Redefining Your Career Dreams

If you are pursuing a career in the creative arts, you’ll probably get at least one well-meaning person giving you this advice: “If you like anything else besides (music, art, acting, etc.) do that instead.” There are also those people ( some who may be your parents) who will tell you that if you aren’t “successful” in your chosen career by age 26, you need to go back to school for something else. Before you get discouraged and scrap your career dreams, maybe you need to redefine them instead by asking yourself a few questions:

  1. How are you going to define success? This is a two-parter question because your definition of success depends on what you want out of life. Does success in your career mean that you are famous and live in a mansion? Does it mean you get to use your talent and are able to pay the bills too?
  2. What are you willing to sacrifice? We all initially give up some earning power when we go to school full-time to pursue a degree. But what are you willing to give up short-term and long-term, say, like, forever? I met 40-somethings in LA who happily lived in small studio apartments while occasionally landing bit movies parts. For them, success was being able to have some connection to acting while having a day job and living in an area of the country with a great climate.
  3. What makes you happy? Will you only be happy if you have a career as a musician? Are you willing to put up with family and friends who ask you “when will you get a real job?”
  4. What else does interest you as a career? I also met a nurse in LA who had a solid acting career. She went to nursing school after acting school and then set up her nursing jobs to take the hours that no one else wanted, often earning time-and-a-half and overtime. She built up her savings and reputation so that her employers were willing to let her come and go when she got cast in movies.

There is also the perception that if you do not “make it” in your chosen career, you can always pursue something related. For example, you can always teach or pursue arts administration instead of being a musician. This thinking sometimes leads to career trouble, however, because you need other skills in addition to musicianship. Can you actually teach? Do you have the patience because many of your pupils are apt to be kids who will need your patience as first-time or maybe even reluctant learners. . Do you know how to manage personnel, fund raise and take care of facilities as a budding arts administrator? Do you even WANT to do that?

One of the key things I’ve learned especially in working with creatives is that career dreams aren’t necessarily an end, a finite goal. It is often a long, rewarding process consisting of periodic redefining, tweaking and maybe even scrapping some parts of those goals.

Last question: Are you willing to commit to this process to create a life you can love?

Six Signs You’re Ready to Work From Home

The internet has changed how we work, taking us out of the cubical culture and making it possible to work from our homes. Whether you have the work-from-home option at your job or are interested in making a move to an at-home job, these signs will help you assess if you are ready to take that step.

  1. Your current situation is noisy, crowded and has constant interruptions, making it difficult to concentrate. You end up taking work home at night. Work productivity can increase when you work from home because there is less noise, less traffic around you and fewer interruptions. You can also set up your home office to maximize your work space.
  2. You can organize, multitask and prioritize like a boss. You will still have to do all three from home, and it can be a challenge when the laundry, cable TV and kids are calling you away from your computer/desk. Making a list first of what needs to get done by the end of the day can keep you on-track.
  3. You have mad technical skills. Even a minor computer glitch can bring a small business or home worker’s day to a screeching halt. As someone who is working from home, you’re not likely to be high priority on your company’s tech team list or with your IT help desk contractor. Your productivity at home stays on-track when you can fix the glitches yourself. Also, having an alternate place from which to work or a spare computer/tablet can keep you working even when the DSL goes down or your computer crashes.
  4. No means no. Are you good at saying no? You need to be when your office is at home. Word gets out quickly in the family, amongst your friends and out there in the neighborhood that you are working from home. Working from home becomes code speak for “flexible schedule and available for emergencies.” You need to decide in advance what constitutes an emergency and who you’ll be able to help. Manage your family/friend/neighbor expectations at the beginning to prevent yourself from having to say no too often.
  5. You use email, text and voicemail to prioritize your work. You know that not every phone call is top priority, and answering every call can throw your day off.  Plan time in your day to return phone calls either via phone, email or text, and keep an eye out for priority calls as they come in.
  6. You find it difficult to work in exercise on a daily basis. Even short walks around the neighborhood are preferable to sitting 8 or more hours a day at your desk. Many work sites do not have environments suitable for exercise, especially in the winter. It is much easier to fit in stair exercise or short neighborhood walks when you work from home.

These are just some of the factors to consider before deciding to move to a home office. Everyone’s situation is a bit unique. It can be a challenge to work from home, so make a list of everything you need to consider before making that move.

