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October 1996 By Ali Crolius
That happened to Valerie Young of Northampton. The advice she gives on leaving the 9-to-5 grind in her newsletter, Changing Course, was earned the hard way.
Young spent seven years in the training and marketing departments at a Fortune 500 insurance company. She was climbing the ladder, the money was great … but Young found herself spending a lot of time around the coffee machine, complaining along with her coworkers. Few seemed happy in the corporate world, and Young heard many saying, “I can’t wait ‘til I win the lottery, then I’ll get out of here.” She wasn’t crazy about her 90-mile commute and 12-hour days herself.
But in the grim economy of the early 1990s Young rationalized her misery with, “You’re lucky you have a job — you want to be happy, too?”
Then her mother died of a heart attack. It was, Young recalled, a “major wake-up.” Three months later, she left her company and took a job with a smaller company in Agawam. Had her own office, got to choose her wallpaper and furniture.
The honeymoon soon ended.
“After about three months I had this nagging sense it was just about the same anywhere,” said Young. “It was still someone telling me I had to get up and be somewhere at a certain time, that I only had so much vacation time. I still had to deal with people, politics and policies.
Her mind began to gnaw on the possibility of getting out altogether. After a year, she knew what she had to do: lead a life that let her control her time, and do something she cared about.
Young now spends part of her week consulting for the Agawam company to whom she used to give 50 or 60 hours of her week. In Young’s eyes, even the consulting is a temporary gig that is part of her 3-to-5-year “escape strategy,” at the end of which she hopes her workshops and newsletter will make her financially self-sufficient.
“Even though I don’t know exactly what I want to do, I know the feeling I want to have,” said Young, an energetic 41-year-old. “I want to get up when I want to. I know I don’t want to wear panty hose unless I really, really have to. I figured that, if I’m living the lifestyle I want to, I would have the energy and freedom to figure it all out.”
Part of that dream includes living in different parts of the country. She keeps a postcard of the Arizona desert in a see-through sleeve in her datebook, a symbol of her goal to live in the Southwest in the winter, Cape Cod in the summer, and Northampton in the spring and fall. Her e-mail address is Destiny5, denoting her goal of living the life she wants within half a decade.
Unless she’s catching a plane somewhere for her consulting job, Young’s days consist of getting up a good deal later than 6:30 a.m. like in days of old. She publishes her newsletter in her basement office at home, putting together her newsletter which draws on the wisdom of people like Barbara Sher (author of “I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was”) and Jose Dominguez (author of “Your Money Or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship With Money”). She takes walks when she wants to, though she still fights a feeling that “I should be working.”
“I actually work longer hours, but it’s a qualitative difference now,” said Young.
Young’s newsletter is rich with inspiring accounts of people who left the grind for self-employment and other creative, often lucrative work: the secretary who became a city planner, the former human resources manager who became a massage therapist, the woman who became a professional shopper for people who don’t have time to shop themselves.
Each issue offers practical guidance on the step-by-step process of changing courses. A 50-question self-exam lets subscribers figure out if they are temperamentally suited for being an “ex-Fast Tracker.” Qualities include a high level of self-confidence, a healthy degree of indifference to the opinions of others, and an ability to generate income from a number of sources.
I decided to take the Work @ What You Love Workshop and also work one-on-one with Valerie. The workshop explored so many unusual and unexpected solutions to my specific questions. I made so many new connections to what clearly works for me in crea...