Quitter to Winner

Friday, July 30, 2010

INTERVIEW: Singer sonwriter Shawn Levesque on chasing your dreams

Now seems to be the time for Shawn Levesque to make a go at becoming a working singer. He talks about what lead him to this path, which included leaving a job working with disabled youth.

Shawn, what have you been up to since you left your job in April?

I left a job working with severely disabled/medically fragile children. The job itself was challenging as the students were not able to talk, but they sure could laugh. The best part of my day was getting a student in who was having a hard day, for health reasons or what have you, and turning it around for them by making them laugh. LAUGHTER is medicine. Unfortunately I left due to the caustic work environment, I don't want to get into details but it was a very unpleasant place to work (the staff not the students). Since I left, I've been working on music, busking, practicing, writing and growing two large organic raised bed gardens. I'm also job hunting A LOT, and making time to reflect and make some huge decisions in my life. For instance I'm focusing on finding work in Boston, where I started my musical dream.

Many people claim they're "bored" without a job. I don't get a sense that you have that problem. True?

True for sure. I wouldn't say that I'm bored. I'd say that I'm a little stir crazy as I wish I could contribute again to a child's self-esteem and belief in themselves, as I have a history in working with at-risk youth and neglected children. But the dichotomy of that is that I'm busy writing music as I really want to be a singer songwriter for a living, like Melissa Ferrick or the plethora of other performers out there traveling and singing for a living.

How is your CD coming along?

I'm still not at a place financially to get back into the studio but I have been writing and practicing. I set up an account with Kickstarter.com, which is a great site to get your name out there for funding for all kinds of creative projects. I'm hoping to raise enough money to get both the recording done and to purchase a CD package through Discmakers that includes tee shirts, down load cards, 1000 CD's in cases and posters. I have some great rewards for donations including the donator’s name in the liner notes ($10.00), a digital down load of my CD ($15.00), a physical CD with lyrics of my songs ($25.00). Or all of the above with a t-shirt ($50.00).

I've been really lucky to have my friend Maria McNeil sing on what I've recorded thus far. She's an amazing Berklee educated singer, an amazing musician and a really sweet person. I've also had my friend Dave Buerger lay down some bass to a few of my tracks. I'm hoping to have him come back in and lay down some hand percussion along with me to some of the tracks as well.

Is teaching still in your long-term plan?

I feel that by nature I'm a teacher, so in some way it will happen. Whether it's as an elementary school teacher, a guitar teacher or a mentor. Music teaching is a huge part of my personality.

Describe your ideal work/career situation.

Touring, as I LOVE to perform and I love to travel. I don't need to be famous, I just want to make a living doing it. I have amazing role models in the folk and singer songwriter community who didn't go the major label route and have made their musical dreams come true. They maintained their creative freedom, which is very important to me.

What websites/books/self-help hoo-ha have you turned to for insight/tips during your time off?

I'm a HUGE advocate for therapy. I know this isn't a website/book etc, but I have friends from college come up to me years later and tell me that their lives have improved from seeking help via therapy. I see it as a kind of self-care. I also recommend and have used "THE ARTIST WAY" written by Julia Cameron. It's a self-help journey that helps you work through the creative blocks and crap that's still in your head from childhood. As a friend once said to me "Why you lettin’ them nasty voices have say in yo head? They ain't paying no rent". The Artist Way helped me with that a lot and turned me onto “artists dates.” For instance you may be working hard on a project but you're not moving anywhere. An artist date is alone time spent doing something that you find to fulfill you, that makes you resonate at a higher frequency if you will.

Imagine you're a motivational speaker (complete with headset microphone). What are three career tips you would have in your flashy Power Point presentation?

1. Do what you love. We've all worked jobs to pay bills. At some point that starts to wear on you. Life is too short to work a job that makes you mentally drained and in turn physically ill. Your job is the majority of your waking life. If your job is unbearable, then the rest of your life is going to suffer as well. Go after what you LOVE.

2 Never give up. We are the person that is most capable/powerful to let a dream die.

3. This may seem in conflict with #1, but there are times where you HAVE to take jobs that aren't ideal. There are merely stepping-stones as long as you go after what you love.

Monday, July 26, 2010

INTERVIEW: Ryan Fuller's Consulting Rehab

Ryan Fuller and his wife, Jen, burned out from their high-pressure consulting jobs. Now they're in rehab: via extended vacation in Argentina. Ryan and Jen are part of the many professionals taking careers breaks. They're chronicling their literal and figurative journey on their website www.consultingrehab.com. Ryan talks with Quitter to Winner about what lead the couple to where they are now and what's next for their career.

I read about your intense careers. Wow. What was your long-term life goal in the midst of your high-pressure job? Why were doing it?

Ha! Good questions. What were we thinking? Not really sure. When you go to a top business school you meet tons of very interesting, dynamic and talented people. You are given a general set of guidelines of what success looks like. This usually involves going into some intense field like management consulting (what we did), investment banking, private equity, etc. The competition for these jobs is enormous, making it feel all the more important to go after them. Many people find themselves getting caught up in the momentum of it all and end up getting very excited about the 'achievement' of attaining one of these mystical jobs. Few have the time or inclination to consider what the job actually looks like on a daily basis, the sacrifices it will require in the rest of their lives and/or whether they might actually enjoy it.

We didn't know each other at the time, but it's fair to say that we both had a somewhat overly glorified view of what our consulting jobs would be like (and were also very excited to get them!).

In terms of longer term goals, I think most people go into management consulting for the option value of it. It's a great place to learn core business skills, build expertise, gain a network and begin to pay off the vast student loans you acquired in getting there (we hate them). I always had relatively short-term aspirations in consulting (just wanted to gain some skills and resume credibility after working primarily in tech start-ups before b-school). Jen had longer term aspirations for the job, but after having already lived in Tokyo and Nairobi for extended periods of time, she too was always planning to have a more dynamic and diverse life/career over the long term. Eventually the 12-18 hour days got to us.

