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It's Never Too Late to Love Your Job

Increased autonomy will frequently lead to increased satisfaction

Alejandro Benes

Alejandro Benes, 57, restaurant investor, stands in the kitchen of the Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill in The Grove, La. — Chris Crisman

Embrace your passion

Diane Crump was 4 years old when she rode a carnival pony in Milford, Ct. When that first walk around the dusty circle ended, she clung to the pony's neck. "I can't get off yet, Dad. Please — one more ride," she pleaded.

He nodded, and Crump hasn't stopped since. In 1969 she became a horse racing pioneer — the first female jockey to ride in a pari-mutuel (professional gambling) race in America. The following year she was the first woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby. But Crump wound up with physical wear and tear toward the end of her career as a jockey and trainer, and in 1999 she decided she was finished riding. "I loved my riding days," says Crump, 64. "I gave all the horses I rode my heart, and they gave me theirs, but I knew I had to move on."

She didn't leave her passion behind entirely. With design help from her mom, Jean (who was then in her 70s), Crump launched a website offering her consulting services to prospective horse buyers. Her job: Inspect the animals firsthand to judge their appeal to various customers, then post photos and videos, plus other purchase information, on her site. Customers made appointments for her to show them horses, and gradually, sales began to build.

Turning a childhood passion into a lasting career can happen by applying your expertise in a new direction, as Crump did, or by better understanding what's behind the things you love to do. "Your passion is a clue," says Nicholas Lore, 68, who founded the Rockport Institute, a career-coaching firm. "To find a job you love, you need to become a career detective looking for the clues about the fit between yourself and the working world."

The clues are easy to spot. They're the activities that excite you, the stuff that matters in your life, the things you do easily and well. Lore, for instance, is passionate about sailing. "But I wouldn't want to be a charter-boat skipper," he says. What he discovered is that he likes constant problem solving, the kind you do when you're sailing — or job coaching. "You need to put together a clues list." Those clues should reveal the elements of your dream job, from which career ideas can blossom.

That's what Alejandro Benes did, and at 57 the Cuban-born ex-newsman finds himself in the restaurant industry. He's happier than ever, in part because he's rediscovered something his old work once fed: his omnivorous appetite for new flavors and experiences. Since 2006, Benes has been a partner in Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill, a Southern California-based restaurant group that one of his cousins cofounded.

It's a long way from the trenches of broadcast news, where Benes was once Latin America bureau chief for ABC. But he's still using his communications skills — internally, with the company's 1,000-plus employees, and externally, with the 40,000-plus customers the restaurants serve each week. The big difference: Now he gets to indulge his lifelong appreciation for good food and drink. As head of the company's culinary development, Benes is Wood Ranch's test-kitchen guru. He takes culinary-education courses, has a hand in creating new menu offerings and regularly dines at competitors' establishments. "I travel around in hopes of finding inspiration from an excellent dish," he says. "It's hell, but someone has to do it."

Next page: Changing focus didn't mean downshifting. »

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