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When one job door closes, open another

ST. LOUIS — Fletcher Lane has been gainfully employed throughout the Great Recession. Not only that, he's held his job as a sales manager with Corning Inc.'s fiber optic division for 17 years and a similar position with another company for 14 years before that.

The 59-year-old Clayton, Mo., resident has weathered the bum economy better than most.

But he still has a message worth passing along to those who haven't fared quite as well the past couple of years. It's about finding a niche — and maybe a few extra bucks — doing something you truly enjoy outside your primary source of income.

And it starts with a recurring and somewhat disingenuous theme sounded by career counselors and self-help gurus — and Ryan Bingham, the hatchet man (played by George Clooney) who travels the country axing employees in Up in the Air.

Unemployment is a great opportunity.

There is an inkling of truth in all this. After all, joblessness has forced 15 million Americans to either reinvent or take a long, hard look at themselves and their careers.

Reinvention, unfortunately, can also translate into underemployment in jobs well below pay grade, from the standpoint of both intellect and salary. And this is where Lane comes in.

He is proof that there is more than one way to support oneself and that the second job, if you play your cards right, can be just as satisfying, if not more so, than the first.

Lane didn't set out to be a sales manager upon graduation from Saint Louis University. Truth be known, he sort of fell into the job, liked it and decided to stick it out.

About 10 years into his career, Lane became a serious bicyclist. So serious that he started to compete locally on the amateur circuit. At a Carondelet Park race one afternoon, the performance of the announcers caught Lane's attention.

"They were just kind of dull," he remembered.

Lane figured he could do better. Heaven knows, he had the genes to do so. His father worked briefly as a broadcaster at KMOX -FM and, for years, his mother taught drama and speech at Washington University.

Before long, Lane moved from the race course to the broadcast booth, calling races not only locally, but at events in different parts of the country. The cycling gigs led to a regular engagement as the voice of a series of national triathlon events and the occasional marathon. Unintentionally, Lane had gone from one career to two.

Eight years ago, a stranger listened to Lane call a race and approached him with a compliment about the cadences in his speech patterns.

"Ever thought of being an auctioneer?" she asked.

Actually, he hadn't.

Lane decided to give it a shot, enrolling in a one-week auctioneering course. And off went Lane's second career in yet another direction.

He's now a staple on the local nonprofit charity auction circuit, spending every other weekend on stages at schools, churches and community organizations hawking everything from Labrador puppies to opportunities to toss out the first pitch at a St. Louis Cardinals game.

"I've made a lot of money saying, 'Way to go,' " Lane chuckles.

Make no mistake, Lane loves his primary job. Being a sales manager offers the opportunity to interact with clients, travel and enjoy the satisfaction of putting together a well-crafted business deal.

In many ways, Lane says, the part-time weekend work enhances the full-time job by broadening his people skills.

With the economy repositioning so many displaced workers, Lane said he believes there is no reason others can't carve out a parallel and deeply satisfying career as well.

"If you have a talent, do something about it," he advises. "Express yourself in that venue. It's a shame if you don't."

When one job door closes, open another 01/23/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 23, 2010 1:17am]

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