What was the time frame from seriously considering a career break to boarding the plane on your trip?

While we had toyed with the idea a bit previously, it always seemed like something that was at least six months away. When we finally decided to do it, we were on a plane three weeks later. It was a pretty intense three weeks: we quit our jobs, moved all of our stuff into a storage unit, got married and drove from San Francisco to Seattle. Without the whole wedding part, it probably could have been quicker (haha!).

There is never a convenient time for something like this. All conventional wisdom goes against it. At some point, if you want to do it, you just have to go. It's worth it. Everything will be OK.

Did you tell your boss that you were taking a career break? What was his/her reaction?

Absolutely. Most of the reactions were jealousy/envy. Consulting is a bit unique in that the work is very short-term project based, so everyone is relatively easily replaced. The partners at our firm were extremely supportive and excited for us, which we are grateful for. I think many of them secretly follow our blog.

What did you friends and family think?

"There they go again."

What's been the reaction/response to Consulting Rehab? (Excellent name, by the way.)

It's been really fun. We started it primarily with the intention of using it to keep in touch with friends/family. We wanted to have a digital scrapbook of sorts to remember our trip. Over time, we started getting more and more people reading the blog that we hadn't met before. It felt a little odd at first having so many strangers know so much about us (particularly when people come up to us in Buenos Aires and tell us that they recognize us from our blog!). But it's extremely satisfying to be able to help people in trip planning and to inspire people to get out there and do whatever it is they've always wanted to do. Also, it's been fascinating getting to know other bloggers such as yourself and start to become part of a community of people that have chosen very unconventional paths in life and are thriving. There truly are so many more possible paths out there than most people consider and seeing people succeed in them is thought-provoking to say the least.

Preach, brother! Are any of your friends/colleagues following your lead?

We tend to be a bit careful discussing former colleagues at our firm so as not to anger anyone important there. Suffice to say, we know of many people who are off doing different and exciting things now. We certainly can't and wouldn't take credit for it, but it is unbelievably gratifying and exciting when we get an email or call from a friend that tells us that we've inspired them to go off and take flying lessons, work for a non-profit, travel, etc. We’re proud to play even a very small part in anyone pursuing the life they dream about rather than the one they think they are supposed to have.

Does the term "career break" help you overcome any stigma associated with leaving a "good" job to travel, especially with high unemployment rates? Or did you hit a point where, recession or not, I need to split?

Interesting question. To be honest, we only recently learned about the term ‘Career Break’. I think I actually found it while using StumbleUpon and came across BriefcaseToBackpack (a very cool site!). I like the term a lot though and do think it makes it sound like a more reasonable and less whimsical thing to do. For us, we haven’t yet worried too much about finding future jobs. Having gone to the business schools that we attended and the consulting firm that we worked at, theoretically we shouldn’t have too much trouble finding jobs when necessary. That 15 hours a day should count for something! To be sure, it helped to see that people leaving our firm even in the height of the recession had very little trouble finding jobs quickly. We likely would have thought twice about it otherwise. That said, I am a big believer that doing something like this exposes you to many new opportunities that you may never have realized existed (most of which involve doing things you truly enjoy) and that if you wait for a convenient time, you’ll never do it.

What do you think might have happened if you hadn't taken a career break? To your health? Relationship? Job?

We were both seeing a chiropractor two days a week and getting professional massages at least once a month in San Francisco. Yet we still had pretty significant back/neck pain. We no longer have any back/neck pain.

While the high quantities of cheap yet phenomenal steak and wine here in Buenos Aires are unlikely to have done much for our overall health, it’s fair to say that we feel much healthier without all of the stress and take-out dinners while slaving over laptops.

In terms of our relationship, we went from seeing each other for 20 minutes in the morning and maybe an hour in the evening. Occasionally we’d sneak away to have coffee for 10 minutes during the day since we worked in the same office. Now we're spending 24 hours a day together for the last 4+ months. In many ways it’s like a different relationship altogether. It’s been great, but be sure you really like each other before you do something like this as a couple. That’s a lot of time!

In terms of our job, if we hadn’t left, we’d still be working the same hours under the same stress. Lots of benefits to having a job like that, but lots of down sides as well. Thanks to how supportive the firm was of our plans, I’m reasonably confident that we could likely pick back up where we left off, which is pretty great.

How do you feel now that you're out of the pressure cooker job?

Younger, more energetic, healthier, more excited about life and more open to crazy ideas.

How will you approach the work-life balance if/when you decide to return to your career?

With far more emphasis on the ‘life’ part and without feeling that we have to do things a certain way in order to be successful. Success is often defined for you rather than by you. It’s not just about having a great career, it’s about having a great life. This requires balancing a career, a relationship, a family, a set of experiences, and whatever else you want. If you define it broadly enough (e.g., your career is only one piece of a much bigger puzzle), it's easier to make decisions that will make you happy. Too many people get caught up defining ‘success’ to mean getting the next promotion, raise, etc. and end up choosing their career (which offers more concrete and emphasized success metrics) at the expense of their overall happiness without even realizing it. Not sure what our future careers will look like, but the option set and criteria are far broader than ever before, and that is very exciting.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

INTERVIEW: Kelli Allard's project manager approach to quitting

Kelli Allard was a project manager for a bustling web development company. After nine years she thought it was time to seek new opportunities - even without another job offer in hand.

You left behind your job of nine years without a "plan." What prompted you take the plunge?

