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How I Wrecked By Making A Hard Left Turn At 40

May 21, 2015

It seemed like a good idea at the time. 

My career had been exclusively in the IT world for a couple of decades. I cut my teeth at WordPerfect learning how to value customers. I moved on to Microsoft and made a ton a money. I’d traveled the world, written books and enjoyed years of success as an IT professional. But, my last couple of jobs had a disappointing ending, and I felt I was ready for something new. 
I had a chance to move from the western half of the US where I’d spent my entire life bouncing between Utah and Washington, to the Midwest where I knew no one and had no experience. 

And it’s not like the money was that good. My new gig, partnering in a rafting business in Wisconsin paid half of what I’d made in IT. Well, it was supposed to pay half, but I’ll get to that. Like many people, especially men, who hit their 40’s, I was having a bit of an identity crisis. Not that I was unsure who I was, but I was unsure what I wanted to be when I grew up. The rafting job seemed to have many positives. My kids would get to grow up in a rural environment. We were in the Great North Woods. Our house was on 7 acres and we were just a couple miles from the river where the rafting would happen. I would have the opportunity to give up a cubicle and get outside. I’d still get to work with people. In fact, I’d be working with more people than any of my previous jobs. 

It was perfect.

Of course, it wasn’t perfect. 

The salary was low to start with and then my “partner” announced that it was 1/3 lower than we’d agreed on. The house he’d pressured me to buy had no furnace. We got the sellers to put in a new furnace, but we needed to put in an oil tank and fill it. That would cost thousands of dollars that we didn’t have, and with the low salary wouldn’t have. The Great North Woods are filled with ticks in the Spring and Early Summer and frigid cold snow through the winter. But, worst of all, my “partner” wasn’t really a partner at all. It turned out he was a liar and a crook. And the job collapsed after just 23 days. 

My left turn at 40 had crashed my career, my finances and my mental health. 

It took me years to recover. And like many people who go through traumatic experiences, I don’t know that I’ll ever fully recover. I’m more cautious. I’m less tolerant of risk. On the positive side, I’m stronger. I understand exactly what’s important. I got out of debt during the recovery, and financially, I’m stronger than before my foray into Northern Wisconsin. 

Compare my experience to a friend of mine that also made a left turn out of IT. 

((C) Howard Tayler and Hypernode Press)

I’ve written about Howard Tayler, and his award winning web comic, Schlock Mercenary, before. Howard was manager at Novell, a large computer company. In fact, Howard and I met when we were both working at WordPerfect corporation. Howard was, by all accounts a successful manager. He was in charge of development of Novell GroupWise, an email program with an extremely loyal user base. He had a secure position in a company known for layoffs. But, at one point he took that left turn out of IT and never looked back. 

Howard approached his career change differently than I had. He launched Schlock Mercenary in June of 2000. But, at the time he started drawing his web comic as a hobby, he already had visions of turning it into a career. 

It was actually before I launched. I had decided in April or May of 2000 that I wanted to head in this direction.”

I wandered away from the computer industry, Howard sprinted away in 2004. 

I definitely left the tech industry. Middle-management work was killing me by degrees, and while I honestly loved the things that my team and I were making, I couldn’t keep pouring myself into that job. . .cartooning was definitely something I embraced. That move in 2004 was a leap from something I was starting to earnestly hate to something I desperately loved. 

Howard also laid the groundwork for his success. He spent four years getting himself, his family and his finances in a position to make the leap. There are still no guarantees. Every new adventure had the risk of failure built into it. My worst fears were realized when I found myself unemployed, in debt and stuck in a house in a part of the country where I couldn’t put my marketable skills to work. And it’s so fears that often keep us from making a change. We might hate our jobs, as Howard did, but still be scared to immobility by the fear that losing our income will ruin us. Howard also had this fear. His biggest fear in 2004 about making the left turn was 

Poverty, hunger, and crawling back into the tech industry begging for a job. 

And here’s the irony in our two situations, what Howard feared, I longed for. I love working in the tech industry. My most enjoyable jobs have been in middle-management. I truly enjoy the industry and the ability to work with a team to create software solutions. 

Should you make a change? Have you thought about it? Have you thought, “I really hate what I’m doing, and I’d love to be able to do this other thing,”? It would be a lot easier to make the move if we knew the outcome before we started. But, I guess that’s part of the process too. Like playing a rugby match, if you knew the winner before you started, you’d still play. It’s not about which team comes out ahead in the end. It’s about the process of getting from here to there and the how many times you are going to get knocked down and get back up again. 

I asked Howard what the best and worst parts of working for himself are. 

Best? I can plan things so that I only do what I love. I only tackle projects that interest me.

Worst? My plans don’t always work out. Sometimes I have to do crappy stuff I don’t like, and in this organization there really isn’t anybody for me to delegate those things to.

I don’t know if I’ll have the courage to make another left turn at 50 or 55 or 60. But, if I do, I know a couple of things. 

  • The worst thing may be having to return to IT, and that’s not terrible for me
  • I need to take advice from Howard and start planning my turn well before I get to it
  • I can survive
  • There are people who’ve done it and done it well. I can too

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

  1. Coming here courtesy of Howard Taylor… You took a HUGE risk and it flamed out horribly… but you didn’t let it destroy your family. We all know that not everything we do is going to work out, but you had the guts to take the risk, and the fortitude to survive when it bit you. I have seen, close up, people sacrifice their family on the alter of their career, so I say, if you maintained your family and most of your sanity, learned a valuable lesson, and you now know, beyond any doubt, what is important in your life, the experience was not without some small triumphs… Kudis to you, both for being willing to take the risk, and be willing to work through it when it went it went all pear shaped. Well done, sir.

  2. Build your audience/loyalty base first.

  3. In a weird bit of irony, part of the reason I took this risk was seeing Howard’s success. We talked about it and he encouraged me. In hindsight, I was seeing things in the job that I wanted to see and ignoring the warning signs.

    But, yes, having the courage to jump off the rails has a certain nobility to it. Crazy, but still somewhat admirable.

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