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Tasia Malakasis ditched her high-charged career with technology startups to follow a slower-paced calling of cheese making. College assistant basketball coach Michelle Marciniak loved the fabric of her favorite athletic shorts so much that when her job ended, she co-founded a company that makes bedsheets from that silky fabric. CNN anchor Daryn Kagan thought her boss was calling her into the office to compliment her work but instead learned her contract would not be renewed. Now head of DarynKagan.com, she considers that experience to be a gift.
“On that day, it was a really bad thing. Today,” Kagan realizes, “it was a really good thing.” The moral, she says: “What’s bad today may actually be good tomorrow.”
All three people faced the same nerve-wracking issue many people come up against at some point, whether due to layoffs, changing market trends, the economy, or the realization their original dream just wasn’t working out: How do you come up with a Plan B for your career and dream? What do you do when a career takes a detour and leaves you behind or you realize that’s not what you wanted to do? All three found ways to pick themselves up, start over, and change their mindsets so they were open for new and different opportunities.
“You can look at it as, ‘Wow—what an opportunity to create the future I’ve always wanted’ or ‘This is horrible! Poor little old me,’ ” says Tom Ziglar, CEO of Ziglar Inc. and son of motivator Zig Ziglar. It’s OK to grieve the passing of a career for a little while, but then, he says, “You’ve got to step up and say: In America, we still have it better than 99 percent of the world.” So, go after a goal and “just pursue it relentlessly.”
People are terrified of change, agrees inspirational speaker and author Andy Andrews. “But you’ve got to remember that every good thing that ever happened in your life happened because something changed. Even forced change can be great.”
And while making the transition, try to avoid seeing your last career as something that went wrong. “Maybe it didn’t go wrong at all,” says best-selling author and speaker Jack Canfield, co-founder of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. “Maybe in the grand scheme of things you are being called to do something bigger with your life and have a greater impact on the world. Your last career was a steppingstone in this new direction, and everything you’ve learned up to this point has groomed you to make this transition and welcome future successes. The so-called failure in your mind isn’t failure at all—it’s simply a step along the way.”
Malakasis, Marciniak and Kagan faced challenges in making their transitions, but also saw the potential rewards. Here are their stories.
Follow Your Heart
Malakasis worked in sales and marketing for technology startups when, on a chance stop at Dean & Deluca’s in New York City, she discovered an artisanal goat cheese, Belle Chèvre, which was made in a rural area 35 miles from her Alabama hometown. Something clicked.
Earlier in her life, Malakasis had done a little work at a culinary school and left knowing she didn’t want to become a chef. Still, she says, “I knew my passion was food. I just didn’t know how to put that in a physical form.” At least until she stumbled upon Belle Chèvre.
She had never made cheese before, but she began to feel a calling to quit her 15-year techworld career and return to Alabama to become an apprentice cheese maker at Belle Chèvre. So she did nearly three years ago.
“I could apply my business acumen that I, hopefully, had garnered, and combine my passion with food. For me, it just didn’t get any better than that. Probably rather abruptly I just said: ‘OK, this is it. I just quit my job today,’ ” Malakasis says. “I’m not sure that would be any advice I would give someone. I really jumped off the cliff.”
But once she made the leap, she was fearless. “You just can’t have any fear. If you do, you get paralyzed,” she says. “Once you do something that’s so out of the ordinary and risky in a way, there’s a nothing-to-lose sort of mentality.”
Malakasis, who draws inspiration from books such as Og Mandino’s The Greatest Salesman in the World, went on to buy the seven-employee Belle Chèvre with her savings, even though, she says, “I knew nothing about food companies.” But she did know about startups. Also, she learned in her tech career the importance of surrounding herself with knowledgeable people to learn from, so she’s doing that now.
“It seems like you’re jumping without a net, but there’s always a net,” she says, whether it’s a networking group, industry organization or people with various expertise within your circle of acquaintances. In her case, she found support from industry organization Southern Foodways Alliance.
Malakasis’ strategy: Keep moving forward. Not that you shouldn’t give serious thought to major life changes, but she learned from the tech world that there’s no “We’ll get to that next week” or “That’s a fourth-quarter thing.” When it comes to work and decisions, “You do it now. You’re serious, but momentum is important.”
