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


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@mi-reporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.mi-reporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in Business

Robert Toomey, CFA/CFP, is Vice President of Research for S. R. Schill & Associates on Mercer Island.
How financial planners address plan uncertainty | Guest column

One of the key challenges we face as financial planners is dealing… Continue reading

Mixologist and general manager of Civility & Unrest, Joe Dietrich (photo by Cameron Sheppard)
If you want a regular cocktail, go somewhere else

Master mixologist Joe Dietrich is elevating cocktail culture at Bellevue’s Civility & Unrest.

Robert Toomey, CFA/CFP, is Vice President of Research for S. R. Schill & Associates on Mercer Island.
Is cryptocurrency really an investment? | Guest column

Undoubtedly you have heard about the new form of money known as… Continue reading

Front bar at Bellevue’s Civility & Unrest (courtesy of Civility & Unrest)
Two of James Beard Award-winning chef Jason Wilson’s restaurants to reopen in October

The Lakehouse plans to reopen Oct. 12 and Civility & Unrest reopens Oct. 14.

Stock photo
Grocery store workers have right to wear Black Lives Matter buttons

National Labor Relations Board ruling against ban by Kroger-owned QFC, Fred Meyer

t
Island HI FI president discusses National Black Business Month

“Being out here, like, I’m a unicorn. You don’t see that many Black people,” said Mercer Island business owner.

Big Island Poke in Renton (courtesy of The Intentionalist Facebook page)
Small-business advocacy group wants you to try minority-owned businesses and put it on their tab

The Intentionalist is opening up $400 tabs for folks to use this weekend at select businesses.

File photo
The Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce and surrounding businesses in downtown Mercer Island.
Islanders react to mask-free life as things return to normal

Business owners on Mercer Island are also excited to see customers return in greater numbers.

Eastside King County restaurant owners discuss challenges with U.S. Rep Suzan DelBene at Pomegranate Bistro in Redmond. (Photo credit: Cameron Sheppard/Sound Publishing)
Restaurant owners discuss labor difficulties with U.S Rep. Suzan DelBene

Experienced service and kitchen staff are reportedly hard to hire as food service reopens.

From left to right: Craig Wright, Mark Wright and Chris Wright, all co-founders of Wright Brothers Farms. Screenshot courtesy of Wright Brothers Farms
‘We view ourselves as temporary stewards of the soil’

Mercer Island brothers run family’s organic vegetable farm.

Dave and Buster's restaurant and entertainment venue looks to hire 130 people to staff its Bellevue venue, set to open in August. Photo courtesy Dave and Busters.
Dave and Buster’s hiring 130 for August opening in Bellevue

Dave and Buster’s restaurant and entertainment venue opens in downtown Bellevue on… Continue reading

Images of dishes from Issaquah’s Umi Cafe posted on the SMORS page. (Photo courtesy of Kristen Ho)
Facebook page promotes minority-owned restaurants across Puget Sound region

Miya Nazzaro used to be a member of Facebook pages that were… Continue reading