I wasn't feeling passionate about my job anymore. I mapped out a strategy that would secure uninterrupted employment; I went on interviews, but nothing felt quite right. Which makes sense. Nine years in one place is a long time. You can't figure out what your “dream job” is overnight. I had a crazy thought one afternoon: “What if I left without a plan and gave myself a break to regroup before moving on? Wouldn't almost anyone do that if given the chance?” Instead of feeling panicky about this obviously insane rationale I felt excited and calm. I gave my notice the next day.

What was the hardest part about making your decision?

Worrying about how my husband would feel and how he would cope. He's a very rational, rule abiding, point a to point b kind of guy. Luckily he also trusts me, loves me and respects my decisions. He agreed with my “non-plan”. Surprisingly, I think he made the transition a little better than I did.

How did you deal with the "oh, man. I just quit my job. NOW what?!" feeling?

Ha! Although it was subtle at first I'd have to say that feeling started to tickle me about 14 minutes after I locked the door behind me for the last time. Over a month that feeling became overwhelming at times. I knew I was supposed to be relaxing and regrouping but I couldn't. I became overly concerned about the condition of our kitchen floor, our living room floor, what overachieving dish I should make for dinner; I couldn't sleep. I felt twitchy and nervous a lot of the time. Luckily while I was twitching I was also reading “Happy at Last: The Thinking Person's Guide to Happiness”. In his book, Richard O'Connor describes how leaving behind the adrenaline rushes of a high-pressure job is not unlike withdrawing from an addictive substance. Just knowing that I was a junkie in recovery and that this was “normal”, made me feel better.

That’s so true! What are you doing now?

Planting the seeds and keeping myself busy while I wait for the “right fit”. Since leaving work I feel like I've never really stopped working. Sometime I feel like I'm working more. In addition to my job search, interviews, and networking, which all feel like their own full time job, I'm a licensed massage therapist and have been seeing clients. I'm doing some freelance workshop planning and assistance, and filling in occasionally at my old job, too. I'm also half of an acoustic duo. I'm not having any problems keeping myself busy.

Additionally, I've been consulting with Val Nelson (http://www.valnelson.com/) a local career counselor. Knowing that I'm being productive and proactive helps keep that “oh, man. I just quite my job. NOW what?!” feeling in check.

It’s best to stay busy enjoying life while you regroup. Do you regret your move?

I do not regret my move but I miss the routine, rhythm and flow of a full time job. I miss being part of a team and being with people all day. It sounds so corny but I miss that feeling of putting in “an honest day of hard work”.

Being in limbo is hard, too. It's been very challenging, but also rewarding to just NOT KNOW what is going to happen next. I was a project manger for so long that my brain is hardwired to feel like it has to know exactly who is going to do what, and when, and what the result will be. You can plan all you want during a job search but you never know exactly what you're going to end up doing or who you're going to meet next.

What advice do you have for people who want to quit without a traditional plan?

I have three ideas for you crazy people.

Read Richard O'Connor's “Finding Happiness...” book first. In it he talks about the mental risks of leaving one job before finding another.

Being unemployed in our society, even if it's by choice, can wallop your self-esteem and self-image if you're not careful. Make sure you are engaging in some kind of self-care that keeps you happy, healthy and motivated. If I don't run almost every day I don't sleep.

Have some kind of project set up and ready for you to work on during your first week of unemployment. It's tempting to think about luxuriating in nothingness for a week, but if you're leaving a highly stressful situation your mind and body may need some kind of active transition to fight off the withdrawal symptoms.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

INTERVIEW: How Scott LaGreca became the "Science Guy"

Scott LaGreca wasn't loving unemployment. But he wanted to stay in the museum field. Fortunately a volunteer gig at the Berkshire Museum eventually led to securing a hard-to-land job.

Scott, I had no idea you left a job(s) without another one waiting in the wings. When did that all go down? And what led to that situation?

I was living in London 2004-2008 and dating my partner at the same time (he was in Boston). That was tough, needless to say!! I was also making very little money in London relative to the cost of living there. It was unsustainable.

In 2007, my partner took a job in the lovely Berkshires of Massachusetts on the condition that I move back home and be with him and try to "make a go" of it. I was lucky because he was making a good salary and could support me for awhile, while I looked for a job. I moved back to the states in spring 2008.

How long did it take you to "land on your feet" with another gig (or something else)?

I was unemployed from February through July of 2008. I applied for tons of jobs. I'd never been unemployed before and it was a VERY rough period for me! I was depressed and moody and gained weight (haha). I never want to go through that again.

Do you regret taking the job you had to leave?

I do not regret taking the job I had to leave. The job was my "dream job" in many ways. It simply didn't pay enough given the cost of living there. Plus, there was my relationship as well as other family considerations.

What are you doing now?

I started volunteering at the Berkshire Museum while I was unemployed. Then the woman I volunteered with left her position. I applied for the position and got it. I'm now the Natural Science Coordinator, otherwise know as the "Science Guy." I handle all the science content for their exhibitions, public programs and collections management. I also help take care of the live animals there. (That's quite a stretch for a botanist with no zoology or zoo background.)

Do you think our generation are quicker to say screw it, I'm out? Or is that we've been led to believe by our parents who tell us to suck it up, they had it much worse?

Yes, I definitely believe that our generation is more mobile when it comes to career choice. No question! It is mostly a good thing, because turnover is good in most fields. In the museum field (my field), however, it can be a detriment, because it's good for both the institution and the individual to cultivate a long-term working relationship. Both the museum AND the individual curator benefit greatly by long-term arrangements.

What advice would you have for someone who absolutely needs out of their job but may not have a plan in place just yet?

Wow. I would say GO FOR IT. Find the support system you need, be it (a) saving lots of $$ to support yourself during unemployment or (b) finding friends, family members or a partner who can "spot" you while you look for another job. Life is too short to be miserable if you can avoid it!!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

INTERVIEW: Athan Vennell bags waiting tables to make killer bags

Fashion designer/crafter extraordinaire, Athan Vennell, bagged waiting tables and retail gigs to, well, make killer bags (among many other things). Athan's only regret? "Why didn't I make the leap sooner?!"

