When James Michael Frank injured himself and could no longer do his job at a cake shop, rather than struggling to find a new job, he put his energy into promoting his music. Three months after graduating from college, when Giselle Roque couldn’t find a job, she started her own online business. And Tasha Goldblum, who used to work for a non-profit now sells her art on the streets of Chelsea.
They are three people who have redefined themselves when they either lost or couldn’t find jobs in the midst of the unemployment crisis that has crippled the economy since 2008.
“If you’re open to it you can reinvent yourself into something really great,” said Michelle Woodward, a life and career coach who encourages her clients to harness their untapped strengths when they find themselves out of work and out of options.
The percentage of unemployed people who have been out of work for over a year is the highest in recorded history, at 42.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s time to get creative.
Frank, 25, took his injury in February as a sign that he should be focusing on what he really wanted to do. He had been making music since his early teens, and pursuing it more seriously, though still part time, for the past few years.
“Because of my getting hurt I took the time to think about everything and said, ‘you know, let me just go full blast with this instead of after work,’” he said.
He now releases one single at a time through iTunes or sites like cdbaby.com. He received his first $1,000 check in May, and the money keeps trickling in.
“I wouldn’t say it’s equal to my job yet,” he said. “But it’s a start, and it’s great to do something that you want to do, whether you get paid or not.”
Woodward suggested that sometimes the shock of sudden unemployment can be just the push people need to take a risk.
“You can play to your own strengths,” she said. “Turning your hobby into your business can be really fulfilling.”
Goldblum’s father is a painter, so art has always been a part of her life. When she was in college studying philosophy and Chinese languages she sometimes went with her parents to sell her father’s paintings in the streets of New York.
When she was laid off from her job at Children’s Aid Society in 2008, she decided to try to sell her own paintings. She started a series of 100 naked women, each painted on a small block of wood with a red background. They were a hit.
“What started as 100 became 400,” she said.
Goldblum, 28, sells the paintings, which she calls “girlfriends,” for $10-15 each. She also occasionally takes custom orders for $40-90. Sometimes she makes enough to live on, she said, but her income is so inconsistent that it’s hard to pay rent and bills. She said she once sold six paintings in an hour, but often goes days on end without a sale.
Woodward pointed to this kind of instability as the major flaw in the striking-out-on-your-own life plan.
“The tradeoffs are that you don’t have health care or retirement, but in the short term it’s a great strategy,” she said.
To stabilize her income Goldblum said she has worked briefly at an ice cream shop, a bakery, and, as of last week, she’s been doing maintenance work at Crosier Fine Arts’ warehouse on 20th Street.
But she said that now that she’s started, she can’t imagine giving up her artwork.
The economy has seen staggering layoffs in the last few years, but even as businesses begin to recover, uncertainty about the future has business pinching pennies and hesitant to hire. This creates challenges not only for the recently unemployed, but also for those entering the work force for the first time.
When Roque, 23, graduated from SUNY Oneonta in 2010 with a degree in psychology she couldn’t find a job in her field.
She said she wanted to find a way to help others and use her degree in the meantime. So she started a website called Sortyourmind.com, through which she helps clients get their lives organized.
“It’s both educational and actually physically helping them,” said Roque, who does everything from helping someone set a schedule to accomplish long term goals to organizing a box of photographs. She charges $15-45 per hour depending on the difficulty and tediousness of the task.
Roque has also been working part-time in the human resources department of a Toys R Us in Long Island while trying to build her client base. She said she’s been putting up flyers and encouraging friends and clients to recommend her to other people.
“I plan on just maintaining the business and seeing where it takes me,” she said. “I’m not the type to start something and then just walk away.”