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Career crossroads

Life coach Jeannette Maw sees all sorts of people in this economy: There's the man who still has the job he's held 25 years but is filled with despair, living the recession like the world is screeching to an end. He's hunkered down, waiting for the bad news that may or may not come.

But she also sees people with an entirely different approach: They view the world and their place in it as exciting and filled with possibility, even after they've been laid off. She points to Ed Peterson as a man standing on the brink of reinvention, ready to find his bliss.

"My mom asked me if I felt like I'd really found my passion. No, not yet," says Peterson. "I have enjoyed and done well in my career, but I do not have the feeling that I've found my mission."

He was laid off not long ago by a computer company and finds himself wide open to possibility. He's been a salesman before and is looking for work in that field because he's good at it. But he's flirting as well with the things he might do if money were no object: coaching or teaching or even writing a book. And he's spending his spare time enjoying his wife and three kids and working in his garden, among the perennials he's discovered that he loves.

Although there are economic signs the recession may be coming to a close, experts agree that job losses will likely continue for a while. But amid the gloom and doom of this recession, Maw says she's seeing a number of people who like Peterson are moving along with their hopes high, committed to seeing the opportunity in a lost job, rather than despairing. Someday, they've said, I'll take a chance or start a new career or give more of my time. And for many of them, being laid off has changed that "someday" to "now."

"Something cool's happening," she says. "With what's going on in the economy, they're seeing things differently — finding what matters most, or at least more — and realizing their lives have not been structured around what's important to them. So I know people who are starting their own business or going to teach kids in Third World countries, even. This has been the kick in the pants many needed to make their dreams come true."

William Sederburg, Utah commissioner of higher education, says that Utah's colleges and universities are seeing a lot of reinventing and reinvesting in self among their students. Enrollment is up, and about 3 percent of that is people going back to school to retrain or enhance their skills or finish their education after losing their jobs. He says Utah is No. 2 or 3 in the number of people who have attended college but not stuck it out to earn a degree. "There's no question the economic turns are forcing people to look at their options. And we know it's true that getting education credentials is probably the best strategy to improve yourself" and your potential for solid employment, he says.

But Sederburg sees irony in the fact that increased need for education comes right when the Legislature is asking colleges and universities to make deep cuts because of the same bad economy that is driving so many more people through their doors. Salt Lake Community College, for example, had to cut 9 percent this year, and up to 17 percent in cuts is likely next year, "at a time when the public really needs the school and it is less able to respond."

All of Utah's public universities and colleges are facing tough economic decisions.

Joy Tlou, director of public relations at SLCC, says enrollment surges when the economy falters. Experts agree that is nowhere more true than at community colleges and vocational schools. SLCC saw a 4 percent enrollment bump last fall and close to 8 percent this spring as more and more people were laid off. Tlou says the school is about to graduate its largest class ever.

He sees many students who have been pushed out of the work force by the recession and are seeking new fields that seem more stable and recession-proof, he says. Most — about 70 percent — say they expect eventually to go on to earn four-year degrees. Health-care fields are very popular; other programs like engineering have seen more modest bumps. Students are also drawn to newly introduced "green" classes where they can learn about technical and practical aspects of energy management. There's huge interest in converting cars to natural gas and the use of solar and wind technology, Tlou says. It's very possible that series of classes will become a program for which students can earn a degree in the future.

David Chatterton and Kim Barrus are SLCC students who have set their sights on nursing jobs. Chatterton's interest was sparked on an LDS mission to Haiti and subsequent volunteer efforts with Healing Hands for Haiti, a nonprofit Salt Lake-based group that takes volunteers to the island country to provide rehabilitation services.

Employed in University Hospital's central scheduling department, he is taking advantage of benefits that help him earn a nursing degree. He likes the fact that nursing is done face to face and will "never be outsourced to India." He can move around. A husband and dad to a toddler, he's looking forward to graduating next May.

Barrus works for SelectHealth in computer information and launched her nursing training with benefits from Intermountain Healthcare. She now also works on the surgical transplant floor at Intermountain Medical Center. "The nursing degree provides a huge level of relief for me," says Barrus, who is married and has a 4-year-old son. "There are a thousand different things I can do in nursing."

