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Career Coach: Unmasking Your True Potential

In this month's column, Pamela Kleibrink Thompson exhorts readers to let their true selves shine through.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson.

October is the month we celebrate Halloween, when children trick or treat in disguises. Are you an animator disguised as a plumber? Or are you a writer disguised as an insurance salesman? An artist disguised as a real estate agent?

Is your day job the disguise you wear to hide your true passion?

Perhaps you have invested a lot of time in your job. It's taken a lot of effort and maybe even a lot of money to get you where you are today. You think you should stick with it because otherwise that time and money would be wasted. What about the future? Wouldn't that time be wasted if you continue doing something you don't enjoy? Maybe you chose what you are doing now when you were just out of high school or college. Do you want to limit yourself to what a 22-year-old decided for the rest of your life? Why not spend the rest of your life doing what you really want to do?

Maybe you have invested both time and money in your education. You went to law school and have a good steady income. But you hate law. I had a career-coaching client who got into law because he watched the TV shows that glamorized lawyers. He worked in mergers and acquisitions, but longed to acquire a business as a tour guide in Mexico.

Sumner Redstone was a successful lawyer earning six figures, but he gave up his legal job to earn a fraction of that working for his father's theater chain. He loved that business and eventually built it into an entertainment conglomerate. In 2007, Sumner Redstone had an estimated worth of nine billion dollars.

Maybe you think you can't just give up what you are doing -- your family is depending on you. Talk to your family and find out if they would be willing to cut back a bit to enable you to pursue your passion. Wouldn't you do the same for your spouse?

Maybe you think you have to pay some dues before you can do what you really want. My husband wanted to write movie reviews for the UCLA newspaper, but instead of approaching the editor with this desire, he offered to write on other topics to prove himself first. His friend and schoolmate Jeff approached the editor about writing movie reviews and got the job.

Perhaps you are like my friend who believes that if he accepts money for something he loves doing, it would take the fun out of it and he wouldn't love it anymore. My producer friend Alex works at number-crunching during the week so he can spend his weekends in his garden, designing landscapes.

Perhaps you think it's too late to change. "If I haven't achieved this by age 30, I might as well forget about it." There are few occupations where age is a factor. Professional football players usually retire from the game by age 35, but for most professions age doesn't matter. Some people who achieved fame in later life include such late bloomers as Ian Fleming, whose first novel, Casino Royale, was published when he was 45 years old; Paul Cezanne finally had his first solo exhibition when he was 56 years old; Ed Sullivan was 47 years old when CBS hired him to host a TV variety show to air on Sunday nights. There are many instances where people returned to school in later life to obtain the qualifications needed to pursue their dream job.

It's never too late to search for a job that incorporates your passions.

Perhaps you were groomed to take over the family business and feel guilty because you have no interest in it. There is probably someone else in the family who could take over the business, or someone better suited to it. If someone is pushing a family business onto you that you don't want, you need to tell him that you are not interested in taking over the business. You'll discover that your family doesn't want you to be unhappy. You might think you are obligated, but truly you don't owe anything -- it's a gift they want to bestow on you because they think you share their passion. If you don't, let them know so they can plan for a different successor.

Perhaps you were expected to go into a field that would make your family proud. One man remembered, "In my family, you didn't go to college to waste money. The idea was to do one of the big four -- law, medicine, engineering, maybe teaching. You had to make the money count." This person majored in pre-medicine at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, but after serving in the Army, pursued his real love, acting. We know him as the voice of Mufasa in The Lion King and Darth Vader in Star Wars, and as Terrence Mann in Field of Dreams. This ex-pre-med is Tony Award-winning actor James Earl Jones.

Perhaps you were told by an authority, family member, teacher, professional or "friend" that you have little talent in the area you want to pursue. Maybe you lack self-confidence or the "I'll show you" attitude needed to overcome these naysayers and negative influencers. Or maybe some authority told you that you couldn't make money doing what you're passionate about. You believed in the myth of the starving artist and now you are stuck in a job that doesn't use your creative talents. My friend Rick is an account executive for an advertising firm, but his real talent is as an artist. But no one knows this. It is only revealed when he draws portraits of people for holiday presents. He thinks his dream job could not possibly pay enough to support his family, so he only indulges in his art during the holiday season.

It's time to cast aside the disguise and reveal who you really are and live the life you are meant to live. You will find your passion, and work that you love to do, if you are true to yourself. One of my favorite writers and artists continues to make an impact on millions of readers. He knew that you had to be true to yourself. "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter, don't mind." That wise author was Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.

Even if you can't drop your disguise immediately, start working toward revealing the real you right now. Find time every week to pursue what you really want to do. Take a sketchbook to the break room during lunch and draw your co-workers. Wake up two hours earlier on the weekend and write when everyone else is still asleep. You might be able to use your day job in pursuing your dream job. Michael Crichton, writer of Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park and creator of ER, attended medical school at Harvard and uses his training as a doctor in his work. The writer/creator of Boston Legal, David E. Kelly, worked for a Boston law firm.

You can find a way to pursue your dream while working to support your family. And when you do, your skills will improve and so will your attitude. Every time you work on your dream, you'll be closer to living it. The next time you are at a party or meeting, don't hide behind the disguise of your day job. Introduce yourself as the artist you intend to be. After all, isn't that the real you?

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is a recruiter and career coach. She's worn many disguises, including a copywriter for an insurance company. For personal career coaching, recruiting and speaking engagements, contact Pamela at