Creating Your Own Unconventional Career Path

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The following is a guest post by the one, the only, Steph Auteri. Steph is an irrepressible word nerd, and a coacher of word nerds. Need some help brainstorming your career path(s). She is also into helping out with that sort of thing.

Several years ago, I had a (perhaps-somewhat-loud) conversation with my husband on the subject of my career path.

He told me, basically, that I lacked focus.

Why?

Maybe it was my job-hopping. Soon after saying “I do,” I had snagged a part-time freelance copy editing gig at a daily newspaper, allowing me to leave my full-time job in book publishing and become a full-time freelancer. Soon after embarking upon this life of freelancedom, I took on an unpaid, editorial internship at a web magazine I had admired for years. This led to a regular blogging gig, which in turn got me in the door at other publications. Then, the newspaper I had been copy editing at — my main source of income — folded, and I floundered for a year. It was at this point that I considered career coaching.

I know. It sounds as if I’m the one who needed career coaching. And I think Michael felt that way, too. “First you were in love with book publishing,” he said. “Then you wanted to be a magazine writer. Then you wanted to be on staff. Now you want to be a career coach?”

Okay. But here’s the thing.

After interning and networking and learning and working so damn hard at being a freelance writer (which was, still, my main priority, and always had been), that part of my life was finally gaining momentum. I was bringing in bigger and better-paying projects. I was in the running for a freelance editorial job at another web magazine, which I eventually received an offer for. And at that point, the work was coming to me.

It just wasn’t enough.

The other things coming to me were e-mails from those who were also looking to succeed as freelance writers, and it gave me the warm fuzzies every time I was able to help someone. It eventually occurred to me that earning my coaching certification and launching a practice focused on the publishing industry could be a natural extension of the services I already offered, and bring in more income.

Michelle Goodman called it a “patchwork paycheck.” Marci Alboher called it a “slash career.”  I was just sick of putting all of my eggs in one basket, and having the whole damn thing fall over. I didn’t realize that what I was actually doing was (that oh-so-pervasive buzzword known as) diversifying.

So.

I resisted the urge to strangle my husband (though there may have been some raised voices) and just kept on going, believing wholeheartedly in the path I was taking. And now I just point at him and say neener-neener, because I’ve managed to create a career that I love out of the things that I love: writing, editing, and helping others.

Creating an unfocused (and awesome) career

1. Focus on the things that you love.

2. But also think about what people need. You can love an idea to bits, but if it’s not filling an existing need, you’re not helping you or your imaginary clients.

3. After that, find the space where those two things — love and need — intersect. And don’t stop at just one, possible job opportunity. Think of a multitude of products and services that you could offer, and think of how they could possibly be connected on one, strong marketing platform. Or do things that are not at all connected. I just met a full-time technical writer who also runs a wine making school on the side. Doing two things that are so different from each other guarantees that she’s never burnt out on her career.

4. After figuring out a path that is both excitement-inducing and financially viable, work your ass off. Passion is important, but it won’t take you anywhere if it’s not paired with hard work.

5. Reserve the right to say neener-neener to anyone who seems skeptical of your unconventional career path. Yes, a steady paycheckis a good thing. But I can’t help but think that a patchwork paycheck leaves the job-jugglers amongst us infinitely more stable.

(Image c/o Stupendous94 on Flickr)

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Anyes September 30, 2010 at 5:09 am

As usual Matt, perfect timing…

Thank you, Steph for putting into very precise words what I have had in my head for a while…Now I just need to find this elusive Love & Need intersection and I am almost all set. Awesome post!

Reply

Anyes September 30, 2010 at 5:09 am

As usual Matt, perfect timing…

Thank you, Steph for putting into very precise words what I have had in my head for a while…Now I just need to find this elusive Love & Need intersection and I am almost all set. Awesome post!

Reply

Anyes September 30, 2010 at 5:09 am

As usual Matt, perfect timing…

Thank you, Steph for putting into very precise words what I have had in my head for a while…Now I just need to find this elusive Love & Need intersection and I am almost all set. Awesome post!