You finally made the plunge to work for yourself. What made you decide to give it a go?

It had been a long time coming. I reached my breaking point in the restaurant/retail world. Who cares what people want or where they want to sit anymore. I wanted to know what I could do for people creatively, not socially.

Did you take a while to prep for the transition?

I had been doing freelance design work in addition to a restaurant or retail job. I was doing, and still do, home projects, bridal dresses, clothing and accessories for some people, and that lead me to doing craft shows. The craft shows really helped me understand just how large of an audience wanted to buy my stuff. I think that was the major catalyst for me to know that there was a space out there for me to do what I wanted. It did sort of become a, “I just can’t do this anymore” situation at the restaurant. I do love restaurant work, but it takes up so much time and energy that at the end of my days I would be too spent to do anything else.

I tried once before to break out on my own, but I was always aiming too big and trying to do too much, like design a collection and put it out. Now I’ve learned to work with just a few designs that you can produce easily enough. Start SMALL and work your way to BIG. I had too many stars in my eyes. Once I paired everything down to what I knew worked and knew I could do, it all just started falling into place. Like the line of bags I make from recycled pants. I wanted to go big right away but made myself just start with two different size tote bags. They were a hit so I slowly added new designs as I went along. Now I have seven different bags in the line with ideas for a few more hopefully to come this year. This process also helped me figure out what the customer was looking for and what I was actually capable of producing.

Was funding an issue when you went out on your own?

Money is always the issue, whether you have it or not. It’s scary putting everything you have into your ideas and hope that you get a response. Even with money executing the idea can be overwhelming. We blame money, but I think it’s all about confidence. I’ve discovered that the money happens all on it’s own. I sometimes freak out and wonder where the next bit will come from, and then it happens. It sounds cliché, but asking the universe for what you want helps. Whether you are spiritual or not, it’s about actively asking and stating what it is that you need or want and making it heard, even if it’s just you listening. Sometimes you’re the only one that needs to hear it. Looking back, the jump was seamless. It made me wonder ‘why not sooner?’ I was just being chicken about the whole thing. I knew I was very good at what I did, and knew that there would be work out there for me. It was just daunting realizing how much work I needed to have in order to do it well, and eat at the same time. I was over thinking things. Sometimes it’s just a matter of throwing caution to the wind and taking the plunge.

What else are you doing for work?

Anything that anyone needs stitched. I haven’t closed myself off to new ideas. That’s how I keep things interesting. I just finished creating costumes for Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl for Old Deerfield Productions. That was a wonderful project. I was given total creative freedom. It was so nice to be trusted and needed in that way. Thank you Linda McInerney for that!

In addition to my line of bags made from recycled pants, I do the alterations for Pearl Bridal in Holyoke’s Open Square buildings. I also have a line of leather wallets and cuffs that are made from scrap leather from garment production, and a line of t-shirts that involve turning them into cardigans and stenciling. Then there are the window treatments and basic clothing alterations.

I’ve also worked with people to create design prototypes for new products. If things go well with one project in particular, I may continue as the designer. It hasn’t been launched yet so I can’t say much more about it, but that’s what makes it exciting.

People think that working for yourself allows you so much "free time." That's not the case for me at all! How is it for you?

Free time has taken on a whole new meaning now that I am on my own. No more ‘calling in’ that’s for sure. When things come up they have to be taken care of, which can throw a wrench in the well-planned schedule. I found that it’s harder to make social plans, but I do enjoy the freedom of not doing as much one day and a lot the next. None of my time is really free anymore though.

Are any of your friends considering quitting their gigs to go out on their own? What advice do you have for them?

I do have friends who are more interested in making the plunge. I think some have, partially due to me. I would tell them to be calm, believe in who you are and dig deep. There is so much more support out there, including from your friends, that you wouldn’t expect. People are very willing to help those who are trying to do it on their own. Living in the Valley helps that scenario, too. There are so many more people here that are trying to do it for themselves.

I’d also say make a schedule and stick to it. You need to create your own boss/employee relationship with yourself. It’s a bit schizo, but it helps. Start small, know yourself, know your product/skills that you want to put out there and believe in them. No one else will if you don’t. No one else will know you are there if you don’t tell them.

If you’re an artist waiting tables, say you’re an artist not a waiter when someone asks you what you do. Waiting tables is just the means to an end. It’s not who you are. You need to tell people who you are and put it out there. I was a hot head Leo fashion designer in NYC when I started. I would often wonder why I wasn’t getting this gig or that job. In the end it was because I hadn’t started telling people that I was available, or could do something they needed. It’s up to you to talk about you.

Finally, if you could do it over again, what would you do differently?

I would simply have done it sooner. I think everything else would stay the same.

Visit www.athanvennell.com and www.athanvennell.etsy.com to see more of Athan's work.

Quit-your-job-to-travel bug

Here's another example of professionals who got the "quit-your-job-to-travel" bug. Check out Consulting Rehab.

Visit facebook.com/QuittertoWinner for a link to their Facebook page.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Interview: Geoff Rice - a self-proclaimed "career coveter"

Geoff Rice is the creative director for a high-end organic skin care company. Not bad for an admitted wanderlust. Or is it?

Geoff, have you ever left a gig without another one lined up?

Oh yes. In the days of my youth I'd pick up and quit after a year or so at any one place. I would often follow that by packing up the Toyota Tercel and move to a completely new city--no job prospects, no apartment lined up. It was exciting, but I had nothing to lose. Typical twenty-something wanderlust.

What prompted you to hightail it?

Back in the post-college days I was more or less adrift, so I had very little to lose by dropping everything and moving along. Still, I will say that even back then I found myself staying longer than I should have in a handful of dead-end jobs, just out of convenience. I can be very susceptible to the forces of inertia.

