Duane Hoffmann / msnbc.com
By Eve Tahmincioglu
msnbc.com contributor
updated 5/11/2009 11:53:21 AM ET 2009-05-11T15:53:21

When Grant Garris got laid off from AutoTrader.com in December, he started looking for another job right away but found he lacked enthusiasm.

A former director of information technology support for the Web site, he realized his many years of successful corporate climbing suddenly seemed futile given the loss of his job.

“I was working 70 to 75 hours a week. I was passionate about my job and the people that worked for me,” says Garris, 40, who lives in Roswell, Ga. “For it to be ripped out from underneath me so quickly and without effort surprised me.”

With his six months' severance in hand, he decided it was finally time to do something else — something for his community, his family, for himself.

Garris and his life partner, Paul Witner, have two adoptive sons, one with Asperger’s syndrome. They realized there was a dearth of parenting advice on the Web for people like them, so they decided to launch a Web site, www.AVillageToRaise.com, which debuted in March.

Before, Garris felt like he “was selling out just for money.”

Although his Web site has not yet posted a profit, he says, “This is much more rewarding for me internally.”

Call it the Slow Career movement. Just as the so-called Slow Food movement has prompted many to rethink what foods they eat, so too has this lousy economy — complete with massive layoffs, shrinking benefits and dwindling retirement funds — forced people to rethink where they put their bodies from 9 to 5.

“People who were working to have things in order to measure success got screwed, to put it mildly,” says Rebecca Weingarten, co-founder of DLC Executive Coaching and Consulting.  “They put their whole lives and energy into work and let other things go, like family.”

Two to three years ago, she says, clients were coming to her to get help with their personal crises and looking for ways to balance work and life. Today, she says, the definition of success seems to be changing as“we’ve all been forced to face a milestone.”

In fact, when asked if “given the economic downfall, are you more likely to let your passions dictate your career path,” 51 percent of executives polled recently by executive recruiting firm Korn/Ferry answered yes.

If there is a silver lining in this recession, says Cali Williams Yost, CEO of the consulting firm Work+Life Fit Inc., it's that “it finally gives people permission to do what they want to do.”

Pursuing a dream
After 11 years working for a national fitness chain in California, Sadie Lincoln saw the recessionary handwriting on the wall.

She worked as a project manager for the company and left because she suspected layoffs were imminent. She also wanted to pursue her dream of teaching ballet and yoga.

Last year, Lincoln and her husband — who was laid off from the same company — opened barre3, a ballet studio that combines yoga practice.

“We sold our expensive house and said goodbye to our expensive and fast-paced life,” she says. “We moved our two kids and cat to Portland, Ore., rented a little bungalow and put our life savings to work — we bought ourselves a dream job.”

It's not like workers such as Lincoln were surprised by the few guarantees that Corporate America offers these days. Career jobs and gold watches disappeared long ago.

In fact, a Harris Interactive poll released in late April found that a record number of Americans, 88 percent, say the reputation of Corporate America Is “not good” or “terrible.”

Any modicum of loyalty employees were hanging onto before this recession hit is all but gone.

“If there was a thread dangling, that’s been cut,” says Yost of Work+Life Fit, about the expediency of this economic demise and its impact on workers.

Turning to nonprofits
The choices some workers are making run the gamut from working at nonprofits to entrepreneurship to just following a lifelong dream, says Patty Comeford, CEO of career coaching and outplacement firm You’re Never Stuck Inc. and author of “Lessons From a Headhunter.”

“Maybe it’s someone who always wanted to stop practicing law, for example, and write for a living or teach instead,” she says.

While some may have been fearful to pursue a dream in the past, Comeford says, the current economic downturn has empowered some people to say, “What the hell?”

There will certainly be a need for individuals at charitable organization, especially senior managers. A study by Bridgespan found that there’s a need to fill 24,000 new or vacant senior-level positions at nonprofits this year alone.

“We're definitely seeing an increase in ex- and current corporate workers interested in moving to nonprofits,” says Wayne Luke, head of executive search at The Bridgespan Group, a consulting firm focused on the nonprofit sector. “For some, the poor economy is simply acting as an accelerant for something they planned to do anyway later in their careers. For others, it's seen as more of a ‘port in a storm.’”

But the choice to pursue more fulfilling work often comes with sacrifices, such as cutting back on living expenses or sapping savings. “This may not be something someone living paycheck to paycheck can do,” Comeford says.

A wake-up call
Marci Gervase, 58, of Orlando, Fla., received her wake-up call when she was recently laid off from her job as textbook proofreader after 16 years with the company.

“I was at the top of the food chain where I was,” she says. “I was making the most, so when they got rid of me, they immediately improved their bottom line.”

After some time dealing with what she calls “mental paralysis,” she decided to pursue what had been a lifelong obsession: sleuthing.

She’s now set to earn an associate of science degree this September in private investigation services. Once she completes a 2000-hour internship, she’ll apply for a license to become a private eye.

“I don’t want to get laid off again,” she says. “I don’t want to go to another company that can point a finger at me and say, ‘We made a mistake.’ I want to get out there and make a difference in people’s lives.”

What are you doing to change your career destiny? E-mail me at telleve@hotmail.com if you’re interested in becoming part of the Slow Career movement. I’d love to hear your story.

Eve Tahmincioglu writes the weekly "Your Career" column for msnbc.com and chronicles workplace issues in her blog, CareerDiva.net.

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