Tough Times, Tough Choices - Page 3 of 5

Tough Times, Tough Choices

job at the Studio 6 residence hotel in New Jersey when lack of opportunity forced him to expand his job search beyond Wall Street. He quickly won over the hotel manager. “Give me an opportunity and you won’t be disappointed,” he recalls telling the manager. He began working in the laundry room of the 124-room hotel last October, performing administrative tasks and staffing the front desk as well.

James’ hotel job required him and his wife, Veronica, a pharmaceuticals project manager, to do quite a bit of belt-tightening. He had to cancel his gym membership, vacation plans, and the couple had to cut back on leisure activities like going to the movies. James was also forced to withdraw half the money in his 401(k) account, some six months after he was laid off, to maintain payments on his 2001 Ford Explorer, the mortgage on his and Veronica’s 2,700-square-foot, four-bedroom home, and other monthly payments.

His wife’s support and frequent calls from his family kept James’ spirits up. “My wife is my support network and my biggest fan,” he says. He also continued to stay in touch with headhunters and his Wall Street contacts.

About a month after he was hired at the hotel, James learned that he was being considered for the position of assistant general manager. (According to, hotel front-desk assistants typically earn a median salary of about $20,000; hotel managers make $26,000 to $32,000.) Instead, James took advantage of another freelance consulting opportunity that presented itself in Cincinnati. The project’s pay was comparable to what he earned on Wall Street. &q
uot;I didn’t think doing laundry would be for the rest of my life,” he says. “It was just a stop on the way.”

Some unemployed professionals have started their own businesses. Some ventures have been successful while others have flopped. Take Monique V. Shankle of Houston, for instance. The 39-year-old attorney holds the distinction of having been laid off twice from Enron Corp., the energy company that became notorious last year for its scandalous accounting methods. Shankle, who had earned $70,000 a year as a senior contract administrator, began looking for work a month after she’d been laid off the second time but found that Houston’s job market was saturated with out-of-work professionals. To pay bills, including the mortgage on her new house, and to take greater control of her destiny, Shankle launched her own mediation services company. Asserts Shankle: “The only way to have a higher probability of financial freedom is to own your own successful business.”

Shankle took two mediation certification courses, spent about $700 on stationery and supplies, and $200 a month on an executive suite complete with a receptionist. She marketed her services by mailing promotional packets to civil court judges in select Texas counties. Though lawyers usually choose mediators more often than judges, she was able to build up some clientele. She has also expanded her pitch to include organizations like unions and government agencies. Business has been slow, however, and Shankle has