Getting Back to Work

It is not uncommon for people to take a career break. But whether you stop out due to maternity leave, a layoff or family illness, sometimes it can be a challenge to return to work. You may think you are guaranteed to get your old job back, however, this is not always the case. Business factors can change quickly, leaving you scrambling for a job.

One option is to start your own business, whether it is providing goods or services such as consulting on a freelance basis. The Small Business Association – SBA can help you get started. The career services or alumni offices at your alma mater may also have classes – you may have to pay for them – on re-entering the workforce or starting your own business. If you opt to freelance or consult, check for state or career organizations that can help you such as NYS Freelancer’s Union. Finding and following such organizations on social media is also helpful.

Another option if you are in good financial shape is volunteering your services. Look for businesses or non-profits who can utilize your skills and provide you with opportunities to learn new ones. This can help you transition into a new job or career, but be aware that the Fair Labor Standards Act, put in place to protect workers’ rights to fair pay, can make volunteering and compliance to the law tricky.

Perhaps a better option would be to pursue an adult internship designed to help you re-enter the workforce. These internships are paid, last from 10 weeks to a year and can bridge the gap in returning to work. You will get a chance to update skills, to build your career network or perhaps to test drive a new career. There are many options out there, especially in the finance and legal sector. iRelaunch, a career re-entry resource, provides a list of internships as well as higher education re-entry resources here. This list includes opportunities at financial institutions such as Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and MetLife. OnRamp Fellowship is another career entry resource aimed at lawyers looking to get back to work.

If you do not see an adult internship program for your career field, think about creating your own. Come up with a strategy by identifying your skills that can help an employer. Define what you want to learn and do and how much you would like to be paid. This process is easier if you can write up your proposal as a contract. You can use your alma mater’s career services or the career resources at your local library to target companies. Use your career network to get your proposal in front of prospective internship sponsors. You may have to contact many companies before one agrees to an internship. Don’t get discouraged. When I worked in sales, the mantra went, “It takes 17 no’s to get to one yes.” It may take you a lot more than that, but an opportunity to get back to your career or gain entry into a new one will be worth it.


When Vacation Just Doesn’t Do It

It’s summertime, and everyone is in vacation mode. They are either planning, doing or recovering from a vacation. I have heard, “I need a vacation from my vacation” so many times this summer, that I am wondering what is going on.

We hear from the media, work, family and friends that we need to take a vacation to get a proper work-life balance. But do work and life always have to balance out? Sometimes they just don’t, and that is why maybe you should consider a gap year or a break from your career. So here are some ideas on what to do with your gap year or long break:

*Travel. Why? Traveling really does expand your horizons and change your outlook on life. You could travel across the country by train or RV. Or you could go abroad, staying away from the expensive tourists traps – you can always find fabulous pics online of the Sistine Chapel or Buckingham Palace that are far better than what you could ever take anyways. Get out, meet the people, experience the food and culture. You’ll get a feel for how we have become a global economy and what that even means.

*Career Education. Can’t quite cut the career strings for awhile? Then use your break to do a paid internship abroad – yes, they are out there for adults too. Or take some classes to improve your career skills. Study to meet certification or licensing requirements in your field. This type of career break enhances your worth to your employer and makes you more marketable when you return to work.

*Hobbies/Interests. Sick of your career and need a break? No wonder. If you have been doing everything the career experts have advised, you have probably spent the last couple of decades chasing after those valuable skills, that dream job and that promotion with the corner office. It is time to take a break and pay attention to what makes you who you are. You are more than just of the sum of your job and your family role. There are all sorts of vacations and longer breaks that cater to people’s hobbies. Love to write or paint? Then search for writers’ or artists’ colonies or in-residence programs. I could use up a lot of page real estate here giving you ideas. But you get it – do an online search for what you like to do. Have an interest that you have never explored? Same deal. Eleanor Roosevelt is reputed to have said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”  A one-a-day scare is a bit much for me. And I am not advocating a break-neck adventure that could leave you on permanent vacation from your career. But getting out of your comfort zone gives you practice on taking reasonable risks and allows you to grow as a person and as a professional. Even considering a career break is the first step to pursuing that growth.

