By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Jan 29, 2012 at 11:11 AM

The ability to reinvent ourselves is important, arguably a necessity, in this lightning fast-changing world, but even though we're all capable of it, many of us are too fearful or comfortable in our ways to actually do it.

Recently, tracked down a few local folks who made major career changes at the age of 40 or older. Their stories are definitely courageous and, hopefully, inspiring.

Troy Withington owns Sushi-A-Go-Go in the Milwaukee Public Market, 400 N. Water St. However, Withington, 51, wasn't always a sushi master. He started his adult life in the Air Force and later spent time gold mining in the foothills of California and the Canadian Yukon.

After studying at the now-defunct Milwaukee Center of Photography, Withington opened a studio in the Third Ward called Withington Photography and worked as commercial photographer for 15 years, serving clients like Harley Davidson, Microsoft, Taco Bell, McDonald's, Snap-On Tools and more. However, the industry started to change in the '90s, and stock photography became more available, and Withington felt his business start to wane.

"The economy was changing, my clients were folding," says Withington. "And my money was disappearing."

In 2000, Withington decided to throw a studio party to network with photography clients. He invited 50 people to the barbeque, but the weather didn't cooperate and it poured rain on the day of the event.

"I quickly decided on a sushi bar inside instead," says Withington. "I gave it a go. And everyone loved it. I got call after call from people after the party telling me how much they enjoyed the food, and something clicked."

Withington decided it was time to move in another direction and start making sushi professionally.

"I literally decided overnight. It just made sense. Sushi is a lot like art, and the economy was changing and I had always been good at cooking," he says.

The next day, Withington started to convert his home prop room into a small kitchen. A month later, he was licensed and giving away sushi from coolers at Jazz In The Park. After handing out sushi four or five weeks in a row, he was invited to be a vendor at Jazz in the Park and then, the same week, to be a vendor at the Summer Sizzle Jazz Festival.

But something wasn't quite right, and Withington decided to really succeed, he needed to increase his skills and knowledge. So he socked away money for a year and moved to Los Angeles to attend a six-month training program at the California Sushi Academy. Withington was clearly an advanced student with talent, so he became the first person to complete the program in just three months.

Withington returned to Milwaukee, planning to open a sushi restaurant on 33rd and Greenfield.

"We had 90 percent of it done. We were going to finish the bathrooms and open the doors. But when I heard about the Public Market, I stopped everything," he says. "I wanted to return to the Third Ward. My father, grandfather and I had all worked in the same building there."

Sushi-A-Go-Go is one of the six vendors that opened with the Public Market in October of 2005 and is still there today. The first year, Withington says, was a struggle, but it has been on the up and up ever since.

"That first year I sold just about everything I owned on eBay. But I wasn't going to fail. No matter what I do in life, I will do whatever it takes to do it," he says. "And it always helps to have someone who believes in you."

And although sushi making and selling is Withington's fourth career, it's not his last.

"I'm not done. I'm not going to be a sushi man forever. My hands are shot. And I want to live in Europe and get back to art and do some writing," he says.

Mary O'Connell, who is 47, earned a degree in business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and started her career in retail, but quickly realized it just wasn't a good fit for her. After she had her children, she found a lack of childcare options in the area, and decided to take the LifeWays training course to start her own childcare / preschool.

O'Connell combined her business knowledge with her love for children and nature and opened LifeWays Early Childhood Center in 2002 on the bank of the Milwaukee River in Riverwest, 3224 N. Gordon Place.

The program turns 10 years old this year and it continues to be successful. In fact, there is often a waiting list to get in. But this is not where O'Connell's pursuits end.

Recently, she and her husband purchased a historic farm called Paradise Farm in West Bend. They are in the process of establishing it as a non-profit and hope to offer farm education in the near future.

"It seems a natural progression of my work at LifeWays to offer farm education programs there for kids. Our hope is to be able to offer parent/child activities, as well as opportunities for grade school classes to come out and grow a class garden, care for animals and spend time in nature," she says. "We want to help children learn about sustainable agriculture in a fun and meaningful way."

In the mean time, O'Connell is earning a certificate from Victory Garden's Food Leader program to increase her skills and knowledge for her new work.

"I have no regrets about re-inventing myself as I go along. Isn't that what we're supposed to do? Use our gifts and talents to create a better world?" she says. "Hopefully, those gifts and talents keep changing, multiplying as we age, so we are meant to keep adapting our life's work as well."

O'Connell was inspired by her mother-in-law who returned to graduate school in her late fifties. When another family member pointed out that she would be 60 years old before she finished, suggesting it was not worth the effort at such an advanced age, she wasn't phased.

"She looked at him, and said, 'Well, I am going to be 60 anyway,'" says O'Connell. "Especially for women, there is often time and energy for new pursuits when their energy isn't as needed for parenting as it once was. I know many women who have done really cool things in their fifties and sixties."

Although he was very good at it, Joel Kopischke never felt like he fit into the corporate world. He dabbled in professional acting and singing, but Kopischke earned a degree in computer science from Carroll College and spent 20 years working as a designer, developer and program manager in a variety of industries.

"I was good at it. I was even named on three patents for a smart card system I designed a number of years ago," says Kopischke.

In 2008, Kopischke was downsized, but he considers this to have been a blessing in disguise.

"If I had a steady situation, I might not have had the guts to pull the trigger," he says. "I contacted an old colleague who I knew was putting together a team of consultants in a totally different arena and asked if she was still looking to add to her team."

Turns out, she was, and Kopischke, who was 45 at the time, moved into a position that allowed him to draw on his corporate skills while working as a consultant with boards of directors for natural food co-ops like Outpost Natural Foods. Kopischke served on the Outpost's board for nine years, including five years as the president.

Kopischke says he believes everything he did in his life was important, and helped him get to where he is today. He says occasionally he thinks, "What if I had gotten into this earlier? Where would I be today?" But Kopischke believes his route to happiness and fulfillment was following an unknown path.

"It was a great decision. Sometimes I feel like I'm working twice as hard and making half as much money as I used to, but most of the time I get energized and inspired from working with my clients and colleagues," says Kopischke. "The work is very fulfilling."

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.