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

Life-Changing Advice

Experts say many of us will hold 12 different jobs in our lives, by choice or because of seismic changes in the economy. Get your financial house in order so you’ll be ready. And seek advice from those who’ve successfully managed transitions, like these three:

“Ask yourself, What are my strengths, my passions? Where do they meet?”

—Dan Ogden, 41, sales associate with Guitar Center in New York City

“After 15 years as a headhunter in the financial services industry, I was laid off last December. I began playing the guitar again, something I’ve loved for 25 years.

I thought about a music career, but how many pop stars break into the business at my age? One day, I walked past a guitar shop. I thought of merging my passion for music with my sales background. I went in and was hired as a sales associate. I had to adjust my financial expectations, as I was now making an hourly wage plus commission. But moving in with my fiancée helped. Last month, I ranked 15th out of a 90-person sales team in our New York City store—the nation’s biggest.”

“When others say your goal is too risky, rise above the negativity.”

—Claire Cook, 54, novelist in Scituate, Massachusetts, whose latest book is The Wildwater Walking Club (Hyperion/Voice)

“Those who care about you will often try to ‘protect’ you. They’ll say your dream is too different, too scary. But I say, network, use the Internet, and go for it. While juggling three teaching jobs and raising my two kids, it hit me one day that I might live my whole life without doing what I really wanted to do, which was to write a novel. Life’s obligations had overshadowed my dreams. It was my midlife wake-up call. So, during my daughter’s early-morning swim practices, I began writing a novel on a legal pad in my minivan. When I got home, I typed it up. That first book sold to a tiny publisher. With my second book, I landed a contract worth more than 15 times my teacher’s income. Since then, I’ve supported myself full-time as a writer, and the 2005 movie based on my novel Must Love Dogs has put my two children through college. I’m so glad I went for it.”

“Consider your key skills and how they’re transferable to a new job.”

—Katie Wharton, 31, wildland firefighter in Long Barn, California, formerly with Merrill Lynch in New York City

“People will rule out new career choices, thinking they’re unqualified for them. But with the teamwork and communication skills I used in corporate America, I joined a helicopter crew of 18 firefighters with the U.S. Forest Service. It’s temporary, while I look for work in finance, but it’s highly satisfying. Being outdoors in natural settings is inspiring. And as always, tenacity and hard work are crucial.”

With reporting by J. Alex Tarquinio