Changing Careers Without Facing Felony Charges

By ,

How to create a future without jumping ship like Steven Slater

This week Steven Slater quit his job by jumping out of a Jet Blue plane onto an evacuation slide and into several felony charges.

His actions clearly resonate with millions of Americans. Facebook groups supporting him reportedly had 25,000 fans in a matter of a couple days. I think this hits a deep longing in each of us, a yearning for our lives to make a difference. To have meaning. So many of our systems seem to tell us either “Suck it up. Life is hard. You just need to pay your dues.” Or “Give up. It’s not really your fault anyway. You’re just a victim.”

And when people do something like Steven Slater did, quit his job with flourish, it touches something in us. It reminds me of the scene in the film Network when the anchor yells, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” and people around the country follow suit.

What’s odd to me is how many are hailing him as a hero. He didn’t really do anything “heroic.” He didn’t save lives like Captain Sully. He didn’t risk his life like men and women in the military do every day. He basically just flipped the bird at a person that was rude to him and ran away. Sure, he did it with a bit more flourish than an adolescent graffiti artist. But it was basically the same thing.

Isn’t there another, safer way to create change in our life?

Most of us feel career stress, a feeling of being trapped. Based on his own words, Slater had obviously been thinking about doing this “for the last 20 years.” We’d be crazy to not be thinking of some sort of exit strategy. The social contract between employee and employer has changed. There isn’t any cradle-to-grave security. So even people in the best career would be wise to be figuring out what’s next.

Slater’s mistake was letting the stress build up until it burst. Detected early, stress can be a helpful sign, an early warning system that something isn’t right. If he’d had a coach, that coach could have helped him harness the creative power of stress to craft an exit strategy more akin to walking over a well-constructed bridge than jumping on to a flimsy inflatable slide.

Building a Bridge

To avoid snapping, people first need to realize they are not victims. They have some say in how they live their lives. Steven Covey made this the first of his seven habits. He called it “Be Proactive.” We are not victims. We have incredible ability to change situations.

Just knowing that isn’t enough. Here are three stepping stones I share with clients that become a bridge for them to walk across into a less stressful life: discover your strengths, become an expert, and share your expertise.

Each of these is simple to do. But the leverage from putting them together is tremendous.

Stepping Stone #1: Discover Your Strengths

Taking charge of your life with tangible actions is amazing antidote to feeling helpless. Fortunately, identifying your passions and strengths is easier today than it ever has been. Some of the best assessment tools include:

Each of these assessments will give you a snapshot of what you do well and why. The more you do, the clearer the picture becomes. When you do these, don’t waste time trying to make your weaknesses strong. While it’s good to know what your weaknesses are, decreasing stress and making a successful career change comes from doing more of what we naturally do well.

It can help if you have a mentor, coach, or trusted friend work through this with you. I’m amazed at how much more clearly other people can see us than we can see ourselves. This isn’t the time to be bashful. If you’re good at something, now is a time to be honest with yourself, even if it sounds like you’re bragging or being immodest.

In Steven Slater’s case, his ex-wife says he had a knack for marketing, even years ago. It looks like he knew it. So he was off to a good start. But it seems he never took the next step.

Stepping Stone #2: Become an Expert

Once you’ve identified some areas of strengths or passion, work on identifying activities that you can do. If you’re assessments show you are better at a job that keeps you moving, figure out things you can do that keep you moving. Sales? Tour guide? Personal trainer? Find something that makes your heart sing.

Then become a student of it.

Study it with the goal of becoming an expert. There has never been a better time to be a student! There are so many learning channels open to you. You can:

  • read books
  • scan blogs
  • sign up for webinars
  • attend lectures
  • pursue certification
  • or even go back to school

One fairly easy, and inexpensive way, to learn is to interview experts.

People really good at something are often very open about sharing with others. Just call them up (or email them or tweet them). Social media tools like LinkedIn and Twitter make it much easier to interact with even some of the most famous people. Ask if you can pick their brain about[insert a specific topic here] over coffee or lunch, your treat. Value their time enough to come prepared with good questions and polite curiosity. People are very generous in sharing their story.

