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 months — with 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.”
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?