Second Acts: Recession Success Stories

Laid low by a layoff? Worried about your prospects? Let these four reinvention stories inspire you.

By Adam Piore from Reader's Digest | November 2009

The Road Less Traveled

The Go-Getter: Wendi Ezgur, 42, corporate consultant

Got Started in: Highland Park, Illinois

The Goal : To lighten up

The Gain: Saved $1,200 a month in expenses, taught the kids about pulling together

My husband, Michael, an attorney and a co-owner of a real estate development company, came home from work one day and said, “It’s not looking good.” In the middle of the night, I’d wake up and see him sitting in a chair, with his hand on his forehead. I was worried. I wanted to cheer him up and help us financially.

I’ve been a corporate consultant for years, brainstorming ideas for top companies such as Campbell’s and Mars. I also teach creative thinking at the college level. I thought, What if we embarked on an adventure and monetized it? As a family, we’d always talked about traveling more, but we’d been tied to routines. Now I saw no point in sitting around worrying when we could see the country. We’d take our kids, Aidan, 11, Charlie, 8, and Rosie, 6, out of school and teach them on the road. It was the perfect time, before they reached high school. We’d rent out our house.

I pitched this to Michael: “What if we took a road trip in an RV?” He resisted at first but realized that with his BlackBerry, cell phone, and computer, he could work anywhere.

We listed our house for rent and got a great deal on an RV (no payments for six months). Wearing my idea consultant’s hat, I created a brand strategy, logo, and website for us—familyofftrack.com—and secured five major sponsors, including Geico and Encore campgrounds. Their ads on our site would help defray travel costs, and we’d promote their brands in campgrounds on our trip in exchange for their support. Plus, in the RV, we wouldn’t spend money on things like dry cleaning and baseball league fees.

We never rented the house, which cost us thousands, but with our minds made up, we took off on April 3. Our first stop: Springfield, Illinois, home of Abraham Lincoln. In the Whispering Gallery at the presidential library and museum, Aidan was blown away by political cartoons of the day that criticized Lincoln for his stance on slavery. I thought, Already we’ve embedded learning in our trip.

All spring and summer, we visited national landmarks and treasured lands. In the South, we drove along the Natchez Trace, the 444-mile parkway lined with Civil War history. At Bandelier National Monument, in New Mexico, we climbed ladders up to the ancient cliff dwellings of Native Americans and down to their sacred communal prayer pits. And we took swims in Oregon’s sparkling rivers. We kept a video blog; Aidan added the music. Rosie made a slide show of photos, while Charlie put receipts in a folder.

By the end of August, we were ready to return home. Michael’s company continued to slide and now may have to file for bankruptcy. But he and I spent so much time planning that we’re now going to make the RV a permanent part of our lives and reap the rewards: This winter, we hope to make a southeastern run, and next summer, we’ll be on the road again. With a Chicago-based production company, I’m developing the Family Off Track brand by creating videos, educational programs, and exhibits. And Michael has new ideas for commercial leasing and management businesses. It’s great to see the spark in his eyes again.

I’ve always felt that my husband and I make a great team. Now I feel it even more. Together we taught our kids a lesson: Nobody ever made history by living 100 percent by the book.

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