What If Your Plans Don’t Work? Don’t Stop!

Light chaos

In my last post, I channeled the words of my father — “Don’t quit your job until you have another one.” In general, I think that’s sound advice. Having a plan in place gives you peace of mind to keep that forward momentum going in your career. Whether you are going to another job, ramping up your own business, or going back to school to pursue a different field, knowing what comes next helps stave away the panic that can set in when you’ve cut ties with your past and the future is murky.

Does life always work out that way? Unfortunately, no. Sometimes circumstances dictate leaving one position and not having a clue what is to come. You may have experienced that in the form of a layoff, or maybe there were other situations that worked toward you being in limbo with your career. It’s happened to me…

Back in August 2001, I graduated with my MBA. In the months leading up to that, I had been sending out résumés all over and landed a job at the end of August with a nonprofit in Milwaukee. With all the companies there, my husband and I felt pretty calm about his ability to find a position; the trick was going to be finding a buyer for our home across the state so that he could join me. Still, we went headlong into everything — found an apartment in Milwaukee, got a realtor, and planned on my husband coming to Milwaukee whenever he got a job or the house sold. That was the intention.

Just prior to my start date, September 11th happened. The aftermath of that terrible day was far-reaching; life for everyone felt suspended for a time. I didn’t have the luxury of putting the big events of life on hold. The apartment had been leased, and my start date loomed in the near future. My husband and I plowed forward as we had planned because, well, we didn’t see any other choice. And so our work-imposed separation began — me in Milwaukee working my job, and he on the other side of the state trying to sell our house and applying for jobs.

Initially, I was optimistic. Our realtor had quickly identified a couple who wanted to buy our house, but it was contingent on them selling their house. Surely, it wouldn’t be that difficult? Well, they weren’t able to find a buyer for their house, and they eventually withdrew their bid on ours. Back to square one on that front. As far as a job for my husband, that proved to be difficult because of his field. He was a welder at the time, and the manufacturing industry basically ground to a halt after 9/11. No one was hiring.

We waited for some glimmer of hope that indicated that circumstances were changing, but found none. After much discussion, we decided that the best option was for me to quit my job. There were absolutely no interested buyers in our house, the rent for the apartment in Milwaukee was more than our house payment, and I was making slightly less than him. It wasn’t an ideal choice, but we could make it work.

I resettled back with my husband and started figuring out life again. And then, someone expressed interest in our house. We considered saying “No,” but the offer was too good to pass up. In addition, my husband was commuting an hour or more to his job, so not having a house gave us a lot more flexibility.

Now what?

We thought about moving closer to his position, but his job was in a really small town that didn’t have a lot of opportunities for me there. Getting an apartment in the city where we had been living was considered, but the job market there was really down in all industries. What about moving an hour the other way, getting us closer to Madison? That last option seemed to hold the most promise for us both, so we moved into a cheap apartment and hoped for the best.

Retrospectively, it was the best choice. Within a month of moving again, I had accepted an offer with an organization; three months after that, my husband was able to leave the job he had been commuting to because he, too, had found work near where we lived.

The takeaway here? Don’t stop just because your plans get messed up. Sure, I wish I had been given the chance to plan my steps; the chaos of the unknown was stressful, to say the least. But I had to keep plugging away at it until something worked out. Quitting altogether was never an option.

When have you been in a situation where nothing seemed to work out, no matter what you did? How did you come out of it?

Image courtesy of Kevin Dooley

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