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By Pat Cahill
Lots of people think about giving up high-stress jobs and setting up shop on their own terms, but Valerie Young of Northampton, 44, is one person who actually did it.
And she wants to help others do it, too.
To that end, Young publishes a newsletter filled with encouragement, warnings, first-person accounts, step-by-step advice, lists of books and workshops, and piles of statistics on job stability, job satisfaction, consumers and entrepreneurship.
The eight-page newsletter is called “Changing Course,” and in the three years she has been publishing it, Young has shared much of her own history with readers.
They know, for example, that she practices what she preaches. She quit a high-paying marketing job with a large corporation to start a free-lance business called “Making Waves.” Among her specialties are publications and workshops on such topics as diversity and professional development for women.
Young grew up as one of five siblings in a working-class family whose Northampton roots go back to 1640. While earnings her doctorate in education at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, she was already doing consulting work on diversity issues.
She decided to get some experience in the corporate world, intending to quit after a few years and adapt what she had learned to her own schedule, place and pace.
But before she knew it, she was getting raises and promotions. She bought a house and a new car. Like many, she was drawn in by the money and prestige of big business. And besides, she liked the people she worked with. So she stayed.
She was commuting 90 miles a day, suffering from stress, and complaining way too much. Then, in 1993, something devastating happened.
Her mother died suddenly of a heart attack at age 61. Barbara Young had been a custodian at UMass for nine years, biding her time until her pension kicked in. It was hard work, but the elder Young enjoyed her friendships with the international students there and the prospect of a retirement income.
She had already started packing for Florida when, five months short of the big day, her dream collapsed.
“When my Mom died, it was one of those wake-up calls,” says Young. It made her realize that life slips by much too quickly to spend it being unhappy. She quit her high-pressure job and took a smaller-scale job in Agawam.
But she found that wasn’t the answer, either. She realized she wanted more control over her time, more flexibility.
So she started making a plan to escape. Not that she burned her bridges. She liked her employers and they liked her. In fact, like many entrepreneurs, she later found that her former employers turned into her best customers.
She warns those who would follow in her footsteps to be realistic. Starting over is no walk in the park. It means doing research, giving up luxuries, putting in long hours.
In her newsletter, Young has put together 10 steps to success, one of which is: “Get real.” She speaks from experience. While still holding her office job, she experimented with making greeting cards on the side. She liked the idea of using humor to get serious ideas across.
But what she found was that the humor part lasted “about five minutes. The rest was execution and sales – calling up stores to ask if they wanted to re-order” her cards.
“Somebody might say. ‘1 love books, so I think I’ll a bookstore,'” says Young. “But you have to ask yourself, do you love waiting on people? Do you love taking inventory? You may still want to do something with books, but maybe just not that.”
Young, who has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, says too many people have a “hit-the-lottery” mentality. Or they have “fantasies of get-rich-quick schemes like stuffing envelopes at home.” One reason her newsletter doesn’t contain ads is that she doesn’t want to attract advertisers who feed on such illusions.
Working for herself is not a free ride. “I work for more hours than I used to,” says Young.
“But,” she adds, “it feels different.”
A night person, she no longer has to get up at 6 a.m. She works in an office that reflects her needs, tastes and imagination .It has an exercise treadmill, a burbling fountain, a rocking chair, a TV, and a spiral notebook in which she writes down wishes that she wants to come true – writes them over and over again.
That’s an idea she got from “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams. Evidently Adams was still a slave of his office cubicle when he began ritual of writing down his dream of becoming a cartoonist. He wrote it 15 times a day. The rest is history.
Young admits that her newsletter has an entrepreneurial slant but says that’s where the job market is heading. She sees herself as part of the next wave after the “What Color Is Your Parachute” generation. The original best-seller by Richard Nelson Bolles, now updated, emphasized discovering and using one’s talents in the existing work structure.
A subscription to “Changing Course” costs $29. It comes out six times a year. Its subtitle: “Inspiration and Information to Escape the Traditional Job World and Create the Life You Really Want.” For more information write: Changing Course, 140 Woodbridge Street, South Hadley, Massachusetts.
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...