At its simplest, the word “success” is defined as “the accomplishment of an aim,” but somehow society has redefined success to suggest it’s defined by money or your position in life. But what if you’ve got that respected job with the great pay, and you dread work? Maybe success is about making a better choice for a life you want and having the courage to go after it.

Carissa Leeson, 47, feels that brand of success daily as she heads to her jobsite at the crack of dawn, ready to lay down wires in new buildings. After two decades serving and protecting with the RCMP on some of Canada’s toughest streets, including three years spent investigating BC’s Highway of Tears murders, Corporal Leeson knew her life needed a big change.

“Futility, that’s a good word for what I felt,” she says, when trying to explain why she went from being a well-paid, highly regarded law enforcement officer of two decades to becoming a 44-year-old electrical apprentice in 2017. Day after day, she says, she felt “frustration – from knowing I was doing a good job, from knowing I was doing the right thing, but always feeling like I never accomplished anything.”

Policing on the streets of Surrey constantly felt like a losing battle as she saw the same faces, same struggles, year after year. She craved the thrill of accomplishment at the end of her days. Now in her third year as an electrical apprentice, she feels that thrill daily. No matter how much or how little she’s done, there’s something in front of her that she made happen. After a career spent trying to be the light in dark places, she’s taken the task more literally by bringing power to new builds.

It’s not all bliss, of course. The physicality of the job isn’t something she was prepared for, so that’s proven to be an adjustment given her age. Her daughter, nine, doesn’t get it and asks why her formerly athletic mom has taken a job that now leaves her physically drained at day’s end.

“But I tell her that being physically tired feels so much better than coming home mentally exhausted,” Leeson says, adding that somehow her 15-year-old son is already wise enough to understand her choice.

She’s grateful too, for having realized the dark path she was on, as she grew ever more cynical to protect herself from her daily work with crime and society’s most vulnerable citizens. “You can’t unsee things.” I still remember the first dead body I saw,” she says, pausing. “PTSD is a real thing and I would venture to say every cop lives and works with it.”

Today, she’s still surrounded by cops – her husband is one and her long-time friends are officers – so she’s still exposed to stories both good and bad about policing, but says, “Not once have I regretted changing my career. Not once.” She takes a deep breath. “Man, I don’t miss that.”

Asked what she’d tell others in their 40s who are thinking of making the big career change, she thinks for a bit. “How many people stay in jobs that are killing them? They’re so unhappy. For what? A bigger paycheque? Don’t stay stuck if you’re wanting to try something new.”

Leeson is right, but it’s easy to understand why people are hesitant to leave good-paying, respected positions that they’ve earned through years in their career. Increasingly, studies show such complacency is dangerous. Disliking a job isn’t just a feeling, it’s a matter of mental health, and the longer one works in a job they dislike, the more toll it takes. In one study conducted over two decades by Ohio State’s Center for Human Resource Research, employees were followed from age 25 into their 40s.

Those unhappy at work over the long-term eventually suffered higher incidences of depression, sleep issues and worrying, while also performing worse on tests looking at their overall mental health. For some, changing their lives is as simple as changing their jobs.

Sure, change can be scary, but the idea of returning day in, day out, to a job that’s wearing you down, that’s much scarier. It’s why people like Carissa Leeson find the courage to change their lives, even when outsiders might not understand.

If you crave the daily thrill of accomplishment and you long to leave work stresses at work when you clock out, then maybe life as an electrical apprentice is the right choice for you. To apply for the EJTC electrical apprentice program, click here.