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Turn economic setback into opportunity

Many laid-off workers are striking out as entrepreneurs or helping out as volunteers.

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Even economic storm clouds have silver linings.

Few knew it at the time, but the recession started in December 2007. Since then, it has eliminated 7.2 million jobs and erased trillions of dollars in wealth from the battered housing and stock markets. In June, the nationwide unemployment rate hit 9.5 percent. The news is filled with stories of doom and gloom, and there's no denying that the recession has invited pain into US households.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of bad news, as psychiatrists' reports of rising rates of depression can attest. But while we recognize that the situation is serious, it is also important to remember that there is an upside.

Take unemployment: In a booming economy, many employees describe themselves as burned out, working without passion, or turned off by office politics. When unhappy workers are laid off, they often discover a world of new horizons and a release from a job they were staying in out of inertia, not desire.

For workers with a good mind-set, sufficient savings, and the resources to stay afloat while looking for a new job, a layoff can be a blessing in disguise – an opportunity to gain new skills, change companies, or even start their own new venture.

Especially in an economy like this one, when so few companies are actively hiring, many of the newly unemployed have realized that the best opportunities may be self-created. Entrepreneurs are springing up in all sorts of industries, and in many cases are achieving success. Take Iris Chau and Stephen Chen.

Both were once employed in the finance industry, Ms. Chau at JPMorgan Chase and Mr. Chen at the now-defunct Bear Stearns. After the Wall Street meltdown cost them their jobs, they took advantage of an opportunity to combine their skills and start a new business transforming old tires into environmentally friendly recycled shoes.

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