How long did it take you to land something else? How did it fall into place?

Well if you're talking about employment--and not the pursuit of any sort of cohesive career path--it was always fairly quick and breezy. It was rarely difficult to find something that would cover my relatively modest bills. The real secret is to have no expectations, no preconceived notions and very low standards. I'm only 1/4 kidding. See, the thing is that I was, for a long time, convinced that I was going to somehow be making a name for myself in the performing arts, so the "day job" was never my primary concern. After that shifted (in other words, once that dream was finally crushed for good), what I did with my days took on a different level of importance. My job is now very much a part of my identity--which certainly wasn't the case in my 20's.

A major reason people stay in jobs they don't like it because it's makes up a large part of their Identity. For some the idea of redefining themselves is scarier than leaving a job. Have you ever been in that head space?

So clearly, that mindset is relatively new to me. I guess I'm currently going through the process of defining just what it is I want my professional life to look like, and what it should say about me. I suppose if I have any fear of moving on at this point it's coming partially from the fact that the process is incomplete. The picture is still unclear. Even more influential in keeping me put, though, are the pressures of needing to provide security and stability for my family. Having a kid is a pretty powerful argument for staying put, especially when the jobs market continues to be such a wasteland.

What's the longest you've stayed in a job you didn't like, or worse, dreaded? How were you able to keep going?

There have been a couple of jobs that ended up being completely draining, to which I dreaded going every morning, and yet held me prisoner for years. I believe the longest I've been in such a situation is around three years. A long time, I know. The mind comes up with a number of coping mechanisms to survive those grueling days, none of which seem to be at all healthy in the long run. One can try to quarantine ones work and personal lives completely, which ends up feeling disingenuous and is ultimately exhausting. I've also fallen into the oh-so-tempting trap of the gossip culture, with similarly horrible results. Sneaking off to kvetch with other people, but never effecting change? Exhausting and demoralizing. Ultimately, what I want is a job in which I can be a more honest version of myself, and through which I can grow and change in a way feels true. I don't want to have to play a role other than myself. I also want to feel that I have a genuine and positive hand in helping to shape the culture and vision of the organization.

Have you surveyed jobs out there and thought, hmm, I think I'd rather do that. What's that job/career?

All the time. I'm a nonstop career coveter, and I can muster up jealousy of jobs in just about any field. I'm jealous of all of my friends and family who teach (especially in the summer). I envy all of my freelancing friends for lots of reasons, not least of which is the mind-boggling amount of time they seem to have available just to read and write/blog. I want to go on tour all year like my musician friends. I suppose what all of my many "dream jobs" share in common is that they offer the opportunity to be imaginative, creative, and honest while having lots of fun. Oh, and ideally I'd be making lots of money. Is that so much to ask?

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Entrepreneur Magazine's resource for "Mompreneurs"

Are you a working mom who quit/is thinking about quitting your day job to start your own business? Entrepreneur Magazine has an online resource to help "Mompreneurs."



Interview: Nicole hasn't quit her job - yet

Nicole Graziano left a steady yet unfulfilling job to pursue a teaching career. After many years of school and sacrifice she landed what she thought was an ideal job. She soon realized it was anything but. Nicole is still employed as a special education teacher. However she's reached the "think-out-loud" stage about why and how to make a another move.

Nicole, you mentioned that you've grown to dislike your job, and possibly your career choice. What is it you're doing? What don't you like about it?

I teach special education in an inner city to middle school students. Most read at a kindergarten to second grade level. I find the majority of the students to be rude and disrespectful. Many parents are irresponsible and uninvolved. My frustration comes from the struggle of working extremely hard (usually 3 hours per night after the school day is done) with little reward for my work.

Why do you stay?

Now for practical reasons. I need a steady income to pay my mortgage. Prior to owning, I stayed because I wanted to reach my goal of owning my own home. I didn't want to prolong or jeopardize that. I do have a savings, but I hate the idea of having to touch it.

Fortunately there are other gigs out there that can pay the bills - even in a down economy. Is there a chance things can improve?

I do think that in time I will be able to find myself a better teaching position.

A lot of people find it more difficult to reinvent themselves than to stay in a job they hate. Are you in that head space right now?

It’s funny. I had always wanted to teach. I worked in logistics and distribution before moving from New Jersey to western Massachusetts about five years ago. That was my reinvention right there. I made my way through school and earned my teaching license. Little did I know how difficult it would be to find a position outside the realm of the inner city. I still remember my first few days of teaching in the city. It was unlike anything I had ever seen in school growing up. My expectations were way off. I’ve toughened up quite a bit, but that still doesn’t mean that I like it.

Have you thought about ways you can get out?

Last fall, I went through a really hard time. I landed what I thought was a perfect teaching job. Little did I know the amount of work that would go into it. I grew frustrated quickly about spending my days and nights working. I tried to think of ways out, but five years out of the logistics field doesn’t exactly make you a desirable candidate for a job. Temping and substitute teaching weren't great options. I would have nightmares about my house falling into foreclosure. I stuck it out and finished out the year thanks to an extremely supportive staff and principal and some really great kids who I didn’t want to let down.

Do you feel you'd be happier if you left with or without another job? Or would you regret it down the road if something else didn't come through right away?

I would only leave with another job to go to. Aside from finances, I know that I’d come down on myself for quitting. I worked hard to get the teaching license and would hate to see it go to waste.

Do you have a revised career goal?

I would love to do anything involving animal rescue. My dream is to open a farm animal sanctuary. I suppose I’d also like to teach, but only under the right circumstances. I’m drained at night, even on the occasion that I don’t have extra work to do. The job just isn't for me.

What was it about your current career that interested you? What was it that changed your tune about your original choices?

