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Fifty Ways to Leave Whatever: A couple creates a business out of existential angst

By Margaret Webb Pressler
Sunday, June 3, 2007

The 25 people sitting in an Adams Morgan coffeehouse on a recent Saturday afternoon had come to hear Paul Gonzalez give a one-hour lecture called "How to Leave."

Leave what? The people there didn't have to ask. They all wanted "out" of something -- a bad job, a bad relationship, a bad self-image.

Paul wanted out, too, just a few years ago, when he was stuck in a rut working on an unchallenging project as a defense contractor and going nowhere in his personal life. In 2004, he took a five-weekend training class to become a life coach, where he met his future wife, Dori.

Dori Gonzalez had also been feeling unfulfilled personally and professionally, which led her to the life coaching course. As it turned out, Paul, 44, and Dori, 33, shared the same goals: to leave their jobs and start a company and a family.

The couple married a year later, in May 2005, and on their honeymoon hashed out a plan to start OneYearExitPlan.com. The coaching service helps people leave unhappy situations behind and create new lives, or just get through a tough period.

"I like designing systems and designing processes; that's one of my skills," Paul says. "The One Year Exit Plan is a process."

So far, only Dori has left her job to work on the new business. With a master's in biochemistry, she made $85,000 a year in her last position, making pharmaceuticals at Human Genome Sciences in Gaithersburg. But she now works full time from the couple's Alexandria home, coaching people through life changes and managing the start-up. "I'm in such a happier place," she says.

The life coaching business has been steadily growing and is generating a small amount of income, just enough to pay for the couple's health insurance, Dori says. She and Paul tailor coaching plans to a client's needs, providing regular one-on-one meetings or e-mail sessions that might include emotional support, specific assignments, strategic planning and research help.

Nicole Andonegui of Alexandria worked with Dori through months of wrenching infertility treatments and the birth of her baby in February. "She's very resourceful, very informational," Nicole says. "She also deals really well with trying to draw out what it is you need when you can't express it yourself."

Such hands-on guidance isn't cheap. An exit plan can cost from $500 for three months of consultations to $6,000 or more for the full one-year program.

Paul, an engineer by training, works for a government contractor planning housing for Air Force bases worldwide, making $111,000 a year. But he has told his boss that he plans to leave eventually. On the side, he coaches people such as Lisa Miller of Gaithersburg, a former co-worker of Dori's, through life changes. Paul helped Lisa pay off her debts, learn how to trade stocks and manage her investments, by offering his own knowledge about finances and encouraging her to seek information from books and classes. "He'd give me some specific things to do, which is what I needed," Lisa says.

Marsea Gallagher of Silver Spring, a cartoonist, worked with Paul to start a budding radio career. She has two shows as the Empress of Glamour on BlogTalkRadio.com and is shopping her segments to radio executives.

She used a life coach to get there, she says, because "I had to have someone to answer to."

Have you already accomplished your exit plan, and are you making a profit? E-mail presslerm@washpost.com.

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