A blogger I admire once posted a list of jobs she’d love to have if she weren’t a writer. They included forest ranger, meteorologist, TV news broadcaster, librarian and a water slide tester. (Yup, that last one really does exist – go check out her link.)

She posted this list for fun, but my guess is that the reason her list ran such a gamut of professional opportunities is that each hypothetical career spoke to a different aspect of her personality.

It’s fun to try to imagine all the things you might do if you weren’t doing whatever it is that currently defines your profession/lifestyle. But it’s also really useful.

If you’re even vaguely contemplating a career change, you need to think really carefully not only about what you’re good at, but what you enjoy. Often, discovering a satisfying career is not so much about the job title itself, but the various tasks you do as you go about your day, and how those complement your skills and interests.

To that end,  for all those out there contemplating a mid-life career transition,  here are my top ten would-be careers. Then it’s your turn:

1. Toll Collector.  When I was a child, I thought that when you tossed your coins into the toll booth on the highway, someone sat at the bottom of the toll booth and sorted them into piles. Turns out, I was wrong. But I think the fact that I thought that I’d actually enjoy sitting in a cramped, dark space underground sorting out dimes, nickles and quarters into little piles says a lot about my love of order. Translation? I need to manage projects.

2. Barrista.  In addition to being a closet administrator, I’m also quite extroverted. Which has always made me fantasize about working in the service industry. There was a time in my 20’s when I thought that I should work in a juice bar. But then I realized that I don’t actually drink juice. Coffee, however? Bring it on. And thanks to my husband, I’m quite expert at using espresso machines. Added bonus to this sort of social job? Multi-tasking. Love it.

3. Career Counselor.  I’ve always been obsessed with people’s relationships to their work. I love learning about daily routines, as well as why it is that people love – or hate – what they do for a living. Which is why I think that in another life, I’d help people figure out which line of work suits them and why. After all, personality tests are an ever more important part of the recruitment and promotions process at top firms.

4. War Correspondent.  I’ve had the pleasure of working as a foreign correspondent, but never as a war correspondent, which is an entirely different animal. It’s an incredibly dangerous job, as the deaths of reporters like  Anthony Shadid and Marie Colvin attest. But it’s also a thrilling one, where you can feel that you are really making a difference as a journalist. If you doubt this, go watch The Killing Fields or pick up Deborah Copaken Kogan’s auto-biography, Shutterbabe.  I think I’m too old (or too chicken) to pick up this career path right now. But, boy, do I wish I’d done it when I was younger.

5. Professional Singer.  I really don’t think this one requires too much explanation if you read this post, but suffice to say that I love to sing and perform. And I have no doubt that were I truly talented at singing, I’d have hauled my ass to Broadway long ago. Tant pis!

6. Flight Attendant.  Were it not for the fact that I get absolutely terrified during turbulence  – it’s the one time I genuflect – this career would have been perfect for me. There are so many places I long to discover in the world, and I also love meeting new people, including the random ones you meet on an airplane.

7. Organizational psychologist.  So this is sort of like the academic version of being a career counselor.  But you don’t examine the psychology of individuals and their fit with various careers. Instead, you look at entire firms to analyze their underlying psychology – the good, the bad and the ugly – and help them improve their workflow and productivity. Ever since I started listening to Adam Grant’s podcast, WorkLife, I was sold.

8. Bookstore Owner.  This one will sound like a cliché. But if you enjoy reading and you’ve ever wandered into a small, independent book store, you will immediately want to drop everything, climb one of those sliding ladders, and start shelving books. There’s something about the smell of a bookstore, coupled with the bright colors and clever displays, that draws me in immediately. Better still? When the staff sprinkled their recommendations throughout the store on note cards. Bliss.

9. Graphic designer.  This is an admittedly odd choice for someone like me. I can barely draw a stick figure and am not at all visual. But often the things we are drawn to most are precisely those areas where we are weakest. I’ve had the pleasure of working with the creatives who come up with logos and know how to lay out a website in a clever, visually arresting way. It’s a beautiful thing to behold and I wish I possessed their vision and understanding of how to pull it all together.

10. Bartender.  This one is similar to wanting to be a barrista. But the appeal here, oddly enough, isn’t the alcohol. I don’t drink very much any more. The draw is the barware. I cannot get enough of the oddly shaped glasses that accompany a full bar: Margarita glassesSherry glassesCognac glasses. Bring it on.

Ok, over to you. Which careers/jobs would you pick in an alternate universe and what do they tell you about yourself?

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