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“Vocation vacation:”

Robin Hamilton

Test Driving a New Job

The most recent figures from the U.S. Labor Department announced that unemployment dipped slightly below 10 percent in January. But that still translates to a staggering 14.8 million people out of work.

The federal government also revealed that 6.3 million unemployed persons have been looking for work for over 27 weeks.  

Many are likely looking for jobs in fields they found unfulfilling anyway.

According to Brian Kurth, the creator of Vocation Vacation, this sobering and scary cloud can have a silver lining if you dare to take a risk.  “If you’re unhappy, it’s time to move on.”   

Vocation Vacation is an intensive, one-on-one mentorship program Kurth created six years ago  when he too was caught in the rat race.

“I was doing the corporate climb, working for a major corporation in Chicago, doing a two to three hour commute each and every day,” he recalls.

It was in the middle of this grind that he started to question the direction of his life. “I was really just feeling very burnt out,” he says.

He made a change, working for an Internet company as head of their business development. “I went into the dot-com world and worked for a company that was ultimately sold, and all 350 of us were laid off.  And that’s when it really was a bit of the forced nudge to consider ‘What do I really want to do with my life?’”

He knew he wasn’t the only person asking that question. He started envisioning a company that would allow people the opportunity to test-drive a new career they could only imagine. Vocation Vacation was born.

For an intensive two to three day period, “vocationers” as he calls them, are paired with a mentor in their chosen field, anywhere in the country.  Kurth’s offices are based in Oregon, where he has a database of more than 300 mentors with whom people can be paired. “Vocationers’ also can choose from 180 different fields.

Kurth says his company appeals to the masses from Gen-X to Baby boomers.  But, he says, more women than men are willing to explore a new career, with people of color leading the way.

“We trend more toward urban areas, about 20 percent African Americans,” he says. “And  in a good economy, we’ve seen about 65 percent women, and  35 percent men. People who are accustomed to having to break the glass ceiling are more calculated risk takers.”

Massachusetts resident Sue Burton is an alum of Vocation Vacation.  She was a marketing executive in a financial services company, and had been successful in her career.

She liked the work, but was no longer feeling challenged. Then the economy started to shift.  “They sold our company to E-Trade, which was great for them,” she recalls. “But for me personally, having to go through a sale of a company was difficult. At the end of the day, they were acquiring the company not the people.”

The nail in the coffin was that she had to do a series of firings, and was regularly creating a list of people she would terminate that day — and their severance packages. “I just could not take it anymore,” she says.   I decided to put myself on that package list.”

Burton decided it was time for her to tap into what she really wanted to do. A creative person at heart, she began to explore producing for television and the field of entertainment.  “I saw Vocation Vacation in a Parade Magazine, and I decided to try, especially if I was paying for it.”

Initially, she shadowed a production company in New York, and learned that setting up location shoots, and lining up the technical equipment for a production was not how she envisioned the glamorous world of entertainment.

“Doing that with them, I realized I hated it,” she says. “It was a lot of tedious work.”

Burton is quick to add she has no regrets. “It was a full immersion experience,” she says. “I had a great conversation with the head of the company, and he demystified it for me.”

What she did enjoy was developing shows and tapping into the creative side of her brain. Burton discovered she loved the aspect of performing more than anything else. The contacts and insight she gained from her ‘Vocation’ allowed her to explore the idea of being a stand-up comic.

“After this long drought,” she says, “I went back to stand-up, I went back to comedy school, and went back to perform around the south of Boston. I went to an open Night Mike in Marshfield. I was starting to perform 2-3 times a month.”

Her experience working in the production entertainment field gave her the confidence to write and present an autobiographical show to television executives with some friends.  “We thought about writing a treatment for suburban moms, and we went to a ‘Pitch Pit’ pitching to Hollywood executives,” she says.

Since they were considered “unknowns,” her show didn’t get picked up. But she insists the exercise was a positive one.

Building on that experience, she has been able to do work using her background in financial services and stand-up comedy.

“I refer to my career as a kaleidoscope career,” she says. “I had a friend who wanted me to be entertainment for a business colleague, and to be a mistress of ceremonies. So, I did the evening entertainment, and facilitated team-building exercises. I also understood the business, and so I was using my business experience, and using my comedy.”

She says the “patchwork” of her career has been very fulfilling.  “It is a whole new perspective,” she says. “I have experience where entertainment and humor are mixed with business.”

She also has worked on building up her own network, seeking out people who are doing the type of work she wants to do, and often shadows them for expertise.

Burton confesses that there have been times when she has struggled, and even made compromises  — especially when a steady, if not attractive, paycheck is nowhere near in sight.  But for her, the alternative simply isn’t worth it.

“For giving up on my dream, I have a 30 year career and a pension,” she explains. “You could lose that any day. There is no long-term loyalty. I really have to think about what I want to be doing. I need to be the captain of my own ship.”

Kurth was even more on point. “Career transitions don’t happen overnight,” he says. “It’s a fluid process.”

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