The Not-So-Conventional Career Path

Scott Gerber has a little bit of attitude. You know it going in when you pick up his book Never Get a “Real” Job because if the title isn’t enough of a tipoff, the subtitle is decidedly in-your-face – How to Dump Your Boss, Build a Business, and Not Go Broke.

OK, then. Bring it, author.

And he does.

Gerber is not only a compelling writer, but he infuses his book with an element that almost always takes it to the next level for me as a reader – truth about himself. Not glossy truth, but gritty truth. It is woven through what is a no-holds-barred, practical guide for taking something other than the conventional route in one’s work life.

“Let me be clear: I don’t have millions of dollars in the bank, six-figure sports cars, or gold-plated yachts,” writes Gerber, who is, according to his Web site, a serial entrepreneur, internationally syndicated columnist, angel investor and public speaker. “I’m not the product of a wealthy family or a storied entrepreneurial heritage; nor am I the outcome of an accredited business school … So why should you listen to what I have to say? … Because I know what it’s like to have to move back in with your parents and how depressing it is to have shrinking bank accounts and mounting debts … I understand you, because I am you.”

While Gerber is mostly addressing his fellow Generation Y-ers in the book, essentially copping to how entitled they are and explaining to them that there is an alternative to the prison-like cubicle life post-college, I found myself – a young-ish Baby Boomer -- wishing I had this resource back in 2002 when I was laid off from a television producing job and subsequently launching a life coaching practice. I had been working for “the man” since I was 14 and hadn’t a clue about how not to.

At one point, I was having so much financial trouble despite my hard work that a friend had to sit me down and tell me to get a “real” job until I could support myself as an independent contractor. I was insulted and angry until I realized he was right. That memory came flooding back when I read this line from Gerber:

“If your market has vanished, your cash flow is nonexistent or you’re taking substantial personal and financial risk without any light at the end of the tunnel, you’re likely on a fool’s errand for the sake of ego.”


This is true of so many people in my generation who are out of work right now, scared and frustrated because they don’t know where to turn, unaware there is an underlying ego issue at work. Sometimes, if they get past the knee-jerk need to work for “the man” and take some risks by going out on their own, ego still comes up in the most unexpected ways. For example, if they’ve always been high achievers, they might expect that the very fact that they’ve created a business card and a Web site will suddenly have clients flocking to them. In reality, not so much.

Citing the tree falling in the forest and the question of whether it makes a sound if no one hears it, Gerber writes, “The business equivalent is launching a Web site and no one knows the URL. Does the Web site really exist? The answer is no.”

For someone in their 40s or 50s, working the Internet to advantage by building an SEO-friendly Web site and maximizing social media aren’t as second nature as those things would be to a 20-something. Gerber takes readers through the basics of that and more – i.e., getting real with finances, starting simply, and an alternative to the standard business plan.

“Even a powerhouse like Google started as a simple search engine,” he writes. “Had they tried to be a search engine provider with mobile phone services, Web browsers, and online applications from day one, we might be asking Jeeves for much more advice today.”

His advice to “avoid business plan books and software like the plague” resonated with me because I struggled mightily with my business plan back in 2002 and I continue to coach people who get hung up on that phase of launching a business. I always felt like my obsession with getting that just right was taking me away from work I could be doing that would generate immediate income. Gerber relates his own issues with crafting – and over-crafting -- his first business plan and how he came to the idea of what he calls “the one-paragraph plan.”

It is what it sounds like in that it’s one paragraph, but it is also evolving. Gerber supplies questions to help with a first draft and the sample he gives is from his own video production company. Once that’s done, it’s time to break the plan into action steps. Again, he gives examples and timelines for each task so it’s easy to follow.

At no point does Gerber make entrepreneurship sound easy. He’s clear that it takes a special kind of commitment and sacrifice and knows it isn’t for everyone. To the person who still opts to go the conventional route and send out resumes that likely land on massive piles, though, he can’t help but air his disbelief.

“Such an action is the equivalent of inserting a quarter into a broken arcade game, losing it to the machine, and popping another quarter in, hoping for a different outcome,” he writes.

I like that he advocates taking care of oneself along the way, something that far too many discount. As I’ve told many a client, a worn-down entrepreneur is not a productive one and Gerber concurs. I am also one who, when asked for my best marketing tip, recommends doing good work. It surprises people at first, but when I explain that so much of my business is referrals, the light goes on for them. Gerber gets that.

“Underpromise and overdeliver – not the other way around,” he writes. “Make sure that everything you say is backed up with real, measurable results. A solid track record of high-quality work will sell others on your value much better than any cheap rhetoric.”

And then of course there’s the question of intent. What’s behind your desire to go into this business or project? I’ve long been telling prospective clients if they want to write a book because they have something to say, I’m their coach, but if they want to write a book primarily to be on Oprah, I’m not for them. Gerber hits that sentiment dead on, but of course in his inimitable Gen Y style.

“If the only reason you want to become your own boss is so you can live out some MTV Cribs fantasy, the only Rolls-Royce you’ll ever drive is the one the successful people hire you to chauffeur,” he writes. “Get your head out of your idealistic E! True Hollywood Story ass.”

Now that’s some serious attitude.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is Please direct all questions/comments to