When Your Dream Job Might Be a Nightmare

I have a confession to make: Although I'm doing what I've always dreamed of doing for a living, sometimes I get really sick of being a freelance writer.

I know what you're thinking: "Bleep you, Michelle. At least you have a job, which is more than some of us can say. So quit whining."

But it's not just whining. We all dread certain aspects of our jobs -- even jobs we truly love and/or appreciate having. We all know what it's like to work so hard we fry ourselves to a crisp. We all fantasize about how great life would be if only we could get paid to brew beer, teach yoga or make miniature figurines.

Looking for career advice? Click here to send Michelle your questions and they might end up as a topic for her next column.

By the end of 2008, that's where I was: overworked, under-rested and up to here with sitting on my rump day in and day out with only my e-mail inbox for company. I needed a break from all the grim headlines, never-ending deadlines and endless stream of irate reader e-mail.

My fantasy? To take care of dogs for a living.

So when Vocation Vacations asked me if I'd like to shadow a dog daycare owner for eight hours, I howled for joy.

Not Your Father's Working Vacation

My dream of trading in my keyboard and mouse for a leash and chew toy isn't something that came to me overnight. I've lived with dogs all my life and have been grilling dog sitters, walkers and daycare owners about the pros, cons and profit margins of their businesses for as long as I can remember.

Still, asking your dog boarder how far in advance they fill up and the number of times they've been bitten is only the tip of the research iceberg. That's where Vocation Vacations, a mecca for career changers with big dreams and big severance packages, comes in.

For about $500 to $1,700, the company will place you in a two- or three-day internship in the far-flung trade of your choice, complete with seasoned mentor who shows you the ropes, one-on-one. Stand-up comic, sports announcer, flight instructor, dude rancher, oyster farmer -- no vocation is too obscure.

(Dog daycare owner ranks among the company's top 20 requested vacations. Curiously, so does writer.)

The Perfect Gig: Fantasy vs. Reality

Before the mass layoffs began late in 2008, Vocation Vacations was something people signed up for when they "just wanted to see what a dream job was about," founder Brian Kurth said.

But now, "We're seeing an increase in vocationers who've been laid off or fear they're going to be laid off," he said. "The shift in the economy is really changing our clientele to those who are being forced to create change for themselves."

According to the Vocation Vacation Web site, my own vacation (shortened to one day for this column) at Dog's Day Out in Seattle would include greeting the pooches at the start of each day, maintaining order among the pack and making nice with customers.

I would soon learn, however, that most of this was code for "exercising your housekeeping skills."

"This is basically a cleaning job," Dog's Day Out owner Danette Johnston told me while brewing tea in the kitchen of the Craftsman home she'd turned into a small doggie playground in 2000. The furnace had unexpectedly quit, the repairperson was late and we were trying to stay warm.

As she filled me in on the evolution of her business, her 15 four-legged guests jockeyed for my attention, the bossier ones barking and scolding the others.

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