10 Surprising Ways People Found Their Dream Career—And You Can Too
You may have a fantasy career in mind, but sometimes life has other plans. Here's how nine entrepreneurs and community leaders have achieved the dreams they never know they had.
Do your own troubleshooting
Jeremy Bloom began his career as an Olympian skier and was drafted by the NFL as a wide receiver and return specialist for the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers. However, while working at a start-up sometime later, he couldn’t find software to solve his “biggest operational pain point.” To find a solution, he left the company and started Integrate, which now boasts 120 employees. “I’ve always gravitated toward the idea of being a founder,” Bloom says. “Whether it was football, skiing, or entrepreneurship, I enjoy the challenge of forging my own path.” Bloom says he found this career path by being biased toward action. His advice to others interested in turning their passion into a career? “Stop talking about it and go make it happen.” Bloom is also the Founder of Wish of a Lifetime.
Share your story
At the end of the Civil Rights Era, Rhonda Roorda was voluntarily placed into the New York Foster Care System and adopted at the age of 2. “Growing up, I knew that I was fortunate to have a family and a foundation from which to build. What I didn’t know was that in struggling to find my identity in black and white worlds, which often diverged, I was preparing for the work I was born to do,” Roorda notes. Though she started out in another field, Roorda has spent the last 20 years producing a landmark trilogy of books on transracial adoption (co-authored by the late scholar Rita J. Simon). Most recently, she has received praise for her award-winning book, In Their Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption. Roorda realized her passion for sharing because of her own unique story. For others who are looking to find a career with a purpose, she advises, “Take your passion and creatively find a way that you can share it with the world. The process for me requires curiosity, sacrifice, and a heart of appreciation. But as you walk in your purpose, you will be victorious. You will create a legacy that you will be proud of.”
Take the reins
After 20-plus years in a career in global trade and regulatory compliance, Michelle Stavrou hit a professional crossroad. Today, Stavrou is the proud owner of a unique wine café in Warsaw, Indiana, called Books, Wine, and Dogs, named for the three things that make her happy. “That alone does not make it my dream job,” Stavrou explains. “In fact, there is a lot of stress and responsibility in building a new storefront. For me, being my own boss and sole decision maker is what makes this my dream job. After years of going through red tape to get a job done, I love having the freedom and control to make decisions quickly to ensure my store’s success.” For others who are interested in striking out on their own, Stavrou says to do it and don’t look back. “But, do you homework and do not try to do it alone. You are not the expert in every area. Leverage a network to create your own team of experts that support your dream!”
More and more often people are turning their hobbies into a way to earn a paycheck. Sara Ermisch, now owner of the shop Leo’s Lovely Treasures, began knitting as a child and in middle school and used to knit blankets for a local children’s shelter. “It made me so happy to give my projects to deserving children, but I also thought how cool it would be do that for a living!” As a Medical Oncology Procedure Scheduler by profession, Ermisch never expected to go into the medical field or to start a business knitting, but both fit her perfectly. “I love being able to help patients feel comfortable and safe when they are entering a scary time in their life,” she says. The flexibility of this day job allows her to also focus on her own business and passion for knitting. “It’s all very cliché, but it all boils down to following what you love.”
Tap into your talents
While sitting in a boring marketing class, Yesenia Espinal thought of the idea to start her own business teaching exercise classes for parents and children. “I thought since I already enjoyed working out with my little one so much (who was 2 years old at the time) maybe other parents would enjoy it too!” she says. Solving multiple problems that parents have—including squeezing in one-on-one time with their children, fitting in exercising, and teaching their kids about being healthy—Espinal created BondFitNYC, with classes that give parents the opportunity to bond with their children while getting fit. Espinal, who is a Certified Fitness Instructor, developed a personal passion for fitness and a healthy lifestyle and after creating several Mommy & Me workouts. Now her aspiration in life is to empower and inspire women like herself, but she recognizes that you can’t do it all yourself. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help from others (even strangers!). You will never know how much you can achieve until you try. Being a single mother is difficult, but I haven’t allowed my obstacles to overpower my abilities to be successful in what I do best.”
Susan McCorkindale was working as a book author—she wrote 500 Acres And No Place to Hide and Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl—when shereceived an email saying that some local women were creating a brand-new women’s magazine and needed an editor. Though she was initially worried she wouldn’t be able to do it, she realized that being an editor was what she had always wanted. “When I was coming up with content for the first issue of SHE! and assigning stories, it dawned on me that one of my dreams was coming true right before my eyes. Each of the women I assigned stories to are my dearest, smartest, most talented, take-no-prisoners, dish-no-drama friends, and I’d always wanted to work with them. I just didn’t know how to make it happen,” says McCorkindale, who is now Special Projects Editor at Piedmont Media LLC. “And suddenly, there it was, happening!” McCorkindale’s advice when being offered new experiences and when questioning how to find your dream job? “Say yes, and figure it out later. If an opportunity scares you and intrigues you at the same time, go for it. I absolutely love my job and wake up every day eager to go to my desk. And to think, I almost said no thanks!”
