Can a layoff be a blessing?

Can a layoff be a blessing?
Dave and Courtney Jarecki walk with their dogs, Satchel, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, and Maji, a hound.

PORTLAND, Ore. – When Courtney Jarecki got laid off from her $65,000-a-year consulting job last fall, it was exactly what she needed.

Even if she and her husband, Dave, had to make sacrifices, it forced the north Portland couple to live differently. It forced him to become the family breadwinner and to really improve his professional writing business. It forced her to stop working at soulless corporate jobs and do something she actually cared about.

How did they turn a negative into an opportunity? Their lifestyle didn’t hurt. While “the layoff” was still a shock, the blow was cushioned by the couple’s remarkable ability to save. Unlike many Americans, the Jarecki’s managed to tuck away 30 percent of their income during the past five years. And having that nest egg to fall back on - as well as unemployment benefits - meant she had time to explore.

"I had been searching for what I wanted to do for 10 years,” said Courtney Jarecki, 32. “I went to college to be a landscape designer but ended up in project management. I spent a lot of time doing coaching, reading books about careers, having tarot card readings and past life regressions to find the answer.

"Then, one day while reading “This Time I Dance” by Tama Kieves, I suddenly knew - I needed to be a midwife."

No particular passage brought her to this revelation. But the book’s theme was “follow your heart,” and that resonated with her. After spending her career managing projects such as a Portland shoe manufacturer’s internal communications Web site, she was ready to follow her passion. And she had always felt passionate about women having positive, healthy birthing experiences.

Husband doubles income - but it's not enough

Of course, she could kiss the $65K salary goodbye, which meant her husband had to step up. She’d been the couple’s chief income source for the past five years, so he didn’t mind the change, though he was anxious about it. He started working with a business consultant and then began expanding his network, making one-on-one connections with people rather than just “trolling on Craigslist.”

"I’m constantly writing,” said Dave Jarecki, 33. “Right now, I'm setting the stage for ongoing connections. Who I come into contact with this year will help me down that path.”

Though he’s been able to double his income, the couple still makes just 35 to 40 percent of what they did before the layoff. (They didn't want to give out specific figures) To supplement his pay - and offset the cost of food for their two dogs, Satchel, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, and Maji, a mystery hound - he started a raw natural pet food company called Moe's Meats. Currently, he has 30 total customers, averaging about 11 clients per month.

Many lifestyle changes necessary

With the lower income, the couple has had to make many sacrifices. Courtney Jarecki now bikes to work whenever possible, cutting their gasoline bill from $180 a month to $40, since she no longer has a 50-minute commute to Tigard. She also switched yoga classes and now only pays $5 a session. The couple has also used PDXTimebank, where people receive "time dollars" instead of greenbacks in exchange for providing services to other members. They've spent their time dollars on two additional garden beds for growing more vegetables, as well as chicken coops to raise chickens for eggs. She also receives weekly acupuncture using the time bank. The couple also visits the library regularly for their book fix and takes advantage of stores like Scrap Community Resource Center to purchase school and office supplies. For clothes, they go to Goodwill and have participated in a clothes swap event.

"We also bought organic, hormone-free meat directly from a rancher," Dave Jarecki said. "We purchased an eighth of a cow that was all cut up, and then we froze it. Since we only eat meat once a week, we now have it on hand and make fewer trips to the store."

Layoff has brought couple closer together

Neither Dave nor Courtney Jarecki feels that the layoff, while challenging, has been an ultimately negative force in their lives. Rather, it's brought them closer together; they now spend more time together since they both work from home.

"I'm happy. I’m grounded and present. I literally bend down to smell roses," said Courtney Jarecki, who is studying at the Ancient Art Midwifery Institute while working as a labor doula and a post-partum doula on the side. "I spend a lot of time studying. I know what clouds look like from my window. Now, joy and passion are first in my life. I didn't have that before. I stay away from the negativity in the media and don't watch television, read the newspaper or listen to the radio. I also refuse to have negative conversations about the economy."

Her husband agrees. "I lost my job in 2004, when no one was losing their job. It was scary, but we’ve grown since then. And it’s not scary anymore; we know we are going to be OK. My feeling is there are a lot of people selling themselves short. A lot of people make decisions from fear and comfort. Courtney went in a direction opposite of that; she is on a path towards discovery."

He pauses and adds, "And she does this little dance – skipping from her office past mine to our bathroom – I love seeing her like this - it’s really nice."