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When job change brings life change

In Annie Proulx's remarkable 1993 novel, "The Shipping News," now also a movie, a character named Quoyle courses from hapless to heroic when he abandons his dreary life - with its desultory string of jobs - for the clear air of Newfoundland.

Up in his ancestral country he finds his way, largely through his work. Having once run a printing press, he somehow figures he might make it as a reporter. And he does.

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Few of the Americans now being laid off in waves are lighting out for the ends of the earth. But more than a few appear, like Quoyle, to be open to reinvention.

It's a resilient approach - daring, even - to scan the career landscape after running aground and pick a new path that just feels right.

It is a wise approach? Says Lorna Harrison, author of "Me Inc." and a veteran in the field of career development: "Only apply for jobs you have experience doing - not ones you think you can do."

If you do push the career-reset button, she adds, "understand that it will take time to research, plan, and train" and will not be lucrative from the outset.

That makes sense. You'll be nose to nose, after all, with people who who may feel a little protective of the turf you want to test.

And there may be other negative aspects of this trend, which has a wider slice of the workforce acting as if it's the day after graduation.

Those who head single-income families might be too concerned about paying bills to fall back to the bottom rung - or to enter graduate school, another approach that's gaining ground.

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Still, a lifetime of dream deferral can carry its own costs. And rewards, as more people are learning, come in ways other than pay.

The balancing act continues.