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Pivot: Which Way to Go?

April 16, 2021 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

Piv-ot. It’s the most overused term of the pandemic era and a concept that has bubbled to the surface as crucial to surviving. It’s about shifting gears, if you will, from a job you may have been in for years or decades, for which there is less need now, to one that offers greater demand of your time and services—and for which you are wildly appreciated.

Kudos to all those restauranteurs who can’t serve diners inside but knew they could set up outside spaces in which they could feed them safely or become caterers and take-out food shop owners. Some went a step further and tried being ghost kitchen creators dishing out food for a profit and some for free. Then there are others we’d like to give a shout-out to for their creativity, resiliency and sense of adventure in beginning a brand new career at this difficult time and sometimes at an advanced age:

Sam, from former hotel owner to house manager

With bookings way down, Sam shuttered his chic boutique hotel in the heart of New York City and parlayed his property management skills to help the growing cadre of homeowners trying to cope with the continued influx of relatives into their homes. It was good timing for quarantining became critical as new more aggressive variants of the virus –and relatives--surfaced from Moscow! Hong Kong! Peru! Sam knew just how to decide who in the house would get which bedroom and all accoutrements. He even found his college psych 101 class information useful to stop arguments from erupting over who might forget to make their beds, clean the bathrooms or do other chores with great enthusiasm. He did so without shaming anybody in front of others.

Nancy, from former department store salesperson to sales force leader extraordinaire

With more department stores closing, employees like Nancy needed to use their selling skills in new ways. And, no, not that way! Nancy discovered that her skills were most in demand by parents seeking to teach their children how to shop in brick-and-mortar stores. That generation had only heard about the concept. She taught her clients what questions to ask a salesperson in person, how to analyze quality by touch and feel, how to negotiate a deeper discount and pay by check or cash at a counter rather than just with a credit card or bitcoin as they had done in online transactions.

Philip, from former travel agent to board game developer

As travel became too risky—Philip knew that he had to take advantage of his knowledge about all the places his clients loved to go—the South of France, Antarctica, Bhutan, South Africa. He combined finding the best destination--luxury, adventure, exotic food, superb wines, high prices, privacy and languages none of them could speak or write, to create a board game, “Where Should we Pretend to Go?” This was pseudo travel to crowded urban downtowns, into their cubicles in office buildings where they’d congregate around a shared coffee pot (horrors), to sun-kissed sandy beaches where no masks were in sight (double horrors, even if this was pretend). Penalties in the form of losing your turn or going back to the beginning would include having to wear five masks, going into a grocery store at 5 p.m. prime shopping time and losing $100, not being able to find hand sanitizer or toilet paper or having to host a Zoom meeting in an open-plan living area with two other conversations going on simultaneously. The winner of the game was the player who got to their home on the board safely first and had picked the card that read, “I promise never to go anywhere again.”  

Hal, from retired DIYer to single-family house contractor

 

Every retiree who is handy thinks why not turn a hobby into a second career. Hal, once a busy lawyer but retired for years, loved tackling projects around his house—the clogged sink, the leaky toilet and so on. Not being able to travel and hearing that all the area’s good contractors were booked up months ahead, he knew this could be the time to hang out a shingle. Thanks to YouTube videos, Google and “You can go into business, too”—part of the Dummies book series (where he learned estimating pricing), he started building terraces, painting exteriors, adding on rooms and installing pools. He’s now so busy that he’s adding staff and considering franchising into all 50 states. The rumor mill is reporting that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has asked to join Hal’s venture on the off chance that he changes his mind and retires. The Gov hopes to get his face out there again, screwdriver in hand, with appearances on Hammertime TV and “This Old House,” where he touts solid foundations built by politicians. Former mayor Pete Buttigieg, now Transportation Department head, just might hire him as the Biden administration rebuilds infrastructures across America.   

Roberta, from digital marketing guru to old school print expert

Roberta, 60, was depressed and burned out on technology. But hey, she reasoned, everything goes in cycles. This would be a great time to go back to her roots, she thought. She tested the waters and totally disconnected –no cell phones, no iPads, no laptops for two hours, and then she added on an hour each day kind of like the opposite way she weaned herself off antidepressants. She did so without going into technology withdrawal where she might start uncontrollably spouting Twitter terms and Facebook slogans. In fact, she went silent for hours at a time when the only sounds she allowed were grunts and the clacking of typewriter keys—she had stashed one in her attic decades ago. The goal was to get back in touch with her primal self, roaming around her apartment, swearing at will, and foraging for scraps of junk food, a newfound talent. It was total liberation. It didn’t do much for her vocabulary, her income, her weight or social skills, but she shed years of repressed anger.

Jane, from CPA to living an alternative comedy lifestyle

Jane, an accountant, who looked at spreadsheets and numbers all day long, had to find humor to survive her hilarity desert during the pandemic. She thought: “What makes me laugh?” She tried tickling her funny bone by testing on her grandchildren knock-knock jokes, puns and variations on why the chicken crossed the road. Their guesses were far funnier than her punch lines. However, she persevered and took her skills to the screen doing virtual open mike night—think Mrs. Maisel goes virtual. She could mimic voices and tell great stories whereupon she slowly built a small following, mostly other accountants who appreciated her fiscal humor which poked fun at Bernie Madoff and Donald Trump’s accountant, Allen Weisselberg. Her bottom line is suffering, but her popularity is growing exponentially.

Helen, from 1st grade classroom/virtual teacher to Spanish translator

Helen had been a first- grade teacher for 45 years when, presto, the pandemic changed all. She was forced to learn technology to teach on a screen. How do you discipline little ones who won’t listen or interrupt other than shouting “shut up,” not politically correct when parents are sitting in the same room? One day to earn extra income, she was tutoring a 7-year-old, Felicia, whose mother was from Spain. Helen had always wanted to learn conversational Spanish. Ding. Ding. She asked Felicia if she spoke any Spanish and, if so, would she teach her a few phrases. Soon, Helen became so adept at ordering Mexican takeout food that she was able to chuck the teaching and become a translator for the New York Department of Health Inspections (i.e. restaurants). However, one day when she meant to say “Hola” it came out “Hostia” (damn), at which point she was written up and given a C-rating for using dirty language. As punishment, she was transferred to the US Post Office to deal with lost mail from Spanish-speaking countries.     

Jamie, unemployed actor to professional reader of audio books

Jamie couldn’t find work during the pandemic. One day he was asked by a friend, who had been chosen to play Sir Thomas More in a play by the same name, to help him memorize the lines. The friend said he learned best auditorily, so Jamie recorded it all. In doing so, he discovered quite a talent for turning a phrase with such lines as, “I am true subject to my king.” What flair. What finesse. What class. This led to gigs reading all the Henrys and the Richards by Shakespeare to Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (it took 40 hours to complete plus many hours of practice learning to pronounce Russian names). And he did so without losing his voice. Reading these difficult, dense tomes became his niche. Today, he’s sought after to read any new work that has difficult-to-pronounce names and is more than 500 pages long. Business is booming as his name is currently listed on Amazon at #5 in the audio book category. He’s waiting for former President Trump to call when he publishes his book about whether he was or wasn’t a Russian asset.

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