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Approaches for Adding Career Acts

Now that you know the ground rules for building career acts ethically while working in another organization, you can start to consider different ways to build a more fulfilling career through multiple career acts. The following sections discuss four.

Approach 1: Leverage Your Expertise or Talents

What do you do or know that would be valued by others? What is your area of expertise, something you know more about than others? What skills and abilities do you have that you can leverage? With a little creativity, your answer to any of these questions could provide the foundation for a possible career act. To make the transition, you will want to gain a sense of the possible market demand for what you hope to offer, whatever your income-generating career act might be. Let's look at a couple of examples.

  • Jay's career acts—Jay has worked for over 25 years with the same employer in various consumer electronics engineering roles, an occupation he greatly enjoys. Over the past 8 years, he has worked specifically as the director of quality engineering within the division of a company that does digital image processing. As the director of this unit, he has gained unique expertise in being able to identify the type of device (make, model of a camera, mobile phone, etc.) that has taken a specific photo by being able to interpret encrypted data in the image files. Because of his unique knowledge, Jay was asked to provide some expert testimony on digital photo images that were to be used as evidence in a court case. When Jay accepted the invitation, he found that he enjoyed the courtroom experience and took satisfaction in knowing that he was contributing to the justice system. Jay has now leveraged his expertise into another career act as an expert witness, a person who can provide expert testimony on the source of digital images.
  • Dan's career acts—Dan works full-time as the director of development for a philanthropic organization. In earlier stages of his career, he has worked for a variety of nonprofit organizations where he has been successful in writing and winning large grants. As a volunteer firefighter in his town, he has also written and won grants for his fire company. With a clear track record of success, Dan has been able to leverage his grant-writing skill into a profitable and fulfilling side business, providing grant-writing services for multiple noncompeting nonprofit organizations that are unable to afford a full-time grant writer.

Jay and Dan both leveraged their expertise and talent, extending their reach to create additional career acts. If you really cannot identify your expertise or talents, ask your friends. Often, others see our talents more clearly than we see them in ourselves.

Approach 2: Expand a Hobby, Interest, or Passion

What do you enjoy as a hobby? Do you have any passions or interests that could be expanded into a side business, a career act? Having a profitable hobby, interest, or passion can be one of the most enjoyable ways to make a living, especially if you can turn it into a thriving small business. Who wouldn't want to generate substantial income doing what they love? The world is full of people who have done just that—they've taken their hobbies, originally enjoyed solely for personal pleasure, and turned them into income-generating career acts. Hobbies with tangible outcomes, such as art, sewing, baking, cooking, photography, playing a musical instrument, and the like, can easily move to income-generating career acts. Let's consider the following fabulous examples:

  • Monica's career acts—Monica was unfulfilled in her career as a corporate organizational development specialist for about 6 years when she was (unfortunately?) laid off. She instinctively knew that she did not want to go back to a full-time corporate job, only to be unfulfilled in her career again. After a trip to Nepal where she hiked Mount Everest and contemplated life, she decided to follow her passion into something gardening-related. Monica had been doing garden coaching for friends for about 7 years—mostly for free or in exchange for a good bottle of wine and a dinner—and had taken a lot of courses toward that career act. In fact, she is currently finishing a certificate program at the New York Botanical Garden in Environmental Gardening. She loves teaching others about gardening and started a garden coaching practice, created a Web site on local gardening resources (including newsletter and blog), and is currently developing an online store selling semicustom garden plans to novice gardeners and new homeowners. Monica started by building a Web site on local gardening resources (www.thegardenerslist.com) then going around to all the local nurseries to tell them about it. She started a gardening newsletter distributed to local nurseries as well as through e-mail to a growing list of subscribers. She plans to offer advertising in it next year. (Advertising will be a great source of passive income.) She uncovered an interest in Web site development and search engine optimization and started a consulting practice on these interests. Monica also does about 3 days each week of management consulting, allowing her great flexibility to run her own businesses.
  • Tom C.'s career acts—Tom works full-time for a large organization in the information technology (IT) field. As a client development manager, he is considered highly valuable by his organization because he is in a wealth-creating role for his firm. Tom has worked in similar roles for a variety of IT companies over his 30-year career and in the process has earned much professional freedom over time. While employment in the IT industry is still a fulfilling full-time career act, about 15 years ago Tom began buying rental properties and currently has 7 homes, fully rented. He is mechanically inclined and handy, enjoying the occasional maintenance and odd jobs the rental properties require. Tom also has an interest in green energy technology and has, over the past 10 years, developed a line of electric bicycles. Knowledge of electric motors and building electric bicycles was a self-taught hobby, one he enjoyed tinkering with all of his adult life. Inventing and marketing electric bicycles is Tom's primary passion and, currently is a third career act, which he hopes will become more central over time.
  • Terry's career acts—By occupation, Terry is a nurse. She has been a nurse for almost 30 years and (on many days) still enjoys what she does. She recalls sharing that she wanted to be a nurse for as long as she can remember and cannot imagine doing anything else. As a hobby, Terry also loves to design and sew—she says her prize possession is her much-loved sewing machine. Terry's passion for sewing is personal. She has rarely accepted money for the beautiful things she creates for her family and friends. But in the past few years, the circle of Terry's "friends" has expanded beyond its real limits. As much as she enjoys sewing, she decided that she needed to start charging for her time and creative effort. Although reluctantly charging at first, Terry found that acquaintances were more than happy to pay for her creations, and now her second career act thrives.

