Trading Places: Dream Job Vacations

Check out a new kind of vacation — one that lets you test-drive your dream career.

By Mary Bly
Photograph: Photo by: iStockphoto

Test-Driving a Dream Job
He may have been returning from the war or going to it. Either way, he was seated at my table in uniform, his hair freshly sheared and a shy smile on his face. "White-chocolate-and-cranberry scones?" I said in a cheerful voice, trying my best to act the part of a country innkeeper. "We just made them, and they’re wonderful." The soldier took one, and so did his wife. I refilled his coffee cup, smiled at her, and headed for the kitchen, the smell of fresh-baked pastry drifting behind me.
I usually spend my days barking at undergraduates in my intro to Shakespeare course ("No texting!") or glued to my desk at home, writing my latest novel deep into the night. But that weekend, I was testing out a job as a B&B owner, whipping up a bearnaise sauce and toying with the idea of ditching academia for running a rustic inn.
The very thought of starting a second career at midlife has all the delectable pleasures of a flirtation — not a pedestrian exchange at the office holiday party but more like a teasing intrigue on a train in a foreign country. Let’s say that after years of fidelity to your first love from college, you’re single again. Possibilities arise: A Frenchman throws you a sideways look; a tall Dane offers you a wry smile. In those circumstances, being over 40 is a gift, because you have the confidence to strike up a conversation — or the presence of mind to turn away.
That’s the idea behind VocationVacations, a dream-job service that allows people to spend two or three days shadowing a professional in a career they’ve been fantasizing about. The hundreds of job tryouts to choose from hold the promise of a life makeover, but they also expose eager reinventors (you know who you are) to the reality of running a yoga studio or opening a country inn after years spent climbing the job ladder.
So why would a professor well into her second act as a romance novelist feel the need to explore yet another career? "Insanity," muttered my husband. When I started my second career nine years ago, under the pen name Eloisa James, I thought I’d write a book and be done with it, never imagining that I’d need an instant degree in business management. If I were to do it again today, I’d test the waters first. Stick a toe in. Be a bit more practical. Or grab a rhinestone-studded guitar and head for a gig as a songwriter in Nashville.

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