The days of getting a good job at a solid company and giving them your undying devotion while they reciprocate until your date of retirement — when they throw you a quaint party, give you a gold watch, and provide for you through your golden years with a healthy pension — have gone the way of the company car, guaranteed 6 percent annual pay increase, and yes, the typewriter. Whether due to downsizing, lack of job satisfaction, or business failure, people are starting over, reinventing themselves, and finding what matters to them. It’s not easy, but those who have done it will tell you it’s worth the struggle.
What He Did: Owner/Administrator, Baker’s Rest Haven in Boonville, Ind.
What He Does: Real Estate Agent, ERA First Advantage Realty
David Batts was happily married with two daughters. He owned a nice home, and had operated a successful business since 1985 — until another Boonville, Ind. nursing facility opened in 2000, touting their skilled services (medical and nursing care beyond daily living assistance as well as rehabilitation) in a beautiful new building. Over time, his facility’s occupancy rate dropped from 98 to 65 percent. “This most definitely cut into my cash reserves,” Batts, now 53, says. “I got behind and just got further behind.”
Batts’ decision to get out came in February 2009 when bank officials told him they were calling the loan due in two weeks or he could put the business into receivership (a financial arrangement in which a receiver is appointed by the court to run the company and liquidate the assets). He says, “At that point, I felt like a total failure.”
A firm believer in having a “Plan B,” Batts had been sitting on a real estate license since his graduation from the University of Evansville in 1982. Within two days of the receivership appointment, long-time friend Janice Miller of ERA First Advantage Realty called him and said, “It’s time you get that broker’s license out and use it.” She then walked him through the process of taking online continuing education courses and filing the necessary documents to become an active realtor. Within four months, he had his first listing and sale.
But being an up-and-coming real estate agent poses its own financial challenges such as the irregular, commission-only paycheck. “You adapt to your means quickly,” Batts says. “I found the barter system works very well.” He also has planted flowers and cleaned out homes for other agents to make an extra buck.
Batts has been tempted, for financial reasons, to get back into nursing home administration but has been steered away by those who still work in the stress-filled industry. Besides, he likes the variety of his new career: “I’m always doing something different,” Batts says.
Recently ranked in the top 30 of more than 100 realtors in the company, Batts is grateful for the experience that brought him here. “I’m happier. I enjoy my family and friends more,” he says. “I have a more complete life because I’m not so overwhelmed with all the stressors. It’s really just put things in perspective.”
What She Did: Senior Manager of Human Resources, Shelf Stable Foods
What She Does: Owner, Shear Joy, a hair salon
It was just a given that when Shelf Stable Foods moved their operations from Evansville to Blue Ash, Ohio in 1995, Suzy Tron would follow. As senior manager of human resources, she was one of a handful of employees selected to join the company in their new location. But for numerous reasons, not the least of which was the prospect of working 20-hour days to get a company up and running in a new environment, Tron opted out. “At some point, you want to get off that ladder,” she says. “It didn’t make any sense, but I didn’t want to go.”
She was encouraged by her hair stylist and nail technician to give cosmetology a shot. Tron, now 63, says, “I went to (cosmetology) school in ’95 and got a license to do nails assuming you could go in and make a fortune. False.” She says, “My parents thought I was crazy — they knew I had been self sufficient, and my management job allowed me to have somewhat of a comfortable lifestyle.” Yet here she was, finishing a weekend with one $10 manicure she had to split with the house.
Tron had planned to do nails for a year, as a break, and then get back into senior management. But she says, “The next thing I knew, I met my husband Don, and life took a few turns.” They married in 1996. Tron worked her first six months on commission and then rented a booth in various salons over the next nine years. “This is really a natural fit for an HR person,” she says. “My background helped me build my business really quickly.”
But it’s not all about the money for Tron. “There’s a personal connection with individuals,” she says. Knowing she brightens the days of those who always give but rarely take time for themselves is a reward.
In 2005, the Trons opened a salon, Shear Joy, in Lawndale Shopping Center on the East side. They relocated in January 2011 to a building with higher visibility in the same complex. Tron appreciates what she accomplished in her management career but says, “This is better for me now.” As primary caretaker of her parents, salon ownership allows her to be available to them.
Tron knows life doesn’t stand still. “I’m sure the venture here will have its run as well,” she says. “Every season of life has different demands, and you have to learn to accept change. I welcome the next phase.”
What I Did: Systems Analyst, Old National Wealth Management
What I Do: Senior at the University of Evansville (Communication Major/Writing Minor), Editorial Intern at Tucker Publishing Group
I went into the information technology field almost 20 years ago for one reason — job security. While that seems laughable now (considering I was downsized), it seemed a reasonable assumption that the computer geeks of the world always would be in demand somewhere. Unfortunately, the analytical, black-and-white world of technology was never a good fit for my creative, artistic personality. I earned a good income. I was promoted. I was unfulfilled.
I left my job but had to head back to corporate America only three years later. I eventually returned to IT because it’s what I knew. But something happened along the way: A department I worked in was organizing a fundraiser for a charity, and I created the flyer. Co-workers complimented my writing. I was approached to create another flyer. My supervisor asked me to edit some documents. And I finally realized I had the ability to put words together — well. And somewhere, someone would pay me to do that. I could actually love my job.
My first day at the University of Evansville in the fall of 2007, I arrived on campus with a book bag, sweaty palms, and a bad case of anxiety. Still working full time, I took part-time classes in lieu of my lunch hour. I was overdressed, over-age, and under-familiar with my surroundings — I couldn’t find my classroom due to a last minute change of venue. Determined to see this through for the next six years, I cast off my embarrassment and forged ahead, making friends and learning the art of communication.
Then, in the spring 2010, I was called into an office at work with my department’s manager and a member of human resources. “Oh great, the Angel of Death is here,” I said, knowing I was being downsized. At first I cried. Then I realized I could attend school full time and graduate a year and a half earlier.
My husband and I sat down and tweaked our budget — no more tennis club membership, take-out pizza instead of fine dining, more coupons and discount shopping. We found we could live on less than we thought, and the goal was worthy of the sacrifice.
Now, at age 46, and facing graduation May of 2012, I am an intern at Tucker Publishing Group. While the position lasts only two semesters, I can finally say I love my job. It’s never too late to follow your dream, and I thoroughly believe you have to spend too much time at work to do something other than what makes you happy.