Dip a toe in first
Mia Johnson, of Muncie, Indiana, wasn’t entirely content working as a registrar at a community college. “Being a community college graduate, I love the student population, but I was unhappy because I received very little positive or even neutral student interaction,” she says. This is how Johnson discovered her dream of teaching, and within a year, had left her registrar position to teach full time. She loves it so much that despite having since moved into a leadership position, “I still teach more than is required!” Finding her dream job, like others, didn’t come easily, and in fact, she questioned herself numerous times along the way. “I cried at the graduation of my first group of students—the ones that I had from their first semester,” she says. “Several of them wanted pictures and even hugged me. I knew I had made the right choice.” According to Johnson, who is now Department Chair of the School of Public and Social Services at Ivy Tech Community College, it’s best to take baby steps toward your dream career. “A lot of times, you are made to believe you have to give up everything to follow your dream and that isn’t always true,” she says. “I taught face-to-face as an adjunct until a full-time position was available because I couldn’t afford to leave my job at that time. You should always be working on your passion even if it’s after the hours you spend working the job that pays the bills. This way, you are prepared when the perfect opportunity comes along.”
Ask for directions
After working for four years at a small, liberal arts college, Brent Guiliani of Georgetown, Kentucky, realized that higher education wasn’t the career that he was meant for. So he hired an independent career counselor to help him find his passion, and was skeptical when he was pointed in the direction of sales. With further research, however, he learned that there are all kinds of sales careers out there. “If there is demand, there is a sales professional willing to supply,” Guiliani realized. So he stepped out of his comfort zone and started to apply for positions. At a School Maintenance Trade Fair, he struck up a conversation with a man from his hometown that led to Guiliani being offered the opportunity to head up the Kentucky branch of that man’s company. He realized that this was in fact, his dream job for many reasons—including because it lets him do something new every day. “I love people. I love meeting, talking to, and getting to know people,” Guiliani says. “With this job, I meet someone new every day.” Guiliani, who is now Vice President of Baines Builders Products, notes that he couldn’t be where he is today without support from others. “There are people out there in the world who simply have a passion for helping, and they have made it their career. If I had never hired a career counselor, I may still be stuck in that basement file room at that small liberal arts college.” Here’s how to network to find your dream career.
Nix the nay sayers
Like many people, Becky Fawcett of New York City found her dream job based on her life experience—in this case, adopting her children. “Once I found out how expensive adoption was (the average cost is $40,000 or more) and the extreme financial measures people were going to adopt their children, I knew I had to help,” she says. Fawcett, who is “so grateful to be a mom,” discovered this was her passion when she couldn’t find an existing adoption grant organization with a mission and practice she agreed with. “I created helpusadopt.org as a national, equality based, non-religiously affiliated, financial grant program that helps couples and individuals complete the costs of their adoptions by awarding large, impactful life-changing grants so they can bring their children home,” Fawcett says. For her, one key to pursuing this dream career was to tune out the naysayers. “Many will tell you why it can’t be done and why you shouldn’t do it,” she says. “Do your due diligence and look for holes in your business plan…then follow your heart.” Do you know a couple that’s adopting? Here are some things not to say.
*Photo credit: Lindsay May/Classic Kids Upper East Side
Turn trials into triumphs
Nikki Thompson Frazier of Lansing, Michigan, turned the challenge of having two daughters diagnosed with various food allergies into a business opportunity. “I’ve always loved cooking and baking, so the transition into starting my own bakery was a natural one,” she says. Founding Sweet Encounter Bakery gives Thompson Frazier the flexibility to be a mom, an entrepreneur, and a baker. “Being a mom is as much a part of my job as being a baker. I create desserts with my kids in mind and with the mindset of a mom whose kids have food allergies,” Frazier notes. When it comes to striking out on your own, she underscores the importance of taking risks. “You will be amazed by where your passion can take you. When you try, when you step out on faith, you can live your life with no regrets and that’s the best way to live!”
Revive a childhood interest
Since she was a little girl, Jen Russell of Glenwood, Indiana, has always had a passion for clothes, shoes, and fabrics. “I was never afraid to try different things or to always dress to impress,” she says. “I would learn tricks to help clothes fit my body better and pass those tips on to friends.” Though her friends told her she needed to own her own store, she felt locked in a hospitality job she’d had for 13 years. At some point, after helping dress a woman who felt bad about her post-baby body, Russell knew she’d found her calling. After talking to her husband, she decided to open her own clothing store. “It’s about teaching women of all sizes to dress for their shape and to love themselves,” she says. Russell, who now owns JenDaisy Boutique, is logging more hours than ever. “When your passion turns into a career, you will work harder and more hours than you ever have for anyone else,” she says. And the best part? It doesn’t feel like work.