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The journey from business executive to sculptor was similar to the transition she made in 1980 after 17 years of staying home with the kids. Back then, aptitude tests revealed that she would make a perfect engineer, and she plunged back into school for a degree in computer science at age 40. With degree in hand, she began a high-tech career that included stops at Digital, Apple and IBM. This time, however, she didn't need someone to tell her what she was interested in. While at IBM, Dibner started taking sculpture classes, riding the T to Boston's Museum School after work. Once she decided to accept an early-retirement package and devote herself to professional sculpture, she threw herself in headfirst. That meant, initially, a very rigorous study of the basics, including form and technique. Then she retreated to her studio and logged the long, lonely hours that separate the people who only talk about becoming artists from those who succeed at finding their own voice.
Those hours weren't as lonely as they might have been for some. Dibner's husband Andrew also left a technology career (he founded Lifeline, the personal response service advertised with the unforgettable tag line "I've fallen and I can't get up") to work on his sculpture as well. Still, the change from having profit-and-loss responsibility for $300 million in revenue and 350 employees to waking up each morning and staring at clay in the basement took some getting used to. "You work so hard to get yourself where you are, and a part of your identity is the title," Dibner says candidly. "Sometimes I'll be somewhere now, and somebody will say, 'What do you do?' and I'll say, 'I'm a sculptor,' and they'll say, 'Oh, that's nice,' like they think it's a hobby, not something meaningful and serious."
But that's a small price to pay for leading the creative life. "So many people say, 'Gee, I'm so envious. I wish I had something like that,'" says Dibner. "But I believe that everybody does have some creative response to life. You just have to figure out what it is."
Uplifting the Downtrodden
Pam Barratt, 66
When Pam Barratt was still working full time as a chemistry teacher and raising her two children, life as a social activist was complicated. Sidwell Friends, the Washington-area private school where she taught, was surprisingly accommodating after she was arrested in 1988 while protesting U.S. involvement in El Salvador. Her son and daughter tolerated the seven families of refugees from Cambodia, Vietnam and Czechoslovakia who moved in and out of their home over a 13-year period. But Barratt was torn: teaching chemistry to wealthy kids forced her to temper her passion for social activism. "I was always interested in social-justice and poverty issues," explains Barratt. "But I was working so hard." Then in 1993, with her children grown, Barratt remarried, retired from teaching and moved to England. "All of a sudden," she says, "I was able to do all these things that I've always wanted to do."