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WORKING STRATEGIES

Ready to break out of employment rut? Try something radical

Friday, February 22, 2013 - 12:01 am

Lots of readers responded to my column last week about the frustrating cycle of subsidizing employers by serving as an on-call labor pool. Even full-time workers get caught in this trap when their schedules fluctuate, resulting in lighter paychecks. They make just enough to pay the bills, but not enough to survive a job loss, so they don't complain.

While winning the lottery or inheriting money can provide the means to get out the rut, we all know those are long odds. If you want to make a radical change in your life, one of the following ideas might provide the spark for a plan.

•Declare bankruptcy. That's a serious decision to plunk down in an article with otherwise lighthearted ideas. But if your rut is one of paying debts from a low-wage check in circumstances that won't change for a number of years, consider this: You might be one illness away from bankruptcy anyway.

•Pay down student debt fast. I know programs exist to make these gigantic debts bearable but if the balances crimp your ability to make other moves, it might be better to just eliminate them.

What if you dedicated the next two years to an austerity plan designed to pay a chunk of debt – say $20,000 or $30,000? Impossible? Hardly, assuming you can reduce housing expenses while earning even $30,000 a year. The trick is to focus only on this goal, by working multiple jobs and forgoing extras. Even just ditching your car might free up enough cash to make real headway.

•Retrain. In this case I don't mean “pile on more debt in grad school while waiting out a bad market” – although that plan sometimes works. Rather, I'm talking about choosing a new field and taking the vocational training to put you into it. Hence a teacher might become a welder, a bartender might take up nursing.

•Relocate to another state. If the rut confining you looks like an ice-packed road in the heart of a Midwestern winter, maybe it's time to admit you're really a Southwest type of person. Even if weather doesn't drive a relocation, job markets might. Consider locations where your skills will be rarer and better-compensated, and don't forget isolated areas where key positions routinely go unfilled for lack of candidates.

•Relocate to another country. This type of rut-breaking move can be terrifying for its sheer audacity. Dip a toe in by renting out your home and joining an overseas organization for a specified time (think Peace Corps), or dive in by selling everything and heading to a country where the cost of living lets you retire on your assets. The middle course could involve being placed in another country by your employer.

Or, you can imitate a Brazilian I know by moving to different countries for five or six month stints while running a business from your laptop. This particular fellow builds websites.

So there you have five possible ways to break out of a rut. If these seem overly radical for your situation, you might be right. On the other hand, ask yourself if your current processes are radical enough to make a real difference. If not, there's no time like the present to adjust course and

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at alindgren@prototypecareerservice.com or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.