Unconventional careers can bring together interests and lifestyles – On Careers

By Terry Pile

  • Monday, November 24, 2008 8:04pm
  • Business

By Terry Pile

What do you want to be when you grow up? As adults, many of us are still struggling with this question. How can we apply our interests and skills to a job that will be satisfying and generate a reasonable income? By devoting time to research careers, job seekers with a yen for the nontraditional may discover possibilities never dreamed of. And, like the Mercer Island residents profiled in this article, introspection and a bit of risk-taking can lead to somewhat unconventional careers that fit most life style requirements.

Bob Harris, window washer

As a boy growing up on the Island, Bob Harris never planned on being a window washer. In fact, he took the conventional route, working in his father’s furniture business.

A devotee of meditation and yoga, Harris spent a great deal of time at his parent’s house staring out the window and contemplating his future. It occurred to him that window washing mimicked many of the physical movements in yoga, Thai Chi and other martial arts. The act of window washing kept his mind uncluttered and relaxed.

After a brief stint with a window cleaning service in Redmond, Harris started his own business in 1981, Bob’s Professional Window Cleaning Company. At one point, he had as many as 200 customers which translated to 16,000 panes of glass per year.

His overhead is low: “I just need my ladders, strip washer, squeegee, `secret solution’ and my Subaru wagon and I’m in business,” said Harris.

His profession keeps him in good physical shape and allows plenty of time to pursue his love of music.

“I’m one of the last native Mercer Island window washers you’ll find,” Harris said with pride, “although I call it `Paid Yoga.”’

Eulalie Sullivan, marine naturalist/science educator/sailor

Can you imagine being on a 61-foot sailing yawl for five days with 25 eighth graders? For some of us, this would be the job from hell. For Eulalie Sullivan, it’s her dream job.

“I love anything that involves boats, being out of doors and working with kids,” said Sullivan.

Her job combines all three. Sullivan is a staff member of Salish Sea Expeditions, which sponsors boat-based marine science programs during the spring and fall. The programs are based on scientific inquiry. Sullivan uses her skills as a marine naturalist and science educator to help students come up with scientific questions.

Then she dons her sailor’s hat and teaches them how to sail, navigate to the science stations, use scientific equipment and set-up experiments to test their hypothesis and solve their questions. She figures she is on the water about 48 days per year, three to five days at a time.

“Now that my children are older, it is easier for me to be away from home for a few days,” said Sullivan. “I am hoping to get my master’s license from the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Sullivan found out about the marine science program working as a volunteer at the aquarium where she looks after river otters, salmon and other aquarium residents. Her current career is a radical departure from her earlier consulting jobs for government agencies such as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“I feel very fortunate to be doing work I love,” said Sullivan. “It is a lot of work, but there is a tremendous sense of accomplishment studying science with children outdoors.”

Michele Monson, lead painter

Being a painter is not necessarily an unconventional career, unless you are the only woman in a crew of 25, as Monson has been for over 20 years.

After graduating from Washington State University with a degree in sociology, Monson explored social service careers and wasn’t impressed with the jobs or the pay. Briefly, she worked for the state’s Employment Security Department and a bank, before falling back on the house painting skills she learned from her father. With a woman friend, Monson started a painting business with older women as her main clientele.

“I think they felt safe having us in their houses,” said Monson.

As often happens with successful entrepreneurs, the business grew too big and the paperwork too cumbersome. She gave up her business and continued as a painter, first at Evergreen Hospital and later at Valley Medical Center.

“Starting out, it was a little odd to be the only woman on the maintenance crew. When I became a lead it was challenging to supervise a male-only crew,” said Monson. “I’ve learned to hold my own and care a lot about the guys in the shop. Some are very good friends.”

In the last few years, Monson has taken on the facility graphics and signage responsibilities and frequently contracts out for painting projects.

She still believes,“Women make great painters. They pay more attention to detail.”

Books on unconventional careers

If conventional careers haven’t appealed to you, the following resources may help you think a little differently about approaching work.

“Dare to be Different: 101 Unconventional Careers,” by Polly Bird

“The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People,” by Carol Eikleberry

“I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was,” by Barbara Sher

Terry Pile is president of Career Advisors providing career counseling, career development and outplacement services to individuals and small businesses. She specializes in helping people find satisfying employment. She can be contacted at terryp@careeradvisorsonline.com

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