This interview is the second in a periodic series profiling those who have recreated themselves following a job layoff. Each story is unique, yet the challenges they've faced will resonate with many who share their experience.
I recently spoke with "Don," a former senior-level IT director in southern Connecticut who carved a new path outside the corporate track after losing his job at age 58.
Q. What happened to your last full-time job?
Don: It's been four years since my job in IT was outsourced to India, like so many others. At the time, I was 58 years old and had known for over a year that this was probably going to happen as my company was merging different business units.
I had been working in IT for over 30 years, working my way up from a programmer's position to the level of director of information technology. My salary plus bonus in 2005 was about $125,000.
Q. What was your biggest immediate concern following your layoff?
Don: I had considerable savings and investments, so I was more worried about losing my medical benefits than I was about the financial impact of my job loss. After researching various options, I discovered that I would be eligible for health coverage if I worked part-time (at least 20 hours a week) at Starbucks, so I got a job at a local Starbucks as a lowly barista. I started working there in 2005, while I was still working as an IT director. It was just a few months before my layoff. So, for a period of time, I was working about 60 hours a week between both jobs.
As expected, I lost my IT job at the end of 2005. I got a very generous severance package and continued working part-time at Starbucks, which qualified me for medical coverage.
Q. Was it difficult to make the transition from senior-level corporate executive to coffee-server?
Don: For someone who once managed 10 people and a $5,000,000 budget, the Starbucks position was, of course, very menial; I was essentially a clerk serving beverages and emptying the garbage. But I enjoyed the job and felt a sense of relief that I had left the corporate world once and for all. It was kind of strange reporting to supervisors who were in their early 20's, but I got along well with everyone.
I enjoyed getting an inside glimpse of the workings of a large, successful company by day and reading the company's corporate news announcements in the Wall Street Journal the same night. Still, there were times when I was self-conscious and a bit embarrassed when former colleagues and friends would show up as customers at Starbucks.
Eventually, I took on two other part-time jobs to keep myself busy and supplement my Starbucks income. One was working as a clerk at a gas station eight hours a week at a low salary, but with one big benefit: getting my two cars fixed for free there whenever they need repairs. I always enjoyed being around cars, and it's a nice casual place to work, where I can bring my dog if I want. We have a big TV on all day too.
I also landed a job as a driving instructor at a local driving school for another 10 hours a week. It's something I enjoy immensely since, in the early days of my career, I worked as a high school math teacher. I like being with the kids.
While I've kept the driving instructor and gas station jobs for over two years now, I was laid off by Starbucks in mid-2009. It came during a big wave of layoffs there following a drop in coffee sales and the deepening recession, and a change in their business model where they wanted to hire mostly full time employees.
Q: Did you lose health coverage when you left Starbucks?
Don: No. I had remarried when I turned 60, so I wasn't upset to lose the Starbucks health benefits since I'm now on my wife's superior health plan. It was fun working there for almost four years.
Q. Are you able to make ends meet now and provide for a comfortable semi-retirement?
Don: My two jobs provide sufficient activity, stimulation and income, combined with my other investment income. I also decided to begin collecting Social Security benefits at age 62. This allows me to work only about 15 to 20 hours a week now between both remaining part-time jobs.
I'm happy to be out of the IT world with its politics, pressure and often incompetent managers.
Q: Did you consider any other career paths once you left the IT world?
Don: Early on, I did consider becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN), since there's been a chronic shortage of nurses and the job prospects in that field are booming. I've also enjoyed working with elderly people in various volunteer activities I've had over the years. In the end, I decided not to pursue that path, though I'd recommend it to others. I chose not to pursue nursing because it would take me two years to get the schooling and license, and I don't want to be working that much longer or harder.
Q: Can you describe the most significant changes in your lifestyle today compared to just a few years ago?
Don: The best thing about semi-retirement is the added time it's put back into my life. I'm working less than 20 hours a week now and I have a lot of time to do many things I couldn't do before, like travel, golf, volunteer work and spending more time with my wife, family, friends and new dog.
Life is good. I'm happy, content and, while far from rich, I'm financially comfortable, with no regrets after 40 years in the work world.
Q: What advice could you give to others who face a possible layoff? How easy is it to reinvent yourself after investing so much time in your career?
Don: Take a chance and try something new. I could have advanced into management at Starbucks, but I wasn't interested. But there are plenty of opportunities out there for interesting jobs, where you don't have the pressure to make a lot of money. Just make sure you can continue health care benefits one way or the other.
Faces of the Unemployed - Meet Don
February 3rd, 2010 at 11:42 pm