Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Upside to Getting Fired (Life Changing Moments Series)

If there's one thing I've been observing from this Life Changing Moments series, it's that many seemingly horrible situations present us with opportunities to improve our lives. Such is the case with today's post from Sharon K. Owen. Sharon is a fiction writer, a university professor, an online writing instructor, a freelance writer, a copy editor and a consultant for social media and self-publishing projects. Her first novel: Thicker Than Water (Brands Crossing Series) was published in 2011 and the second book in the series, Whatever Goes Around, will be published in March, 2012. Sharon's short stories and poetry have been published in Descant, Concho River Review, Iron Horse, American Literary Review, Trinity Writer's Workshop newsletter and collections of Christmas stories. She shares a cozy sanctuary in a small lakeside town in North Texas with her two cats (Matt and Cinders). Learn more at her blog.

Sharon K. Owen

What a difference three years can make.

In February of 2009, I was working an 8-5, Monday-Friday job with a large company in Dallas that designed, built and managed trendy, expensive, high-rise, apartments in up-town and down-town Dallas and similar apartments near major college campuses throughout the U.S.

After completing my graduate degrees, I opted to build a corporate instead of an academic career and joined this company. During my 15-year stage, I received regular promotions with increased responsibility and salary.

Corporate Life
By 2009, I was an administrative assistant supporting two senior executives and four project managers. I scheduled their travel, managed their e-mail and correspondence, coordinated their meetings and pretty much acted as liaison between them and clients, subcontractors, lenders and public officials. I also created proposals and presentations, managed contracts and budgets, projected statistics, tracked production and handled monthly draws.

Besides my generous salary, the company matched my contributions to a 401K, provided yearly bonuses, paid my insurance, offered 4 weeks of vacations and added other perks like the opportunities to watch the Mavericks, Stars, Cowboys and Rangers from seats in company suites and box seats. There were also reserved seats at the opera, ballet, and theater productions. I went to gallery openings, parties at exclusive clubs and dinners at five star restaurants. Usually these events were part of the entertaining of clients, but still …

I lived in a spacious and elegantly furnished apartment in a nearby suburb. It included a high-tech kitchen, garden/Jacuzzi tub, a state-of-the-art office, several hundred channels of cable TV, lightening fast fios internet, a pool and fitness center and a nearby park complete with jogging trails around a small pond.

I shopped at chic boutiques or upscale malls and met friends for brunch, lunch or dinner at trendy restaurants.

During the week, I was up at 6 am, home by 7 pm, and after a few hours zoned out in front of the TV, I went to bed to recharge my batteries for the next day.

I still taught English one night per week at a community college and tried to find a few hours each week to work on my novel—the one I'd started several years before.

Except for the lengthy and stressful commute, I was satisfied with my life. My two cats seemed content as well. They never left the apartment and found "outside " to be a troubling place, one they only saw from the interior of their carriers on trips to the vet or kennel.

Then, the economy changed and I was laid-off in March of 2009.

Post-Corporate Life
As always, the company treated me very fairly with a generous severance package—but it was a scary time. It was no longer a seller's market for well-educated, experienced employees. Any available positions received hundreds of applications from qualified candidates who were willing to accept positions for a third of the salary they had previously received.

I decided to take a change of direction.

I accepted a faculty position with an on-line university, added an adjunct teaching position at the university I had once attended, signed on the as a substitute with a small town high school and moved from my upscale apartment to a small cottage on a friends' property.

I added the necessary equipment and started an online business as a copy editor and freelance writer.

And I completed and published my first novel.

Sharon's new schedule afforded her the time
to publish her first novel, Thicker Than Water.

The Upside of Downsized
Since I am basically a contractor, I only get paid when I work. If my classes don't make, I don't get paid. If I'm not needed a substitute, I don't get paid. And if I don't have copy-editing or freelance writing jobs, I don't get paid.

I pay my own insurance and, though I do have flexibility in my schedule, my work week is pretty much 24/7.

My income is approximately half of my previous salary but my expenses have also been drastically reduced. I shop at Target, Wal-Mart, Dollar Stores and resale shops. The infrequent visits to restaurants include mom-and-pop diners, and family-owned Italian, Chinese and Mexican restaurants. I have basic cable TV and a Wi-Fi card for internet connections. Jeans and T-shirts are my normal attire. I can either stay home or travel. As long as I have a laptop and a Wi-Fi card, I can work from anywhere.

I can also work in the flower and vegetable gardens I created, take long walks around the nearby lake, or sit in the shade of one of the many trees near my little house. The cats come outside as well.

So, yes, I was forced to make drastic changes when I was downsized.

But the upside is:

I am happy, fulfilled and at peace doing what I really want to do. I teach. I write. I prosper.


If you think you have a great life changing moment to share (and you probably have several), click here to learn how to get the conversation started. I'm sure if you think it's important, I may too.


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Check out previous posts from the Life Changing Moments Series:


Mark K said...

Kudos to you, ma'am, for I feel you have broken away from the rat race :)

Michelle's a writer said...

The life you describe seems like a dream to me, but seeing you actually achieving it gives me hope. Thanks so much for sharing your story. I wish you the very best luck :)

Patricia said...

Loved hearing about your life travel down the road to downsizing. Because I've been in a place where I didn't have much money and now have more money, I don't think I'm happier now than I was then. Money is what it is - it can buy things. But things aren't what makes me happy in my life, so I could give them up.

Steven E. Belanger said...

You adapted well and live the life many of us would love to have. Kudos to you. May we all get there someday.

Peggy Strack said...

You are living an authentic life as opposed to a prescribed life. Not many of us can say that.

Although I was never laid off, I was offered a promtion at one point in my career. With it would come more money, more prestige, more power, more time on the job, more stress, less time to do what I love. I didn't take it and have never regretted it.

linda a janssen said...

You've demonstrated great resilience in assessing a tough situation, making key decisions and acting quickly. Everyone handles such life-changing setbacks differently, but I can see that your practical actions coupled with your desire to build a new life doing what you love have really paid off. Congratulations and kudos to you!

Joanne said...

I've known Sharon in both life patterns. She's a hard worker no matter what, and despite mild panic, she transitioned well into her new life.Personally, I think she's working harder ... but at her own pace ...and her decisions impact HER, not three other bosses and a project manager. (well, maybe the cats would disagree - they are the true bosses). Anyway, she has a bright future ahead in the world of publishing, editing, teaching, and in being a friend.

Anonymous said...

Joanne, Thank you so much for your comments. As always, you are one of my strongest supporters.