How to Weather a Work-Life Storm

When “Tom Callabrios” lost his job as a senior field engineer, he and his wife, were forced to re-examine their family’s livelihood.


Many families with children decide to build a professional career around their roles as parents; these are called dual-career families. One such example, the “Callabrios” family, recently weathered a work-life storm.

“Tom,” a successful field engineer for a service-related technical firm, states, “With three children under 10, my wife ‘Mary’s’ career as a CRNA took up a lot of time. But we managed. My job took a hit about 10 months ago. My company sent my job overseas and hired someone half my age at half my base salary. We were used to living on what some may say is a lot of money, and we filled up the buckets for college and retirement vehicles. But with a special-needs son with autism, we wanted to cut back and spend more time helping him and our other children. So, in a way, we had already weathered a work-life storm: a potential lifetime of dealing with a son with special needs. I think I just got very focused on being creative and not just on the money lost.”

“Mary” said, “Any family is a balancing act. Having two career paths is, and so is having children. Add a special need and career expectations of two Type-A personalities, plans and more change. As someone in health care, I am used to planning for change and dealing with adversity. It’s just a little different when it’s your adversity. Educational plans and provisions for our future always remained important. Until 10 months ago, our plan was to make as much money as possible just in case our children, and especially our son who has autism, needed more down the road. But I would say our perspective changed a lot. In the last 10 months we not only weathered the storm but put more in perspective about what’s important in life. We had to weather our own little hurricane. It’s probably not too uncommon.”

How are you like the Callabrios family? If you or your spouse were to lose your job, would you be able to cover your basic household expenses? Would you have to change your lifestyle? Would cutting back hurt you or actually give you a new perspective on life? What if you have a child with special needs? What if a spouse got hurt or became unable to perform because of a health issue?

Whatever your special circumstance might be, here are a few ways you can learn from the Callabrios family and prepare for your own named hurricane:

Put your family first.

Here’s the key to stabilizing any financial situation: Spend your time and your money where it makes a difference. This is what will keep a job offer in your back pocket at all times, and it’s what will keep your bank account above the water in any economy. It isn’t as hard as it sounds, and the results will come sooner than you might expect. According to Mr. Callabrios, “I really worked on alternative opportunities in field engineering and technology immediately after I was let go. This resulted in cutting my hours from about 60 a week to 45 and not traveling 12 business days a month. I spend more time working with my children and teaching my special-needs son reading. When I did that along with the business things I should have been doing, like hiring a career coach and producing a powerful resume, I saw things just start coming to me in terms of contacts and opportunities.”

Let adversity bring out your creativity.

Tom got creative about his career, and his approach led to more than gaining another job. Mary states, “Tom is still able to produce close to six figures in income, but by reinventing his career and cutting back, he’s in better health and we are closer. At the time of his layoff we were seeking marital counseling. It’s almost like adversity brought out our creative side. Now we are closer as a total family.” Tom worked on building his network of friends and others. The new position he received was due to his creative processes. Mary says, “Tom helped invent a position that was only lightly advertised. He actually wrote some of the job description himself.”

Network your network.

Even if you’re not currently looking for work, hiring decision-makers need a way to find you. When companies have an urgent need, they will look to the people they know. If someone had a requisition for your ideal job in hand, and you were indeed the perfect candidate for this job, how would that person find you? If you build a strong brand, and you make your name known, job offers will start to appear. “I wanted to keep people informed of my status,” says Tom, “so I kept in touch. This helped me trim a long layoff.” He also aggressively and properly developed a powerful online resume and took time to network on LinkedIn and at other professional and volunteer events. He proactively sought to find new opportunities, advertised and unadvertised.

No matter how much you make, watch what you spend.

“To be honest,” says Mary, “we were stupid with our money. We leased new cars, bought things we didn’t need, and we thought money and things might replace time with our kids. It wasn’t intentional. We now have a work-life that suits our family, and we don’t have to buy it all. We are now teaching our kids by example to be responsible; time is more important than money.” What expenses could you eliminate if you had to? Could you pull money out of something that’s currently an expense and re-invest that money into the development of your personal brand or network?

If money’s tight, keep focused on activity that either increases your income or reduces your expenses. Nothing else will make a difference. Unfortunately, in the face of economic storms, it’s easy to get caught up in unproductive distractions. A number of critical brand-building activities don’t yield income right away; it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between moving forward and spinning your wheels.

In times of economic volatility, hurricanes can form from tropical storms when you’re not looking. No matter if your income matches that of the Callabrios family or your situation mirrors theirs, consider engaging, not just evacuating. The U.S. government says you should have a “to-go bag” in case you have to evacuate from your business or home during a major storm or event. Look at the facts and financials, but put yourself and your family first. Then your next work-life storm could become just another setback that’s a set-up for new perspective and opportunity.