Turning a childhood passion into a lasting career can happen by applying your expertise in a new direction, as Crump did, or by better understanding what’s behind the things you love to do. “Your passion is a clue,” says Nicholas Lore, 68, who founded the Rockport Institute, a career-coaching firm. “To find a job you love, you need to become a career detective looking for the clues about the fit between yourself and the working world.”
The clues are easy to spot. They’re the activities that excite you, the stuff that matters in your life, the things you do easily and well. Lore, for instance, is passionate about sailing. “But I wouldn’t want to be a charter-boat skipper,” he says. What he discovered is that he likes constant problem solving, the kind you do when you’re sailing — or job coaching. “You need to put together a clues list.” Those clues should reveal the elements of your dream job, from which career ideas can blossom.
That’s what Alejandro Benes did, and at 57 the Cuban-born ex-newsman finds himself in the restaurant industry. He’s happier than ever, in part because he’s rediscovered something his old work once fed: his omnivorous appetite for new flavors and experiences. Since 2006, Benes has been a partner in Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill, a Southern California-based restaurant group that one of his cousins cofounded.
It’s a long way from the trenches of broadcast news, where Benes was once Latin America bureau chief for ABC. But he’s still using his communications skills — internally, with the company’s 1,000-plus employees, and externally, with the 40,000-plus customers the restaurants serve each week. The big difference: Now he gets to indulge his lifelong appreciation for good food and drink. As head of the company’s culinary development, Benes is Wood Ranch’s test-kitchen guru. He takes culinary-education courses, has a hand in creating new menu offerings and regularly dines at competitors’ establishments. “I travel around in hopes of finding inspiration from an excellent dish,” he says. “It’s hell, but someone has to do it.”
Changing Focus Didn’t Mean Downshifting
Werley followed this route herself seven years ago, jumping from her corporate job at JPMorgan Chase to the nonprofit world. Before joining The Transition Network, she became involved with the Financial Women’s Association, a nonprofit group for women in the financial- services industry. “As I was looking to change careers, I realized I had done a lot of work helping women and girls with their development. Now it’s my full-time job,” she says.
Herb Johnson, 60, has spent his professional life in the tire industry, logging 35 years at Michelin, where he was formerly director of the brand’s motorsports division. Now he’s director of community relations, responsible for making his longtime employer a better corporate citizen.
“I’m in the giving-back stage of my career,” says Johnson, who has reinvented his job without changing employers. A health crisis several years ago, when he was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes, led him to look closely at his professional life. “I realized there is a greater purpose for my being here.”
Johnson’s career is a world away from the place it was a few years ago, when he spent most of his time roaming international raceways, consulting with engineers and drivers, and talking to the press about Michelin tires. During Johnson’s tenure as head of the company’s racing program, Michelin-shod cars took first place at the 24-hour race in Le Mans, France, among numerous other victories, and he was immersed in the details of racing-tire compounds and tread designs.
Now the pace has slowed, and Johnson is more likely to be found lending a hand to build new homes with Habitat for Humanity. Or he may be meeting with elementary school administrators near his home in Greenville, S.C., about a program he spearheaded, the Michelin Challenge Education volunteer mentoring program, which enlists company employees and retirees to provide mentoring in math, science and reading at public schools near 14 Michelin facilities nationwide.
Changing focus didn’t mean downshifting to easier work. “Working with a race-car driver’s ego is a little different from working with a nonprofit,” he says. “The biggest problem now is finding the resources to make a difference. In racing it was about selling tires. This is about selling hope for the future of our children,” Johnson explains.
The most satisfying part of his new role? “Getting up every morning and knowing I have an opportunity to help some person who is less fortunate than me.”
Kerry Hannon is the author of the new AARP book Great Jobs For Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy…and Pays the Bills (John Wiley & Sons).