Accidental Careers

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So you're well into your career, driving down the road you've always dreamed you'd be traveling, when you hit the mother of all potholes -- a layoff or company merger, a personal commitment that drains your time and energy, or perhaps a career detour that's not on your roadmap.

For some, such career glitches lead to a fulfilling accidental career they would never have considered.

For Carmin Coutee, president of Magnolia Custom Homes in Wheaton, Ill., becoming a home developer was never an aspiration. "I knew that I wanted to own my own business in the long run," she says, but was faced with one of those unforeseen glitches in her business career when her husband accepted a new job in Chicago.

Fed up with the cookie-cutter floor plans and poor workmanship they found while house-hunting in the Chicago suburbs, Coutee and her husband decided to build their family of six a home of their own design -- one styled after her Southern roots. After designing her own house and acting as her own general contractor, Coutee had found her niche. Her MBA and business experience are crucial for negotiating contracts and managing the business of creating unique, livable, Southern-style homes. "I feel that I've been given such a gift, to be able to do what I'm passionate about," she says.

According to Nina Ham, a certified career coach, licensed psychotherapist and author of "Success from the Inside Out" e-letter, the job of your life is often the one that challenges you at your personal "growing edge." "Clarity about yourself and what's important to you increases the likelihood of finding that dream job," she says.

Which describes Coutee to a tee. "I'm doing something that I absolutely love. I really believe in the product we create, in terms of quality and style. We knew we were taking a risk building a different style home, but it's setting us apart in the marketplace."

The career bypass that Bobbi Panter experienced was more of a detour than a pothole. The Chicago-based actress and writer discovered her true calling after her beloved Shih Tzu, Bobo, had eye surgery. "The drugs they put her on damaged her skin and fur terribly," Panter says. "The moisturizing dog shampoos on the market didn't work. Her fur fell out in patches, and her skin was dry and itchy. I could tell such a difference in her demeanor. She looked like a junkyard dog."

Desperately wanting to give her pet some relief, Panter began reading books about natural healing for both people and pets and started experimenting with health store ingredients at home, mixing them in her kitchen sink. She ultimately began working with a formulist who helped make her vision of all-natural pet care products a reality.

Three years later, Bobbi Panter Natural Pet Pampering Products -- with compelling names like Stinky Dog and Itchy Dog -- are available in 2,000 stores and pet boutiques across the country, including 600 Petco locations. "I never would've dreamed in a million years that I'd be doing what I'm doing, but I love it," she says. "I can't imagine doing anything else."

Ham calls these types of successes the "silver lining phenomenon." "In general our academic training doesn't include identifying a career we're well-suited for," she says. "In the absence of a designated process, chance or coincidence or an inspiring role model can often speak to our emotional side and lead us to a career that turns out to be rewarding in ways we couldn't have predicted."

Is there a roadmap that people can follow that will lead them to a job they're passionate about? "Yes!" Ham says, offering the following guidelines:


1. Commit to a career search that isn't necessarily linear, driven by "finding a job."

2. Be open to self discovery during the search and look for work that draws you into the person you're capable of being.

3. Aim for creating "fulfilling" work over "passionate" work -- you'll be more satisfied in your golden years.

"You have to take a leap of faith and really believe, because there are no guarantees," Panter says. "But I just knew that I had to do this."



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Copyright 2007 CareerBuilder.com.

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