Odd Jobs

Never work a day in your life by choosing a career that you actually love

Karl Andrews is a craftsman and (although he’ll deny the label) an artist who still creates the iconic neon signs that lit up the youth of the last century — a job he loves.

Karl Andrews is a craftsman and (although he’ll deny the label) an artist who still creates the iconic neon signs that lit up the youth of the last century — a job he loves.

Never work a day in your life by choosing a career that you actually love

Confucius is credited with saying that if you choose to do something you love, you will never have to work a day of your life. Incidentally, that particular bit of wisdom has also been attributed in one form or another to everyone from Plato to Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. Even Donald Trump jumped on the wisdom train by recently parroting the same point of view. He made it sound like an original thought, but who would expect less from the Donald?

Still, it seems like good advice.

But the economy is tough these days and the world is changing at a pace that wasn’t even imagined a decade ago. Is it still possible to find a career that will give you joy, provide a sense of accomplishment, and put a smile on your face every morning?

Not likely, if you follow traditional wisdom.

A recent study in the U.S. listed the 10 best careers for young people to consider. At the top of the list were all the IT positions. Next were accountants, financial risk management executives and energy engineers (with an emphasis on managing carbon offsets). Lawyers came next with this pithy quote attached: “has there ever been a time when we didn’t need lawyers?”

Medical liaison officers (working for a drug company), and technical claims insurance actuaries and underwriters were also included on the list. HR professionals were close behind with a notation that downsizing meant that HR pros would be needed to help in the ‘culling’ process.

Finally, near the end of the list came teachers, nurses and other health care providers. Apparently greed trumps working for the common good.

With the exception of the last few, it’s not a list that many would find inspiring.

But perhaps the answer is to eschew the traditional list and consider a career that is a little outside the norm. What follows is a sampling of just those sorts of careers. They might be untraditional and may never make the Top 10 lists, but the people we interviewed who do these jobs had one thing in common. They love their work.

Neon Glass Bender

Karl Andrews is a craftsman and (although he’ll deny the label) an artist. He works for Landmark Sign in Langford and is one of a very select group of individuals who can still create the iconic neon signs that lit up the youth of the last century. Although many of these signs have been replaced by LED lights under plastic sheathes, the vibrant colours of neon simply cannot be duplicated.

“Some companies, like the B.C. Liquor Commission, will not take anything but neon,” says Andrews. “I’m glad.”

Andrews’ hands are scarred and callused from 15 years of heating and bending glass tubing. He holds a thin rubber tube in his mouth as he works, a tube connected to the glass tubing so that Andrews can blow with just enough pressure to keep the glass from collapsing while being careful not to blow too hard and bulge the glass. After heating, he has only seconds to make the bend. Each bend is done individually.

What follows is a complicated process of cleaning the tubing, injecting gas and color and energizing the sign. It can be dangerous (the cleaning is done by flowing 30,000 volts through the tubing) but the results are breathtaking.

“I could be an electrician; I have my ticket,” Andrews says, “But I love doing this work. I see a sign I’ve made and I feel real proud.”

Prospective glass benders can either apprentice with someone like Andrews or take a very intensive course of study in, where else, Las Vegas.

Adult Store Manager

At 23, Becky Davidson may seem too young to manage the challenge. After all, selling a selection of erotic lingerie, adult toys and sex aids would seem to be a pretty tough career choice.

Still, you’d do well not to sell Davidson short. She manages the Victoria Susan James store and her passion for the business is immediately obvious. “We’re about helping people here,” she says. “We have some men and women who come in with medical challenges. Others are very inhibited and embarrassed. We make every interaction sensitive to the customer’s needs while keeping an open mind and making sure we’re not at all judgmental.”

It’s all about creating a comfort level with clients. “This store is not just about pleasure; it’s about health as well,” she explains. “We sometimes forget that sexual health is part of an overall equation. People’s bodies are at different places at various ages and we have to be sensitive to that.”

Of course Davidson could move into managing more traditional retail stores and is considering education that would make that possible at some time in the future. “I may still stay in this business though,” she explains. “It’s nice to help people and bring some joy into their lives. Anyone can sell dresses. This requires a lot more people skills.”

So there you have it. Retail management can be more than carrying dresses to a fitting room.

Personal Chef

Chef Campbell Kearns has a passion for food and a commitment to professional service. He trained at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and North Island College and was on the fast track to success in a very demanding field.

But Kearns had a problem. Like too many people before him, he discovered that the reality of his chosen career was not what he expected. He found that the demands of working as an executive chef in some of the best restaurants in the country were anything but fun.

“It was awful,” Kearns says. “I was responsible, not only for what I prepared, but for the work of up to 20 others in the kitchen. The pressure was tremendous.”

That’s when the concept of being a Personal Chef came to mind. He started a company called ‘Entrée’ and hasn’t looked back. “It was a way of getting out of the business while staying in the part of it that I loved.”

Now Kearns prepares personal meals and dinner parties for a full range of customers; folks who are too busy and successful to take time to cook, yet are sick of the restaurant experience. He also has clients who are unable to cook for themselves. Either way, he can indulge his love for cooking without the stress of the very unforgiving restaurant business.

“I bring five-star dining to your home,” he says. “I love it.”

It’s a prime example of thinking outside the box — or the restaurant kitchen.

Mortician’s Makeup Artist

Most of the people who get into work in the funeral business do so because of a personal experience with a good funeral director. So says Janet Ricciuti, executive director of the Funeral Service Association of British Columbia.

“They have experienced the death of a loved one and had a good experience with a professional service that inspires them to get into the field themselves,” says Ricciuti. “And it’s a tough business. It’s part counsellor, part social worker and part event planner. You need for everything to be perfect.”

Morticians train for two years and complete an apprenticeship that exposes them to all aspects of the business. When they are finally certified, they are ready for anything.

Still, one part of the service that can be challenging is the preparation of the deceased. No one wants to see their loved ones looking unnatural in makeup that was not what they would have worn in life.

To address that challenge, some morticians have created a very specialized and highly unusual career. They employ individuals who could be helping the living with their makeup; working as cosmetologists to bring out the beauty of their clients. These people are brought in to work with the dead, giving them a final bit of respect and caring.

There’s no joking about this job. It’s a calling that uses skills in an unusual context to do some good for others.


“And IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIeeeeeIIIIIIII will always love youuuuuuuuuooooooo.”

Alright, it’s not like that. Still, in a world where individuals can be targets by virtue of their wealth, politics or corporate affiliation, personal security is a thriving business.

“People assume that you have to be a former law enforcement or military type to work in this field,” says Sunil Ram, the director of operations for Executive Security Services International. “That’s not really the case.”

The truth is that a good security firm has a wide range of professionals working on either a full-time or part-time contract basis. “It can be important to have good observational skills; skills in languages . . . even specialty skills like medicine. We’ve had clients who have medical issues and we need more than shooters to keep them safe in third-world countries. A heart attack can kill you as quickly as a bullet.”

While it’s true that it’s important to have a certain number of staff who are trained in the more hazardous aspects of personal security, it is just as important that the people with that training are intelligent and circumspect. “When we provide security at the Toronto Film Festival, you can’t tell which of the people in the crowd are our people,” says Ram. “That’s the kind of person we’re looking for.”

Ram started in the business some 25 years ago after a short time in the military. “It didn’t take long to learn that the business was not what everyone imagines,” he says. “But it is rewarding and exciting work.”

It’s also a job that’s unlikely to ever get boring. M

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