By Eve Tahmincioglu contributor
updated 10/29/2007 1:56:03 PM ET 2007-10-29T17:56:03

You’ve all heard it before. Find what you’re good at and build a career around it.

It’s advice that makes sense, but not always. Not every talent can necessarily translate easily into a career.

Case in point. I got a letter from a reader named Karina from Hong Kong recently and her comments crystallize what I’m talking about:

“I'm very good at guessing a movie's storyline and my husband agrees that any movie that keeps me guessing to the end is one of the best movies we've ever seen. Are there any jobs out there that can utilize this ‘talent’ of mine?”

We all probably have a long list of these types of “talents,” but thinking you can get these abilities off the couch and into a great job might be a bit naive. I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m just recommending that you keep your reality check meter on high.

When you’re deciding what career path to take, be realistic about how what you’re good at can actually translate into a job that pays the bills and makes you happy. That means taking time to research professions and companies that may be able to utilize your unique abilities and talking to people that are doing what you envision yourself doing.

It’s not always something obvious, and it can even seem absurd on the surface.

Take Irina Patterson. Three years ago, she discovered she was good at making balloon art and left a career as a PR professional to become a balloon-blowing entrepreneur selling her creations on street corners.

This Miami resident is now charging up to $300 an hour for her “balloon art entertainment” and boasts luxury hotels and rich families as her clients.

“I twist balloon art effortlessly, without even looking at my hands. And people see it, admire it, tell their friends. I don't have to think where my next booking will come from. It will come from word of mouth. It always does,” she explains.

Steve Runge, a former construction business owner from Bellingham, Wash., had a knack for languages, especially biblical languages. He decided to go to seminary school part time to study languages while still running his business and after seven years was able to graduate.

Last year, at the age of 40, he landed a job as Scholar-In-Residence at Logos Bible Software, that makes products to help pastors and consumers study the bible.

Runge said he spent a lot of time trying to figure out how his talents could segue into a new career and interacting with people in the field at conferences and over the phone. “This was a 13-year process for me, and at times I got impatient,” he admits. “But it was worth it.”

Tori Johnson, the CEO of Women for Hire, believes: “It's almost impossible to learn passion, but it's rarely impossible to build a business based on an existing passion.”

She offered a few examples of individuals who turned passions into careers.

“I found a woman who loves to sew — and most people would say you can't make money on that. Wrong. She teaches sewing lessons to kids and adults — group and private — and sells handbags and accessories she makes,” Johnson explains.

And a California woman who was a compulsive organizer, she adds, made “big bucks helping other people to declutter offices, garages and more. “

If you’re not sure what your passion is, Tevis Gales, founder of workplace consulting firm Balance Integrations, offers these five questions to ask yourself:

  1. What projects have you done in the past year that have absorbed or delighted you?
  2. What did you love to do as a kid? What was your favorite game? Not sure?  Ask people who knew you then.
  3. If you walk into a bookstore for no reason, what sections attract you?
  4. If you had three months to live, what would you spend the next three months doing?
  5. If you had been born someone you truly admire, who would you be and why?

Since Karina from Hong Kong already knows movie sleuth is her thing, I wondered what the heck she could do with a gift that seems to me to be a career non-starter.

I decided to post Karina’s question on my blog,, and asked readers and career experts to offer her some advice and their take on the topic.

Here’s a sampling:

“The woman from Hong Kong has a unique talent, guessing the endings to movies.

She could go to work for a movie studio and read screenplays to tell whether or not the endings are too obvious.

She could do the same for television weekly mystery shows. She could enhance their stories by making the ending less obvious. She could work on ‘Desperate Housewives’ for example.

She could do the same for writers of mystery novels.

She could be a mystery novel writer.”

— Dan Coughlin, Dan Coughlin’s Daily Acceleration Blog

“Talent agents, creative agencies, and studios screen projects prior to sending them to their clients or affiliated talent to ensure the screenplay is high caliber enough to put in front of an actor or director. Perhaps you could work for an agency or a production house. Production houses option thousands of screenplays that never make it to production, so your knack for exposing weaker plot lines would be a value in the early stages of the film production process.”

Matt Dornic, 3 Dog Communications

“It is amazing how many people think their ‘talent’ can be a business. First of all, there has to be a demand for the talent. Just ’cause I think my talent is great doesn’t mean anyone else will, or there is a need. People often love their hobbies until they have to do it when they may or may not feel like it, and it becomes w-o-r-k.

To get ‘hired’ in a traditional sense I have to document the value I bring to a prospective employer.

Remember, my ability to do something is different than getting hired to do it.”

— Anthony W. Beshara, Babich & Associates, a recruitment firm

“I love to read so much that in 5th grade I got in trouble for it. The school librarian and the principal of my elementary school called my mother (and me) into the office to say I was ‘mocking’ the librarian by checking out so many books.

I went on to become the Senior Publicist at HarperCollins Publishers in New York.”

— Judy Safern, literary publicist, LeadingThinkers

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