“Every good thing that ever happened in your life happened because something changed.” —Andy Andrews
Malakasis keeps both business and personal journals. When something nags at her because it seems like it’s not the right thing to do, she pays attention and tries to figure out what piece of the puzzle isn’t right. She jots notes in her business journal at the end of the day when she has time for reflection. “I have a pretty regimented practice of soul-searching,” says the recently divorced mom of a 5-year-old son. However, “I don’t do the self-doubt thing. I don’t think self-doubt is healthy.”
Drive for Success
Michelle Marciniak similarly expresses no self-doubt about trading a lifetime in basketball to start a unique business—a company that uses athletic fabrics to make silky, breathable, wicking, “luxury performance bedsheets.” She was on a prestigious career path to become an NCAA college head coach after playing pro basketball and serving as an assistant basketball coach at the University of South Carolina. But that job would end with the resignation of her head coach, Susan Walvius, because the successor coach would bring in her own assistant.
Marciniak loved the game, especially as a player, but success as a coach hinged on motivating teens who didn’t necessarily share her commitment. She considered herself better suited to the business world, where she could drive herself as hard as she wanted.
A pair of shorts inspired her business idea. “I was wearing a pair of shorts that I would literally wash, put on again, wash and put on again. I lived in them,” says Marciniak, who at the time was assistant coach working under head coach Susan Walvius.
One day she gave a pair to Walvius, who said, “I love this fabric; I wish I could have bedding made out of this stuff.” Marciniak says she looked at Walvius and said, “Let’s do it.” Walvius contacted the university’s business school, which did a feasibility study and helped formulate a business plan. When Walvius resigned from coaching in April 2008, the pair ran with the business. SHEEX launched its Web site this spring and was looking for retailers.
“We’ve been going full throttle,” Marciniak says. “We jumped in with all of our hearts, and we decided to go forward and haven’t looked back since.” Working with business advisers, surrounded by good people and edified by lots of books, they both feel motivated to keep moving. “It kind of snowballs,” Marciniak says.
As a player, Marciniak saw positive results from the efforts she made, so she’s pushing herself as an entrepreneur. “I see that as being very similar,” she says. It’s as if a little person in her head drives her to write one more e-mail or make one more phone call as the hours wear on. And just like when she played basketball, “I sleep hard because I work hard.”
Creating a New Dream
Daryn Kagan says she spent a few months being sad about her CNN career ending after spending more than a quarter of her life there. It helped her cope to realize that everything has a beginning, middle and end. Every job must end. Some end in six months; some, decades later.
But then it was time to take the energy spent grieving to focus on what was next. She recognized signs that the news business was changing. At some point, she knew, she’d have to reinvent herself. Now was the time. But how?
She wanted an idea for Plan B to come full-blown and ready, like a package from the Bloomingdale’s catalog that arrives at the front door, she says. “The thing I wish I knew then that I know now is: Inspiration comes in pieces,” Kagan says.
She came to realize there were clues all around as to what Plan B should be. To find the clues, she suggests doing what she did: Conduct an inspirational “treasure hunt.” Specifically, Kagan suggests buying a package of mini spiral notebooks and then sprinkling them all around your life. One goes into a purse, another in the car, on the nightstand, in the bathroom. If you have a job, put one at a desk at work. Every time you have a bit of inspiration—anything that makes you go, hmm—jot it down. Don’t filter anything out. If a billboard on pig farming in Iowa makes you say, hmm, jot it down.
In her case, her main inspiration came from an unexpected place—a Web site on war, a place where you don’t expect a warm, fuzzy feeling. Yahoo had hired Kevin Sites to travel to wars for a year for his “In the Hot Zone” project. Kagan didn’t want to cover wars, but the Web site gave her an idea.
She decided to create her own Web site and media company that covers what she loves and other reporters eschew—positive, inspirational stories. She liked the idea of having her own business. No longer would she rely on others to provide her a full-time job or assign her a fun story. “I picked me,” says Kagan, whose repertoire includes books, speeches, documentaries, contributions to Oprah Radio and more.
“I was just so excited about what I was doing. Failure just wasn’t an option,” she says. “The coolest part of my job is that I talk to inspiring people all day.”
Kagan likes the notebook-jotting technique for helping piece together a unique career. “The thing that I wanted to do didn’t even exist. Maybe you haven’t found your thing because maybe it doesn’t exist,” she says. “You really have to give yourself some space.”
Thousands of news reporters nationwide have been laid off in the couple of years DarynKagan.com has been up and running. “It was a really good time to start doing what I am doing,” she says. The end of her CNN job was actually a beginning. “It was a great gift.”