Under bright studio spotlights, host Rita Kahn breezes into another "Odd Jobs" TV interview. Firing questions and animated comments at her guest, Kahn immerses herself in the world of Ron Kaufman. He makes a living promoting world peace through playing games in various countries--and his Frisbees, "unballs" and skateboards festoon the set.
Rita Kahn, flashy in purple, with big brown eyes and frosted hair, is always searching for the magnet that pulls people from run-of-the-mill jobs to ones they love.
"Ninety percent of the people on the freeway each morning dread their work destinations," Kahn said, who maintains that most people "don't trust themselves to live their dream, to go for their perfect job."
Action Is Key
Over the last several years, Kahn has discovered lots of people with unusual jobs--a fire-eater, a glider port manager, a face painter, a writer of funny answering machine messages, and a female Navy intelligence officer.
"Everyone knows somebody who does something weird," said the flamboyant Kahn, 45, who maintains that the difference between the people who find their dream job and those who don't is simple: action.
"All Robert Keith needed was one person to say yes," Kahn said of the developer of oversized balloons in the shape of beer cans, crabs, and the giant King Kong used for advertising.
"There's no such thing as a crazy idea. The people I interview are no taller, smarter, skinnier, better-looking than the rest of us--they're just real clear on their idea. The idea doesn't have to be great, the person doesn't have to be great, but you have to show up and participate. Everyone has a gift. . . . but you do have to be madly in love with your idea."
One interview subject chucked her corporate executive position to form Positive Picketing, a company whose employees carry "Welcome to the World" signs outside maternity wards for newborns and parents, and picket grand openings, festivals, and galleries with positive messages. Ironically, Positive Picketing's entrepreneurial owner met her fiance by picketing a singles bar for a client (herself) searching for Mr. Right.
Another of Kahn's guests, a glass eye maker, one of 200 in the country, talked about the fine porcelain he uses and the service aspects of his craft. He showed glass eye samples and the thin brushes he uses for his painstaking work.
"I'll bet the brush had all of four hairs," Kahn said.
Don't Have to Be Young
Age needn't be a barrier.
"People don't always start out in their ideal job," she said.
Kahn cited a grandmother, Olive Woolridge, who became a heavy equipment operator and surveyor. Woody Hall, a 68-year-old engineer, created a novelty company from his off-the-wall brainstorm of reproducing his wife's red lipstick imprint on bridge tallies, napkins and glasses. He now markets more than 150 novelty items.
"He's fabulously successful," Kahn said.
What propels people into chasing dreams may be a combination of fate, frustration and tenacity, according to Kahn. Fate might be a commonplace life change--divorce, being fired, or a mid-life crisis. Or, sometimes, the opportunity is so bizarre that it slips away unnoticed. "Something crazy like a man from Africa on snowshoes rides past your house, crashes into your mailbox, and needs someone who does exactly what you dream of doing," Kahn said, laughing. "Take every chance--be real open."
In some cases, job frustration peaks, and the disgruntled employee resolves, "I've had it! I won't do this another day." That final straw begins the search for something better.
Tenacity can make the difference.
"The one who wins is the one who hangs in there the longest," Kahn said.
Kahn's own penchant for tackling the impossible fits into her "Odd Jobs" dream-chasing philosophy. Weekdays, she's a Western Airlines ticketing agent who has always taken advantage of books, tapes and seminars with the potential to effect positive change.
At a seminar she attended several years ago, participants were asked to write down three outrageous things they would like to do. Kahn's top two fantasies were to be on "The Carol Burnett Show" and have her own TV show. Six months and a course in television production later, her "Odd Jobs" TV show aired. Now in its fourth year, "Odd Jobs" runs on five local cable stations and one in Alaska.
Kaufman of World Peace Tours observed a visible shift in Kahn's energy at the show's end.
"She looked straight at the camera and said, 'You've found out something tonight that could change your life.' Rita Kahn knows she's making an impact on her audience, not just doing a TV show," Kaufman said.
