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Find Your Dream Vocation with a Job Swap

Ever wanted to explore a different career choice with the same abandon you explore different locales? Well, it turns out vocationing is totally a thing.

Growing up, I wanted to be a chef, a CIA agent, a detective, and a forest ranger, but I became a writer instead. Is this really the right path for me? I wonder every day. So imagine my joy and surprise when I began reading about opportunities to temporarily trade in my “real” job and, for a couple of days or weeks, try on a dream job doing anything from running a bed-and-breakfast to designing jewelry.

Why Vacation When You Can Vocation?
We have a dizzying array of options today in terms of what career path we can choose. While that’s a much better situation than having no options at all, it can create a lot of confusion and angst for those of us trying to find the path that truly matches our talents and interests. According to Brian Kurth, founder and president of VocationVacations and author of Test-Drive Your Dream Job: A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding and Creating the Work You Love, job swapping, or “vocationing,” allows people to get in touch with their individual abilities and desires by placing them in different settings, so that they can better determine what kind of career path they should take moving forward. In Kurth’s book, he explains how, in just two weeks of vocationing, an IT programmer can test-drive a career doing television voice-overs, a lawyer can swap her suit to become a cheese maker, an airline pilot can get behind the mic as a sports announcer, and a Web designer can wield a T-square in an architect’s office.

Want to Be a Dude Rancher or a Baseball Announcer?
Kurth is a self-described former “Dilbert working at the phone company” (he was the manager of an Internet security provider and got laid off during the dot-com bust). He developed the idea for his Portland, Oregon–based company, VocationVacations, while stuck in Chicago rush-hour traffic in 2001. After touring the country on a soul-searching quest for six months, he moved to Portland and set out to help other people answer the same question plaguing him: How does one know one’s true desires in life? The company he started offers what are essentially summer internship programs for adults.

VocationVacations’ ever-expanding list of job possibilities ranges from architect to cowboy-boot maker to Mississippi riverboat pilot; programs run from one day to two weeks in length. The company recently opened an office in Britain and now offers two more apprenticeships: with the renowned floral arranger Paula Pryke in London, or with a photojournalist in Scotland.

Dreams Become Reality
One happy customer of Kurth’s program, which has been featured on CNN, is Meghan Daum, who describes her work as ranging from “writing books and articles to, when the going gets tough, selling things on eBay” for an article in the April 2005 issue of Travel + Leisure about job-swapping vacations. Daum has wanted to be a zookeeper since she was six years old and, through VocationVacations, got the opportunity to serve a two-day stint at the Oregon Zoo in Portland as an apprentice. The purpose of such exposure is to see firsthand the positives and negatives of a job.

Daum’s narrative of her experience blends phrases like: “I end up shoveling more poop than I was aware could be produced by the population of Oregon, much less a select number of zoo residents” with: “As the hours pass, I realize that as much fun as the animals are, most of the zookeepers, with their wry humor, their relaxed demeanor, and their utter lack of pretension, are even more fun. There is, perhaps, no better measure of the quality of a job experience than the pleasure one takes in one’s colleagues …”

Daum didn’t give up her writing career to be a zookeeper, but at least she can’t say it’s something she’s never done.

Ready to Swap?
If you’re interested in taking a vocation, VocationVacations is your best resource, with a huge variety of packages available, including stints as an alpaca rancher, a yoga studio owner, a cheesemonger, a children’s-book author, a catamaran captain, and many more. Information and Kurth’s book are available on the company’s Web site.

Keep Dreaming
Kurth warns that after vocationing, some people find that the job they tried is not the one they thought they wanted, because the reality doesn’t match up to their dream. He writes about a woman who vocationed with the general manager of a hotel and who came away exhausted and shocked at the amount of physical energy the job required. Another woman, who apprenticed with a veterinarian, learned that while she loved the animals, she hated dealing with their owners. But that’s all part of why experiencing different career paths is an important step toward finding the one that suits you best—it’s necessary to check your dreams against reality and really see what’s out there.

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