February 26, 2021

Maybe It’s Time For Plan C

Six months later, feeling hopeful, she opened Boubouki, a tiny Greek food stall at the Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side, where she bakes spinach pies and baklava every morning. This was supposed to be her Plan B: her chance to indulge a passion, lead a healthier life and downshift professionally — at least by a gear. Instead, Ms. Economou finds herself in overdrive.

Six days a week, she wakes up at 5:30 a.m. (“before most lawyers”) to start baking. Instead of pushing paper, she hoists 20-pound bags of flour, gets burned and occasionally slices open a finger. On Mondays, when the shop is closed, she does bookkeeping and other administrative tasks.

So much for a healthier life. “The second I feel a cold coming on, I’m taking Cold-Eeze, eating raw garlic,” she said. “I can’t afford to shut the shop down.”

Plan B, it turns out, is a lot harder than it seems. But that hasn’t stopped cubicle captives from fantasizing. In recent years, a wave of white-collar professionals has seized on a moribund job market, a swelling enthusiasm for all things artisanal and the growing sense that work should have meaning to cut ties with the corporate grind and chase second careers as chocolatiers, bed-and-breakfast proprietors and organic farmers.

Indeed, since the dawn of the Great Recession, more Americans have started businesses (565,000 of them a month in 2010) than at any period in the last decade and a half, according to the Kauffman Foundation, which tracks statistics on entrepreneurship in the United States.

The lures are obvious: freedom, fulfillment. The highs can be high. But career switchers have found that going solo comes with its own pitfalls: a steep learning curve, no security, physical exhaustion and emotional meltdowns. The dream job is a “job” as much as it is a “dream.”

“The decision to become an entrepreneur should not be made lightly,” said Paul Bernard, an executive coach in New York who has advised professionals on starting small businesses. The press, he said, has made heroes out of former investment bankers and lawyers who transformed themselves into successful dog-jewelry designers and cupcake kings. “But the reality is that, even during boom times, most new businesses fail.”

Many are surprised to find the hours and work grueling.

That was a rude awakening for Mary Lee Herrington, a 32-year-old St. Louis native who worked at a white-shoe law firm in London. Two years ago she ditched her job as a fourth-year associate, making $250,000 and working 60-hour weeks, to pursue a new life as a wedding planner. Her experience? She enjoyed organizing galas as a law student at the University of Pennsylvania. “It was really creative, it was fun, I loved all the details: the party favors, the programs,” she said.

But soon after starting her one-woman business, Forever Ever Events, she quickly found it wasn’t a 9-to-5 gig. Working out of the Primrose Hill apartment she shared with her husband, she often found herself glued to the computer past midnight, doing spreadsheet analyses of her new business, or writing copy for her Web site. Whenever a wedding date approached, she found herself pulling 17-hour days.

For her first client, a work colleague of a friend, she was so eager to prove herself that she charged $2,000 for a job that took five months. For another wedding, “the clients were very demanding of my time, so much so that when I broke down the fee by the number of hours, I was making close to £1 an hour,” Ms. Herrington said. (By comparison, her rate as a lawyer was $450 an hour.)

The arithmetic doesn’t account for the loss of free time. When you’re the boss, the workday never really ends.

Charan Sachar, 37, a former software engineer who lives near Seattle, used to spend his downtime perusing Etsy, the D.I.Y. crafts site. He daydreamed of an unfettered life at his kiln, creating Bollywood-inspired teapots and butter dishes.

In January, after 12 years in software, he quit to devote himself full time to his online store, Creative With Clay, which sells stoneware he designs and makes. (Last May, he told his story on Etsy’s “Quit Your Day Job” blog.)

Now, instead of spending his free time absorbed in visions of clay, he spends as much as 70 percent of his day on administration. He is not only his own boss, he is his own accountant, sales director, marketing manager and shipping clerk. That leaves little time to enjoy the hobby he loves.

“There are some days that I don’t make anything in my studio, mostly because I am doing everything else,” he said.

Former white-collar workers are also surprised by the demands of manual labor.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 21, 2011

Picture captions last Sunday with an article about the difficulty of midlife career changes misspelled the surname of a former textile design director who opened an antiques and jewelry store. As the article correctly noted, she is Anne McInnis, not McInnes.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=a17e6a3d10a73ddce0fcb010b955dd51

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