06/21/2012 10:36 am ET Updated Aug 21, 2012

Transitioning Into the Unknown

The prospect of losing a job, going out of business or just moving on to a completely unknown career is enough to make anyone cringe. It's terrifying, trying and extremely uncomfortable. But the fact is, with the unstable U.S. economy, many Americans (and Detroit natives like myself) are forced into this difficult position.

I was unexpectedly thrown into that exact spot in 2006 after my family's furniture business, Harper Furniture in Royal Oak, was forced to close. Because of the housing crisis, our sales were steadily declining, and eventually we had to close our doors. It was a tough time for me. My family had owned that store for 72 years, and I had been managing it for 18 years, since I was 22-years-old.

So there I was, in my early 40s and jobless, while my wife and I expected our third child. Rather than wallow in self pity, I got busy looking for my next calling. I originally thought I would stay in the furniture business, because it was all I had ever known. It seemed like a logical step, so I became a manufacturer's representative. I soon realized, however, that I was unsatisfied. I wanted something different that offered more potential for growth and financial security for my growing family.

I got involved in the shipping industry about a year later (2007). I was introduced to a small package and freight business and started reselling DHL services. After several months of training, my business started growing and became extremely profitable. I was able to make a decent living for myself again and provide for my family. I was comfortable in my position and looked forward to opportunity on the horizon. But, less than a year later, DHL stopped offering services in the United States and I was back to square one. It was one of the best and worst experiences of my life. It opened my eyes to a new industry and a residual source of income, but I needed to find a new opportunity in the industry. I decided I would move forward and never looked back.

When I was selling DHL services, we worked with 80 percent small package and 20 percent freight. Working with freight allows increased potential to work with more carriers, providing more business opportunities, so I decided to focus on that. I wanted to get back into business for myself and came across BlueGrace® Logistics. I was drawn to BlueGrace because I knew and trusted the CEO, Bobby Harris, and the franchise system gave me the tools I needed to provide shipping services to businesses across the United States. Becoming a BlueGrace franchisee helped me grow my network nationwide and also gave me access to hundreds of vendors and shipping partners, while increasing my sales potential. The whirlwind of emotions, changes and transitions paid off. Each step of the way led me where I am today, which is happy, stable and the owner of a thriving business in Detroit.

People often ask me how and why I went from the furniture business to logistics. The answer is actually quite simple. I took what I already knew and applied those skills to my new industry.

When faced with any sort of challenge, one of the most important things you need to do is learn to live outside your comfort zone. In the furniture business, I focused on inside sales and the customers were coming to me. When I moved to the logistics industry, my primary function was outside sales; I was no longer waiting on customers to come through the door. I really had to push myself to do things differently, find potential customers and seek out-of-the-box ways to engage them. It was difficult at first, but making efficient adaptations is crucial with any sort of transition.

Another thing I learned was the importance of being coachable, especially later in life when it's very easy to be set in your ways. When I began reselling DHL services, I went to a lot of training sessions. The people teaching me were half my age and making significantly more income. I realized I needed to listen and be open to change because making a successful transition is next to impossible without an open mind.

Having an open mind also allows you to be creative, and being creative allows you to find new and better ways of doing things. Constantly striving to improve yourself will, of course, better your outlook and your output.

Finally, in any stressful transitional situation it's helpful to rely on your support system, both personally and professionally. I give a lot of credit to my wife, who always stayed by my side and helped me keep a positive attitude. Professionally, I received support from the people in my network and the companies I've worked for. Becoming a BlueGrace franchisee allowed me to own my own business with the benefits and help of a franchise program, including ongoing training of new products and services, training of all my staff and marketing support. With the a system like this behind me, I feel like no job is too big for me to take on.

All in all, an unexpected career change can be a nightmare unless you use the tools you already have to move full force ahead. Turning challenge into an opportunity for growth is a surefire way to come out on top.