“So, what do you do?” It’s the perennial conversation starter of cocktail parties and business-card exchanges. Some professions — like accountant or computer programmer — are pretty self-explanatory. But what if your answer sounds something more like this: fashion DJ or productivity coach or child sleep transformation coach? Odds are the conversation just got a little more interesting.
For more and more people, creating these unconventional careers to fit your talents — rather than shoehorning your skills into available job titles — is becoming the path to success. Here are the stories of six women who decided to stop looking for jobs they could fill and instead, created jobs they found fulfilling.
Jenn Harris grew up playing golf with her father. So, as an adult, when she noticed how her female colleagues reacted to the game, she was dumbfounded. “These women in business have so much confidence in their careers,” she says. “They have so much confidence when they’re in the board room. And then you put a club in their hand and you give them a little white ball and they freak out.”
By doing so, women are putting themselves at a disadvantage, Harris says. She knows this from personal experience: One of her first jobs out of college was for a defense contractor. When she learned there was a golf tournament with clients scheduled, she eagerly signed up — only to be told by her supervisor that she could not attend. “I would assume his reason was because I was too junior,” says Harris. “He didn't think I had the ability to talk with the admirals. What he didn't understand is that golf is a place that levels the playing field for everyone, no matter what your age, specialty or gender is.”
A few weeks later, a client invited her personally to join him on the links. From that moment on, her career changed. The client requested her on big projects. And, within nine months, she was promoted. Golf, she realized, wasn’t just a game. It was the way business got done.
“I wanted to create a space where women could learn what I knew and do exactly what I did,” says Harris. So she took a leap of faith, quit the defense contracting job, moved to San Diego and in 2012 started her own female-focused golf consulting business. She specializes in teaching women golf etiquette, how to network on the golf course and how to build relationships. Along with training sessions, she hosts golf happy hours and clinics. She recruits clients through her golf happy hours, webinars and corporate speaking engagements.
Harris explains to clients that playing golf isn’t just about networking and making business deals. It’s about figuring out exactly who your client is and how best to meet her needs. “On the golf course, in about two holes, I can figure out who a person is: How they’re going to do business. Are they competitive or not? Do they have integrity; do they not have integrity? Are they selfish?” Harris says. “All of those characteristics I can figure out based on the behaviors they portray on the golf course.” And, she’s teaching others to do the same.
Lindsay Luv started her career in a back-office job in the music industry, working on brand management for artists such as The Raveonettes and putting together music campaigns and events. While at one of those parties, she met a DJ who gave her a bold idea: “‘You know so much about music,’” he said. “‘You should try deejaying.’ So I took it on as a hobby — and it became a full-time career.”
Only Luv wasn’t content with just being any old club DJ. Instead, she took it one step further. What if she could also combine her love of fashion with her love of music? Luv soon became known in New York City as the DJ who crafted great mashups and remixes, and looked incredibly good while doing it. Soon she was earning more as a DJ than her day job — so she quit. Her DJ work soon evolved into creating playlists for major brands such as Victoria’s Secret, which are played in the stores, on the runway and available on music services like Spotify.
“There’s a soundtrack to each moment,” says Luv. “That’s what I’m there to provide. I do that both on the scene as a DJ and off the scene creating playlists that are inspired by the brand. So for Abercrombie, it might be young and youthful. It’s a little bit rock and roll but [also] like pop. Whereas Victoria’s Secret is girlie, it’s fresh and fun and flirty.”
The road from amateur DJ to professional fashion DJ was paved by lots of late nights and hard work. During the day, she practiced in empty nightclubs. Then she would be given the opportunity to play on a random Tuesday night, with the caveat that she’d have to bring in the crowds herself. Once those gigs took off, Luv’s reputation did as well. And soon, she moved from the club scene to solely deejaying celebrity and fashion events.
Today, Luv has created a brand that has managers and agents seeking her out, not the other way around. “You have to build everything on your own first,” she says. “And that takes a lot of hustle. You have to really love what you do and really put yourself out there.”
There are doulas who help support a woman through the grueling hours of childbirth. And then there are doulas like Jill Reiter, who helps them navigate the grueling first weeks and months of motherhood.
After the birth of her fourth child, Reiter wanted a career but didn’t see herself returning to her job as a middle-school teacher. She’d always loved working with children and had fond memories of helping her aunts with their new babies when she was a teenager. She was inspired by a friend who was a NICU nurse, but was not interested in getting the requisite master’s degree. Her friend, instead, recommended she take a postpartum doula training session.
She’d never heard of the profession before — it only became certified by DONA International in 2002 — but the more she investigated, the more excited she became. By her first training session, she was hooked. “Everything just fell into place,” Reiter says. “I found that I have a huge passion for supporting moms in their postpartum period.” Plus, she’d be running her own business and setting her own hours — a huge plus for her as a working mom.
Being a postpartum doula includes teaching new moms how to change a diaper and give a bath, providing emotional support while breastfeeding and helping women through postpartum depression and anxiety. “American culture doesn’t really support new mothers, so if they don’t have families or close friends nearby to support them, they look for other people to give them support,” says Reiter. “Postpartum doulas grew out of that need.”
Today, Reiter runs her own business, which she markets through her website and Baby Basics classes she teaches at places such as Babies 'R' Us. When she’s hired as a doula, most client sessions run three hours, and how frequently she visits depends on client preference. Her prime objective is to support the new mother, but the real satisfaction comes from seeing her come into her own. “Seeing a mom go from stumbling and tired to confident and feeling like she can make good decisions for her family — it’s really a powerful thing,” Reiter says. “Having a postpartum doula gives you a jumpstart on that feeling of, ‘Okay I can make good decisions, and I don’t have to do what my mom says, or [what] my friend says worked for her, I can do what works for me.’”
