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New Horizons

Think you’d make a great sword maker? Put yourself to the test

Nora Shalaway

You loved teaching, but now that you’re retired, have you ever contemplated a new career? Perhaps you’ve always wanted to be a sports announcer or try your hand at owning a coffeehouse. Maybe you’d like to try cheese making or fashion designing. In your dreams, right? Well, maybe it’s not so impossible.

VocationVacations, a company founded in 2004, offers clients a chance to try out that dream job and get a practical idea of whether the dream can come true. Clients choose from over 200 vocations, from TV producer and restaurant critic to sword maker and pet detective (solver of pet crimes). They spend an average of two days, not just shadowing successful practitioners in their chosen fields, but learning how to get into the business, and actively doing the job. Clients taking baking “vacations,” for example, start at 3am.

Clients also meet with a life and career coach.

Company president Brian Kurth says you don’t have to be searching for a new career to benefit. About two-thirds of clients are interested in new jobs, but the other third just want to try something that excites them, he says.

Kurth says his company is just starting to collect statistics, but he thinks at least 15 percent of vacationers have pursued their dream careers after the try-out, and more plan to do so soon.

Rick Terry, a 50-year-old bank vice president in Houston, says his vacation helped him decide to run his own winery upon retirement. In August 2005, Terry spent two days at Pfeiffer Vineyards in Junction City, Oregon, watering plants, running tractors, bottling, hosting dinners, and learning the business from Robin and Danuta Pfeiffer, whom Terry now considers life-long friends.

“I expected to come back saying, ‘that’s a great fantasy, but it’s just agriculture.’ Instead I returned more jazzed up about it than when I left,” he remembers. The Pfeiffers’ successful family establishment “changed my life. I learned I could afford my fantasy after all.”

Terry says these try-outs are “perfect for retirees or people five to 10 years away from retirement like me, who love what they’re doing, but know they don’t want to play golf every day after retiring. There’s no downside. What’s not to like about living your fantasy?”

‘A horrific schedule’

Sometimes, of course, the job of your dreams doesn’t look so great in the bright light of morning. VocationVacations mentor Barbara Dau, co-owner of a bed-and-breakfast in Arch Cape, Oregon, says some vacationers try her trade and decide it’s not for them. “I show them the daily routine—the nitty-gritty of everyday life,” she explains, “and I keep a horrific schedule.” Dau says her  clients’ biggest concern is whether they can handle the job. She tells them they can handle it if they don’t try to do it single-handedly.

Having gone through a dramatic shift of gears herself (Dau worked as a research scientist, and college and high school teacher before buying her inn at age 61), she encourages retirees to pursue their dreams. “Go for it! If you have the energy and restlessness to follow through, do it.”

The average two-day vacation costs $700. Visit VocationVacations for more information.

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