reinvent.jpgThis past week, MSNBC.com published a series on career reinvention in this economy and it made me realize there are a lot of winners and a lot of whiners out there.

With our new series of stories on “Reinventing America,” we intend to shine a spotlight on many of these victims of the downturn who are being forced to find a new path in life, wrote my editor Martin Wolk in launching the package.

The series was kicked off with a great piece by my colleague Allison Linn on how many couples are loosing their jobs at the same time, and some are moving back in with mom and dad:

The lengthy recession is delivering a double blow to some American families, leaving both spouses without a job at the same time. The dual loss of income — and the difficult prospect of finding two new jobs — has some facing deep financial fears, including losing their homes and taking on expensive health care costs without the safety net of an employer’s insurance plan. It also is threatening the stability of some families, who are looking at a future very unlike the one they planned for.

I wrote two stories. One on how Gen Xers were hit by two economic downturns early in their careers, and another on how many individuals have been able to reinvent themselves.

On Gen Xers:

While much has been made of the plight of older baby boomers, in less than a decade many Gen Xers have taken a hard spill off the Internet wave and now have been knocked down again by an ugly recession, one of the worst on record.

On reinvention:

It’s not always a direct route from your present career to a new one. Sometimes you may have to try lots of things in order to find out what’s right for you, and you may also have to swallow your pride and pay some dues along the way.

The final piece this week, and there are more to come, was about the plight of Baby Boomers in this economy, written by one of my favorite business writers John Schoen:

The Me Generation’s twilight years were supposed to be a bookend for the Golden Age of the American Dream they inherited after the country triumphed in World War II. For all but a few, that dream is fast slipping away, as a surge in layoffs and the collapse of the housing and financial markets leave them with few options and little time to recover and rebuild.

As you can imagine, we’ve gotten a ton of feedback from readers on this package, both good and bad. But what I find so interesting so far, is the comments from readers who seem to miss the point, the big point — reinventing yourself is hard but hard work pays off.

Here’s one of the first comments we got:

Re- Inventing ones self, yea right ! im 50 and have had my own business since 84, I dont think there is much hope for a new career or school. how in the hell you going to pay for school and support your family when your homeless and jobless. Bailing out the banks is not helping americans in fact just the opposite, the banks continue and have gotten even worse with their predatory practices, if they hadn’t been bailed out they would be in the same situation as the rest of us instead of sending collections to India calling/ harassing people 20 times a say .

And one reader mocked Sheila Keahey, the woman I featured in my how-to-reinvent-yourself story, saying, “oh, it’s so easy for her to just do something new.”

Somehow, this reader missed the point.

In 2001, Sheila Keahey was laid off for a second time after 11 years in the financial sector, this time from her job as a financial analyst for a telecommunications firm in Dallas.

She tried substitute teaching and even worked as a sales associate at Neiman Marcus, but she couldn’t find her niche. The full-time retail job wasn’t paying the bills, so she started looking for a temporary position to supplement her income.

In the back of her mind, she had always been interested in health care, so she took a temp job at a local teaching hospital as a senior administrative assistant. There she was exposed to a profession she knew little about: medical coding.

“Here I am with an MBA doing administrative work, but I knew it would be a stepping stone for me,” she says.

Indeed, her step down paid off. Today, Keahey is a medical coder helping to manage health information for Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas.

Does Keahey’s story sound easy to you? This woman struggled, had to work two jobs, had to swallow her pride, and had to take a chance on an industry she knew nothing about.

It’s not easy folks. It will take work. I know, hard work and paying dues are out of style. But the Madoffs of the world show any other way is just a big ponzi scheme.

Maybe it’s easier for people to read what they want to read, to convince themselves that it can’t be done. That way you can just sit home and wallow in your anger and disappointment.

But the reality is, we are all masters of our own destinies. We have to stand up and make things happen, and even sometimes fail. I know that’s scary, but it’s the truth.

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