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Get You Some Chutzpah: Kerry Hannon on Second Careers

I never knew there was such a business as home staging. There is. Seven years ago, Catherine Silverman, 64, found a whole new career arranging furniture and décor in a way that makes a for-sale home more appealing to potential buyers.

I'm not surprised, though, to discover that it's a booming business in today's rocky real estate market.

Catherine can zip through even a tiny condo and give it that sophisticated and spacious feel with her sense of design that compels buyers step up to the plate.

Yesterday, Jane Pauley and her AARP/Today Show "Your Life Calling" team profiled Catherine, a former Capitol Hill staffer and stay-at-home mom and now one of Washington D.C.'s top home staging experts, in a Today show segment. Afterwards, eager internet radio listeners lit up the phones with questions on the first "Ask Jane" call-in show which will air monthly on AARP Internet Radio.

AARP Radio host Mike Cuthbert moderated the career reinvention-themed show that featured Jane, Catherine, and me, too. I was delighted to be asked to add in my two cents as a career transition expert and author of What's Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job.

What struck me most about the fast-paced discussion and questions coming our way? The entrepreneurial fire that Silverman's story set-off. We had calls, mostly from women, thinking of kicking off a catering business, launching a party-planning company, and more.

These were self-starters looking for a second act, all wanting to do their own thing. They were turning to Jane, Catherine and myself for some advice, inspiration and no doubt, validation of their idea.

At the heart of a successful career change is that nebulous notion of passion, believing in yourself and what you do best.

Catherine's story clearly triggered that quest in those who saw her featured on the Today show. It made them think-aha. I should listen to what my friends and family have been telling me, and that I sort of know deep down-I really am good at cooking or throwing great parties. They identified in with her journey, and her small business, can-do drive.

That was pretty cool to catch. Her story had given them hope. No kidding. You could hear it in their excited voices as they told us what they had in mind. Jane knowingly gave them her 'I hear you' support and sage counsel, and then turned the discussion over to Catherine and myself to contribute the boots on the ground reality check. Here's some of what percolated up:

Go slow. For Silverman, her successful venture started in small steps, moving from a few clients a year to a several each month. "Do the job for six months, even free-of-charge," Jane advised one caller. "See if you actually like it, can cope with the workload involved, have a feel for your cost of doing business," I chimed in. "Don't ruin your hobby."

This falls under my basic mantra: apprentice or moonlight before you make the leap to a new career. It might not be the fantasy you envision.

It's not always dreamy. Catherine cautioned the starry-eyed callers to not forget that even doing something you love to do involves "scut" work. "There is tons and tons of paperwork," she told listeners, and it takes quite a bit of physical stamina to run up and down stairs, help movers unload trucks-not so glamorous.

Ask what makes you happy. That's a key to Catherine's reinvented career as a stager of homes, and it is the very advice I give to people who come to me asking how to find their dream job.

As she debated what she should be doing with her life, Catherine was introspective. She asked: what was it that she really enjoyed doing that she had a knack for? She realized that even as a child she had loved watching her mother set up new homes as her family moved around world following her father's career as a journalist. "She made do with what we had and made our homes look great," she remembers.

Before you leap off into the unknown on a whim, you need to spend time looking inside and asking yourself what were the things that have made you happy at different times in your life-as a child even. What were your brightest moments? Ask friends and family what they think you're good at. Often those around us can see our innate talents better than we can. When you listen carefully to your inner voice, and to those voices of trusted friends, family and colleagues, you will hear a pattern. Pay attention to it.

Sell it, baby. Not surprisingly, many of our callers had an ulterior motive-to get the word out about their business. Our final caller boldly went a step further. She told us that she was in her early 70s, had retired and gone back to school to get her certification as a Pilates trainer. She had since set-up shop getting seniors physically fit at a New York City club. Her question: How she could be one of those lucky people Jane profiles in her monthly "Your Life Calling"/ Today show segment.

We all chuckled and smiled knowingly at one another. No beating around the bush. That's the entrepreneurial spirit-the magic ingredient necessary to succeed as an entrepreneur. Chutzpah.

This is a guest blog from Kerry Hannon. I'm the author of What's Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job, available here To learn about great jobs for retirees, check out my column on AARP. For advice, read my Forbes' Second Verse blog. Follow me on Twitter, @KerryHannon

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