I used to get frustrated that my logistics job didn’t have anything to do with who I was and that it was of little value. I wanted to do something that produced real results. I realize now that teaching produces very little of that feeling for me. When the kids and parents care very little, it leaves the teacher with nothing. I guess those inner city teacher films are somewhat accurate somewhere, but I haven’t seen it. My students don’t even bring pencils to school. It’s really maddening. I’m not about to take a “they don’t care, so why should I?” attitude. It’s not in my makeup although sometimes I wish it was.

Luckily, I have a lot of people at work I can talk to. Let’s just say that I’m not the only teacher who is frustrated. My aid is a godsend. I couldn’t do the job and stay sane without her.

Have you been in other situations where you felt you would never resolve an issue, yet you did? Can you transfer any bits of knowledge onto this situation?

Getting myself out of the funk I was in last fall is proof that I can do anything. Funny though, I’m still way too scared to leave. I just approach it differently now. I‘m not out to be a superstar teacher. I just do my best and try to preserve myself in the process.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Helpful article for those who plan to go it alone

11 Essential Online Resources for Consultants

One of the keys to being a successful consultant is information - having it at your fingertips the moment you need it.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

INTERVIEW: Thomas Dudley - one year later

Artist and graphic designer, Thomas Dudley, left the Happy Valley for the big, bad city - without a gig lined up. Scary? Oh, yes. Worth it? Oh, hell yes.

It was about a year ago that you gave your notice to move to New York City - without a job! I know you stressed but you survived. Can you relive that time without twitching, or was it a good "learning experience?"

I'm still learning and twitching. Everyone likes to tell me that it "takes a year to get adjusted." I'm beginning to believe it. I think the worst assumption I made came from being a big creative fish in a very small pond. Everyone here is either good at what they do or good at networking or, even worse, both. The key, though, is that somehow I'm making it work. Every big, stressful bump has dissipated in a fog of success.

If you had to make the transition over again, what would you do differently?

Line up a job first.

Oof. Easier said than done sometimes. What's your current employment status?

Fragmented. While that perfect agency or boutique job continues to float just beyond the horizon, I'm scrambling together a bunch of freelance jobs. Career counselors often suggest treating job searching as a full-time job, so I can at least congratulate myself for being over-employed somehow. BTW, career counselors fail to mention that the pay is terrible for a full-time job hunter.

The pay isn't so hot as a career counselor, either. You're quite a good artist and designer. And you're in the perfect place to pursue both, no? But would you like to explore something OTHER than art? If so, what would it be?

New York is still, despite what a handful of crabby apples say, full of artists and opportunities. Manhattan may be an expensive Disney shell of its old-school self, but the boroughs are happening in a way they never really did in the past.

I've spent most of my working life exploring: the short list is something along the lines of dishwasher, cook, telemarketer, special effects technician, video editor, camera assistant, data entrist, warehouseman, land surveyor, carpenter, printer, laser engraver technician, reggae bassist, corporate collections thug, on and on it goes.

I'm the worst Village People tribute act ever. The trick is that most of these jobs are just crutches to support my art affliction, and the worst occupations force the best work out of me in my free time. If I'm getting paid to be creative, the last thing I want to do when I get home is make something. I get a lot of accounting done when I have a full-time creative gig. I fully subscribe to the philosophy that if you don't want to work, then get paid to do something you love. But I get bored easily, and sometimes I want to work. While I wish I could say I'm a full-time designer, I pad my lunch money by going out and moving art. So I'm open to change, but I'm becoming intolerant of wasting my time on any position where a paycheck is in some way dependent on dress code or false cheerfulness & vapid robotry.

Word. Are you impressed that you were able to step so far out of your comfort zone and pull it off? Or do you think you were nuts for doing it and would never do it again?

My comfort zone is a nebulous, mercurial thing. I know at some point a few years ago, fattened on newspaper layout & freelance web design spoils, I was pricing digital cameras or buying motorcycle parts or some sort of (relative) luxury activity, and I thought "Boy am I glad I don't have to live on ramen noodles & dahl anymore". Last month I was cooking some ramen & my brain was all "yo, you remember when you was all proud you wasn't eating ramen no more? SUCKA!!!!!". To be fair, I like ramen. HOWEVER!

Yes, I've toughened my day-to-day life considerably in the last year & sometimes have absolutely no idea where rent & food might be coming from (answer: incredibly good luck & piles of last minute salvation). So on one hand I'm impressed, but I'm also a little disappointed that I'd become so spoiled. I'm also doing my thang in NYC, so what I lose in consistency & materialism, I make up for in museums & outstanding chinese food.

What would you say to someone who told you they hated their job of 10+ years yet they don't know how to quit, or what to do?

People actually like telling me that, I have no idea why. I've become so hard assed about it: you don't like your job? There are 2 realistic options available to you: 1) shut up or 2) do something else (this, as it happens, also applies to thirst, coldness, lousy roommates, etc.). Life is so short, why spend 1/8 of your go-round in abject misery? Community colleges are great, they hand out cheap, fast degrees. Make your interests & hobbies pay. For god's sake don't gamble, the house always wins. Which is something else I can't stand: folks who are waiting for that big lottery windfall to make a significant change but fail to consider the probability. The vast, hopeless, more-likely-to-win-an-insurance-payout-from-being-mauled-by-a-truck probability. But I digress.

Make a nice resume and a web page. Sell grandma's silver on Ebay & get a smaller car. Fix yourself up for a change, batten the hatches and quit. But don't do it like a spastic drunk, make lists & maps & a plan. Or at least just a plan.

Monday, July 5, 2010

What's your quitting point?

Alexander Kjerulf AKA The Chief Happiness Officer is one of the world's leading experts in happiness at work and the best-selling author of 3 books including Happy Hour is 9 to 5. Take a look at his post about why (and how) more people are quitting lousy jobs - with or without a job lined up.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

NPR Story: People Quitting Jobs is a Good Thing

The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that more people are quitting their jobs than are getting laid off.


