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When It No Longer Pays to Follow Your Dreams

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) --

"Think outside the box..."

"Follow your heart and pursue your passions..."

"Don't be afraid to roll the dice..."

Wonderful bromides: they're the staple of every haughty high school and elite university commencement address. "Graduation Bingo" smart phone apps now allow ADD-addled grads to track the beneficent buzzwords as they flow from the august speaker's silvery tongues.

The only problem: it's all a bunch of baloney!

For every hedge fund millionaire and Silicon Alley billionaire pontificating from the podium, there are thousands -- no, tens of thousands -- of talented individuals who follow the be-an-iconoclast advice, roll the dice, and come up snake eyes.

This template is especially treacherous when applied to middle-aged professionals trying to recalibrate their careers in the post-recession, "new-normal" environment. To wit, a displaced corporate lender with twenty years experience at a money center bank has almost no realistic chance of reinventing herself as an entrepreneur or, worse yet, an independent consultant.

Yet the start-a-business "arrow" is the first that traditional career counselors pull from their quivers. And why not; it's easy advice to both give and receive. Who doesn't want to be told to dream their dream? Sadly, the only people who profit from such advice are the printers who create the cringe-making business cards that read something like "Joe Bloggs; CEO, JB Consulting, LLC" followed by a mobile phone number and a suburban address that clearly represents Joe's dining room table.

In short, the bored insurance salesman who wants to open a bar; the under-employed Mom who dreams of launching an event planning business; and the down-sized executive who's determined to invest his severance in a fast food franchise would all be better off to spend their money on an low-glamour -- but low-beta -- effort like completing a certificate program in forensic accounting, or compliance, or tax planning.

Graduation speeches are over; real life prevails. The die that you roll when you think about chucking it all and starting a business is not six sided -- it's 100-sided. Now is a time when mid-career professionals would be well-served to think inside the box.


1.) Listen to David McCullough "You Are Not Special" Wellesley High School 2012 commencement address -- the quintessential speech of the "new normal."

2.) During your next brain-numbing conference call, refer to your employer's "Careers" web page. Spend at least 30 minutes to determine the following: which departments are hiring aggressively; what skills do these jobs require; which of these skills do you possess; and how could you obtain the skills needed to qualify for these in-demand jobs?

3.) Bookmark this post and forward it to the next person who bloviates about founding the next Facebook or KKR.

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