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'Rethink our lives' | Some Mainers change jobs, careers as a result of COVID-19 pandemic

Mary Samiljan worked as a receptionist at a local veterinarian's office for three years before the pandemic. Now, she's a baker at Replenova Farm in Durham.

DURHAM, Maine — Mary Samiljan of Durham has always loved to bake. At family gatherings, she has always been the person to whip up desserts -- to the point that others would have to ask for an end to the overload of sugar. For her, spending time in the kitchen was a hobby, until recently.

Before the pandemic, Samiljan worked at a local veterinarian's office as a receptionist. When the world shut down and she was stuck at home, she began baking a lot more, selling goods to her neighbors and friends. Through a friend, she heard local farm owner Gary Goodrich was looking for a baker. They connected, and since September 2020, Samiljan has been making everything from pies to breads to cookies for Replenova Farm in Durham.

"It's a dream," Samiljan said with a smile. "It's about three minutes from my house. I get to see all of those neighbors and people in the community."

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Samiljan said she feels like this job helps her serve her community. Typically, she'll come in around 8 a.m. to start rising the bread, making orders, and stocking shelves. The farm uses exclusively local ingredients, which means its product is always seasonal. She said the entire experience so far has been eye-opening, and it fits well with her lifestyle.

"Now, my hours are very flexible, and I get to spend time at home. I discovered I love spending time at home," Samiljan joked. 

The farm's owner and president, Gary Goodrich, said Samiljan's help has been appreciated since the business is still relatively new. He opened it in June of 2019, less than a year before the pandemic began, after selling his biotechnology business.

"It's been fun. I've totally enjoyed it," Goodrich said about his experience with Replenova Farm, later adding, "We want to all enjoy what we're doing here. That's a key element in any job."

"I think it gave us enough time to sort of rethink our lives," Samiljan noted about the pandemic. 

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The desire for change isn't unique, according to Anush Hansen, a career counselor at Kennebunk Career and Wellness Counseling. She said the demand for her services dropped dramatically when the pandemic first hit, but in 2021, business has been growing consistently.

"In the past, you know, maybe I would have one or two new clients call per week. This past month, or month and a half, I've had sometimes two, three, four clients a day reach out," Hansen said.

She said there typically tend to be three reasons people call her wanting to make a change in their work lives: feeling burned-out and emotionally exhausted or detached from work; searching for more purpose, meaning, or fulfillment in work; or wanting a better work-life balance. She said the pandemic gave a lot of people time to think about their priorities.

"I think we were all just given a chance to pause and breathe and start to do some self-reflection around what's most important," Hansen said.

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James Myall, policy analyst at the Maine Center for Economic Policy, agrees.

"Because so many people either temporarily were put on furloughs, or ended up being let go from their job, during the pandemic, I think that was a real moment of reassessment for a lot of folks," Myall said.

Myall said the state of Maine's workforce now depends on what industry you're observing. He says in some sectors, employment is back to where it was pre-pandemic, but in others, like the hospitality industry, employers are having a hard time hiring and retaining employees. That's because some workers have likely reassessed their career choices, either out of a need to get back to work more quickly or a desire to try something different. 

"The jobs in those industries tend to be pretty low-paying. They also tend to be jobs where the schedule is irregular," Myall said. 

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Hansen said she recognizes it can be difficult for people to try a different job and leave the familiar behind them. She recommends figuring out what your career values are, determining what skills you're good at and enjoy doing, and taking small steps to change. You can find more tips here

In the meantime, Hansen said tips for preventing burnout include:

  • Taking small breaks throughout the day
  • Getting some physical activity
  • Asking for help when you need it (at work and at home)
  • Unplugging and setting technology boundaries
  • Paying attention to when you feel the most overwhelmed
  • Getting specific about the priorities in your career and personal life

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