*Volunteering. Taking time to give back to your community, country or world is another great career break. Maybe you are like me and feel incredibly blessed to have been able to pursue an education and amazing life experiences. Pay it forward by helping other people. Teach English in a foreign country. Help maintain hiking and camping grounds in a national park. Run a lunch program for your community’s kids who often go hungry during the summer months when school lunch programs are on break. The opportunities are endless.

If you can’t see yourself taking time out of your career right now for a break, consider locally volunteering on an ongoing basis. Become a Cub Scout or Girl Scout leader. Help out at your local opera or theater house. Even these smaller, ongoing volunteer opportunities can give you a much needed break from work and give you room to grow as an individual.

Lest taking a career break makes you tremble with fear, don’t worry. My next blog post will be on work re-entry programs and how to re-enter the work force. Have a great summer!

Designing Just for Kicks

When I was a kid, the cool kicks were PF Flyers. These little gems were recognized by their white rubber toe cap (or blue if you were the coolest) and a red dot on the lower back of the sneaker. They had canvas uppers (fire engine red or blueberry blue) and rubber soles. They were the then-modern equivalent of the British plimsoles, athletic shoes designed for beachwear back in the 1800s.

So fast forwarding to present day, I looked for the PF Flyer company online, and lo and behold, they are still around. The red dots are long gone, replaced by a green PF logo in relief on the back, and in a daring move, the company has added black and white canvas and leather to their line-up. PF Flyers now look a lot like Converse sneakers, but without all the crazy colors.

So what gives a sneaker company its staying power in the ever-changing world of fashion? In a word: designers. Designers are the innovators, the dreamers, the ones who keep the  brand fresh in the public’s hunt for the coolest “kicks.” Any designer who aims to do this should know where the term “kicks” comes from. There are lots of opinions on the etymology, but it is generally thought kicks came out of hobo slang, passed into jazz lingo, made it into African American slang and from there into street-style language.

One of the coolest things I have gotten to do in my career is to pick the brains of recruiters looking for these innovators, these sneaker designers. As a result, I was surprised to hear that recruiters find designers in many different areas, not just in fashion design. Recruiters from Nike, K-Swiss, Reebok and Adidas told me some pretty surprising stuff. They liked candidates with a design background, including automotive designers. Wha’??? Yes, automotive designers can become sneaker designers. The CAD skills needed for both types of designs are similar. (Maybe that is why Skechers Women’s bump toe DeLites look suspiciously like a Smart Car or a Nissan Juke, yes?)

Chemists, materials and textiles designers also need apply. Athletic shoe companies are always looking for the next materials that will make their kicks lighter, more flexible, cooler. People who study human anatomy, how the body is put together, and people who study human body mechanics, or how the body moves, are also in demand. No one will wear the kicks you design if they are not comfortable, because, well, they’re kicks, right? They are supposed to be stylish and comfortable.

Lastly, the fashionistas and extreme sports gurus can find a career niche in designing kicks. If you know street-style, how extreme sports work, can use CAD and can easily render designs, this is the career for you. It is extremely fast-paced, can be stressful, but very rewarding when you see your kicks on the street or on the runway, worn by hipsters and adventurers alike.

Can you get rich coming up with the next “gotta have it” design? Some people do. In general, salaries for sneaker design are all over the place. They depend on the geographic location, type of sneaker (athletic, extreme sports, fashion, formal wear, etc.) and the company. For example, reports that designers at K-Swiss made about $70K in 2010. As recently as of 2015 a Designer II at Nike could make about $101K per year with bonuses pushing that figure up to $113K according to

And the one question that design recruiters always, always ask: What were your favorite pair of sneakers and why? You now know mine. Enjoy the 4th in whatever kicks you are wearing!

You Need a Career Time Capsule

One of the things I liked best about Mac computers is an app called Time Machine. It lets you back up your computer so you can see which files you had on any given day. You can revert back to a day on which you knew you backed up a file and were sure it wasn’t corrupted or had the wrong information in it.

A career portfolio can function as your own personal career time machine and capsule. Many of us who use career portfolios to showcase work, our resumes and our projects update them on a fairly regular basis, often deleting earlier incarnations of the career portfolio. However, these old career portfolios do have significant value.