Clearly Monica, Tom, and Terry have multiple career acts and multiple sources of income. Do you, as Monica, Tom, and Terry, have a hobby, passion, interest, or talent you would like to turn into an income-generating career act? Try Exercise 3.

Monica, Tom, and Terry have stories that make profitable hobbies sound easy. For most people, profitable hobbies really are an enjoyable way to make money. But, before you dive in, consider the following three (often overlooked) issues:

  1. Understand the psychological shift—You are now working for clients, not engaging in a hobby for yourself. You might lose freedoms enjoyed as a hobbyist when you begin to have customers or clients. I have a friend who bakes wonderfully and periodically talks about baking full-time. When pressed on why she doesn't, she says that baking is her "release," her way to unwind at the end of the day and she does not want to lose her "release" by placing client demands on her baked goods. This is insightful and highly relevant for those who view their hobby as a personal outlet and would not want to fill orders to customer specifications. Alternatively, you can take a different approach and create what you like, hoping you'll find clients or customers who will appreciate and purchase what you want to sell. In this case, the trade-off is the preservation of personal freedom enjoyed as a hobbyist for a potential limitation on your range of clients or customers. Your call—just think it through.
  2. Know how to value your time along with the tangible costs to price your goods or services—Even if you only want to engage in your profitable hobby for a few hours each week, value your time as if you were doing this full-time. Try this: Ask yourself: What income would I (realistically) want to be making if this was my sole source of income? Divide this out to an hourly wage and multiply by the hours you spend on one unit of your profitable hobby. Add in overhead. Add in material costs. Add in taxes. Decide what profit you would like to make (taking into account your level of skill, experience, etc.). Too many people undervalue their time and their other intangible assets (such as their skill level).
  3. Know your competition—Hobbyists can operate in a delightful bubble; they can be blissfully unaware of the cost, quality, or marketability of whatever they produce. If I want to make melted-bottle spoon rests for myself, family, and friends, do I really care about competition? No. When you begin to market your hobby as a source for potential income generation, be sure you understand the competition and the potential market, the demand for your goods and services.

Monica's, Tom's, and Terry's hobbies are tangible and seemed to easily move to income-generating career acts. What about less-tangible hobbies, interests, or passions, such as a general interest in travel, food, sports, or Groucho Marx memorabilia? One of my favorite examples of a less-than-tangible interest turned into a career act is Jennifer, a Web designer who happens to love coffee. One of her favorite coffeehouses was a privately owned café where the proprietor roasted his own coffee beans. After becoming acquainted with the proprietor as a regular customer, Jennifer set up a Web-based business to market the very coffee she enjoys.

Honestly, I have a hard time with the question "What are your talents, passions, interests, and hobbies?" My most sincere answer is that I don't have any hobbies. My passion, if you will, is spending time with family and friends in interesting or beautiful places. Whether I am with my family at our lake house in upstate New York or with friends in Tuscany, I am most engaged when I am with wonderful people in great places, doing interesting things. This doesn't translate easily into a career act—at least I haven't yet found someone who will pay me for this. Thankfully, there are other approaches to adding career acts.

Approach 3: Pursue an Occupation

Occupations are a series of related jobs within job families that share a set of knowledge, skills, and abilities. Doctors, plumbers, actors, and teachers are examples of occupational groups. Within a given occupation, skills are generally transferable across a variety of work situations. For example, a physical therapist might have a private practice and might also work part-time for a minor-league baseball team or might work one day a week at a rehabilitation center. A teacher might offer English as a Second Language classes to new immigrants or tutor. If you are interested in exploring possible occupations, consider engaging in the following activities:

  • Visit industry Web sites to learn more about selected occupations.
  • To explore occupations that might be a good fit for you, you could also take some assessment tools to determine your interests. One very popular test is the Strong Interest Inventory. You can visit www.careers-by-design.com/strong_interest_inventory.asp to take the Strong Interest Inventory. Another one is ACT's Discover program found at www.act.org/discover.
  • Speak to individuals who are currently in occupations or jobs you believe you would want. People, for the most part, enjoy talking about what they do for a living, especially if they are passionate about their jobs.
  • Join professional online forums designed for people interested in certain professions, industries, and so on.
  • Another great source of information about occupations is O*Net, where you can look up almost any occupation and find out a world of information, including tasks performed; required areas of knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform the job; and the context of the work. O*Net's Web site is http://online.onetcenter.org/.

Approach 4: Generate Sources of Passive Income

At the risk of sounding lazy, this is my personal favorite. A very wealthy and successful friend once said to me when I was thinking about a career in consulting, "Paula, people never get wealthy exchanging time for money." His advice was, and remains, excellent. Our time is a 24-7 limited resource. The amount of time you want to use each day on income-generating activities is one more value to consider when crafting your ideal career acts. Think about the life you want to live and answer the question seriously: How much time do you want to spend engaging in career acts? If you are like many, you might be laughing at the question and answering "as little as possible." If so, I'd recommend you consider ways to develop a career act or acts to provide sources of passive income (money that is paid to you for a product or service that does not require your active involvement or time).

Monica's newsletter where she is able to sell advertising and Tom's rental properties are examples of passive income. We discuss ways to create passive income in the last chapter of this book.

Great career acts are as diverse as the people who occupy them. These four approaches produce wildly different careers in people with multiple career acts. They are often combined and reconfigured throughout our careers to achieve ever-increasing career satisfaction. More than anything, you want your career to have a trajectory of positive growth in satisfaction and fulfillment. Please give yourself time to explore the many possibilities available to you. Once identified, you can use Exercise 4 to help you make the plan for growing your career acts.

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