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Feature

Tara Zmuda.

After always dreaming of going to cooking school, U of M alum Tara Zmuda is a student at The Culinary Institute of America.

Answering the call: In pursuit of work that matters

In pursuit of work that matters

By Martha Coventry

From M, fall 2004



Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

-Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver's challenge, from her poem "The Summer Day," rings out like a clarion call. Do what you love. Make your days count.

That urge to do the right thing with our life can come to us at any age. Not just at 50, when we wake in the middle of the night, afraid that we've squandered our days, but also at 26, when the 9-to-5 looks like prison and we just want to do something meaningful with our lives. And the urge isn't always borne of angst. The determination to find our calling can arise from respect for our own gifts and dreams.

Career and Lifework Planning

The College of Continuing Education's Career and Lifework Planning Services helps adults discover meaningful and satisfying activities that will enhance their own and other's lives. This resource is available for anybody interested in personal or professional development; you don't need to be a University of Minnesota alum to use the services.

Services include individual consultations, career planning workshops, career inventories, and free Returning to Learning seminars to find out about educational opportunities at the University of Minnesota (11/15,11/30, 12/15).

For more complete information, as well as some on-line tools and exercises, see College of Continuing Education or call 612-624-4000 or 800-234-6564.

During fall semester, the center offers the following classes. UMAA members receive a discount.

Who Am I? Clarifying Your Career and Lifework Goals

Wednesdays (two days)

Sep. 15 and 22 6:30-8:30 pm

CLC 0017 Sect 001 $65

Career Planning Workshop Series: Who Am I? What's Next for Me? and How Do I Get There?

Wednesdays (six days)

Sep. 15-Nov. 3 6:30-8:30 pm

CLC 0020 Sect 002 $155

What's Next for Me? Exploring Career and Educational Options

Wednesdays (two days)

Oct. 6 and 13 6:30-8:30 pm

CLC 0018 Sect 001 $65

How Do I Get There? Setting Goals and Taking Action

Wednesdays (two days)

Oct.27 and Nov. 11 6:30-8:30 pm

CLC 0019 Sect 002 $65

Remembering what you love

After Tara Zmuda graduated from the University in 1998 with a B.A. in international relations and a Spanish minor (she's two classes away from a double major in journalism), she wanted to join the Peace Corps. A small medical problem kept her out and it was then that she, in her words, began to flounder. "I worked at the U of M alumni association; I worked at the Minnesota Journalism Center; I worked at a food company, " says Zmuda. At 25, she didn't know what to do with her life.

"I think my generation is used to having a certain easy life style. We expect to find this perfect job when we graduate and everything will fall into place," says Zmuda. "But it doesn't work that way. Then you find yourself at 25, college-educated and unhappy, and what do you do about it? Do you admit you studied the wrong things? Do you dare go back to school?"

Zmuda realized that the one constant in her life has always been her love of food and that it was time to explore that sustaining interest. "The way I started figuring out the right path for me was to do a lot of informational interviews," says Zmuda. "I first thought I'd go into public relations around food or writing about food, but I realized that I really wanted to be more involved--hands-on."

She had always dreamed of going to culinary school and over the years had researched places all over the country. Two years ago, she applied to and was accepted by the Culinary Institute of America, one of the best cooking schools in the world. "It finally came to the point," Zmuda says, "when I knew that I had to do this now or it would never happen. I can't tell you how scary it was... financially, emotionally. But it was something I needed to do for me. I know now that no matter where I land, career-wise, it will always be with food."

Help along the way

Janet Pelto has been helping people find the right work for 15 years. As a counselor for the U's College of Continuing Education, she focuses on career changes for professional adults, with an emphasis on U of M alums.

Pelto's clients are usually between 30 and 55 years old and most are motivated to come see her, she says, by the thought that they are not contributing anything important to the world.

"There's a lot going on in the workplace these days and people are forced to make changes--by choice or by chance," says Pelto. "This instability creates more opportunities for people to ask, 'Is this the work I want to be doing?' As we baby boomers are getting older, having a meaningful life is more important. A lot of people did the high-powered corporate scene for a number of years and found it empty and meaningless. Now they're shifting their definition of success away from the financial and towards making a difference in the world."

For her, the career search process has two basic parts. "The first is to ask yourself, 'OK, what am I looking for?'" says Pelto. "You try to imagine what meaningful work would feel like. Not a specific job, but the feel of the right job. This exploration gets at your interests, your values, your skills, your personal style, and your passions. It's about self-awareness, self-assessment, self-reflection.

"The second part is, 'OK, now where can I find a job that feels this good?' This involves doing research, asking questions, going on informational interviews, trying on ideas, taking a class, doing volunteer work. This step is key for a person to discover the right work."

Life is too short

At 47, Dave Dalsveen had been writing software at an engineering firm for 17 years, and he decided he didn't want to do that for the rest of his life. He signed up for Pelto's classes, driving from Wisconsin every day for a week. "There were a lot of other students who were in the same boat that I was and I was surprised to hear how similar their stories were to mine," says Dalsveen.

The class offered what Pelto says is crucial -objective support and feedback. "People could share their ideas without fear of being ambushed or criticized by one another," says Dalsvenn. "I really looked forward to going."

"I remind them that the right work for them is out there," says Pelto. "They will find it."

Although Dalsveen knew he wanted a different career, he only had an"inkling" that it might be in teaching. Years ago, during his last semester of college, a professor approached him and told him that he should think about going into teaching. "I'd never thought of that before," says Daslveen, "and it sounded really appealing to me. But at the time I had a job and the money was attractive. In a way, I sold out."

During his week in Pelto's class, he stayed open to other career possibilities, but the assessments he took and his own desires pointed straight at teaching. During the class, a colleague told him about an opening at a technical college. For practice, he thought he'd go through the application process, and "lo and behold, they offered me the job," says Dalsveen.

"I have a lot of work to do to get ready for the school year, but just the fact that I'm here and I'm trying feels really good to me," he says. "My father passed away this year and I had some other things happen in my life that weren't real positive, and I just thought life is too short not to try different things. So I just decided that I want to try this."

Practical matters

Financially, Dalsveen would have been better off staying in his engineering job, but he's doing something he's been thinking of trying for a long time. "The only downside," he says, "is that I waited so long."

Pelto has found that money is not the principal motivator in a career change and research in the field backs her up. But it's also something few people can ignore.

"Most people have mortgages and responsibilities and can't afford to totally start over," says Pelto. "They'd like to find more fulfilling work but also use as much of their skills and experiences as possible. Most people are willing to take a financial step down to find the right work, but not too far of a step down."

And, surprisingly, Pelto doesn't always advise people to "keep their day job" while they're finding what they'd really love to do. "It's an individual decision," she says, recounting the story of a client whose job stress was making him so ill that it was better to get out as soon as possible.

Pelto uses the example of a geode when she urges her clients along their path. A geode is a rock that looks unremarkable on the outside, but when split open reveals a beautiful heart of sparkling crystals. "I remind them that the right work for them is out there. They will find it," she says. "They need to look inside to find the answers. That's where they'll find the beauty. Look inside and be true to yourself."

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