Unfortunately, Slater doesn’t seem to have done this. JetBlue has such a good reputation, I bet he’d have been able find someone who would have valued his desire to learn how more about marketing. Even if he didn’t, as a flight attendant, he could’ve looked up experts in any of the cities he was flying to. Instead, he seems to have continued letting stress build up.

Becoming an expert in the area of your passion is an incredible stress reliever. Knowing you’re creating an exit strategy can help you put up with even the worst jobs. No matter how bad it gets, you know you’re working on an escape plan.

Stepping Stone #3: Share Your Expertise

It’s important to remember that the end goal of this studying is to allow you the option of leaving a stressful job. The very act of learning can be so fulfilling in itself that you can lose sight of the ultimate goal: building a bridge to a career you love without having to jump off an evacuation slide.

One of the best ways to build that bridge is to “create a platform.” Building your network and becoming known as a “go to guy” in your area of expertise, helps you create possibilities for when you’re ready to move on.

The biggest mistake people make is waiting until they have it all figured out before sharing with others. You’ll never have it all figured out.

So share from your perspective on the journey. If you let people know you’re still learning, it takes the pressure off. You no longer feel you need to have a perfect grasp on a concept of technique. And it makes you approachable. Others will feel more comfortable commenting on your work, sharing their expertise and asking questions that can spur on your own growth. This moves your learning from monologue to dialogue. This also allows you to find out where the market is for the expertise you’re developing.

If I were your coach, I’d recommend you start a blog. Blogs can be done for free at or But it’s even better to have your own site. Registering a domain name and getting website hosting at a site like [affiliate link] is amazingly inexpensive. And it shows yourself and everyone else you’re serious about becoming an expert.

Then you simply blog as you learn things. The very act of writing about what you’re discovering will help you learn it even more. Once you have a blog post, you can tweet it out to others and post it on social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.

You can also share your interviews with experts by posting a video recording to YouTube or Vimeo. Or you can broadcast an audio interview using a tool like BlogTalkRadio. With BlogTalkRadio, it’s very easy to interview an expert over your lunch break—all you need is a phone and a computer. Be sure to get the experts opinion first. Most experts love doing this because it gives them a chance to showcase their expertise and share that recording with their potential clients.

As you share your blog posts and interviews, be sure to build your email list. Using an established service like AWeber [affiliate link] allows you to let people know who the next interview is or what your latest blog post is. People never come to our website as much as we’d like. Allowing them to sign up and get a reminder in their inbox can be a huge service to them.

You can also use a tool like HARO, Help A Reporter Out. Three times a day, this service sends an email with dozens of requests for experts to share their knowledge for use in newspapers, blogs, radio interviews, even TV. It’s free to receive and can get you quoted in some fabulous places, even mainstream media.

The goal of all of this is to become what author Steven Van Yoder calls “slightly famous.” Building a brand recognition within the circles you’d like to move into. Using your learning experiences to build that network and get slightly famous simply speeds up the process.

If Slater had done this, he wouldn’t have had to do something as high risk as jumping down that Jet Blue evacuation slide into several felony charges. He might have moved up at Jet Blue, or gone on to do his clothing line, or found some other position all together. But instead of freely walking into a new life, he jumped ship and is facing up to seven years in jail.

Don’t make the same mistake Steven Slater made. Don’t let career stress eat you alive. Take these three stepping stones—discover your strengths, become an expert, and share that expertise—and build a bridge to your new career!





Blogging Tools

21 Ways for Board Members to Engage with their Nonprofit's Fundraising book image

You'll discover the 21 ways each board member can help their nonprofit's fundraising - even if they don't like to ask for money!

As a bonus, you'll get free fundraising tips every other week too!

Help your board fundraise for nonprofit with this FREE ebook

We take your privacy very seriously and will never sell, rent, or share your email address.