Kimberley Phillips

Writer and Mentor

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How Becoming an Apprentice Will Jump Start Your New Career


You want to write a novel, but all you’ve only written technical manuals over the past twenty years.

You want to turn your passion for creating beautiful hand-blown glass jewelry into a full-time business, but you know little about how to create and maintain a website.

You want to connect trained dogs with wounded soldiers and autistic kids, but you’ve only done so for your family and friends.

You want to become a tour guide, but your language skills consist of the French course you took in high school.

Are you afraid to switch careers and start over after spending years or even decades mastering your first one?

Do you have an idea of a new career you’d like to pursue, but hate the idea of becoming a beginner again?

It took years to master your first career and you don’t have years to learn a new one.Along with a shortage of time, you don’t have the resources to go back to school or the skills to start a new venture of your own. Do you think your dream job is out of reach? No, it’s not.

What’s between not moving ahead in your dream career and  finding ways to learn the skills you need without spending  a lot of time and money?

Well, there’s lots of opportunities for you to learn new skills that will turn you into a master quickly and inexpensively. First, though, you have to return to the beginner’s mindset you had in the past when you learned new skills.

Adopt a Beginner’s Mindset to Learn New Skills

Seven years ago, I decided to learn how to play the cello. I’d never learned how to play an instrument and I’d made it my mission to make sure my children learned to played several instruments. By the time they got to Middle School, my kids practiced their instruments every day.

My teacher told me to practice, but I figured I’d learned many other skills before. How hard could it be to learn the cello? I only practiced the day before my lesson. Then, I sat frustrated because I couldn’t play the scales properly.

One day, my daughter walked by, took the bow and cello out of my hands and she played the note perfectly. “Geeze, Mom,” she said. “You have to practice every day.”

My ego ruled and I sucked at playing the cello because I didn’t practice. I needed the beginner’s mind.

When you have the beginner’s mind, you trust someone else to teach you. When you have the beginner’s mind, you learn the basics before you move on to the more difficult stuff. When you have the beginner’s mind, you focus on the “how,” the process of starting with the first step and practicing it over and over again until you’ve mastered that step (or when it’s good enough).

You might fail when you start, but be patient with yourself. If you feel awkward and impatient, tell your ego to sit down and be quiet. Next, practice. Yes, practice. A lot. Eventually, you will master the skills you need. I promise.

Dump Your Mentor and Become an Apprentice

Unless your mentor is also your personal instructor and lets you work alongside him/her, you are not an apprentice.

Your mentor should be doing more than offering advice over coffee—you should be practicing skills with her, too. Mentors might provide much needed advice, but even the best mentor probably doesn’t provide the day-to-day skills you need to launch a career.  

Instead, you need to work closely with a someone whose skills are already well-known.

I decided I wanted to set-up a blog and publish regular posts on other sites. It’s not easy to go from writing books for academic audiences to writing short blog posts. After months of starting and stopping, of stalling and flailing, I decided to become an apprentice to master blogger Ayodeji Awosika . He gives me assignments, I practice, and we meet weekly on Google Chat to work on my posts.

I’m not alone in seeking out practice of this sort. Along with conferences and webinars, Jeff Goins and other bloggers now work closely with aspiring bloggers.

In the UK, you can use the online service Apprenticeship Academy, which links people seeking apprenticeships and employers seeking apprentices in a range of fields, including business, computers, and health( Anyone out there willing to launch such a service here in the US?

Volunteer and Learn New Skills

Many people begin new encore careers by first volunteering. They might not have had any experience with computers and coding, teaching immigrants English, or running a small theater, but as a volunteer they had a first-row seat watching experts.

Volunteering also allows you to practice skills you might have learned in a classroom—language skills, for example. An employer might be reluctant to hire you because of your inexperience, but work as a volunteer might give you on-the-job experience that you need.

Try connecting with Many cities and towns post volunteer opportunities on this site. While some positions require skills, other positions will teach you skills through training opportunities. In addition, you’ll work alongside skilled professionals and other committed volunteers.

If you don’t have access to this online resource, look around your own community. You’ll easily find numerous appeals for your help, including in schools, hospitals, and community organizations.

Barter Your Skill While You Learn Another

Are you an accountant who would like to learn how to turn your love of building furniture into a new career? Are you a writer who only knows how to write books, but you’d like to set up a blog?

The bartering economy–where you barter goods and services in exchange for another–has been around forever and it continues to thrive. You can barter one skill you’ve already mastered while you’re learning another.

A range of online services can help you find ways to barter your skills for others. Craigslist,, and are three sites that offer opportunities for individuals to skill swap with people, whether in their own cities and towns, or by remote.  

If these sites don’t provide results, use your own social and business networks to find others interested in swapping skills. Who knows, you might turn connecting people interested in swapping skills into your new encore career.

Create Your Own Apprenticeship and Teach Yourself

After years of writing award winning history books for academics, I wanted to write fiction (I have a minor in creative writing). I didn’t want to spend years in a writing program, but I wanted the camaraderie  that classroom learning provides.  

After assessing my needs, I decided to create my own apprenticeship by mixing online writing programs (I enrolled in online version of The Writers Studio, Simon Fraser University’s terrific creative writing program) and the DIY MFA writing community created by Gabriela Pereira, which uses a combination of self-paced learning and joining a diverse on-line community of writers using the DIY approach to writing.  

You, too, can create your own apprenticeship. First, take the time to consider what you already know and what you have mastered. Next, create a list of what you need and want to learn. Reduce this list to a final list of three new skills. Finally, consider how you might learn these skills on your own. If you’re unsure about what kind of learner you might be, take this quiz and figure out how you learn, best.

From language courses on YouTube and free apps, to cheap one-day courses at your local pottery guild, it’s possible for you to learn skills by creating your own apprenticeship. Here’s where your previous experience with learning skills at work or in school will guide you: create a lesson plan with deliberate actions that will help you master a new skill. You’ll probably learn, as I did, that you’ll need a variety of ways to learn the skills, such as online tutoring to seeking help from friends and acquaintances. You can adjust your classroom learning and hands-on training as you go.

Become an Apprentice and Revolutionize Your Career

Having the apprentice mindset that emphasizes learning and doing engages both sides of your brain.

You’ll retain the information because you’re practicing what you’ve learned. You’ll also see immediate outcomes of your efforts, especially if it’s a finished product. If you work alongside others whose skills are equal to or better than your own, you’re more likely to accelerate your own acquisition of skills. Finally, you’ll strengthen an old network or create a new network, which means expanding your opportunities for your new career.

Creating my own apprenticeship that combines the best ways I learn–doing and being a student–hasn’t been easy. It’s hard to be a beginner, again, after years of being a master in my first career.

Yet, becoming a beginner, again, has helped me become a more diverse and better writer. I think the next draft of my novel might be something someone else might want to read. And along the way, I started a blog, something I hadn’t anticipated being able to launch.

Call to Action:

Interested in learning more about establishing a successful career? Sign-up and receive your free guide on “How to Launch and Encore Career.”


About Kimberley

35 Replies

  1. Hi Kimberley,
    Isn’t it astounding (how much we often know) about a topic/subject and become blind to the fact? Your “become your own apprentice” supports the case. What we assume is “common knowledge,” many others often have little knowledge about.
    Which we have to harness.
    Thanks for the post, Kim!
    And, congratulations on the new site!!

    1. Kimberley

      Yes, Danie, you are so right. We have to stop and think about what we know and need to know. We are our own best teachers if we take the time to be our student.

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