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Profit from Experience: The Key to Your Right Livelihood May Be Right in Your Own Backyard

Valerie and her rescue dog,
"Cokie Roberts"

By Valerie Young

This article originally appeared in Issue 192 of the Changing Course Newsletter.

We all know the story of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Swept away to the enchanting but forbidding Land of Oz by a tornado, Dorothy endures all manner of challenges in an attempt to achieve her one and only dream of returning home to her family in Kansas. It is not until the end of her frightfully wondrous journey that Dorothy has an epiphany. "…if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again," she tells Glenda, the Good Witch of the North, "I won't look any further than my own backyard." More often than not, it’s the same way with career options.

Too many people either fail to see – or outright dismiss – how the personal experiences in their own "backyard" are ripe with possibilities for income streams or indeed complete careers. Every small business I ever had originated from some event, realization, or challenge I’d personally experienced.

In the early 80s, I took a course at the University of Massachusetts called Dynamics of White Racism with a dynamic and utterly passionate doctoral student named Judith Katz. To say the course had a profound effect on my world view would be a gross understatement. So much so that I didn’t just want to study with Judy Katz – I wanted to BE Judy Katz. (If you’re interested in the field of diversity training you can read an interview with Judith at That single course also set me on my future career direction.

A senior at the time, I went on to enroll in the same graduate school Judy was just getting ready to graduate from. A few years later, I was the founding coordinator of what is now the Social Justice program there. I paid my way through school as a self-employed facilitator conducting training programs on racial awareness and diversity for resident assistants (dorm counselors) at colleges and universities around the country.

When it comes to actually applying your experience to your work, who you are - your personality, your temperament, your skills - are as important as the thing you love to do. In this case, the key to my success as a speaker standing up in front of audiences as large as 400 to 1200 people about potentially loaded "isms" was my sense of humor. I used it to effectively diffuse tension, minimize unproductive guilt, and get everyone - regardless of race, gender, religion, physical ability or sexual orientation - to take the issues seriously and yet also learn by laughing at themselves.

I loved being a graduate student. The hours were pretty flexible and although I had assignments to complete, in a lot of ways I was my own boss. Things were going pretty well… that is until it came time to actually hunker down and write a 200-plus page dissertation. That’s when the self-doubt, procrastination, and intense feelings of intellectual fraudulence set in. It’s also when I stumbled upon a study in a psychological journal on the so-called Impostor Phenomenon by Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes.

No one could have felt like more of a fraud then I did. I mean who was I kidding? I was this 24-year old, working class, first generation college kid – and the only one to go on to graduate school – in a doctoral program with all these mature, much smarter, and far more worldly professionals. I mean, who did I think I was? I’m still not sure how I managed to slip through the admissions process undetected. But there I was. So rather than waste three years of course work, I realized I’d better finish what I’d started and get out before I was discovered.

That’s when it hit me. If I have to write the darned dissertation anyway, why not focus my own research on understanding perfectionism, fear of failure, ambivalence about success, chronic self-doubt and other self-limiting patterns and philosophies that seem to plague so many women and quite a few men?

Studying the thing that was the most troublesome to me at the time was what helped me work through it. The writing part proved to be every much the ordeal I knew it would be, but at least I knew I’d have a publishable document at the end. Researching achievement blocks and interviewing other women from different fields and stages of their careers help me to lower my own internal yardstick to a far more attainable human level. As exciting, I like to think that the over 30,000 people – men and women alike – that have attended my workshop on How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone Seems to Think You Are have benefited from my experience.

From here, my career took a detour that led me, at age 30, to take my first real job-job. What a change from the comparatively care-free life of a perpetual student. Talk about your rude awakening. You see, my consultant friends at the time were pulling down the big bucks consulting to corporations. Most of my clients, in contrast, were colleges or professional women’s organizations.

So I decided to take a job in the corporate management development and training department at a Fortune 500 company so I could 1) demystify the corporate world (that took about a week) and 2) earn my corporate credentials to take with me when I returned to consulting. My plan was to stay in the cube world for a year, two tops. After a year and a half, I switched to a management job in strategic marketing and five years after that, there I was – well-paid but miserable.

When my mom passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack at the too young age of 61, I realized life was too short to not work at what you love. For the next year and a half, I spent just about every waking hour of my personal life plotting my exit strategy. Little did I know at the time that I would go on to take everything I was learning about finding your calling, about the beauty of multiple income streams, and what it takes to change course and turn it into my vocation.

There are lots of ways to use your own personal experiences, and the unique insights and lessons learned along the way, to guide you onto a new career path. Take some time to reflect on your own life and think about how you, too, might profit from experience.

