What’s your Plan B?

United (States) Parcel Service.
United (States) Parcel Service. (Photo credit: matt.hintsa)

Van Morrison — one of my faves — has a new album out, Born to Sing: No Plan B.

I’m eager to hear it, but it also made me stop and think…what’s my Plan B?

I have a few, but so far haven’t had to put them into action.

With decent French and Spanish skills, and my interior design training, I feel fairly confident I could pick up a job — albeit likely entry-level — in that field. Worst case, I have a Canadian passport and citizenship and another country in which to legally job-hunt, if necessary.

But I sure don’t want to start a whole new career, which many of my fellow journalists were forced to do after 24,000 of us lost our jobs in 2008; I’d love to do a story and find out where they have gone. I know one, a man in his 50s, now in culinary school in Florence — but he already owned a home there and has a high-earning spouse, both of which are damn helpful if you have to re-tool, certainly in your 50s or beyond.

As the American economy continues to eject too many people from fields they’re good at and like and pay them well, and thousands of others don’t (yet) have the requisite skills for a new career, whether as an X-ray technician or software designer, it’s a very real and pressing question.

A few days ago, I had a long, lovely breakfast with a good friend, a single woman a bit older than I who needed nine monthswith excellent skills — to land her last job in our field, journalism. In those nine months, she ran through her savings.

After she went home from breakfast, she emailed me: “Laid off.”

Holy shit.

When does this stop?

Will it ever?

If I had kids, which I do not, the only skill I’d suggest they develop to its fullest is the willingness to do whatever it takes to survive economically, pride be damned. I saw an ad this morning in another diner, hiring for waitress, delivery and hostess spots. I called my friend and told her. It’s not her dream job and it’s sure not in her field and God only knows what the pay is like.

But the key word here is hiring.

In 2007, terrified after working so hard through illness I got pneumonia and landed in the hospital for three days with a temperature of 104 and needing an IV, I gave in/up and took a part-time job, selling clothing at The North Face, an outdoor clothing company, for $11/hr. No bonus, no commission. Very few raises (like 30 cents an hour.)

I stayed 27 months, finally leaving December 18, 2009. I only left after I was able to replace that income with something else, then as a paid blogger for True/Slant, earning $400 a month without having to stand on my feet for seven hours. (That gig abruptly ended five months later when Forbes bought it and fired almost every one of us who had created the audience that made it attractive. Doncha love it?)

Plan B is never enough. We all, now, need Plans C-Z.

I was able to write a book about that experience, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, and interviewed many others nationwide in the retail industry as well. I also got some cash from CBS, who optioned it for a sitcom, which did not happen.

It looked like a Plan B might have shown up, unbidden, as a creative consultant on that show, which would have guaranteed me a  nice four figures every month. Didn’t happen. (It’s being read now by three film/TV agents and I’m pretty optimistic someone else will pick it up.)

I’ve gained some income as a paid speaker since then, but haven’t been able to win the consulting gigs I’d hoped. (Turns out the retail industry has more “consultants” than a dog has fleas, and they all guard their lucrative turf jealously.)

So the success of any Plan B, (or C-Z), hinges on a number of factors:

— Can you segue into another industry, transferring some of your skills, at anywhere near your current earning power?

— If not, how much of a hit can you take and for how long? Forever?

— How much time have you got, really, to learn an entirely new set of skills? Days, weeks, months or years?

— Who is going to pay all your bills, and those of your dependents, as you do?

— Who’s going to pay your tuition or training fees?

— How supportive of this is your partner or spouse? What if it means, as it often does now in this recession, losing 50% or more of your previous income?

— How will you fund your retirement if this is the case?

— What about age discrimination? Everyone over 40 faces it and anyone over 55 is toast.

— How much physical stamina do you have for grueling jobs like retail or waitressing? (Foodservice and retail are the two single largest sources of new jobs in America, yet both at extremely low wages.)

— Do you need to sell your home and/or move to a new area? What if you lose that job?

Have you had to move to Plan B, or beyond?

What did you do?

If you did have to, what would it look like?

19 thoughts on “What’s your Plan B?

