Employees Bid Farewell to Corporate America
With the U.S. unemployment rate at 9.1 percent as of July 31 and a fragile economic recovery underway, many workers feel they are left with no choice but to take their careers into their own hands.
Employees are bidding farewell to corporate America in the hope of finding a more secure, or at least fulfilling, future. They are reinventing themselves by starting their own companies or by pursuing long-put-off dreams that include creative or charitable endeavors.
While it might seem like a bold move, countless workers believe the abundance of uncertainty in today’s job market mitigates the fear factor.
When self-proclaimed "cubicle monkey" Charlie Avallone, a technical writer in the investment field, realized his superior was planning to stick around for at least another 20 years, the 37-year-old from Los Angeles felt he was running out of options.
Underwhelmed by his lateral move choices and faced with a shortage of other opportunities in the marketplace, Avallone decided to opt out. Taking a home equity loan to cover health care and day-to-day living expenses, Avallone started his own consulting business.
"It was very satisfying to leave my job and support myself and be able to think that I was my own boss," says Avallone.
In a challenging economy, the freelancer took on as many assignments as he could handle, often not knowing where his next job would come from. After a three-year “time out,” Avallone was able to re-enter the corporate world at a level above the one he left.
"It was a leap of faith," Avallone says. "But for me it worked out. It’s great knowing that if I had to do it on my own again, I could."
In Search of Balance
Michelle Lawton, who spent two decades in a successful career in branding and marketing, left it all behind to start her own business, Joyful Plate, seeking to strike a better sense of balance in her life.
Lawton decided to use her savings to invest in herself. "I was at a point in my life where I was looking for a real shift," Lawton says. "I realized I had a life opportunity. I had a strong network, and I’ll be 44 this year. This is the time. I wanted to somehow give myself a portal to use my talents to do something that I’m really passionate about. But also, from a strategic standpoint, I wanted to figure out an infrastructure that would allow me to pave my own way moving forward."
Lawton notes when she was in the corporate world working for companies like Procter & Gamble, Pepperidge Farm, Lavazza Coffee and Remy Cointreau, she was compensated very well but still not nearly enough considering the hours she was putting in.
"It’s so hard to find a happy medium," says Lawton. "The stress level is so high, you indulge in unhealthy ways to compensate, emotionally treating yourself, whether it’s overeating or overdrinking or overspending."
As her own boss, Lawton makes time for things she never could during her years in the business world, such as lunchtime yoga and pilates classes.
"It’s something I can’t quantify," explains Lawton. "I’ve never been healthier. What I’m not gaining in financial rewards, I’ve gained in personal well-being. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s a trade-off."
Dr. Kevin Brennan, a New York City-based psychologist who concentrates on helping young professionals, said the pressures of choosing the right career and the right time to follow one’s passions are the centerpiece of his practice.
"This generation's parents said we could do anything we want, just be 'happy,'" says Brennan. "Thus, happiness is now our only benchmark, and it is often the hardest. The previous generation of workers may have also wanted to quit and pursue their passions, but there was an overwhelming expectation to stay put, so there was less anxiety about settling with the dead-end job. 'Happiness' was simply not their primary value, allowing them to settle and put off their passion-hunting until their responsibilities diminished, a.k.a. mid-life crisis."
Two years ago, Brennan saw 10 percent of his patients lose their jobs. "The other 90 percent put economic distress on the top of their weekly dance card," notes Brennan. "Some are looking for promotions in a dry well. Everyone—except the recently unemployed—is feeling the vice tighten at work through increased hours and responsibilities due to a job market into which bosses know employees won't dare venture."
Brennan encourages those who are confused about their careers to think not only outside the box, but outside themselves.
"When in doubt, help others out," advises Brennan. "Ask 10 people who engage in activities that help the world if they love what they do, and nine will say 'absolutely.' If you are bright, capable and bewildered, then why not do something useful for others?"
A man who knows what Brennan’s talking about is 25-year-old Andrew Flavin, who specialized in corporate loan syndication. He and his wife, a recruiter for a hedge fund, turned their backs on careers bringing in over $100,000 annually to build homes for the poor in Tijuana, Mexico, with Amor Ministries. Flavin, whose father is a minister, relished the opportunity to help others ever since he began going on the mission trips with his church as a young boy.