There are 6 comments. Add yours.

  1. Hester Johnson Moore

    Wow! here I am reading about myself…looking for a good paying job at 57 with a degree in communications and theater…create and facilitated many workshops (well a few) with youths and somewhat cannot keep the momento up when I know being in front of 1, 100, or 1,000 is no problem for me but somehow… somehow…I just know if put some efforts, but I worry so about having an income/working…I have heard it many many times before year after year…Hester you are sharp…start your own thing…and I feel I don’t have enough education, who would listen?(when strangers tell me that I am capitivating when I tell my stories.” yet I have not been able to move forward professionly forward…just on my own..thanks for this article..its like I know it is in me …how do bring it out…

  2. I worked in software development for the same company for the past 20 years. I enjoyed the work but certainly wasn’t passionate about it. What really excited me was teaching parenting classes. I volunteered to teach a few times a year and received tremendous feedback from parents (it was also a great way to keep up my parenting skills!). When I was laid off a year ago, I decided to follow my passion and created an online parenting class. It’s been far more difficult than I imagined starting a company but I love working on something I care so deeply about.

  3. Valerie, I suffer tremendously from those same feelings you describe in your “Bright and Capable” workbook. I start a business, get all excited about it, then am hit across the head with thoughts of, “what am I doing?” “There are people much more capable and educated than I doing this same thing.” “I’m nobody, who do I think I am?”

    Your “Bright and Capable” workbook really helped me work through the thought processes that invade my new business excitement. You give the tools to be mentally and emotional healthy and set the record straight in my head. Grand life’s work Valerie!

    Michelle Hill
    Winning Proof

  4. Paula

    Good point re: sense of humor. I used to think of my sense of humor as an irrelevant personality quirk that had nothing to do with Work and Life and all the truly important stuff. But finally I realized that my quirky point of view is central to my character — and one of my gifts to the world, because I can get people to think about things from a different perspective by making them laugh.

  5. Della Pitre

    I too suffered from all the fears that go along with starting your own business…I joined the Fast Track Community to try to force those fears and figure out some way to change my life and get the business that I’ve always felt I should have. At first, I thought my direction was going to lead me into the field of Home Staging because I always had people telling me how wonderful my decorating skills were…sadly I listened to them and bought all kinds of courses and books to tell me how to start and run a Home Staging business…even picked out a business name ‘New Look Designs’ but in the end, I could not move forward because I completely felt like an impostor!

    Instead, I have been volunteering over the past year and a half to two years by creating scene settings (room environments) and making costumes and props for a youth ministry group that I belong to at my church and also for my son’s high school musicals. By doing so, I came to the realization that I am passionate about this type of work…I absolutely love creating things from nothing, whether it be a costume, a prop or whatever is needed to make these Lifenights happen. Not to mention, it’s something that I had done when I was a teenager, which is work on the costumes for my high school musical…I always loved working on costumes even when I was a young girl of 14. I remember asking for a Barbie at that age so I could make ball gowns for her…it was the first time I got what I asked for for Christmas, also the first time I asked for something in particular too!

    I have also been throwing parties for these teens as well for Halloween, Christmas, and New Years…and I realized that by doing these types of things…it will eventually lead me to create a new business venture in the near future…I want to open a party planning business incorporating possible costumes, props and I even would like to make puppets as well. Because I even dabbled in doll-making. These are all things that I know in my gut, I’m very comfortable doing…so I’m very excited for the first time about the possibilities. Not to mention, for the first time I feel a step closer to my dream of owning my own business doing something I feel not only comfortable doing but love to do! Thanks Valerie!

  6. Wow — there are SO MANY talented people here who have wonderful gifts and ideas. As some of you have already discovered, once you start taking action things take on a life of their own. Yes, things take time. But look back at the how fast the last one, two, four or six years came and went. If you had started then look how far along you’d be by now.

    One of the best ways I’ve found to get either started and/or to act despite our NORMAL self-doubts, is to think about the people out there who will benefit from our gifts. All the kids who will smile because of Della’s gifts or Hester’s words. The parents — and therefore — the children who will benefit from Kathy’s parenting classes… and on and on. We hurt others when we hold back. The world needs your gifts.

    Thanks all for sharing!

    Valerie Young
    Dreamer in Residence


A New Direction

I decided to take the Work @ What You Love Workshop and also work one-on-one with Valerie. The workshop explored so many unusual and unexpected solutions to my specific questions. I made so many new connections to what clearly works for me in crea...

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Curvology Studio

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