By Steven DeMaio at HBR Four months ago I decided, some say rashly, to quit my job and pursue interests that I'd neglected for a while. The economic crisis was in full view when I took the plunge, but it has worsened since then. For folks out on their own right now, there are turbulent waters to navigate, and so much depends on the whims of the economic seas.
When I quit, more than one person trotted out the old "sink or swim" cliché to describe what lay ahead of me. But "sink or swim" isn't a one-time challenge when you make a radical career move -- it's a test you take again and again. I've figured out some tactics that, for now, seem to be working:
1. Accept that you will sink -- more than once. Every single time the health insurance bill comes due, I get a frightful mouthful of water. But it doesn't mean I'm going to drown. I write the check while I'm chatting on the phone or on Facebook -- and I try to make a joke about it. Humor -- even gallows humor -- can make you buoyant again.
2. Let the current do the work sometimes. If you try too hard to make ends meet, you just end up at wit's end, and it's hard to swim in that condition. Sure, you need to pursue opportunities, but desperation only breeds rejection. Stay calm for your own sanity. Besides, it'll make you more appealing as you enter arenas where people don't know you.
Being out on your own in an economic crisis is cross-training of the best sort. You've got to get good at the things you don't do so well, and better at the things you've mastered. That can provide more of a rush than a 5K run every morning.
Some of my tough workout has involved teaching. Shortly after quitting, I made a beeline to local adult education centers and landed a couple of part-time gigs teaching English and math, thanks in part to my experience teaching in the 1990s.
The classes have been wonderful -- exactly the shot in the arm that I needed. I really liked my job in publishing and still enjoy what I do in that area. But direct contact with the people affected by my work is important to me. Teaching offers that in spades.
My students and I are learning a lot in these tough times, and I plan to share specific lessons in upcoming blog posts - no geometry, don't worry. To those of you who shared your heartfelt sentiments, personal stories, and justifiable fears and critiques in response to my original post, please continue the conversation. And to those -- job leavers, keepers, and seekers alike -- who haven't yet spoken, please tell us about your career conundrums in these hard times. We could all benefit from the swimming lessons.