Rosy Quinn of Tremonton would like to reinvent herself, but she hasn't quite settled on a plan yet. The job search since she was laid off in January has been discouraging, with few callbacks. Recently, she reworked her resume and the response has improved, but still no job. She'd like to go back to school but doesn't qualify for help from unemployment because she already has an associate degree in accounting.

"That's OK, someone who doesn't have one can use the money more than me," she says. And new federal money available in July may allow her to go back to school; she just doesn't know. But she's facing the possibility of big changes just to get back into the game. There don't seem to be a lot of jobs in accounting in her northern Utah town or nearby. She loves bookkeeping but figures she may need to change careers. And she's been discussing with her husband whether they'll have to move. Even the local convenience store isn't seeing any turnover. People who have jobs are hanging on with a death grip, she says.

They've cut out Internet service and TV and scaled back on other expenses. And she's widened her search, finding some listings for accounting jobs 100 miles away in Pocatello. Her husband works in Box Elder County and, so far, he's survived layoffs.

Should she apply in Idaho and make a really long commute? Should they split the difference between their jobs and move farther north if she can find something? They have to think about their son, Riley, 12, too. "We're just starting to seriously talk about it and weigh the options."

Loss of benefits like health insurance is one of the biggest worries for people who've been laid off. Recently, rules were changed so the company that laid off the employee pays the majority of the cost of continuing coverage for a transition period. That helps. But some families and individuals let the insurance go because, absent a job, they don't feel they can afford even their share of the premium.

The dilemmas — and possibilities — posed by job shake-ups and economic challenges have people looking for help in all sorts of places. Jim DeBetta says that people need to be "nudged and pushed and guided," but it's a great time in terms of opportunity and optimism. He's president of DeBetta Enterprises, a consulting firm that among many other services helps new inventors get their products to market.

"We are out-of-control busy," he says. "People are laid off or scared they'll be laid off, and they've always dreamed of bringing a product to market," so they're streaming through his doors. His company helps people evaluate a product, do market research and make sure they're financially capable of bringing their good ideas all the way, sometimes funded by severance pay they would not normally have available for the task.

"I can say from being heavily involved in the business that this is a great time to reinvent yourself and consider making a move," he says, but adds that only a percentage of inventions actually work out.

It doesn't hurt that the folks you may need to help you reinvent yourself and launch a business — the coaches and lawyers and parts manufacturers, for instance, are discounting their services in order to survive the economy themselves.

Among the largest groups of self-reinventors he sees are "mompreneurs" who work from home, some of them creating products they market through networks online. "This mompreneur thing is on fire," he says.

Rebecca de Azevedo Overson has returned to massage therapy, which she set aside several years ago, but with a twist. Following the birth of her own children (now 21/2 and 8 months) and spurred by economic challenges in her work as a relationship coach and her husband's position in the mortgage industry, she's crafting what looks to be a successful massage practice targeting expectant and new moms.

Prenatal massage was something she'd wanted to do, and the economic downturn and becoming a mother worked together to give her the courage and perspective she needed to start Belly Bliss Massage. Happily, when she talked to her own midwife, she found newly available office space and people willing to refer clients. Had the economy not faltered, she might never have found the courage to risk it, she says.

It is not boom time for people who are looking for quick fixes, says Wanda Ropa, a life coach at, who has clients all over the country, including Utah. But "whatever you focus on, you get more of. People are hiring. Businesses are hiring." What coaches do, she says, is help you "leverage what you already have."

She's impressed with the scope of change some clients are making. "I see more applying to business or pharmacy school. That's fine, if that's what you need. The key you want to zero in on in this economy is your creative niche" and that never-ending quest to find what you do well that makes you money and brings you joy.

Life coach Maw knows taking risks is scary. She started her own business years ago after a boss "who used to love me wrote me up" and she recognized her job might not be secure.

"You have to realize sometimes the best stuff comes out of the worst experiences. … Sometimes, when the rug is pulled out from under you, where you land is better than where you were before," Maw says.

"Don't forget, there were opportunities in the Great Depression as well," adds Ropa. "And this is not even a depression."