7 Spectacular Career Comebacks--From Real People

Last Updated Dec 20, 2010 6:31 AM EST


When I wrote about wealthy and famous people who had spectacular career comebacks, several people asked, "But what about us normal humans? Those of us who don't have millions of dollars to help us through?" Well, I asked my readers and got numerous fabulous responses. Here are the stories of people who had neither fame nor fortune, but were able to overcome great odds.

Patti Schuler: From Corporate to Cakes
Patti worked for a major pharmaceutical company for 9 years in various HR functions. Unfortunately, when her company was acquired by another, her job ended up on the chopping block, but not until she'd laid off many of her coworkers. "In my job as severance administrator, I witnessed first hand as thousands of people in the country were laid off in just over a year - and so many of them are so talented you can't believe they'd let them get away! I personally spoke to at least 1,000 of those people, and I made it a point to treat them with respect and care until the very end."

After handing herself a severance package, she turned her hobby into a business: Patti Cake Bakers. She makes custom cakes in suburban Philadelphia and has more time for her family, working on her own terms. She says, "I may not ever be the next Cake Boss, but this sure beats staring at spreadsheets all day!"

Maura Mather Järve: From Fired to Silver Lining

When Maura finished art school she says she "wasn't mature enough to realize that I controlled my own destiny." She took corporate jobs, which helped pay the bills, but didn't give her the creative control she wanted. While on maternity leave, her company laid her off. "At first, I wanted to sue somebody, but the severance package let me extend my maternity leave by a few months, and for that I am forever grateful."

She landed a new job that fit more with her creativity, but didn't last, as the recession forced a second layoff. This time, instead of looking for a new job, she saw the unemployment as a silver lining and started her own business, Majäbra Creative Partners. "Two years later, I'm proud to say that my business is growing, and I love my job. Plus, I can't get fired. So in retrospect, I've got nothing bad to say about being let go. In fact, I should probably send a few thank-you notes."

Darrin Lythgoe: From Gynecology to Genealogy
When Darrin graduated from college in 1992, with a degree in communications, he was desperate for a job. Luckily he found one, in Los Angeles, far away from home. Unfortunately, the job was editing tapes of gynecology lectures for doctors to listen to. He writes, "I was not married. I had only one sister. Plus, in high school I intentionally took accounting so I could avoid anatomy & physiology. Basically, I knew nothing about this topic, and now I was supposed to educate doctors!" He lasted 4 months, at which point he found a job back home doing computer programming--something he'd given up long before.

But, then this thing called the internet materialized. Darrin taught himself HTML, developed a website for the company he worked for, and began freelancing. He'd done genealogy as a hobby for a while and in 2002 developed a revolutionary new way to host family trees on the internet. He wrote The Next Generation, which became the "Cadillac" of online genealogy software. Now with 10,000 users, and translation into 20 languages, he says, "Life is pretty great."

Meredith Lines: From Fitness to A Healthy Job
Meredith, at 24, managed a department of a large fitness center. Her P&L and customer satisfaction stats were the best in the state. However, the company had a reputation for discriminating, and Meredith was called upon to testify at a discrimination hearing for a former employee. Rather than spouting the company line, she "testified under oath about the racist name-calling that takes place, amongst other things." A mere three hours later, she was fired.

While friends and family asked why she didn't sue, Meredith realized what she really wanted was a job she loved. She threw herself into looking for a new job and, she writes, "I succeeded! 6 weeks after my termination, I was hired by a company that is known for respecting and valuing its employees. It is quite a career shift, but I am so OK with that... I have never been happier! I have been able to re-evaluate and figure out exactly what I wanted to with my life, and with my career."

Paul Owen: From Orphan to Professor
Paul's father died when Paul was 5; his mother died when he was 13. Paul said, "From the years 1983-1988 I moved around among three states, seven foster homes, and a group home for wards of the state. I suffered from insecurity, instability, abuse and emotional neglect. Not an ideal start." He had, though, enough insight to know he needed more education.

School and religion provided Paul the opportunity to stabilize his life. He said, "In school, I found a niche in research and academia, which led to further graduate and doctoral studies. If I had not stayed in school, I could well have ended up homeless, as foster kids don't have many options once they turn 18."

Paul is now a tenured professor at Montreat College in North Carolina, teaching Greek and biblical studies. He also published his memoirs, The Long Winter: One Man's Journey Through the Darkness of Foster Care this summer.

Jim Grey: From Rotten Boss to Perfect Career
Jim's VP wanted to surround himself with people just like him--and unfortunately Jim wasn't like the VP. Even though his work was top notch and clients loved him, the VP wanted him gone and gave him 30 days notice and instructions not to tell the client. However, on day 30, when the client kept talking about scheduling future meetings, Jim broke and told them that he had been terminated and today was his last day.

As expected the VP was furious over this "breech." However, the client was even more furious. Unknown to Jim, there was a clause in the contract that prevented the company from firing him without cause--the client liked him and a few other managers so much they'd requested it. Jim said "I'm sure that the boss's plan was to wait until I was gone and then just tell our government contacts that I'd decided to pursue other opportunities."

With the boss bound by contract to keep Jim on board, he still tried to destroy him by moving him into a different position. Jim only accepted the new position because his family circumstances made job hunting impractical at the time. To his delight, he learned new skills there which allowed him to branch into a new area--one that he loves. " I'm at the top of my career today, and I would never have been able to do it unless I'd been fired."

Jane Doe: From Managing a Nightmare to Fortune 100
(Jane asked to remain anonymous, but wanted to share her story.) At 26 she was hired into what sounded like her dream job--as the managing editor for a small publisher. However, it was more like a nightmare. "Despite the title managing editor," she writes, "the only thing I had any control over was the organization of the paperclips in my desk."

The stress became unbearable, causing physical problems and, according to friends, a personality change. Then the boss found out that she was only 26 and therefore "too young" to be a managing editor. The stated reason for her termination was that she was "too creative."

To make ends meet, she took a temp job, which turned into a real job at a Fortune 100 company. Even though you would think a big company would not appreciate creativity, Jane's skills and talents were recognized and put to good use. And as for the publishing company? Within 90 days, her replacement and her staff had all been fired or quit as well. Apparently it was nobody's dream.

Photo Courtesy Patti Cake Bakers.

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