By Bruce Freeman
We've all heard about people who've done it. The engineer who gave up the long hours and the travel to start his own fix-it business, the lawyer who couldn't take the politics any more and became a teacher; there are hundreds of thousands of people who begin to transform their lives starting with their professional careers. It used to be just the “I can't take it anymore” mentality which started people down a life changing path, but with today's lackluster job market, it's become a necessity for many. The key is not to let the necessity of finding work rob you of the positive opportunity to make your life better, even if you make less money for awhile.
For me, changing careers became a necessity and an opportunity when I was let go from a high powered executive job with a major high-tech magazine about 13 years ago. The only thing I knew for sure when I walked out that door was that from that moment on I wanted to be the only person who had the power to turn my life upside down. Thus began an exciting journey that continues today. I looked at my strengths and weaknesses, made a list of my assets, and started a high-tech public relations firm with a newly printed stack of business cards, my home telephone and an equity line of credit. Here it is 13 years later and I am my own boss, with a successful business, burgeoning academic opportunities, a fledgling media career, and no one to answer to but myself and my family. Financially, I have had good years and bad years, but I like what I'm doing and I have been able to make the time to become a "multi-level dad” with time for my kids and my community.
Mike Pawelczak was downsized after a merger and lost his position as a Vice President of Information Services. “I treated the search for a job as a job, but I also resolved to go with the flow and see what happened,” After 18 difficult months of searching, Mike was willing to take anything just to pay the bills. An avid motorcyclist since 1977, he happened to stop by a Harley Davidson dealership and saw a “position available” sign on the door. He applied and was offered a job in the parts department, but before he started the dealership recognized his skills set and decided to take advantage of his knowledge in a position that wasn't even contemplated when he came through the door. “Now I'm responsible for finance and insurance as Customer Service Manager, and I enjoy working with people who share my passion even though I make less than I did before. However, I now understand that my career is a journey and I remain open to new opportunities.”
Ronnie Fliss is a self-described “IT person” who was also downsized during the recent economic downturn. She looked for work for a year before a friend suggested she look into baking gourmet dog biscuits. A dog lover, with a personable basset hound named Murray , she founded Fat Murray's Doggie Treats, a company which bakes and markets healthy, fresh baked treats for dogs to pet stores, health food stores and on the web. Now, she regularly services 35 stores and takes Murray, who steals the show and any stray treats, along on her sales calls. “It's all about passion,” Fliss says. “When I calculate how much I make per hour, it's a good thing I love this business. Still, we are growing so much that I know I'm going to have start looking for time-share baking facilities to keep up with the market. Sometimes it seems like I never stop working, but it's all mine and I know there is a future.”
For engineer and Masters' holder Stephen Becker, 35, his volunteer work as an EMT proved a life-line when his job as a quality assurance manager in manufacturing disappeared. He was able to capitalize on his skills to help land himself a job being paid for something he loves to do. Although he too, is making much less than before, he admits that he's not so worn out and he really likes the job. “Being able to help people is really great, and I was able to join a consulting group part-time. I recently had a job interview for another position in quality assurance, but if it doesn't work out, I'm open to other types of jobs in health care or government.”
If you love what you're doing professionally and you like your life, you've probably already stopped reading this article. If you're still here, you're already looking anew job or you're concerned that there could be a pink slip in your future. Ask yourself a few questions. Do you want your life to be defined by a job that pays your bills, but doesn't fulfill you? When you're a mere memory to those who love you, will people lament your loss as the best manager the widget business ever saw? At the end of your life, will you regret the time it took to make enough to pay for that status symbol car, or missing your child's soccer tournament? Americans spend a tremendous amount of time working at their careers, more hours per week than any other country, even Japan . Why not spend your life doing something you want to do? Of course, if you are one of the 2.3 million whose jobs have already disappeared, you are in the right place and time to transform your life, starting with your career.
Lloyd Feinstein, of Career Marketing Consultants, Murray Hill , NJ has been helping people discover, define and articulate their values to current or perspective employers since 1984. 20 years of counseling low, mid, and senior level people in many different industries has shown him that most people don't realize that they need to sell themselves. To do that successfully, you must identify your asset skill sets; skills that are transferable across industries and into entrepreneurial or other businesses. For most people, Feinstein believes, the problem lies not in finding new interests, but in leaving the past behind, “You need to ask yourself, ‘What do I have to sell?' and then, ‘Where can I take this using my skills?' If you start a business on a part-time basis, gain experience and build your reputation, the transition to full time in the new career goes much more smoothly”.
Scary? Well, of course it is. Change is always scary, but it doesn't have to be catastrophic. There are plenty of ways to go out and discover information about yourself and the kind of career that will fulfill you.
The one thing you don't have to do is go it alone, especially if you are starting a new business.
James Barrood, Director of the Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison , New Jersey says that entrepreneurs come from all industries and backgrounds, from high school students with an idea, to seasoned corporate executives. "Career transformation is one of the major contributors to entrepreneurial activity and small business creation that help to generate 75% of all new jobs in the US economy," notes Barrood. "Most people don't realize that the average number of jobs held by Americans over a lifetime is greater than ten. We help people transition to career independence by teaching them how to write business plans, mentoring them and advising them on how to expand their businesses by offering new products and services and/or entering new market segments. In a sense, we provide support for people who want to change their lives and be successful in business."
There are many options, but they all come down to one thing: YOU. You must take a look at yourself and figure out what you know how to do. You are the only one who knows what you like to do to and what you do best. Once you've identified the kind of interests you have, you must make the conscious decision to move forward and change your life. After making that decision, you must take that first step. The longest journey begins with a single step. You must do something positive for yourself in a direction you want to go. Tomorrow you'll take another step, and the following day, another. Before you know it, you'll be going somewhere, doing something that is right for you. More important, you'll be able to prioritize your career according to what's important in your life.