People take Vocation Vacations for two reasons, Kurth says. For many, like Macey, it’s a window into a passion they hope to pursue. For others, it’s a one-time deal—a lark or a chance to gain insight into an industry but not a catalyst for change. The majority of vocationers come from a few high-burnout professions including the law, information technology, accounting and financial services. They range in age from 18 to 70, but the baby boomers and upper-end Gen X’ers looking for a second or third career—and usually a dramatic lifestyle shift—comprise the bulk of his clients.
David Ryan fits squarely into this demographic. The 43-year-old Ryan was an international banker. He worked for the world’s third largest bank for 17 years and in eight countries. Early in his career, he and his wife adopted a “stray mutt” in Taiwan, who went everywhere the couple until she passed away at the ripe-old age of 14. They decided to wait until they settled down before finding another dog.
“I tried living without a dog for a couple of years, and absolutely hated it,” Ryan says. “When we moved back to the states, I couldn’t get a dog fast enough.” It was that deep affinity that put thoughts of a dog-centered second career in Ryan’s head.
After reading a Wall Street Journal article about Vocation Vacations on an airplane, of course, he signed up for two dream-job holidays.
He spent a couple days working with Heather Stass at K9 Capers Doggy Daycare in Agawam, Mass., where he learned a very important lesson. “There is too much poop involved in this for me,” he recalled thinking.
Still he developed enormous respect for Stass specifically and dog daycare in general. Talking with clients at “go-home” time, he discovered the enormous and important difference the service made in the lives of the people and their dogs. Stass helped plug Ryan into her network of daycare owners and she stays in touch as a friend and resource.
In his second dream-job vacation, Ryan spent a few days with Kirsten Nielsen, a dog trainer in Portland, Ore., and one of the earliest Vocation Vacation mentors. “Kirsten was incredible at not just letting me see her business and shadowing her for a day, but she has been an ongoing contact for me and a mentor in terms of thinking about dog training,” Ryan says.
The two experiences turned his world upside down. He retired from banking, sold his New York apartment, and enrolled in The Tom Rose School for professional dog trainers in St. Louis, commuting back to his family in New Hampshire on weekends.
“Kirsten and Heather made me realize that there are people out there who make their living with their love for dogs,” Ryan says. “And that realization gave me the courage to make the move from my banking world to my animal world.”
Today, he is launching two businesses simultaneously. He is a trainer under the name Beyond Dog Training, and he works as a consultant to dog businesses in six states (so far). “I learned there are an awful lot of incredibly talented dog trainers and groomers and daycare owners and kennel owners, all sorts of people, but their main strength and interest is not in running a business,” he says. Ironically, the “mentoree” has become the mentor.
Vocation Vacations founder Brian Kurth says this is typical. Vocationers who make the change to a second or third career often discover their previous experience takes on new importance in the new role.
“It looks to people like I’m working harder now than I did as a banker, but it doesn’t feel like work,” Kurth says. In fact, plans to begin taking blood pressure medicine during his last year in banking have proven unnecessary. “It’s marvelous to be working in the interest of something I really love. I have to remind myself [that] every once in awhile, you’re supposed to take a couple days off.”
The transformative power of Vocation Vacations is Kurth’s mission, but for Ryan, the mid-life job switch has had a second unexpected bonus. Suddenly, his kids think he’s cool.
Recently, he was walking a friend’s dog with his children. “One of my kids saw one of his friends, and yelled, ‘Hey Schyler, this is my dad, he’s a dog trainer!’ They’re much more thrilled about having a dog trainer for a dad than a hot-shot banker.”