How to Take a Vocation Vacation

by Lisa Rothstein on 03/15/2010

what could make your dream job?Long after most “specialists” have chosen their life’s occupation with nary a backward glance, DaVincis often continue dreaming about all the things they might do for a living…other than what they are doing right now. They angst periodically (say, every ten minutes or so)  about whether they are following their true life’s calling. Instead of fading off into the distant past, the “road not taken” always still seems accessible with just a slight detour off the main drag.

I don’t want to burst anyone’s balloon. I believe it is totally possible and even admirable to change careers at any time in one’s life. Who cares if Aunt Rose thinks you should stick with accounting when you’ve always wanted to be an architect or an artist? The only opinion that matters is yours, and possibly your significant other if your change will affect them.

Time for a reality check

But on what information or experience are you basing your yearning to sell your own pottery from a shop in Santa Fe, become a cartoon voice actor or launch that new start-up online design firm? The risk is not so much in making the wrong choice, it’s more in not really knowing what that choice really is; what you’d be getting into. You love the idea of it, and possibly the creative aspect, but what about the lifestyle, the hours, the rejection, the other people involved? What would it really be like?  It’s like deciding to marry someone based on his sexy voice on the telephone…only to find that life with him means sitting through the same “funny” story a thousand times, punctuated with garlic-breath laughter as he runs his fingers through his comb-over.

The only solution for this is research, and I don’t mean just at the library, though you can certainly start there. In the end, there is just no substitute for hands-on experience. “But,” you whine, “how can I have experience before I have the job?” The answer to this is deceptively obvious. Simply shadow someone who does.

Try your dream career on for size

My coaching instructor Fern Gorin calls this process “testing out” and it works like this, loosely adapted for DaVincis:

1.    Identify one or more careers or small business ventures based on your creative talents that you’ve always been hankering to try.
2.   Look for people in your local area who are already pursuing these careers, something close to them, or ones that contain your favorite aspects of them.  The internet makes this so easy. Throw in keywords and your hometown into Google and see what comes up. Search on any professional associations or guilds in your area related to your chosen field, such as (the Southern California Cartoonists’ Society). You might also try the Chamber of Commerce or, depending on the profession, the good ol’ Yellow Pages. If you are willing to travel and have some vacation or other free time, you could cast your net even wider and search anywhere you want. “Meet” the person over the phone or via Skype, where you can see and hear each other.
3.    Next, call or email several individuals whose names you have found and ask for an informational interview. This is where you just ask questions, not ask for a job. I say “several individuals” because: you’ll want more than one take; not everyone will be available or willing to meet with you and, most importantly, you want to find someone with whom you click personally, which leads to the next step….
4.   Ask to shadow them for a day or two as they do their work. This is asking a lot, so be prepared for some “no’s” That said, there are ways for you to ingratiate yourself. Of course, you have to target the right sort of person, someone who enjoys being seen as an expert. sharing his or her career with a neophyte and doesn’t mind answering a lot of questions. Also, buying pizzas for the office probably couldn’t hurt.
5.    Notice your impressions and feelings as you go through your day(s) on the job, and maybe even jot down  in a journal how the real thing is different from what you imagined. Is it possible that after seeing the “warts” that it’s not as good a fit for you as you thought? Or are you more excited than ever, despite the reality check?

A new company called Vocation Vacations matches up the career-curious with professionals willing to mentor them this way for a few days. A recent visit to the site gave the choice of shadowing a theatre artistic director, an architect, voice-over actors, a chocolatier, an animation producer, a jewelry designer, a travel writer and, yes, a potter and gallery owner. Mentors also include those with less artsy careers and businesses, such as an alpaca farmer, pit crew member and a schooner captain.

Activity: Make a list this week of every creative career idea that comes to mind, no editing for “realism” allowed. Pick the one that makes your heart sing. Is there any way you could “test out” what it would be like to actually do it?

What dreams have you harbored about how you might use your talents professionally? Please share them with us.


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