Finding a New You -- Reinventing Your Career After Being Laid Off

For some, losing a job is an opportunity to make dreams come true.

March 6, 2010— -- Forrest Graves wasn't looking to reinvent himself. After being laid off the day after Christmas 2008, the 49-year-old said he was simply looking for a job, any job.

"I knew I was not re-employable and certainly not at the salary I was making," Graves said.

The former Hewlett Packard executive figured that another six-figure sales job was not likely. Instead, Graves, of Cleveland, Ga., allowed himself to dream.

The result: the life-long coffee lover is now turning his hobby of coffee roasting into his livelihood. He's started a family-run business called JumpinGoat Coffee in nearby Helen, roasting beans in his backyard shed.

"We had a dream, but without those people it wouldn't have been possible," said Graves, speaking of his family who are also his roastery workers.

The crew includes his mother, her fiance, his wife, his brother and his sister-in-law, all of whom live close by.

On days when his daughter comes home from school for lunch, there are three generations at the table, a luxury Graves never had when commuting an hour to Atlanta and traveling the globe selling printing equipment.

For now, he pays his wife and other family members in coffee.

"They're happy to do it," Graves said of his family.

After Hewlett Packard, Graves and his wife Debbie sat down to look at their options.

"We said we can either let our savings dry up or we can open a small business. And Debbie said, that's easy. We have no savings."

So they swung into action and bought a roaster.

"This is my Plan B and failure is not an option," Graves said.

Last month, another 36,000 Americans lost their jobs and will also be forced to contemplate options. Some, like Graves, are using it as a chance to pursue a passion in their paycheck.

Michelle Pfennighaus started a small business in Boston as a yoga instructor and nutritional counselor, called Find Your Balance Health, after being laid off from an advertising agency.

Along with several colleagues from her advertising days she is featured in a movie called Lemonade that tells stories of remarkable personal transformations after layoffs.

After losing her job as a paralegal, Chantel Stevens started Zion Dance Theater in Atlanta, where she teaches children to dance. She said she knew the economy had turned sour when the lawyers she worked for started doing the work she usually performed.

Darla Larsen, from Sioux Falls, S.D., changed her approach after being laid off twice in a year's time.

She said she noticed that in the past she had reinvented herself to fit her employers' needs, but said, "This time I'm going to re-invent myself for myself."

Her diverse career has included work as an Air Force mechanic, a graphic artist and e-commerce marketing for a credit card company. Now she is turning to her true love: painting, by starting a business selling mural wall coverings to hospitals and other institutions.

Mary Kunka, of Montclair, N.J., was always good with numbers, working as a financial analyst on Wall Street. After losing her job at Lehman Brothers after the economy crashed in the Fall of 2008, she took a gamble and went back to college, enrolling in the Traders to Teachers program at Montclair State University.

In January this year, she stepped into the classroom for the first time. The 46-year-old is now a math teacher at Brooklawn Middle School in Parsippany, N.J.

"The big question of course for me was, was I going to like it and was I going to be any good at it," Kunka said.

For Kunka, the classroom has turned out to be more stressful than the trading floor.

"If you fail, you look out and you have anarchy and kids are hurling stuff at each other or worse than that for me, they're bored" Kunka said.

Reinventing yourself, she says, is both energizing and draining.

"As you age, taking on anything new is just harder," Kunka said.

Graves, the former executive turned coffee roaster, says that win or lose, at least he is the master of his own fate.

"We're building for us now and that's the dream," Graves said. "It's not for the big company anymore, it's for us."

And that means no more phone calls to dread from the boss at Christmas.