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Workers Use Vacation Time to Explore New Careers

Doing the same thing day after day can make even successful professionals unhappy, prompting dreams of doing something totally different. Those who are ready to try another career can see what's like, thanks to Vocation Vacations. Instead of sitting on a beach or going to Disney World, some Americans are using their vacation time to 'test-drive' their dream job.

Linda Nardin worked for a major computer company for 2 decades… until she was laid off last year. She realized she didn't want to continue her career in the technology arena. "I decided that I very much wanted to reinvent my life, but I wasn't quite sure how to go about it," she says.

While she considered her options, Ms. Nardin contacted Vocation Vacations, for some hands-on experience in different fields. "We have a complete portfolio of well over 100 vocation vacations, and that number is growing," says Company founder Brian Kurth. He says he offers his clients a chance to spend a few days trying out a wide variety of jobs and careers - "from advertising to brew master to cheese maker to an event producer to makeup artist to wedding planner, TV producer and everything in between."

Mr. Kurth established Vocation Vacations last year. But the idea came to him several years earlier when he was stuck in rush hour traffic. "I just decided 'Gosh, what would I really rather be doing with my life?' And I started daydreaming about how I'd like to be a dog trainer and work from home, or work in the vineyards as a wine maker," he recalls. "I've never really hated my job, quite honestly, but I was really growing a little bit tired of the corporate climb and the commuting and the whole life style."

Mr. Kurth says career changers and curiosity seekers between 35 and 55 are his usual customers. Linda Nardin, who lives on the East Coast, in Connecticut, signed up for a Vocation Vacation package of 3 jobs on the West Coast, in Oregon. The first one was at a bakery. "They make everything in the very classic French way," she says. "Each morning I went in at 3:00 and worked with the pastry chef and learned how to make all the fine tasty things that people love. I spoke also with the president who told me about the business side, how the bakery was put together... something that the average person would never have access to."

Then, she drove 80 kilometers south to spend a few days as a winemaker at a vineyard. "I got to learn about blending wines," she says. "How the grape vines are planted. I worked in the lab where they check the acidic level of wines. How they design and create the bottles, the labels, corks, even the barrels. I didn't know anything about winemaking, but it was another very interesting experience."

The 3rd job Ms. Nardin tried during her 9-day vacation was a floral designer. "I worked with a phenomenal woman who owns a company," she says. "She's 77 years old, and has a large number of designers that work for her, and a fleet of drivers. I learned how to create a floral arrangement and how to pick good flowers when you go to the flower markets early in the morning."

The experience changed her perspective on work. "Because I worked for a very large business," she says, "I had a mindset that large business is the only way to go with your life, that so much can be accomplished and you have a great deal of influence, a great deal of opportunity, a great deal with creativity, which is all true. But with a small business, you can do exactly the same thing, just on a much smaller scale. The dedication that I saw of the people that I worked with in each of these business was just as deep and strong as it was in a big business."

While Linda Nardin enjoyed all 3 jobs, she doesn't plan to pursue any of them as a new career. She says she just did it for fun. But career change was Dan Chaffee's goal when he began his Vocation Vacation. The wireless industry consultant worked with a professional photographer, shooting a fashion show in Kansas City. "We started like 6:30 in the morning and went until 6:00 at night, non-stop," he says. "He said, 'hey, any question you have, ask because you can't learn unless you ask questions.' I took my camera along and shot right next to him. I watched what his assistant did, how they set up the lighting, set up the shoot, the reflectors and whole thing. I came in the next day and spent a few hours with him going through the photos he took and preparing it for the client."

Mr. Chaffee found his working vacation an encouraging and useful experience. Now, he says, he knows how a photographer runs a business… and with some more training, hopes he'll soon be ready to make this big career move and become a professional photographer.

Vocation Vacations are now available in 19 states, as well as parts of Canada and Britain. Brian Kurth says this kind of get-away is not only for people who are unhappy with their current careers. Stepping outside your profession for a few days and trying a different one, he says, can renew your enthusiasm for what you do, and bring excitement back into your work life.