Getting laid off often means losing a paycheck and health insurance, but for many it's also a chance to start a new career.

After cleaning out their desks, many people aren't searching for a similar job, but instead for what makes them happy.

Everett Stadig of Denver, Colo., worked for a software company for 23 years before being "downsized" in June. But he found a new profession that matches him right down to the beard on his face: Being an Abraham Lincoln impersonator at Mt. Rushmore.

Instead of sitting in an office, the 59-year-old now poses in family pictures and gives advice about the area he knows well.

Acting as Honest Abe brings Stadig a satisfaction he didn't find in the corporate world. "It's fulfilling to me and I think one of the most important things in life is to do something fulfilling and rewarding," he said.

According to experts, losing a job can often motivate people to re-evaluate their lives.

"Getting laid off is a powerful kick in the pants towards actually designing a future career from ground up," said Nicholas Lore, author of The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success.

"Some people know they aren't in the right job," he said. "This is like a wake-up call."

Teddy Kim, 31, of Jersey City, N.J., practiced law but was frustrated by the long hours that left no time for his creative side. He quit the practice to join his wife's self-titled band, Laura Harley, that now performs at various New York area clubs.

"It wasn't what I wanted to be doing," he said of his previous job. "It was one of those situations where you lose your nerve and go with something that's safe instead of what you'd rather be doing."

Now, instead of practicing law, he practices guitar. Kim admits the transition has been nerve-wracking at times. "It's a little bit intimidating where the street musicians are better than you," he said.

But hesitations about making drastic professional changes are normal said Lore, who describes it as an "attack of the 'yeah buts.'"

"You think over and over about why you shouldn't do it," he said. "You have to have a bigger commitment to having personal fulfillment in your work than you do to listening to the 'yeah but' voices in your head."

But Kim won against those voices and is happier for it. "You can spend a third of your life surrounded by people you don't like, doing something you don't like and it grinds you down," he said. "I couldn't see myself going in that direction. I don't think any job is worth that."

To find your calling Lore advises people to examine their interests and the kind of environment that brings out the best in them instead of "crushing them like a lot of corporate environments."

Of course, doing what you love doesn't always pay the bills. But Lore said money worries shouldn't stop people from making a change.

"Sure if you go from being an investment banker to underwater basket weaver ... you're going make less," said Lore. "But talented people find a way to be successful in the new things."

And for many people, finding alternative work is not a just a choice, but a necessity. Between January 1999 and December 2001, about 4 million people were displaced from jobs they'd held for at least 3 years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Tater Read, of Queens, N.Y., was laid off from a high-paying job in the software industry. But instead of diving back into the tech trade, he looked for something more meaningful. He's teaching Spanish and physics to high school seniors in a Harlem public school.

"If I was going to spend time at a job it would be more worthwhile to do something I thought was beneficial to the community rather than at a software job where they pay lots of money," he said.

The difference in salary is "considerable" but Read said he's not teaching for the money. "It'll be satisfying if I can do my part to give back to the community."

And Stadig agreed that despite the salary limitations, he's happy to be inspiring people.

"When I come to work it's satisfying to know you're working [at Mt. Rushmore] and for a country that produced these wonderful leaders," said Stadig. "Kids need role models … I think I'm making an impact. I'm doing something for humanity."