Do What You Know

I recently mentioned Martha, my trash-exploring next door neighbor when I was a child. Martha always found creative ways to make money, whether it was through her yard sales, plant sales or barn-based general store. She made money on her crafts and her preserves. If she touched it, she found a way to sell it. She was a pet sitter before anyone had ever heard of pet sitting and she was a nutrition consultant before Americans realized that they should care about nutrition. Whatever she did, she was paid for it.

Similarly, I have an aunt who was a bank executive. In the 1970’s, there was not a lot of upward mobility for female bank executives so, after a while, she had to choose between passively accepting the glass ceiling or moving on to do something else. She chose the latter and started a craft business.

My aunt started by making dolls clothing. She knew that a lot of adults collect dolls and she made various dolls clothes to order. She had patterns for every holiday and every possible doll “activity” and she made more money with dolls clothing than she did as a bank executive. She did not stop there, however, and soon she had five knitting machines working in her home, almost around the clock. Within a very short period of time, she had a thriving mail order business selling sweaters.
I am unemployed.

For many years, I was a senior executive at a technology company but, as is often the case with tech companies, last year a bigger fish came along and ate us. After a competitor acquired us, I found myself in the unusual position of not having a job.

Faced with no salary but a good severance package, my wife and I decided that I should try something new. I went into a start up venture with a few friends and persevered until the weakness in our economy made it clear that late 2008 was not the best time in American history to start a new venture.

I had some decisions to make and I thought back to Martha and my aunt. When they needed to make money, they turned to what they knew. Whether they were making crafts, or jarring preserves or making dolls clothing, they were making money by doing what they knew how to do. There is a lot of wisdom in that.

I assessed my start up venture and accepted both that I was not drawing a salary and was not likely to draw a meaningful salary for a long time. I also acknowledged that although I enjoyed working with my friends, I had to get back on track to earning a reasonable salary. In order to do that, I looked to the model that Martha and my aunt had taught me. I had to do what I knew how to do.
My first step was to resign from my start up position and look at my options for getting back into the businesses I knew. I consulted with headhunters and outplacement people and determined that I would need about nine months to do so. Perhaps longer.

Knowing that I had such a long wait before I would likely find a job that would sustain my family’s needs, I had to explore other areas that I know. I began to aggressively look for ways to cut my household costs and I looked for ways to make money by writing. I have always had a talent for writing so I began to freelance with my writing skills. It certainly does not pay me enough to stop looking for a “real job” but any source of income is good when there is no other money coming in and I really love to write. If I find a way to make a true salary as a writer before I find a job in my most established profession, so be it.

Whatever may happen, the past year has taught me that we all need to understand and accept both what we know and what we do not know how to do. More importantly, in order to make money we need to use the skills that we have and not the skills that we wished we had.

If you are looking for a job, are you looking for a job that is appropriate for your skills and abilities? Have you ever held a job for which you were not qualified? How did you survive it? Have you found a way to make money from your hobbies or passions?

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8 Responses to Do What You Know

  1. Jan says:

    First of all, I wish you the best in finding a “real job” that will bring you the income and personal satisfaction that you desire. I hope you will continue to write on this blog, because I have enjoyed all your articles. You definitely do have a talent for writing.

    Wise advice to look at what we DO have and not at what we DON’T in any area of our lives. Good food for thought. Thank you.

  2. David G. Mitchell says:

    Jan — Thanks for your kind wishes! Have no fear about me leaving — I hope to stay for as long as SavingAdvice will have me!


  3. ~Dawn says:

    I think the scariest part is promoting myself to others with the ideas that I have. I hate selling and selling myself and my things to others is quadruple-y hard.

  4. Ann says:

    I left corporate finance to go back to my first love — sculpting and carving. Luckily, I had/have a nice cushion because my life became a typical example of “you make plans and life happens!”

    I’m back toworking on getting my business set up and it doesn’t take a lot for me to live on and be happy, but, no matter what happens, I will never go back to a permanent corporate position. I am sooooo much happier and peaceful pursuing what I love! I wouldn’t trade my current life for all the riches in the world.

  5. Susan says:

    David, you and the other brave hearts who have the gumption to keep it real are awe-inspiring and remind me of an interesting phrase I heard at a Motivational Seminar yesterday. Dr. Robert Schuller was the first of several speakers, but his comment that “it takes guts to get out of ruts” resonates with this blog and many others. It is lonely and scary to follow the road less travelled but it is noble and well worth it even if you make several attempts. Eventually you will succeed if you keep at it. Bon Chance!

  6. minny says:

    Great article. The determination and skills that make someone a success in a ‘job’ can be used to be equally successful in another sphere.

  7. Cindy M says:

    I enjoy your articles, Dave, and wish you well. My brother is now in the same boat you’re in, and he’s actually looking forward to trying his hand at a few other things, when he figures them out, he says. He’s doing okay financially; it’s just his wife and he, she’s gainfully employed, and they do have some options. Downsizing is a big priority right now and they could actually live out of a nice little trailer they own if they have to; she’s a great money manager.

  8. Pingback: Getting a Paycheck Doing Something You Love - Blog

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