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4 Career Reinvention Lessons Learned From a Cat Wrangler

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I love reading stories about people who’ve found creative ways to turn their passions into profits. That is why I was so intrigued by a recent article in the NY Times about Jordana Serebrenik, the founder of Catch Your Cat, Etc., a service that helps people with the dreaded task of corraling cats into carriers for trips to the vet.

Now I know some of you dog owners are thinking, “What the heck?” and as a former dog-owner myself, I appreciate that reaction. There was a time when I would have found this to be an off-the-wall idea too. But thanks to our beloved cat Midnight, who sadly is no longer with us, I believe this business might just prove to be the cats meow. You see, our Midnight was as sweet, mild-mannered and docile an animal as you could hope to find. But when we needed to bring her into the vet, “Mild Mannered Midnight” would morph into “Midnight the Monster” faster than you could blink an eye:

Midnight

As soon as Midnight caught whiff of the cat carrier she would hiss, claw and bare her teeth as we attempted to wrangle her into the cage; a process that would sometimes take three of us to master. It was a miserable and stressful experience for all involved, and as a result, I tended to put off taking her to the vet far longer than was probably wise.

Alas, I know our hair-raising carrier experience is not unique and that is why I find Ms. Serebrenik’s idea so compelling. Can it prove profitable over time? It’s hard to tell. Certainly, this is the type of business that can only flourish in a large city that is populated with thousands of cat owners. But profitablity challenges aside, I still think there are some very interesting lessons about career reinvention that can be learned from this story. Here are four take-aways from Ms. Serebreniks tale:

1) A break from your routine can help you shift gears: Ms. Serebrenik is an attorney by training. But it was only after participating in a six-week trip to Africa that she decided to immerse herself in animal volunteer work — and that volunteer experience helped lead to her new business. While a six-week trip to Africa might be impractical for most of us, even a short weekend away can provide the space and perspective needed to jolt you out of your comfort zone and open your thinking to new possiblities. The next time you are feeling stuck, consider indulging in a quick get-away from your usual routine as a way to jumpstart your career reinvention process.

2) Volunteering is a great career reinvention tool: Ms. Serebrenik learned that she had a talent for wrangling wayward felines while working as a volunteer with a cat rescue and adoption group. Take a note from her story and consider volunteering as a way of testing out new fields of interest. It is a terrific way to learn new skills and discover new passions that you might never experience otherwise.

3) It takes courage to step out of your comfort zone: I am sure Ms. Serebrenik encounters some funny reactions from folks when she explains that has gone from being an attorney to a cat-wrangler (or maybe people simply congratulate her?). Letting go of old titles and roles, especially when they have a level of status, is a difficult — but very neccesary — part of the reinvention process.

4) Find a job nobody else wants to do — and charge handsomely for it: A few months ago I heard a speaker say that the key to entrepreneurial success is to focus in on the jobs nobody else really wants to do. Clearly this approach is not for everyone, but there is good money to be made doing dirty work like cleaning out septic tanks, picking up dog poop or picking lice nits out of children’s hair (seriously, there are people making good money as nit-pickers in New York City). People will happily pay to get rid of tasks that they find really distasteful, especially when it also helps to relieve them of emotional distresss and worry.

Finally, be willing to think outside the box. New York City is home to dozens of dog walkers, pet groomers and pet-sitters, but Ms. Serebrenik might be the only cat wrangler around. Not everyone will want or need her services, but those that do are likely to become her biggest evangelists and advocates. Getting media attention will be far easier if you have a unique story to tell (shortly after the online version of the¬†NY Times article appeared, it became the third most e-mailed story of the day). As you consider your next career move, look for under-served gaps in the marketplace where you can apply your unique talents, gifts and skills — and then build a business that fills those gaps.

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