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February 4, 2009

The Art of Reinvention

Switching careers requires legwork — networking, research, maybe an advanced degree — and a whole lotta moxie. Meet five women who felt the urge and took the plunge, bear market be damned.

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michele shapiro female race car driver

DRIVEN Michele Shapiro at a Manhattan garage.

Photo Credit: Julian Dufort

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From fact-checker to RACE-CAR DRIVER
MICHELE SHAPIRO, 38, NEW YORK CITY

EXIT SIGNS: I used to be a nitpicker. As the head of a research department at a glossy national magazine, I had to make sure every single fact in every single story was correct. So I toiled away till all hours in my windowless little office, checking things like whether it had indeed rained on a particular day 10 years ago as a story had stated. At night I'd go home and lie awake, fretting that I'd misidentified an Olsen twin. Then, one evening in 2003, when I was sweating over a late-breaking story, I decided: Enough. I thought about what would make me happy; I allowed myself to think freely, with no restrictions. And I realized I'd been dreaming about racing cars ever since I was a kid. Growing up, I'd kept a framed picture of a Lamborghini on my bedroom wall, and I'd always read Car and Driver — along with Vogue.

MAKING THE SWITCH: I decided it was time to hit the road. So I signed up for a race across the Sahara in Morocco that I'd read about online — and I haven't stopped since. My rallies have spanned the globe: I've sped from London to Ibiza (won that one) and from Beijing to Paris in a vintage 1930 Chevrolet (yup). I arrange for sponsors to help with costs and cars, and I work at a New York University think tank to support my habit. This year I'm launching a Website called Drive Like a Woman, with news on everything from female taxi drivers in Tunisia to Hermès driving gloves.

WORD TO THE WISE: It's amazing how much easier it is to pursue your dream when you remove certain obstacles — like common sense.

—as told to Abigail Pesta

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