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Turning a passion into a profession

Careful planning - and knowing there will be sacrifices - are key to taking the leap

Richard Brauman, founder of The Little Pearl, introduces pearl caviar to Lucy Haskins at a Whole Foods. The former Federal Reserve Bank employee left a career in financial markets to launch a food business that plays to his passion: aquaculture. Richard Brauman, founder of The Little Pearl, introduces pearl caviar to Lucy Haskins at a Whole Foods. The former Federal Reserve Bank employee left a career in financial markets to launch a food business that plays to his passion: aquaculture. (Wiqan Ang for the Boston Globe)
Email|Print| Text size + By Kate M. Jackson
Globe Correspondent / January 13, 2008

For years, job seekers have been advised to "do what you love and the money will follow." But while following your passion may feed the soul, can it really put food on the table?

Yes, so far, for Rich Brauman. A former staffer at the Federal Reserve Bank, Brauman ditched a career in financial markets to launch a food business that plays to his passion: aquaculture.

"On a personal level, it's something I felt like I had to do," said Brauman, 32. "I had followed aquaculture since high school. It was my hobby and my passion."

And it is one he planned out carefully. He got a degree in aquaculture while working at the Fed, and then left the central bank in 2001 to enroll in the entrepreneur program at Babson College. He also launched two websites devoted to fishing tackle.

Then, three years ago, Brauman launched The Little Pearl. Based in Somerville, the company sells fresh, preservative-free caviar to Whole Foods markets, local hotels, upscale restaurants such as No. 9 Park, and through mail order. He is also working on new methods of harvesting caviar. In the meantime, Brauman spends a lot of time traveling around the country to find the best sources of caviar. "I've been to Northwest Alaska. Southern Idaho, North Carolina," he said. "Personally, I'd like to do this my whole life."

Brauman's studied path to turning his passion into a profession is a model many could follow. According to Eric Winegardner, the director of product adoption for Monster.com, this kind of lifelong pursuit breaks into two camps: "Those who don't know what their passion is and those who do but can't figure how to tie it to employment," he said. "You've really got to dig in and do your research. Get on the Internet, tap into your support network, find someone who does a job that you think you may be interested in doing and ask about it."

For those who are still unsure of their calling, Winegardner suggests taking a self-assessment test online. "It's a great first step; it's free and can open up a whole new world for someone pondering a career change," he said.

Monster's self-assessment tool - called Jasper - was created by a team of behavioral scientists and is designed to identify someone's workplace strengths and styles, he said. In a matter of minutes, you can find out if you're more suited to working in a large, publicly traded company or are the entrepreneurial type.

Brauman knew he was clearly the latter type. And his approach to realizing his dream was well-conceived because he was not only doing something that created value for himself, but for others as well, said Steve Shapiro, a motivational career speaker from Quincy.

"If you're serious about pursuing your passion, you have to do your homework and put yourself through training and only make the leap when you're ready," he said. "And once you are, you can't just dip your toe, you have to jump in with both feet."

Shapiro said it's important not to get restricted or intimidated by the reality checks that will be thrown at your dreams, but to understand that there will be sacrifices along the way.

Dwight Schultheis and his two business partners all left six-figure jobs in the cosmetics industry to start up Getamenity.com, a company that develops quality shaving and grooming products for men.

"When we decided we were going to do this, we brought our spouses together to discuss the fact that we would have to forgo salaries for a year and not take any money out of the company," he said. "And to cut our living expenses, we all ended up moving back in with our parents at some point."

Schultheis, 32, said it takes a certain type of person to strike out on his own. "If you're 23 years old and single, that's one thing. If you're in your mid-30s and about to have kids, there is a different pain tolerance. Thank God we have a huge level of pain tolerance," he said.

With people working so many hours these days, there is much more of an emphasis on aligning where you work with doing what you love, said Kip Hollister, chief executive of Hollister recruiting firm.

Hollister suggested examining whether you have "transferable skills" that could open the door to another profession or passion.

Jason Keith was able to use his best transferable skill, writing, after ditching his passion for a "real job." After college, Keith spent five years trying to make it as a sports writer. He started out as a sports editor for a community newspaper, waiting for a big break that never came. He worked 60 hours a week, covered three towns, and took a part-time job at Dunkin' Donuts, yet barely earned enough money to get by.

"Truth be told, I set myself back. I had the talent but not the connections to break into a larger newspaper," said Keith, 31, of Waltham.

Keith finally threw in the towel and started a career in public relations. While he wouldn't trade his five years as a sports writer, he said he's still paying for them. "It will take me awhile to get out of the financial hole I dug for myself. At this point if given the choice between doing what I'm doing now or being a beat reporter for the Red Sox, I'd choose what I'm doing now."

Keith's experience is a sobering reminder of the risks in pursuing a passion: It doesn't often pay. Career consultant Marty Nemko said millions of people have followed their passion and still haven't earned enough to even pay back student loans, let alone earn a middle-class living.

"The problem is that too many people crave the same few careers. So, you have to be a star or extremely well connected to get the job," said Nemko, whose article "Do What You Love and You'll Starve" appears in a recent issue of Kiplinger's Personal Finance.

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