© CHERYL JUETTEN
Brian Kurth, founder
and president of
By Stephanie E. Ponder
IN AN IDEAL WORLD, what would your
job be? Winemaker? Photographer? Sports
announcer? The next question is, If [fill in
the blank] is your dream job, why aren’t
you pursuing it?
Brian Kurth has found a way to eliminate excuses while providing a safety net for
people who want to explore a new career. He
is the founder and president of VocationVacations, a business that lets people test-drive
their dream job—as a vacation—without giving up
the security of their current job.
You can don a mascot’s costume and put
together a theme night while learning what it takes
to be general manager of a baseball team. Perform
background checks and learn about surveillance
techniques while researching what it takes to be a
private investigator. Take a jewelry-making hobby to
the next level by learning about the art and business
aspects of being a jeweler.
VocationVacations does this by pairing the curious with a mentor in one of more than 50 occupations. The two work one-on-one over the course of
up to three days, allowing the “vocationer” to see
what being a wardrobe stylist, brew master or choreographer really entails.
Kurth, 40, had the idea for VocationVacations
while he was stuck in traffic on Chicago’s
Kennedy Expressway. Having worked in corporate America as director of product management
for more than a decade, he realized he needed to
pursue his own dreams.
“I was Dilbert working for the phone company,” Kurth tells The Connection. “I felt my life was
very beige. No one wanted to hear what I did; it
After quitting his job and traveling in the United
States for six months, he moved to Oregon, where he
worked in a vineyard. He started VocationVacations
as a hobby business in January 2004. In March he left
the vineyard. He still is the company’s lone full-time
employee; five part-timers complete the staff.
When he started the business three years ago,
Kurth, a Costco member, found mentors to share
their experience and expertise by “throwing myself
at them.” The group has grown from a handful of
people around Portland, Oregon, to nearly 300
mentors in 34 states.
In fact, mentors often come to him looking to
work with VocationVacations. To be accepted they
must have at least five years’ experience and be
employed full-time. “I need to know that they think,
‘I want to do this. I love what I do and want to share
it with others,’” he says.
Kurth says mentors typically approach him
because they want to share their vocational passion
with others who might feel stuck, they get media
exposure for their products and services, and they
get paid a mentoring fee.
It wasn’t until Kurth realized that some vocationers weren’t just “vocationing” for fun and were
actually looking to change careers that he identified
BRIAN KURTH started VocationVacations as a way to let people test-drive a dream job.
Here’s what you should know
before test-driving yours.
Age: While baby
boomers and generation Xers
make up most of his clients,
Kurth says he’s seen an
increase in the number of col-lege-age clients. The minimum
age for a VocationVacation is
18. If alcohol is involved, the
age requirement rises to 21.
Costs: The average cost
is $700 for two days with a
mentor, two phone calls from
a career coach and a VocationVacations journal. While prices
range from $349 for one day
up to $1,999 for three days,
Kurth stresses that 95 percent
of VocationVacations cost less
Selection: Areas such as
culinary arts, animals, entertainment and sports are the
most popular choices.
A complete list of VocationVacations, along with all you
need to know to explore your
dream job, is available at
a missing link. For individuals taking a VocationVacation as more than just an extension of a hobby,
the experience includes two phone conversations
with a career coach.
The first conversation is designed to get people
thinking about what they’d change about their current jobs, what an ideal workday would be like and
what they’re hoping to learn. The career coach digs a
little deeper in the second conversation to identify,
for example, what three changes vocationers are
ready to make to move themselves forward.
“All we offer is to test-drive one’s dream job,”
says Kurth. “We are not the Holy Grail or cure-all,
but we’re a great kick in the you-know-where to
help people move forward in their personal and
professional due diligence.”
Proof that Kurth has struck a nerve lies in the
fact that an impressive 20 to 25 percent of the people who have taken a VocationVacation have