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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA JOB MARKET : CHALLENGES OF THE WORKING LIFE : ONWARD AND UPWARD : DREAM JOBS: LET IMAGINATION FLY : