Some test-drive their dream jobs through career tryouts

On the Job

May 23, 2007|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,Sun Columnist

For various reasons, a lot of workers get stuck in jobs they're not cut out for.

And it's not easy getting out of such a bind. Because, well, changing careers requires a leap of faith. How many of us can really quit a job and pursue a passion in, say, fashion or sports without making some sacrifices?

That was the dilemma facing Brian Kurth, whose mind began wandering one day in 1999 while stuck in traffic in Chicago.

"I was daydreaming about what it would be like to be a winemaker or a dog trainer," recalls Kurth, who wanted more than his corporate job. He parlayed that "what if" question into a business called VocationVacations, where people can essentially test-drive their dream jobs under the guidance of mentors.

You could dabble in pretty much any career: makeup artist, ice cream shop owner, music producer, private investigator, wedding coordinator.

Some of the more popular vocations include culinary, fashion, entertainment and hospitality, says Kurth, whose business is based in Portland, Ore. Clients range from baby boomers to 20-somethings, and they represent all type of professions, Kurth says.

These career tryouts typically last two to three days and cost between $399 for a one-day "vocation vacation" to $1,300. Since launching in 2004, the business has grown with a database of 250 career mentors in 35 states. The Baltimore-Washington area is not one of them, but Kurth is eyeing the market for growth.

"There were so many others, tons of people out there disgruntled in their day jobs," Kurth says. "And those people are creative, they're savvy and they're looking for change."

Takoma Park couple Ed Safford, 44, and Yvonne Brunot, 40, took a two-day vocation vacation last year to observe owners of the Inn Serendipity in Monroe, Wis.

It wasn't really the draw of owning and running a bed-and-breakfast that attracted the couple. Rather, it was the lifestyle that the B&B owners were able to create and maintain on self-sustaining agriculture.

The B&B used renewable energy with a wind turbine, the owners grew their own produce and embraced biodiesel to power their car.

"At that point, Ed and I wanted to do something different and change our lifestyles, and we both wanted to change our careers," explains Brunot, a freelance editor and office manager. "We already talked about sustainable agriculture, but if we do it, we have to diversify."

"It wasn't so much as running a B&B, it was the way they were doing it," Brunot adds. "They were doing a bunch of things we wanted to do."

Safford, a computer programmer, says he picked up tips on how to structure and run a similar business.

"They have a diversified operation and got the whole thing unified under a [limited liability company]," Safford says. "That's the piece of it that I didn't have a clue about."

Since their vocation experience, Safford and Brunot have taken several steps to attain their dream job. They recently attended a conference on sustainable agriculture. And the couple are preparing to put their Takoma Park house on the market next month and start looking for property, preferably in Vermont, where they can start a sustainable agriculture farm and a bed-and-breakfast to supplement the lifestyle they desire.

"It's been really exciting getting here," Brunot says.

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