Reply

Terry Reed September 30, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Great Points Steph, but let me throw down some caveats. I have been self employed for over 20 years and I make a point to only do things I love, But organic landscaping and music/film/art/writing were just too far apart to put the needed focus into entertainment/art world without being constantly torn back and forth. Each year I’ve had to shed clients in the “safer” landscaping model to be able to focus on the (albeit also vastly diverse) entertainment side of things.
Also big ‘caveat emptor’ when it comes to “coaches” (no reflection on you Steph) but I have seen inside the ugly world of “coaching/coach making” and it is inundated with “drive through” education and shoe tying coaches who can’t tie their own shoes. This is a disconcerting trend but in a hard economy people are desperate to find a way and easily fall prey to”pyramid-like” coaching trends that take advantage…Buyer Beware – RESEARCH YOUR COACHES before you open your wallet! That is all:)

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Kola October 11, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Terry, your comment is obviously very well thought out and i commend your courage in voicing your perspective. If you don’t mind my asking, what prompted your voyage into the world of entrepreneurialism? It’s interesting to hear peoples’ experiences in this area

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Chris Mower September 30, 2010 at 4:22 pm

When it comes down to it, it seems like the factor that separates the successful ventures from the others is good old fashioned hard work.

I enjoyed your article.

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MarcLuber September 30, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Great piece Steph. Yes – always focus on doing what you love….even if that means having an “unfocused” career! In addition to the rewarding feeling of doing multiple things you enjoy, having several things going at once can also make you a more interesting person. Your network will be broader, you’ll have a wider variety of daily activities, and therefore more experiences to share with others. So it’s great that you’re advising people to think outside the box. Like you said, there will be plenty of people with “focus” who will be naysayers but I say just look at it like the movie “Pleasantville”. Some people will keep living in black and white while you live in color. If someone wants to question your ways, just let them know to “enjoy your little black & white world….I’ll be hangin’ over here where everything’s in color.’

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Katie Tallo September 30, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Terrific and sound advice that gets me wanting to work my ass off to discover and refine that gap between need and love and fill it up with all I have. Great stuff, Steph.

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Lindsey M. Donner September 30, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Hmm. I don’t really think of what you did as job-hopping, but rather the ordinary course of things for creative pros and writers in particular. My job history sounds exactly like yours, and if anything, I’m glad to have the breadth of the experience, because it’s made starting my own consultancy a heckuva lot easier. It means I can do more things, fulfill more roles, and work with a greater variety of clients.

That said, it is true that a lot of people can’t see past the patched-together paycheck to realize that all you’re doing is being smart – pulling income from several sources, refining your talents in multiple areas. Or (my real opinion) they’re a little jealous, watching you longingly as they sweat beneath the fluorescent lights of their cube… ha. Just a thought. ;-)

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margiewrites September 30, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Bravo!

9-5ers just don’t understand. From their perspective your career is unfocused, but everything you’ve done has been a strategic move. I think it’s a great idea for you to specialize in coaching those in publishing (or who want to break into publishing) because, hello! you have the experience. As a freelance writer, it just increases the subjects you can write on because your coaching experience gives you more credibility.

You’re diversifying and narrowing your focus at the same time, which makes you more marketable.

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Anonymous September 30, 2010 at 9:46 pm

This is great! I’m in process of creating my own unconventional career. It can get tiring convincing others that I’m not an unfocused spaz but am just passionate about many different things. Thanks for the great steps to creating a fun & completely unfocused career!

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Moon Hussain October 3, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Steph, very inspiring post here. I have a BS in comp sci, started off in customer service, got a job as a programmer soon after, but that didn’t “do it”. I’m in the midst of figuring things out so it’s exciting… thanks for the post.

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Karl "City" Sylvester October 4, 2010 at 7:33 am

My favorite step in building an awesome career was focusing on things that you love. This hardest step for most people, because it usually requires the most sacrifice. Great post bud!

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Karl "City" Sylvester October 4, 2010 at 7:35 am

My favorite step in building an awesome career was focusing on things that you love. This hardest step for most people, because it usually requires the most sacrifice. Great post bud!

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Collin Vine October 4, 2010 at 6:14 pm

It’s always good to hear success stories and get support along the way. Great post Steph!

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bronze casting October 9, 2010 at 7:23 am

Do you like the work, and work to realize your dreams

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Juliavtoledo October 9, 2010 at 6:55 pm

I think you missed an important topic, skills, then combined with the passion and need wil really work out.

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Kola October 11, 2010 at 9:05 pm

i like this. It’s a new way of thinking, but I think this the 21st century is ready for it. nice piece. very well written . thumbs up!

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Usama November 15, 2010 at 9:42 am

Awesome points you made there, Steph. What if your passion doesn’t relate to what people need. You have to find the bridge.
Thanks.

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