The Boston Sunday Globe
Newsletter Offers Map for the Road Less Traveled
March 23, 1997 By Tzivia Gover
NORTHAMPTON – For 10 years, Valerie E. Young had been suiting up, heading to work at 7a.m. and coming home at 7p.m. It was a routine that bought her a nice house, a new car and vacations on the beach.
But it didn’t buy her contentment.
“I’ve got to get out of here,” Young often told herself while working as a financial services manager at Cigna Corp. in Bloomfield, Conn.
She dreamed of extricating herself from corporate culture to work for herself.
Now Young, 42, makes her living encouraging others to do the same. She publishes a two-year-old newsletter called “Changing Course,” in which she offers information and advice to people who want to say goodbye to time-clocks and cubicles. She also leads seminars with titles such as “Getting Off the Fast Track,” and “Escaping the Rat Race.” About 1,100 people subscribe to Young’s newsletter, including those who have lost their jobs and those who would gladly give up their four-digit extensions.
One subscriber, Melanie Estes, 26, of East Hartford, Conn., hopes one day to own a horse farm and work for herself: “The newsletter reminds me to keep my goals in sight and to keep dreaming,” Estes says.
Taking Young’s advice, she now listens to ‘motivational tapes on her way to and from her 9-to-5 job. Nights and weekends, Estes is developing a business selling health food products from her home, and she takes horseback riding lessons to remind her of where she’s heading.
More and more baby boomers are opting out of high-stress careers in favor of simple living, Young says. According to a poll by USA Today, 74 percent of men surveyed said they ‘would choose a slower career track for more family time. Popular books such as “Do What you Love and the Money Will Follow” and the widespread appeal of the “Dilbert” comic strip are among the indicators that Young may be onto something.
“America is having a midlife crisis,” says Young. “But instead of going out and buying Corvettes they’re going off and doing what they love.
This could be because the fast track is speeding up, Young observes. As companies cut back, the employees who are left need to work harder than ever, and often with less frequent raises and scaled-back benefits.
The message hit home for Young several years back when her mother died suddenly just five months short of retirement. Young knew then that she could no longer put off her own happiness.
Her 10-step strategy for change, which she discusses in the newsletter, includes establishing a time line, setting priorities and taking daily steps towards a goal. One important point is scaling back. “Ask yourself, ‘Where can I downsize my life?'” Young suggests.
Her newsletter is filled with strategies such as speaking about your plans in ways that emphasize the positive.
But being positive hasn’t always been easy. Young recalls crying in her kitchen one Sunday because she was so discouraged by the slow progress of her newsletter.
To build it up, she has done everything from passing out fliers on the beach in Provincetown to putting ads in specialty business journals and sending free newsletters to the outplacement offices of corporations downsizing.
Young herself downsized her life. She was making $55,000 a year in the corporate world. Now she earns about $40,000, but the income cut is worth it she says. Her newsletter and seminars bring in about $10,000 and the rest is earned by acting as a trainer for companies on issues such as work-load management and time management. “My goal is 50,000” subscribers, she says. “I write that 15 times a day.”
For Young there is no turning back. “My commute now is about 20 yards from my bedroom,” she says. “I can’t imagine right now having to send in a resume and having to go to a job and be there at a certain time every day.”