  1. Okay, when you said Plan B, I thought you meant birth control for a second!
    My plan B, if I don’t become a writer, is to maybe become an editor. If that doesn’t work, then maybe I’ll work in my school’s financial aid office like I’m doing now. It’s a solid job, though it can be quite repetitive.

  2. I wondered if people might think that…

    Being a writer or editor (believe it or not) can also be quite repetitive, in the sense that you use the same skills over and over. I love what I do but I also really enjoy using other skills and getting well paid for them.

  3. I’ve always wanted to start my own business – perhaps an online retailer. I’m trying to convince my boyfriend to have lasagna from scratch cooking workshops in his basement. OR I could scalp tickets to children’s concerts like The Wiggles and Dora the Explorer. These are pretty wacky – a more realistic Plan B would probably be retail. I was doing that not too long ago. I haven’t had to resort to that yet… we’ve had it pretty good in Toronto.

    1. Things are much rougher, still, in the U.S., and really bad depending on your region and industry, of course.

      I think being an online retailer would be very cool…except for the HST! One woman I know is making $35K a yr selling stuff on Ebay.

      1. Farah Ng @ Broken Penguins

        I’ve heard that it’s big business selling stuff on Ebay! I’d have to identify something good to sell though.

        I have friends in New York who are grateful that they have jobs because it’s been so difficult. But they love it there so coming back to Toronto is Plan Z for them. That’s fine by me – I like visiting 🙂

      2. I have thought of coming back to Toronto, but the cost of real estate is obscene and pay is lower and work opp’s much fewer in my field. So NY seems a better choice, if always a challenging one.

  4. These questions are true not just for writers but for any small business owners – and, I suspect, for anyone in paid employment these days. And I wonder how many people ask them? Still less do something about it.

    For writers, I think, the hardest part is watching ‘Fifty Shades of Talent Vacuum’ notch up 40 million sales and realising there ain’t no justice in the world!

    1. Anyone who does not truly think about their Plan B is mad. I have very much changed my attitude since moving to the the US where employers can, and do, fire people with zero impunity. It is shocking to me and everyone just thinks its normal…while I find it really upsetting and it kills your ability to save $$$$ well and consistently.

      The latest to-do here is Lena Dunham scoring millions of $$$$ for her new book. She is 26. Oh yeah.

  5. Please do a story or two on these jobs. One news organization reports that the economy’s great, another says it’s still terrible. Then, I see people around me without work or struggling. I’m struggling as a teacher–no raise, more students. I have a slew of Plan B’s but I still feel insecure.

  6. The economy is wildly unbalanced when it comes to work. There are plenty of jobs at $7-10 an hour for PT work, few hours and no benefits. The political right can call this “job growth” and be accurate in a very narrow sense of that word. Then the larger questions arise — and are never answered…like, what happens to someone who (which is happening over and over, especially to older workers seen as disposable and costly) gets a job and loses it, gets a job and loses it….maybe not working long enough to even qualify for unemployment benefits and did not have time to (re)build their savings.

    It’s very ugly. Some people are doing so incredibly well it is very easy to forget that many are not.

  7. Nemesis

    Just between the two of us, Ms. Malled… Mine has always been to usurp the corrupt ‘status quo’. After the slave rebellion has concluded, I must say… I’m looking rather forward to my new career as a Benevolent if somewhat decadent/hedonistic Regional Warlord.

  8. My dad worked for the same company for 26 years and was laid off last year, a couple of days before his birthday. He is now training for a brand new career, in his mid-fifties. The shift in U.S. work culture has been sudden and life changing. My dad came from time and place where it was highly respected to stick with the same company for your whole adult life. Now, even if you aren’t laid off, it’s best to keep leveraging yourself up and over.

  9. Ouch! This is exactly the sort of midlife smack in the head we all dread. I am really shocked at the lack of power of Amerian workers — 7 percent unionized in the private sector, 12 percent public. You might, now that you’re living in Canada, see and feel the difference there.

    My husband’s employer is saber-rattling right now (they are unionized at the Times), and we wonder if there wil actually even be a strike. Neither of us has an advanced degree nor do we wish to suddenly learn a whole new field.

    I hope your Dad is doing well now…

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