Young and Successful Article

Here's an interesting post about quitting your job without another one lined up courtesy of Young and Successful.


Friday, July 2, 2010

INTERVIEW: From bad job to bed and breakfast

Jim Rizzo left an unsatisfying job to open a bed and breakfast in Provincetown, MA. The rest, as they say, is history.

What prompted you to leave your job without a backup plan?

The dream of running a successful bed and breakfast called Christopher’s by the Bay in Provincetown, MA! It was a quite a leap of faith going from a steady paycheck to not knowing if the bills would get paid.

Was that the first time you left a job without another one in the queue?

No. The first time I left another job without one in the wings was early in my career. It was one of those "agreements" that it just wasn't a good fit for either of us. Part of the reason it wasn’t going to work was my closet case boss constantly hitting on me. His boss, another married closet case thought it was intriguing when I brought up the issue. As I said, it just wasn't going to work out.

How did you navigate the "oh, no, what have I done. NOW what?!" feeling?

The first time, I felt much more at ease not being in a hostile environment. I took the severance and immediately started networking with friends and associates searching for another position. Most recently, I again turned to friends and experts in the field for moral support and an understanding of what it takes to be successful. After buying my own business that I had no background in, I most definitely had that pit in my stomach "now what?!" feeling!

Looking back, would you say that you made the right decisions to split without a backup plan?

I do feel I made the right decision. Sometimes you just have to let go and trust that it'll all turn out OK.

If you had to leave a job again (without another job to go to), what would you do differently?

Find a silver daddy!

Based on your experience, what would you tell someone who's ready to call it quits?

Life is too short to be unhappy. In my opinion, its better to be poor and have a better quality of life than to draw a paycheck in an unfulfilling position.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

INTERVIEW: Ken Molnar's big leaps in life

Ken Molnar pulled off what many would deem impossible (or crazy): leave a well-paying job at Yale University and move to Northampton, MA without friends, job or housing prospects. He explains the why and how of his daring journey.

You moved to western Mass a few years ago without a job (or much of a solid plan). What prompted you to leave your job and move to a strange place?

Well, I have this theory that I really have to change things up in a big way every four or five years, which has so far been very true for me. I think I want to do a lot of things in life. I have a lot of interests, and any more than five years in a single place starts to make me feel like there are other things out there that I am not exploring. By year four in the same place, I have definitely begun to stagnate.

At the time of my last big leap, I was living in New Haven, didn't have a great car, not a lot of money, lived right on the edge of a sketchy neighborhood -- although here I was working at Yale University. But the particular office I worked in at Yale was really quite terrible. I loved my immediate boss but other than that it was a very cold and condescending atmosphere -- and I had suffered at that job for four years. See? There's that four number again.

Prior to that I had been in New York City for five years, and left -- literally -- on Sept 11. At that time, I was sick of the city, sick of brown buildings, and lack of trees, and lots of noise, and garbage, and an all-around unaesthetic atmosphere. The excitement of the place had definitely worn off by then. And I remember I kept thinking, "I just want green. I want trees. I want more open spaces." I still wanted civilization, mind you, but a more open version.

When I got to New Haven that kind of worked for me for a while. It was more open. It was greener. And there was lots of open country very near by. But New Haven is urban in it's own way, and can be kind of sketchy. I still had this picture in my mind of living in this place with hills and mountains. I remember writing a sticky-note to this effect and putting it on my fridge in New Haven. I remember looking online at farmhouses in Massachusetts and Vermont. It was like a longing.

Typical me, I spent Year four in New Haven in agonized turmoil. I didn't know where to go. Impulsively, in January of my fourth year in New Haven, I started taking improv classes down in NYC. I felt like I needed something to shake me up. And I spent the year in therapy. That's where I really figured it out.

In the end, it really came down to the idea of following your own energy. Even though I had only been to Northampton on two separate afternoons -- maybe a year apart, and only for a few hours -- I remember being struck immediately by the difference in energy in the people up there. Everyone seemed happy, creative, and productive. There was a palpable energy. But, typical me, I dismissed that type of place as a pipe dream. But in therapy Northampton came up again, and the more I talked about it, the more I realized I had such a strong energy about the place -- which stood out in total relief against all my other low-energy whiny complaint. I realized with some shock that I was probably going to move there. It was just a matter of when.

I struggled through the summer, listless, and then had a "beach epiphany" right at the end of the season. I was sitting on a log at the start of the dunes, watching the sun come up, thinking about everything, and my favorite word in all the world drifted up in front of me, loud and clear: No.

"No" to all the negative bullshit I had been putting up at work and the completely dissatisfied life I had been living in New Haven. When I felt that "No" I knew it was over. I walked into Yale the next day and told them I was quitting. Even then, it still took me about three more months to get myself together to do the move up.

How did you navigate the "oh, no, what have I done. NOW what?!" feeling?

I always have the same feeling when moving on from a bad place: relief. While I do think about it, it's never so much of "now what will I do?" It's always more a feeling of cutting away dead weight, of finally being able to start moving up.

What I find, too, is that -- scary as it is -- you always get SO MUCH MORE ENERGY by quitting than you think you have. The problem is that when you stay in a bad situation too long, you become like a car with its headlights left on: you feel constantly drained. And when you feel that drained all the time, you think you can't possibly make a big move, because you start to believe that your low-energy state is somehow permanent. Worse, you start to think that low-energy state is a fundamental quality of you, not simply a result of the bad situation. The secret is learning to scan the horizon for when a scenario if no longer serving you -- energetically speaking -- and making the move to get out before you become drained.

But you can make a big change. And what you don't realize in your drained, usually depressed state is that all that energy that has been seeping out of you has actually been going into layaway. You get all of it back -- and more -- when you finally decide to start making active choices for yourself again.

