Turning a Negative to a Positive

Originally posted 12-Nov-2020

Written by Jennifer Moylan

I lost my job on May 1.

Me, and millions of other Americans.

Together, we stressed about how much unemployment assistance could cover our expenses. We sent out scads of resumes, receiving few responses, and when we were invited to interview, we learned of dozens of other qualified applicants we were competing against.

I was embarrassed, ashamed to reach out to former co-workers and friends in my field. My position was eliminated as a cost-cutting tactic in the Covid-19 economy, but still I felt devalued overall.

I also read a lot – professional journals, biographies of business leaders whom I admire. I wanted desperately to improve my mindset.

And true to my nature, I found ways to turn this unfortunate experience into an opportunity for growth.

Photography: Hobby as a Business

I started with my photography hobby. I enjoy taking artistic photos and run a small MeetUp group (https://www.meetup.com/FunPhoto/) to bring photographers together for social fun and shared learning.

Bold Sunset on the Delaware

I now had time to prioritize my own business – with a complete revamp of my photography website.

I worked on growing my MeetUp membership – off in the distant future, this may turn into a business venture – perhaps someday my members will become paying clients.

I organized more unusual photography trips, taking a great deal of time to hash out every detail possible.

Odd View of Officers Row

I created a Facebook page for members to more easily communicate together, to form a sense of community.

In summary – I used this time to develop web design skills and marketing tactics! These skills wouldn’t necessarily blend well with my accounting work, but it certainly kept my focus on running a business.

Self-Assessment and New Career Ideas

At this juncture, a friend recommended I join PSGCNJ – The Professional Service Group of Central New Jersey. Here I could get help on my resume, network, and improve my interview skills. And most importantly – my eyes were opened to new possibilities.

My first set of revelations came from working on this very blog, under the skilled advisement of Natalie Lihacova. In my search for a blog subject, she suggested I begin with a self-assessment.

I mapped out my hard skills – computer training, for example. Then I listed my soft skills – personality traits and experiences that round out my professional assets.

I used these strengths to develop the ideal job description – what do I really want to do? I took it a step further and listed the typical job duties that I’d rather not have to do, and came to a bold idea – could I possibly take control of my career and become a consultant?

I’ve worked in the automotive field as a Controller and CFO for decades. In that time, I’ve helped open five dealerships – handling regulatory filings, loans, staffing, everything accounting and procedural from the ground up. And I’ve loved every minute of that work!

My last job was created by the opening of a new dealership. The company needed someone who knew the ‘ins and outs’ of registering with the state and the IRS, to apply for all required licenses, and to work closely with the computer software provider to tailor a complex system to the company’s specific needs. I interviewed and hired staff, wrote the employee handbook, negotiated insurance policies… So much administrative work goes into opening such a complex and highly regulated business as a car dealership – it takes months!

Once the new store got off the ground, I still had plenty of work to do, but as the economy slowed, it was clear that my skills of deep analysis and oversight weren’t quite as necessary – a good office manager could handle the daily tasks for half the expense. They could not afford to keep me…

As I charted my skills and interests, I realized that there are surely plenty of other smaller dealerships who are looking to grow but need help with applications and planning. Is this a niche I can fill – that of a temporary controller, an expert in opening new dealerships for short-term work?

I saw the potential for other needs I could fill – assisting in staffing, hiring and training office personnel, software setups. Some of these tasks could be outsourced to the dealership’s accounting or legal firm, but for a far greater cost. There is an opportunity for me!

Self-Assessment Mind Map

The encouragement I received from the network at PSGCNJ fired me up to create a business plan. I haven’t given up my job search, I still need a little work on my nerve; I’ve never seen myself as the entrepreneurial type…

My next step is to chat with fellow PSGCNJ members who have made the leap and formed their own consulting company. This group is an amazing resource for networking!

So in this down time, this time of high anxiety and low income, I’ve found ways to improve myself, my life and my happiness. I’m using this free time to further my hobby interests, my career goals, and oh yes… my education.

Professional Education

Perhaps the most wonderful part of PSGCNJ is their three-day Accelerated Career Training Program. New members are encouraged to immerse themselves in instruction on better job searches, more skillful interviewing and successful networking.

One day I was chatting during a break with an instructor, Lisa Hallman, and the conversation turned to how my own job search was going.

“Challenging”, I had to admit.

My field is very small, open opportunities are hard to come by. I had been looking outside of my area in the automotive field – accounting is accounting, and I’ve been at it for thirty years! Surely my skills would translate to another industry. And I’ve gotten plenty of interest – until it’s discovered that I have not completed my bachelor’s degree.

I’m angry with myself for never finishing, but in the automotive world, that is rarely considered important – experience is what counts. But without that college degree, I can’t seem to get an interview in the outside world.

Lisa’s suggestion was brilliant and simple:

“Take just one course a semester!” she encouraged me.

“Well, why not, indeed?” my brain immediately went into high gear.

Slowly but surely, I will finish. If I had simply lessened my course load instead of dropping out entirely back in 2013, I’d have that CPA by now!

I realized it’s time to get back to work. Take advantage of this downtime to further my education, if only one class at a time.

Enrolling in Online University

I re-enrolled at Thomas Edison State University – an online college geared towards the working adult.

I can take classes on my own schedule, some being entirely self-taught, with no assignments, just preparation for an exam – so when I do find work again, I will still be able to manage my classes.

I have identified five courses required for my degree that I have strong knowledge of, through my life and work experiences – TESU will allow me to simply take the exam – pass and receive credit for the course. I will get that degree, using my extra time now to further my education, and push my career to new possibilities.

Having the accounting degree will enhance my consulting business and would surely help down the line should I ever need a career change again.

My job search and networking occupy each morning, and my afternoons are spent studying. I look forward to getting back to work and that is still my number one priority – but in the meantime, I don’t think there is a better project I could be doing!

Never Cease Seeing Possibilities!

In these stressful times, it’s important to see the possibilities – how can we turn the negative into positives? How can you best utilize your free time to enrich your life? Furthering education, pursuing a dream career?

Now is your chance – use this time to your full advantage, create new opportunities!

About the author: Jennifer Moylan has spent the last 30 years as Controller and CFO for automotive dealerships. She particularly enjoys the constant challenges found in this fiercely competitive and highly regulated industry. When not breaking down the numbers, she can be found with camera in hand, creating landscape photography; often leading a group of fellow amateur photographers around the state of New Jersey to capture the beautiful sights.

Jennifer’s Photography Website: http://www.jenlyphotography.com