Creating Your Own Unconventional Career Path

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.


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.


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)