Does it surprise you that a majority of workers are unhappy in their jobs?
Those were the findings of a 2012 report by the Conference Board, a business and research membership group.This troubles me. So I’ve gone in search of happy workers. I’m starting a series of profiles of people who love what they do. I’ll run these profiles intermittently throughout 2013. (I want to hear your story, too, so don’t be bashful. What works for you? Please, send me a note).
I’m not aiming to unveil the underpinnings of his or her finances. The people you will meet inspire me. My hope is that you can learn lessons from their career stories to help you make your work life more satisfying, too.
A Love of the Game
Jay Goldberg’s passion for his work was fueled early on. Goldberg was 3 years old when his dad, an avid baseball fan, took him to his first baseball game. The year was 1963, and Whitey Ford was pitching.
Goldberg, now 52, spent most of that day crawling under seats looking for bottle caps with pictures of professional ball players glued onto the cork linings.
He admits, though, that his first real memory of the game is from the following year, when he clutched a Mr. Met doll and clung to his dad’s hands as they walked down the huge Shea stadium concrete concourse.
A prescient moment. Today, Goldberg is the owner of New York City’s Bergino Baseball Clubhouse in Greenwich Village.
After graduating from New York University, he kicked off his career as a political consultant working with legendary political guru David Garth for six years.
It was a tremendous experience, but it was the sports world that called to him. With a little legwork, he managed to redeploy his political strategy skills to a position as a professional sports agent. That gig lasted for about 15 years (first with a big firm, and then several years on his own).
But to be an agent you have to be driven by money, not passion, says Goldberg. “It actually took away my great passion of being a sports fan.”
Step up to the plate. He knew in his heart he couldn’t be robbed of his love for baseball. He swung for the fences.
In 2001, Goldberg started a business manufacturing and wholesaling a line of baseball-related gift items. Admittedly, he was an ingénue. He didn’t, for example, realize at first that his customer was ultimately a woman buying a novelty gift for a man, not a man buying for himself.
“I didn’t know anything about manufacturing,” he recalls. “I didn’t know how to make a baseball. I didn’t know I was getting into the gift business.”
What he did know was that he didn’t enjoy what I was doing as an agent. “I had this idea, and I started,” he remembers matter-of-factly. “The first baseballs we made looked terrible,” he admits with a laugh. “They were like squashed oranges.”
Missing the team spirit. One downside: It was solitary work. His main interaction with people and customers was at the big trade shows–which only came around a handful of times each year.
About three years ago, Goldberg decided he needed a change. He didn’t necessarily want to abandon the business, but he had a serious itch to do something else. He toyed with becoming a designer– took a few classes at Parsons to feel that out– but that wasn’t right.
Ultimately, he decided to take his existing business in a new direction and opened a retail store, event space and art gallery all focused on baseball. One of the upsides of the recession was that retail rents were low, so he got a good deal on space.
Why retail? “I would go into a store to see how the baseballs were displayed and get upset,” Goldberg recalls. “I thought, I can do this better.”
Arrogance, maybe, but it was that drive that sent him to the next base. For Goldberg, by far the best part of this new career is that he runs a literary series with baseball writers and hosts regular art shows featuring baseball artists.
In just two years, the Clubhouse has become a gathering place for people who love the game– especially those who are interested in the history and those involved in baseball in various ways. These loyal patrons run the gamut from collectors of memorabilia to ex-professional ball players to today’s Little Leaguers, who still sleep with a leather mitt under their pillow.
Though he has all the stresses of a running a retail business. There are, for instance, those days when the garbage doesn’t get picked up, and he has to push it aside to open the front door. Nonetheless, he gets a huge kick out of going to work every day– which he does 6 days a week. He has no employees, by choice, so when he’s off, the 750- square foot Clubhouse is closed.
It’s about the fans. What energizes him today is that the store has become a community gathering spot for people who love baseball from all walks of life. “We celebrate baseball,” he proclaims. “The door will spring open and nearly everybody will have a smile on their face, and they will have a smile on their face the entire time they’re in here,” he says. “That’s really a great thing. I take a lot of pride in that.”
And it’s that human interaction that keeps him opening the store each morning. “Meeting new people keeps the job interesting,” he says. “And the learning curve never really stops. You keep making a lot of mistakes.”
Indeed, it does, plus he has a ten- year lease. “That should take me through my 50′s. You never know. It wouldn’t shock me if I go full circle and my work leads me back to politics where I still feel a passion.”
Goldberg’s advice for others: “As soon as you start asking yourself, is this all there is to my job, it’s already time to go. If you have a tolerance for risk, you will go for it. You need more than passion, though, you have to be willing to do hard work on top of the passion.”
In fact, Goldberg admits if he weren’t married, he’d probably be there seven days a week.
Final score: One day a customer walked into the Clubhouse, looked around at what he saw, and blurted out: “There can’t be any other store like this in the whole world.”
“That’s what makes it all worthwhile,” Goldberg says proudly.
What makes you love your job?
I think about this question all the time. I wonder why I get up at 5:30 every morning and work nearly seven days a week.
But in my gut, I know. I truly love what I do, and most of the time it doesn’t feel like work. It’s something I’m grateful that I can do and make money at the same time. Zounds.
In fact, I pinch myself. Ever since I was a young girl, I knew I wanted to be a writer, and I actually have made a career out of it.
Here’s why I love my job. I meet new people all the time, and I learn every day from them and from my research. That’s a high. It’s energizing and empowering. I delve into new subjects which keeps my mind engaged, and I get to travel and go places. Importantly, I plan my own day. Or at least I think I do.
Follow me on Twitter, @KerryHannon I’m the author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … And Pays the Bills (John Wiley & Sons), available here www.kerryhannon.com. Check out my column at AARP. My weekly column at PBS’s NextAvenue.org is here.