Thursday, July 12, 2007

Debbie Reber on Dream Jobs

When I was little, I wanted to be an author, an astronaut, a marine biologist, a Peace Corps volunteer, a business owner, a travel guide, a professional rock climber, a photo journalist, a potter, a teacher, a professor...

You get the picture. Who of us, after all, hasn’t wanted to be something different every day?

Maybe you know what you want to be when you grow up, or maybe you have no idea. Either way, author Debbie Reber (that's her on the left) and creator of the blog is here to save the day! She recently wrote a book called In Their shoes: Extraodinary Women Describe their Amazing Careers to give girls the real deal on their dream jobs. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a firefighter, an Olympic athlete, or a Hollywood screenwriter (or any of a few dozen other careers), this is the book for you!

Debbie wrote In Their Shoes, she says, to show girls the possibilities of what they can do in life. She says, “My hope is that girls will see that there is no single way to be successful. Being fulfilled in what you do is ultimately the key to happiness, and it has nothing to do with anyone else’s expectations of us. It's all about figuring out who we are, what we are passionate about, and then following our hearts.”

For In Their Shoes, Debbie interviewed fifty different women on their life and work. She profiles women like forensic scientist Joanne Sgueglia, CARE Mozambique aid worker Michelle Carter, yoga instructor Miriam Kramer, and video game programmer Kelly McCarthy. In addition to sharing an interview with each woman she profiles, she explains the facts about the career (what the job is, where you work, how you get into the job, how much money you make, how you dress, and how stressful the job is). She shares a schedule for the woman’s typical day, gives a timeline of how the woman got to where she is today, and gives background information on five related careers. In Their Shoes is an amazing resource, and a great inspiration!

New Moon spoke with Debbie about In Their Shoes, dream jobs, and the real world.

New Moon: Congratulations on such an incredible, savvy book! What feedback have you received from girls since it hit shelves in April?

Debbie Reber: The feedback has been great. Many girls (and women of all ages, too!) tell me that they flip open the book to a random career profile and get sucked in to reading about something they never even thought they'd be interested in. And just about everyone who reads the book says they find it incredibly inspirational, which makes me happy since that was my goal all along!

What inspired you to interview dozens of women on their life and work?

I saw a movie in high school that set my career dreams in motion, so I spent years pursuing a career [in broadcast news]. But didn't have a true sense of the work itself, the lifestyle, how to pay my dues, and how long it would take for me to "make it" in that field. When I finally got started working in broadcast news, it wasn't at all what I expected. So I wrote this book because I wanted to give girls REAL information about what different careers and lifestyles are like. That way, they can make smart choices about what careers feel most like them in every way.

You wrote In Their Shoes to give the real deal on work life and careers to... Younger teens that have no idea what they want to do with their lives (but love the fantasies)? Or older teens and young women who are already making decisions about their future paths?

Both. I'm a big believer in information. Sometimes it's just a matter of being aware that a certain career or industry exists. For younger teens, this book is all about opening their eyes to possibilities they may not have known existed. For the older teens who have an idea of what they want to do, this book provides them with 50 mentors...real-life women who are succeeding [at their work]. Even if [the women] aren’t doing the exact career someone is interested in, there is still a lot that can be learned from each woman's journey and the advice she gives.

You interviewed some pretty high-flying women. I was excited to find interviews with women I had already heard of (Grey's Anatomy producer Shonda Rhimes, US Senator Barbara Boxer, 'actionist' Jessica Weiner, co-host Melissa Block of NPR's All Things Considered, CEO Missy Park of women's clothing company Title 9 Sports, among others), as well as so many other amazing women. How did you score interviews with such incredibly talented and busy women?

It wasn't always easy. I had my dream list of women, many of whom ended up in the book, but it was just little old me picking up the phone or sending an email explaining the project and asking if they'd like to be a part of it. Usually, once women found out what the book was about and that the goal was to inspire and inform the career women of tomorrow, they were happy to share their insights. But once women agreed to participate, it was still sometimes challenging getting on their busy schedules. Luckily, I started writing the book early enough that I was able to plan some of the interviews a few months in advance.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in interviewing this broad range of women?

Every woman made her job sound so interesting, mostly because they were all so passionate about what they did. I also found it incredible that most of the women, even the busiest, most high-profile women, have families with young children. While they all admitted there were plenty of challenges trying to balance their work and family life, they also all had found unique ways to make it work, which I thought was really cool.