Looking back, would you say that you made the right decisions to split without a backup plan?

Keep in mind that big leaps are not for everybody, but I do think it is the most direct and effective route towards big change. When there is no going back, you actually commit yourself much more fiercely to a positive outcome. If instead you go slow, you give yourself too much time to think about what can go wrong, you make much "safer" low-impact choices, and you also become much more susceptible to other people's doubts and fears -- which they are always very happy to share with you, by the way. ("What about health insurance?!")

I find that the way I work, I almost have to make a crazy impossible change in order to actually do it. I find it easier to make huge crazy changes than little safe ones. It's like the difference between jumping into a cold pool and getting it over with versus going in one toe at a time, trying to acclimate slowly at each step. No matter which way you do it, the pool is still going to be shockingly cold. Might as well get it over with.

Which brings me to my other theme: life is short. If you know a scenario is not right for you, why spend one more second remaining in it? You only get this life once, and this day once. Why spend it on something that makes you miserable? Does that bad job / bad boyfriend / crappy city / bad career choice deserve another day of your life? No. So do something about it.

But to answer your question about a plan, even if a leap looks crazy, keep in mind that the person has probably been mulling it over internally for a long, long time. Actions look spontaneous on the outside, but there is often a lot of preparation internally, even if it is only that person accumulating enough frustration to actually do something about it.

If you had to leave a job again (without another one in the wings), what would you do differently?

I don't know that I would do anything differently. Clichéd as it is, there is that whole "leap and the net will appear" thing. I think in many small ways, I have been taking a series of chances each time I made a change, all of my adult life. (Moving to big scary NYC straight out of my childhood bedroom in CT was another one of these leaps.) But when I finally quit my well-paying job at Yale to move to a much smaller town, where I did not know one single person, and did not have any job prospects, and did not have a place to live, and had very little money in the bank, with a bad car, and with winter coming -- well -- I was aware how crazy it all was. I also remember thinking that this move to Northampton was the first real, true leap of faith I had ever made in my life. Everything before that had been mere practice by comparison. I remember thinking "so this is what a real leap of faith is." Make no mistake: I had tons of anxiety, and moments of panic, and "what am I doing?" ... but I also kept this thought in mind: I will be alright. Even if I fail, I will be fine. Even if I lose what little money I have I’ll survive. Like my father says, as long as you have your health you're doing pretty damn well. And I kinda just kept this is mind: It's OK to fail. The worst is that I would have to start all over again.

The only thing I can think of that might have eased my anxiety a little would have been to have had more money in the bank. Although there is a really interesting Catch-22 here. I think the more money people have, the more they are afraid of losing it. So, where more money should provide more of a sense of security to take risks, I think it actually makes you less likely to take chances. But, I mean, no one wants to end up sleeping under a bridge, so you do need a little bit of money before setting off on your next journey...

Based on your experience, what would you tell someone who's ready to call it quits?

It's OK to mull things over. It's OK to be confused, or depressed, or to feel lost, like you don't know what your next move is. It's OK to feel trapped. Because what this means is that you are waking up. Sleepwalking people don't feel unhappy, only people who are waking up and not liking what they see are unhappy. But it means you are becoming conscious, becoming aware of what needs to change. I really believe this is part of the process. Because all those feelings of frustration are getting stored up somewhere and later it's all going to serve as the rocket fuel that propels you forward, once you decide what your next big decision is going to be.

But as soon as you know that the place you are is not for you, DO buckle down and start saving your money (despite what I said above). You are going to need some kind of life raft, after all. The other interesting thing about money is this: I never felt like I had enough money at Yale, even though I made more money there than I ever made in my life. But what happens is that when you're unhappy, you unconsciously spend your hard-earned money on lots of little things to make you feel better: pizza, movies, ice cream, clothes, dinners, bars, trips. I would actually argue that you spend less money when you are happy, not more ...

But I've found that the moment you gain a new focus and decide you are going to make a big change, saving money becomes a necessity, and it actually becomes a lot easier to save money because now you have to. I was shocked at how quickly I was able to save money at Yale once I decided I was leaving. I felt so much richer in the process of quitting my job than all of the four years that I dragged through that place, buying little things here and there to make myself feel better.

Do you feel an itch to make another change? If so, what do you want to do next?

I am at year four-and-a-half in my cycle so -- yeah -- I do feel another change is coming. As usual, I am confused, and lethargic, and complainey, and cynical. And I'm eating lots of ice cream to make myself feel better. I am in the process once again. And I don't know where I am going. I am in the mulling phase. This can last quite a while I have found.

But I do know I have to do something radical and different again. Well-meaning people keep suggesting incremental changes to me (finishing a degree, or getting a similar-but-different job elsewhere) but that is not what I want to do -- at all. Mostly out of survival, I have managed to do pretty well for myself in office environments. (This alone is an achievement -- without ever having gotten a degree I have worked for many major financial corporations in NYC: Citigroup, etc. I've been successful for four years at Yale, four years at Smith College. Not bad for someone whose resume once only had: factory, retail store, Stop & Shop.)

But I feel the need to do something entirely different this time. Office work is a dead-end for me. There's nothing new I want to learn here, no more energy in it. I'm going through the motions, but that's it. I totally get it that up until now I have always made decisions out of sheer survival. "I need a job, and I can do this," has always been good enough for me, because it's had to be. But it's no good anymore. The part of myself that I have totally neglected -- in terms of making a living -- is the creative part. I've gone from lifting with my arms, to lifting with my intellect, but now it's time to start lifting myself up -- if possible -- with my creativity. Wish me luck because I still don't know how the heck I'm going to do this yet. But the not knowing is part of the process, so I guess I'm OK with that. I've been here before, in this exact same place, so I know I can do it all again.