While in business school at New York University, Selena Soo was in a prime position to network with recruiters for jobs in consulting or consumer packaged goods. “None of the traditional jobs really appealed to me,” says Soo. After all, finding a job that allowed her to do what she does best — connect the right people to the right opportunities — didn’t fall into your traditional MBA job title. “I never thought I would make any money doing what I loved.”
But, that all changed when Soo realized her real assets weren’t her academic degrees or her resume — but rather the relationships she had built along the way. She was a “super-connector” who had a talent for knowing people, developing relationships and creating strategic partnerships. After years of doing this work for others in the role of business development and operations consultant, and watching them gain the glory, Soo had an epiphany: “I reached the point where I realized I wanted my own brand.”
Today, Soo helps experts, authors and coaches amplify their message and get the credit they deserve — and she gets the credit for helping them get there. Her company, S2 Groupe, started in 2012, provides assistance with business strategy, branding, public relations, and copy editing — and helps build strategic partnerships. Her “Publicity Mastermind,” a $24,000 one-year coaching program, helps clients learn how to get information about their product or service to the influencers who can create new business opportunities. “My clients want to position themselves in a way that in a flash someone’s like, ‘You’re amazing. I want to work with you,’” says Soo. “So, I help them with that.”
To get where she is today, Soo used her own connections to learn from business coaches such as Ramit Sethi and Marie Forleo. Her first foray into coaching was a $600 class called “Elevate your Brand.” Using her email list, she enrolled seven students immediately — meaning she figured out how to earn more than $4,000 for a two-day class. Soo realized she was onto something and started working with a business coach, Monica Shah, who helped her develop her own coaching workshop and mastermind class. Now, Soo’s Publicity Mastermind class accounts for 95% of her clients.
Soo considers herself “the luckiest person in the world” to have created a job that maximizes her skill while allowing her to do work she truly enjoys. “If I were to wake up in the morning and be like, ‘What could I do if I could do anything?’ it’s exactly this and I’m actually getting paid for it,” she says. “I can’t even believe it.”
As a single girl living in New York City, Tamara Myles had her dream job: She managed advertising accounts for fashion and beauty clients. While glamorous, the job was also cut-throat. “We were a boutique agency, and it was one account manager servicing multiple accounts,” Myles said. “We had to be extremely organized, and it came naturally to me.” Her systems were so well-regarded, in fact, that her bosses asked her to teach the other account executives how to manage their time and tasks as efficiently as she did.
Then in 2005, Myles became a mother and her priorities changed. She decided to leave her job and be a stay-at-home mom. But, by the time her baby was six months old, Myles was itching for her next challenge. She heard of a group called the National Association of Professional Organizers and was flabbergasted. “I flew to their annual conference, and it was just like finding my dream,” Myles says. “I couldn’t believe people got paid to do what came so naturally to me.”
Myles knew she had stumbled upon her next career path. She asked friends and family if she could come in and reorganize their closets and playrooms, using the photos of her work for marketing. Soon, she started taking on residential clients. And then, slowly, business clients started seeking out her services. “They were having me organize their office, and it became really obvious that the problem wasn’t the piles of paper,” says Myles. “The problem was really time management.”
Myles started learning as much as she could about that topic. In the process, she came up with a personalized approach that became a template for her business clients: Disorganization is the biggest symptom of bad time management, and until you get organized, you cannot properly manage your time. “First you get control of your physical space and files and know where things are, and then you can start worrying about electronic organization — taking charge of your emails and your files on your computer and all of that,” she says. “Then you can then start thinking about time management.”
Since finding her niche as a productivity coach, Myles has reached the nirvana that comes with doing work you love. “For me, it’s about passion,” she says. “I can’t wait to share my ideas with people and help them improve their lives.”
Tamiko Kelly was comfortably employed in the HR department of a major bank and yet couldn’t get one thing out of her system: babies. She just loved working with babies. And so she started taking on night-time nanny gigs — just for the fun of it. She had been a nanny to pay her way through college, and all her life had been the person always trying to hold whatever baby was in the room with her.
She enjoyed the night-time gigs, and at the same time started noticing a pattern among her clients. “The parents would come home and just be astonished that their kids were fast asleep in bed,” says Kelly. “They were always like, ‘How did you do that?’”
Kelly, who has no children of her own, couldn’t understand why the parents were so astonished. How could it be that anyone wouldn’t get a good night’s sleep? And yet, she kept meeting parent after parent who was so sleep deprived they would give anything — or any amount — just to know how to do what came to Kelly so easily.
In 2008, after both her parents passed away from cancer, Kelly had an epiphany: It was time to get real about what she wanted to do with her life. “I started to get a grip on what life is and what I wanted to do,” says Kelly. “I just figured out, ‘You know what? Corporate America is not for me. I tried it. I've done it. I'm good at it, but I don’t like it. So I need to trust God, trust myself and just know that if I do what I love, it will work out.’ So the moment I got that in my brain — and stuck it in my brain — and wouldn’t let anybody else tell me I'm crazy and I didn’t need to do it, it just started to come together.”
She quit the bank job and became a full-time nanny, all the while studying up on child sleep research and techniques. She then took a part-time nanny job and started consulting with sleep-deprived families. Soon she was able to quit nannying altogether and solely consult with families, either virtually by Skype or Google Chat or on-site. A 10-day, on-site session with Kelly starts at $5,000. “[After a session] one of the moms told me, ‘This cannot be my baby. She’s so happy. She wants to play,’” says Kelly. “It is just a miracle what sleep can do.” NEXT: 10 Habits of High Net-Worth Women
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