One piece of career advice that career consultants give is to tailor your resume and portfolio to the specific job for which you are applying. This means you are often adding or deleting valuable information about yourself. Creating a master career portfolio or time capsule ensures that you will not lose the information about the project you did five years ago. You may not think it matters all that much now, but there may be a future job for which you will need this information. Computers crash, and resumes and projects get lost. Continually updating a master career portfolio may seem like a chore, but you will be relieved to have it when you need it. And you will need it.

Recruiters are always on the look out for passive candidates, those candidates who have a job, are not looking for a new job and have up-to-date skills. Their goal is to place you as a passive candidate in often hard-to-fill positions. While there should be a good fit between you and the job, your career goals are not always going to receive top consideration.  This process can be an intense situation. Time is of the essence for both the recruiter and the company.  They may give you the hard sell and rush you into applying for a job and accepting an offer, one which you did not even know yesterday that existed.

This means that it is up to you to know what your current career goals are. Your previous career portfolios, along with a master career portfolio will remind you of your career goals and accomplishments along your career path. Armed with this information, you can calmly decide whether a job offer is right for you. Is one of your career goals still to have less travel days and more days with family? Then will the job that offers you a $10k raise in return for 150 more days of travel be worth it to you?

You also need to know and be reminded of what your past accomplishments are. Does this current job offer you a chance to build on past accomplishments, or merely to repeat them? Can you clearly define what the trade offs are going to be if you accept a new job, and whether will they be acceptable to you and your family?

A current master career portfolio reviewed with a series of saved previous career portfolios can save you time and stress when it comes to taking that next career step. This process puts you in control of your career and can make it easier to respond to and work with recruiters.

Active and Passive Mentors and Why You Need Both

Many of my work supervisors have acted as a mentor to me: the boss who was excellent at written and verbal skills and showed me how to work my way out of sticky client situations; the boss who modeled how to navigate the corporate good ol’ boy network of automotive design. These were active, on-the-job mentors, teaching me skills and how to adapt to the work culture. Active mentors teach and model valuable skills. You can find them at work, through LinkedIn, word-of-mouth and many other places. They are the people in the career in which you want to be, albeit it further along the path, but in-the-know. They have many of the same career goals as you, and are willing to invest the time to help you reach those goals.

Now, many career professionals will tell you if you are looking for a mentor to try and engage a KOL, a key opinion leader in your career on LinkedIn, Facebook or some other social media site. But the reality is these KOL’s have so many demands on their time that they will likely never even reply to your request for mentoring.

Meet Your New Mentor, YouTube

This is where passive mentoring comes in. There are different types of passive mentoring: mentoring that takes place inside your career and mentoring that comes from other areas of interest. You do not get to be passive in finding active or passive mentors. It is up to you to do the leg work. KOL’s are all over the place. They lecture and record it on YouTube; they offer webinars; they blog; they speak at conferences. They are passive mentors in the sense that they  do not know you, but every time you watch, listen and read their words, they are mentoring you. Often, they are giving you valuable intelligence about your career that you would not get from day-to-day work interaction.

The other type of passive mentor comes from your interests. Again, they do not know you, but you know them. They are the NASCAR drivers, the opera singers, the sports figures, the gamers, the artists and actors whom you follow, whose careers you are passionate about. You hunt for their videos, their blogs, their games, their concerts. You avidly keep up with what they are doing, where they are going. These people often give you valuable information too. They model ambition, good and bad work-life balance, how to communicate and work as a team, and even how to stay out of jail.

So why do you need active and passive mentors and why must you actively seek them out? Active mentors help you acquire the career skills you need to be successful. Passive career mentors can do that too. Passive mentors in your interest fields can pass along knowledge that may not be direct career skills, but still can help you get ahead in your career. For example, I definitely know I do not want to be an opera singer. However, watching some of these singers in their careers gives me motivation and determination to succeed in my own career. All of these skills from both types of mentors may make your career path easier and more successful. You need to be proactive in seeking out both types of mentors because I can practically guarantee that:

This May Never Happen to You:

There is a now-famous story in opera circles that Renee Fleming tells about how Leontyne Price ended up mentoring her. Ms Price literally contacted her and said, “I think I can help you.” You can watch Renee talk about her experience here. It is a wonderful story; however, it almost never happens that way for the rest of us. But do not be discouraged: most people genuinely like to help others and are gratified to be asked for their expertise. So do your research and ask. Your active and passive mentors are just waiting for you to find them.


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