure. Parsons started playing guitar for Vancouver-based indie band Louder Than Love before he even finished his degree at UBC’s Sauder School of Business. After he graduated, he knew he needed to find a career that allowed him to continue with music. “At the best of times, being a recording artist offers a very small chance of being successful and having a long-term sustained career,” he says. So when Marsh Canada Ltd. (one of the Marsh & McLennan Companies, a global insurance brokering and risk management company) offered him a position as a risk analyst in 2011, he jumped at the opportunity.

Parsons’s professional life, a composition of business and music, offers both financial security and a creative outlet. Louder Than Love has recently played with big-name bands including Young the Giant, Theory of a Deadman, The Trews and The Sheepdogs. They’ve also toured across Canada and are currently working on their third album with producer Arnold Lanni (the man behind acts like Our Lady Peace and Simple Plan). “Marsh has been very good about accommodating my schedule,” says Parsons. “A flexible employer is a necessity for any dual-career situation. It’s go, go, go, and that’s the kind of pace that I want to live—you get a taste of everything.”

Even though liability management and rock would seem to be polar opposites, Parsons finds common ground. He handles most of the financial affairs for the band, bringing his business expertise to his music career. So far, his dual career works for him, despite the challenges of managing clients, tour schedules and maintaining personal relationships. “I often feel like a kid playing in a sandbox. I get to play with different toys in different sandboxes. It really helps keep things fresh.”

For some, a dual career isn’t a permanent choice, but part of a journey to a one-track career destination. Natalie Pagnucco, creative manager and graphic designer at Toptable Group (which operates Vancouver restaurants CinCin and Blue Water Café + Raw Bar, among others), spent two years pairing a primary career as a fashion model with a second career in graphic design. For Pagnucco, who describes herself as highly organized to the point of obsession, a dual career was a great fit. “I’ve always been able to manage multiple things,” she says. “If you have two careers, there’s extra energy and different skill sets. My careers complemented each other. Fashion still inspires my graphic design today.”

Image: Kris Krug
The years that former model Natalie
Pagnucco spent balancing dual
careers were crucial in defining a
single-career lifestyle for herself.

Developing a second career was more a necessity than a choice for Pagnucco, since modelling has an expiration date (most people retire from the runway in their mid-20s). In graphic design, she found a second career that would mesh smoothly with her first career. “I thought graphic design was an amazing way to continue my interest in fashion and art, and move it into a new direction.”

She enrolled in the BCIT/Emily Carr Design Essentials management certificate program and graphic design projects arrived almost immediately. As a new graphic designer she continued modelling and found a synergy between the two careers. “There’s a lot of downtime in modelling, a lot of sitting around. You get talking to your hair dresser, your makeup artist, your stylist, the fashion designer involved and all those people potentially need graphic-design work.” Pagnucco continued her dual career until 2011, when she decided to shift to a singular work focus, which led to her work at Toptable Group.

In other instances, a professional may introduce a second career decades into their primary job, when the major motivator is often financial. “Dual careers can be economically driven,” says UBC’s Norman Amundson. “Sometimes you can make a lot of money in one area but not in another. Broadening work involvement can help to pay the bills.”

Take Kyle German, for example. Winner of the 2008 Canadian Club Professional National Championship, German has been a professional golfer for 20 years. Although golf is his first love and his primary passion, he acknowledges there’s not always a lot of money to be made. “You start thinking about the future, about other options to try to secure your kids’ futures,” he says. Having spent years developing relationships as a golf teaching professional, and coming from a family of bankers, he thought the mortgage industry might be a good match for his personality. But even more importantly, he could supplement his golf income in the off-season.

Like modelling, a career as a professional athlete is finite. For the last three years, German has weathered various injuries and knows that playing tournament golf will last only as long as his body holds up. “I’m 39 now. So you start to think, ‘When I’m 45, am I going to try to make money playing against all these 25-year-olds who do nothing except play golf?’” And with the downturn in the economy in recent years, golf, an expensive and time-consuming sport, has taken a beating. The number of golf-club memberships is declining while costs are rising. Less disposable income means paying the mortgage often takes priority over playing what German calls “a gentlemen’s sport.” Consequently, he believes there’s more room for growth in the mortgage business.

German quickly completed the required coursework and recognized both a passion for learning and a keen interest in the mortgage industry. A mortgage broker first with Mortgage Alliance Meridian Southwest Mortgage Group and now Invis Group, German intends to continue to play and teach golf professionally while nurturing his new career. The brokering work will stave off boredom when he’s not golfing and he’ll continue to build relationships with clients both on the green and in the office, providing more financial security for his family.

Recent shifts in corporate culture have also paved the way for the dual careerist. Increasingly, elasticity in the workplace is becoming the norm. “There is a lot more openness to different ways that people work,” notes Marlene Haley. “The bottom line for any employer is, ‘Are you productive? When you’re here, are you fully committed? Are you producing results?’ If the answers are all yes, then the employer may be happy to support an employee who has other interests.”

One thing is certain: dual careerists are high achievers, unusually adept at juggling multiple tasks. For them, two careers are better than one; they like to be busy, hate being bored and are constantly on the hunt for new challenges in order to shake up a conventional, sometimes repetitive business life. Dual careerists demand creativity at work and love learning new things. By investing in a passion career in partnership with their primary career, they find their work life is energized and ultimately more satisfying.

To achieve tandem-career success, a dual careerist must be able to fully focus on one career at a time, which requires organization, dedication and time management. It’s a rare person who can juggle the demands of two careers, and find fulfillment in the process. Handling it successfully depends not only on being driven and highly organized, but on clarifying goals at the outset. Finding personal fulfillment through dual careers is not to be confused with simply working for work’s sake, which is all too common today and can easily slide into a counter-productive illness. “Workaholism is rampant in North America,” says career counsellor Marlene Haley. “It’s one of the few addictions that people get acknowledgement for, either through company praise, financial reward or industry awards.” Add children into the mix, and a dual career can get downright complicated.

So how do these dual careerists pull it off? Kalla has strict boundaries, writing during his kids’ school hours so that family time is not sacrificed. Parsons negotiates his schedule with his employer well in advance so that he can tour with the band. Ehrlich works early and stays late, and relies on support at home to manage his disparate careers. German’s dual career is seasonal, and therefore, manageable: golf in the summer, and mortgage brokering in the winter. Pagnucco’s dual career was feasible as a transition from one career to another; when the inevitable schedule collisions occurred, she knew the chaos was only temporary. If pursuing their passions means taking on two careers, these professionals are all for it—as long as they have the opportunity to fuel their passions and bring more quality to their work lives.

“Career is important and it often requires a personal choice,” says Amundson. “Some professionals take on dual careers because they want to feel more fulfilled. At the core, finding fulfillment is central.” Today’s professionals want more value from their business life; they want careers that don’t always feel like work. Despite the juggling act required to manage a dual career, the perks—more professional contentment, more money, increased skills and more personal fulfillment—make it worth it, twice over.