Away from her Western Airlines travel desk, Kahn dashes off to do motivational consulting; market her cassette tape, "How to Create Your Ideal Job"; write her column for Woman, a national magazine, and work on her book, "So What? Do It Anyway."
Undaunted by minor obstacles, Kahn believes in venturing down unconventional avenues, despite lack of experience or nay-saying friends.
"Sure, it's risky. People say, 'But Rita, this or that could happen!' 'Quit my day job? You're crazy!' I say, so what? Do it anyway! If it doesn't work, you'll find out that much faster! The problem is not trying, never doing," she said.
"We each have our own degree of risk. For some, it's eating alone in a restaurant. For others, it's jumping off a cliff in a hang glider."
Kahn's suggests that rather than being stuck and scared about making a move, people must discover what makes them happy, stop making excuses, follow hunches and take action.
To back up her theories, Kahn cites physician and psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, author of "On Death and Dying," who found that terminally ill people often expressed a deep regret at not having lived out their dreams. Many of them told her: "I never really lived."
Kahn's attitude is that it's better to try out a dream than merely talk about it. Dreams don't always pan out. But, in her view, people have to love what they do and show it.
Kahn's motivational seminars combine pep talks, goal setting and fantasizing, all laced with humor and repartee.
"The reason I love Rita Kahn is she's alive," said Barbara Dill of the San Diego Community Church of Religious Science, where Kahn has done several "Take This Job and Love It" seminars. "She really woke people up with her basic message--'If you're not doing what you like to do and getting paid for it, you're in the wrong job.' "
Once you've found that job, Kahn says, play it up.
"When someone at a party or on an airplane asks you what you do," Kahn said, flashing an exaggerated grin, "say, 'I'm so glad you asked. . . . you'll never believe what I do!' "
She maintains that most people are bigger than their jobs and have unlimited potential. Only fear of failure and lack of confidence hold them back. "A lot of us have been shut down early," she contends. But she insists that giant leaps into the unknown carry strong positive benefits that outweigh the negatives. "And if people are living their dreams, they are happier all around, both at work and at home.
Make It Fun
"I've never let anything stop me," Kahn added. Growing up poor in Brooklyn, she vowed to succeed. She remembers taking up tennis just to prove you didn't have to be thin to play the game and "begging teen-age peers to venture out and have fun."
She pointed to roadblocks--tunnel vision and a wealth of excuses--that adults use to stifle opportunities without investigation. Kahn parodied those fearful of new experiences, who waffle, "Who's gonna be there? How much does it cost? Tuesday? I wash my hair Tuesdays."
"Everything sounds fun to me! I'm a real participator," said Kahn, who has modeled larger-sized women's clothing and run GROW, a women's networking group. Acting on her Carol Burnett dream, Kahn has appeared with a friend at the Improv and the Comedy Store as the team of Kahn and Cleveland.
One of her favorite interview questions is, "If I had dinner with your colleague or spouse, what would he/she say?"
Kahn said of her producer-writer husband, Alfred, "He'd say I'm outrageous, that he's never seen anyone so happy all the time. He'd say, 'The kid wakes up with a smile every morning.' "
Kahn credits Toastmasters International with bringing focus and organization to her approach. "Many people join Toastmasters to get over a fear of public speaking. Not me, I could talk for hours. I used to teach dancing at Arthur Murray's, so I had no problem with stage fright. But I needed to learn to be concise and well-organized to get my ideas across."
Strongly influenced by Terry Cole-Whittaker, a former minister with the Church of Religious Science in La Jolla, Kahn consciously tries to pass similar support and confidence on to others.
"I want people to watch my show and say, 'Hey, I can do that! And I can do it better!' The only difference between them and me is that I showed up and did it. It all starts with an idea," she said.
Kahn clearly revels in channeling her explosive energies into her "Odd Jobs" endeavors. "Every day I say to myself, I'm so glad that I did this. The best part is I get to choose the game and I get to pick the players."