Fairy Godfather in Story behind the Career Guide

photo of author as child when story beginsHere’s the story behind The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People. It explains why I wrote the book. The story is a bit like a fairy tale. Although, instead of a godmother like Cinderella’s, I had a fairy godfather. Well, my magical friend was actually a well-known author. Better than that, he was the father of the entire career book genre. He had become my hero, even before I met him. Then he became my mentor.

But I’m getting ahead of my story.

Once upon a time . . .

I became a reader.

On the very first day of summer vacation when I was 10, I went outside to play and broke my arm. My mother put my arm in a sling, settled me on the sofa, and brought me a truckload of Nancy Drew mysteries. I began to read. Soon I was reading a book a day. By the time I was 14, I was devouring Dickens. I had excelled at biology in high school, and the path at my feet was to become a physician like my parents. But an accidental broken arm had turned me into a reader. As an undergrad at Stanford, I chose to major in English.

Vaguely aware that my expensive college education ought to lead to employment, I kicked that can down the road. I’d be clever and keep going to school until I became an English professor. Then my mother sent me a Wall Street Journal clipping entitled “The Welder with the PhD. ” It seemed there weren’t enough jobs for those of us with advanced degrees in the impractical arts. Nevertheless, I couldn’t imagine anything finer than helping others understand and appreciate literature.

Being a pigheaded heroine . . .

I made a bad career choice.

My coach turned into a pumpkin at the University of Virginia, where I discovered that I lacked the talent, as well as the motivation, required for literary criticism. I left Virginia with a Master’s degree to try teaching. But two short months into my first job as an instructor of freshman composition, I despaired. I liked my students, but I disliked repeating and explaining. I also felt uncomfortable as the center of attention in the classroom. In short, I did not want to teach.

No wicked stepsister had tripped me up. The mistake was of my own making. Now I needed to find a better-fit career. I headed—where else?—to the library. Unfortunately, the conventional career books were focused on how to find a job in business, which was plainly not my path. By now I was in considerable debt. I had no idea of what to do for my life’s work. My mother suggested a writing career, but I told her huffily that I had no desire to write because I had nothing to say.

I found hope—and an idea for a book.

A friend gave me the 1981 edition of What Color is Your Parachute? It was like throwing a drowning person a lifeline. I faithfully completed the exercises in Parachute, regained some hope for my employability, explored my options, and chose to go into counseling and learn more about psychology. After a couple years of teaching freshman composition on a part-time, temporary basis, I returned to graduate school. I’d found a program in Counseling Psychology at the University of Washington. It was a short commute from my dingy Seattle apartment with its forty-inch vista of the neighboring hotel’s brick side.

Professor Jerald Forster paused during one of his lectures on career counseling to comment that someone ought to write a career book for Holland’s Artistic types. He explained that they tended to cruise the self-help section of the bookstore looking for help. I lifted my head from taking notes, sat back in my chair, and realized: I could do that! Specializing in vocational psychology, I gathered the academic research necessary to write a self-help book for my fellow Artistic types. I even focused my dissertation on that purpose. I figured I’d already done the emotional research, learning first-hand how discouraging it can be for a creative person to find fulfilling employment in our breathtakingly practical world of work.

My fairy godfather waved his magic wand.

Eventually, I got my book proposal off to Ten Speed Press, the publisher of my beloved Parachute. At this point in the story, I was working as a staff psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh Counseling Center. Six months dragged by as I checked my mailbox with daily dread. Then an editor at Ten Speed showed my proposal to Dick Bolles, the lifesaving author of Parachute. Dick’s response was to tell Ten Speed that “they had to publish my book.” He invited me to California at his personal expense, so that he could serve as my writing coach.

Feeling like Cinderella heading off to the castle, I departed for the San Francisco Bay Area. I sat beside my fairy godfather in his sunny and scenic back yard and absorbed his guidance. By this time I was nearly 40, had counseled at least a thousand career clients, and believed I had quite a bit to say. I wrote the first edition of The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People—the book I’d looked for but not found in 1980—so that my readers wouldn’t have to learn the hard way, as I had. Dick waved his magic wand and urged career counselors from coast to coast to buy the book. He claimed it was one of the very best he’d read in the past ten years.

The 4th edition was recently published.

Now, more than twenty years after the first edition (and more then fifty since I broke my arm), literature remains my first love. I have retired from practicing psychology to write fiction. Although I’d minor in psychology if I could start my education over again, I feel truly blessed to have majored in English. It’s been awhile since I’ve worked with career clients, so I enticed the lovely Carrie Pinsky, a Fort Collins career counselor, to help me bring the fourth edition of the Career Guide into the digital age. You can find the book, or request it, at either your favorite bookstore or local library.