Wednesday, April 16, 2008

You U: A Fast Way to Learn a New Profession

I have acquired professional-level skills in career counseling, journalism, rose hybridizing, screenplay writing, plus strong amateur-level skills as an actor and play director without ever having taken a course (let alone a degree) in any of the above.

I simply:

1. Google the topic to read key articles in the field.

2. Use Amazon to find the best books on the subject.

3. While reading those books, immediately start applying what I've learned: career counseling someone (for free while I was still a neophyte), writing columns and articles, breeding roses, writing a screenplay, auditioning for acting and directing roles.

4. I then solicit feedback from everyone from just-plain folks to world-class experts. For example, I discussed my rose hybridizing efforts with the world's leading hybridizers and visited their facilities. I sent drafts of my articles and screenplays to respected friends and to leading writers for review. I had top career counselors watch me do sessions and I watched them. In preparation for an audition, I took an acting lesson or two.

The results:

-- Over the past 20 years, I've had 2,800 career coaching clients and enjoy a 96% client satisfaction rate. The San Francisco Bay Guardian, on its cover, called me "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach."

-- For six years, I was career columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle, for three years at the Los Angeles Times, and now in my third year as Contributing Editor at U.S. News & World Report and columnist for

-- Three of my rose varieties are in commerce, distributed by Bailey's Nurseries, one of the world's premier distributors of no-spraying-required roses.

-- In the last four years, I have had four starring roles in plays. And in my directing debut, I won the Bay Area "Roar of the Crowd" award for the Bay Area's #1 audience-favorite entertainment of the week and "Best Director" award at Chanticleers Theatre.

-- Lew Hunter, Professor and Chair Emeritus of the preeminent UCLA screenwriting program called my screenplay, The Ugly Club, "a uniquely pleasurable experience that will make a wonderful film." Two significant Hollywood film studios are currently considering it.

Of course, you do have to be a self-starter and an apt learner for this learning strategy to work, but if you are, in a surprisingly large array of pursuits, you may be able to forgo State U, let alone Private U, in favor of You U.


Alexandra Levit said...

Hi Marty,

This is a great post. So many people go back for formal degrees merely because they think they should, and then they expect that career success will come automatically as a result. The truth is, if you're motivated to learn a skill set, oftentimes you can do it just as thoroughly on your own, for a lot less money. Thanks for pointing out yet another way that people can make progress toward a major career change by getting their feet wet a little at a time.

By the way, I'm pleased to meet you. I'm a twenty-something workplace expert and I hope to have the opportunity to talk in more detail soon.

Kind regards,

Alexandra Levit
Author, How'd You Score That Gig? and They Don't Teach Corporate in College
Blogger, Water Cooler Wisdom

Anonymous said...

Golda Meir says:


I admire your chutzpah and energy. However, I believe your greatest gift is your ability to market yourself. I think your talent is innate and it’s a blessing that a career in academia did not work out. What a waste that would have been! You have helped more people by being a career counselor. However, as a single person I must ask this: Do you feel that being married relieved some of the financial pressure while you were building your practice? I presume it would also help when it comes to health insurance. I am in my mid-40's and finally got a much coveted federal job as a writer. However, it is difficult to stomach the lying, deceitfulness, and waste of money that I see each day. In addition, writing is a collaborative effort in which the writer needs access to subject matter experts. (This type of writing is highly scientific and technical.) We are told to "just make it up." (Lack of subject matter access was also a problem in the private sector.) I would be very cautious in recommending federal writing jobs. I would love to become self-employed, but as a single person I need a method of transitioning because I cannot lose income and benefits. I believe a good start may be to investigate the web sites mentioned in your previous topic, “Making Money While You Sleep.”

aces said...

I'm glad you've found some success in your endeavors, but it looks to me that for 3 of the 4 things you mentioned, you're not yet able to make a living doing them. That's my definition of "professional-level."

It does look like you bootstrapped yourself into a successful career-counseling gig, but it took a PhD and 20 years' experience.

Can I really read and schmooze my way out of getting a PhD that can take a decade to complete and cost more than $100,000? If it's that doable, why aren't more people doing it? In my experience, degree requirements are non-negotiable, period, end of story.

aces said...

Well, I'll tell you...what I'd really like is to be a librarian (one of your "cool careers"), and if you can tell me how to pull it off without blowing $40,000 on an MLS degree and starting at $25,000 a year, I'll be in your debt!

Marty Nemko said...

Dear Aces,

Not all careers are attainable without a credential, for example, health care providers, and yes, librarians.

But even with regard to the latter, if you find the 1 to 2 year training program for librarians to be onerous (Actually that's far shorter than most), there are related careers that you could perform on the job: for example, abstractors, and information-retrieval researchers of many stripes, can often be hired with a mere bachelor's degree plus some work samples.

Marty Nemko said...

Dear Anonymous,

I must admit that I didn't worry about health insurance when I started out. I was young.

Regarding your unethical boss, there are ethical and unethical people in both government and the private sector. Please start looking for a job that you can tell your children about.

Marty Nemko said...

I made a middle class living as a career counselor/coach my first year. I've made reasonable money as a part-time journalist for two decades now, and if I had devoted myself full-time to rose breeding, I could have earned a middle-class living at that too. I merely did rose breeding as a few-hour a week/few-month a year sideline.

And beyond me, many people have established careers without credentials. Richard Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute, wrote, "In many fields, 90% of people get into it by degrees. You want to be one of the other 10%." An even higher percentage of my own clients have obtained professional positions without credentials. You might recall that thousands of illustrious people from Bill Gates to Maya Angelou to 9 U.S. presidents achieved their fame without even a college degree.

aces said...

But even with regard to the latter, if you find the 1 to 2 year training program for librarians to be onerous (Actually that's far shorter than most)

I guess I should explain: I gave up on that career not because the training was too long or demanding, but because the numbers didn't add up. Servicing a $40K student loan debt and paying living expenses on a $25K salary would, IMO, suck every drop of joy out of even a dream job. YMMV.

Thanks for the info on abstracting and info retreival. I'll have to check it out.


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