Both you and your interviewees dispense plenty of advice to readers on everything from the importance of personal journaling to effective networking. What is the main piece of wisdom you hope girls will gain from reading In Their Shoes?

Two things. Number one: You can do anything you set your mind to if you are passionate about it and are willing to take it one step at a time. Number two: You shouldn’t put too much pressure on yourself to figure it all out now. If you are open to learning and growing from every experience you have, then you can't make a wrong turn. You'll eventually end up exactly where you should be. Many of the women in the book didn't follow straight, linear career paths (myself included)...but life is about the journey, not the destination!

With this book under your belt, you must be a goldmine for career-related information. Knowing what you now know, if you could choose any career (regardless of 'practical' details like pay, education, and knowledge), what would you pick?

As a fulltime writer, I'm already doing my dream job! BUT...I think the career that held the most intrigue and interest for me was TV Show Creator, based on my interview with [creator and executive producer] Shonda Rhimes of Grey's Anatomy.

What do you wish you had known as a teen about the work world?

How little money you make in the beginning of your career.

You include information on over 200 jobs. Are there any careers that you didn't get to include that you wish you had?

Hmmm... maybe an astronaut?

The large majority of the women you profile have college degrees-even the yoga instructor! Is a four-year college education the only route for girls to take if they want to be economically self-sufficient and successful?

Definitely not. There are tons of great careers out there that don't require a college degree, including some of the ones I profiled in my book (entrepreneur, firefighter, screenwriter, fitness instructor, real estate agent, chef, etc). But I do believe that having a college degree will open up many more doors for you and provide you with more opportunities down the road, especially if you choose to do a career shift later on in your life.

You have a short section on women in the workforce, where you touch on issues like the pay gap. I noticed, however, the pay gap-along with other issues, like gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment, and a lack of women in many leadership positions-came up very little in interviews, if at all. Even though only 10 Fortune 500 companies are run by women, and only 16 of 100 U.S. Senators are women, this issue wasn't addressed in your interview with either an ad exec or Senator Barbara Boxer. Was this a conscious decision on your part?

That's a good question. I tried to let the women I interview guide the flow and have it truly reflect her experience. So there are cases where the women made reference to the gender disparities in their careers (such as the firefighter) and that then became part of the profile, but I didn't push the issue if it didn't naturally come forth during the interview process. A lot could have been said about the inequities in the workforce throughout the book, but then I guess that would have made In Their Shoes a different book altogether.

You profiled a librarian, a magazine editor, a radio journalist, and a screenwriter, but not an author like yourself. Can you share the real deal on freelancing and book-writing? What's a typical day like? What do you most (or least) enjoy about your work?

Freelancing and book writing is a dream job in that I get to work from home with my dog lying under my desk and my refrigerator stocked with Diet Coke. I can run and nap when I want to and I never have to worry about asking my boss for vacation time. I can pick and choose the projects I work on, which is great, and I also love that I never know what new and exciting jobs might pop up from one day to the next. Oh yeah, and I don't have to "dress" for work, which is generally a good thing, although sometimes I have to remind myself that showering is probably best for everyone involved, so I try to at least look "presentable" every day. On the flip side, I don't have anyone to chat with about last night's "So You Think You Can Dance" at the water cooler, and it can get fairly lonely. Financially, it can get stressful, since I have no steady paycheck, and sometimes the companies I'm freelancing for don't pay me on time.

Here’s my typical day:
7:00am - wake up to the sound of my two-year-old son singing or yelling from his room 7:15am - 8:30am - answer emails and surf the web
8:30am - 9:30am - eat breakfast, pack my son's lunch, and drop him off at preschool
9:30 am - 12:30pm - work... usually writing, phone meetings, researching, and emailing
12:30pm - 1:00pm - lunch with my husband and dog (my husband works from home too!) 1:00pm - 2:00pm - pick up son from preschool and put him down for a nap
2:00pm - 4:30pm - more work: writing and research
4:30pm - 5:30pm -, swim, or bike (I'm training for a triathlon!)
5:30pm - 6:30pm - hang out with my son, play, go to park, etc.
6:30pm - 7:30pm - dinner with family
7:30pm - 8:00pm - put son to bed
8:00pm - 10:00pm - work some more
10:00pm - 11:00pm - watch some TIVO'd programming on TV
11:00pm - 12:00am - read in bed (usually work-related material)
12:00am - lights out!


Anonymous said...

I LOVE Debbie Reber's book!!! It would be so cool to be able to interview all of those women!!!

Londradical said...

ciao, nice blog