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This could be the perfect time for your career Plan B

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The pandemic has given us time to reevaluate how we spend our 9-to-5, but while many have simply felt grateful to have a regular paycheck, or been content to envy-click around LinkedIn as we were busy watering our new houseplants, some have managed a career 180. These brave souls got to work on making their pipe dreams come true. Here’s how they did it — and how you can, too.

Looking to the future

The lowdown: Emily McGill, 35, a self-proclaimed “recovering Broadway publicist” and communications consultant, became a tarot reader when COVID-19 hit. “At the top of 2020 I felt stuck and lost, like I ended up somewhere I didn’t mean to be,” she said. “My entertainment p.r. work was no longer lighting me up.”

After testing positive for the virus in late March, the Hell’s Kitchen resident took a long break of introspection as she recovered.

Meanwhile, she used that downtime to reconnect with her love of tarot-card reading. “I enjoyed learning the Osho Zen tarot deck through their app over the years,” she said. “Right before the pandemic hit, I was gifted the deck and began reading for others.”

Once lockdown began, McGill started virtual readings and was pleased to find they “felt just as intimate” as in-person sessions.

What keeps her ticking: Despite the challenges McGill is facing in building her business from the ground up, she wouldn’t trade it for anything. “The transition has been really hard,” she said. “Tarot doesn’t pay the bills yet, but I have an idea for creating my own deck of cards, and I’m working on that.”

The takeaway: If you leap into what you love, the net will always appear.

“For anyone considering following their bliss, as terrifying as it may be, it is the best thing you can do,” said McGill. “Talk to everyone you know about what it is that you want to be doing. You never know which person might know the person you need to meet, or who else might share that dream or vision with you. The helpers are there, but you’ve got to ask.”

Tracking success

Steve Waters is now CEO of ConTrace Public Health Corps, a social enterprise that helps clients with COVID-19 contact-tracing.
Steve Waters is now CEO of ConTrace Public Health Corps, a social enterprise that helps clients with COVID-19 contact-tracing.
Lauren Isbell

The lowdown: B.C. (yes, that’s for Before Coronavirus), Steve Waters, 44, a West Village resident, operated a small market intelligence firm directing support to entrepreneurs. “It was quiet work with a few colleagues,” Waters said of his former profession.

Now, every day is an adventure as CEO of ConTrace Public Health Corps, the social enterprise that he founded to help scale the contact-tracing workforce for COVID-19 in the US. Perhaps needless to say, his workdays now are “extremely intense.” What keeps him ticking: Waters’ previous career halted at the beginning of the pandemic. “It was both exhilarating and overwhelming. Adding a dramatic career change on top of that was a lot. I went from day-to-day work that I felt was important but had little daily urgency, to extreme urgency and nonstop press appearances,” said Waters.

He ultimately found that channeling this chaos into purpose-driven momentum served him well. “I’m more resilient than I thought I was, and once I was able to not just accept but even embrace the turmoil unfolding around me, I was able to clearly see the path I should take. I was able to handle a lot more stress and pressure than I thought,” he said.The takeaway: It’s time to get nimble. “Be open-minded and be willing to move quickly at the first sign of opportunity,” said Waters. “This is a time to accept discomfort for the moment, so you can gain the mental clarity to see through the chaos and find the opportunities.”

Finding the answers

Amid the pandemic, Collin Waldoch transformed his side hustle platform, Water Cooler Trivia, into a full-time job.
Amid the pandemic, Collin Waldoch transformed his side hustle platform, Water Cooler Trivia, into a full-time job.
Water Cooler Trivia

The lowdown: Collin Waldoch, a 27-year-old Prospect Heights resident, was able to use the coronavirus pandemic as the nudge he needed to escape the old mink-lined rut as a product manager at Citi Bike, and then at its new owner Lyft.

In mid-March, he left his role to jump in full time as the co-founder/CEO of Water Cooler Trivia, a platform for weekly trivia quizzes for work teams sent via e-mail or Slack. “I’d been working on Water Cooler Trivia with two friends since late 2017 as a side hustle, and I took 2020 as a sign that it was time to dive in full time,” said Waldoch. The transition has been a nonstop roller coaster. “There’s no red tape, no management, no bureaucracy, so the freedom to work on and release a new feature immediately is incredibly empowering,” he said.

What keeps him ticking: “It’s a bit trite, but I’ve learned that energy and perseverance are more important than natural talent or technical skills,” said Waldoch. “The difference between something getting done or not relies on the quantity of energy I put into a given feature, product or task.”

Waldoch has also embraced being able to work as he pleases. “This flexibility has reduced my overall stress level in meaningful ways,” he said. “It has converted my distress [bad stress] into the eustress [good stress] of self-imposed deadlines and devotion to making the work week better for tens of thousands of folks with weekly trivia quizzes.”

The takeaway: That side hustle you enjoy could have value. With the influx of WFHers, Water Cooler Trivia saw huge growth last year.

“As a lifelong ‘Jeopardy!’ fan and self-professed trivia nerd, it’s a dream come true,” said Waldoch. “But I never would have up and left a full-time job to start a project like this cold turkey. Starting Water Cooler Trivia on a whim one Tuesday night laid the groundwork for this life-altering career shift. I’m a massive believer that we undervalue the ways things can go better than expected. So start that side project, whether it’s writing a blog, learning carpentry or writing trivia questions.”

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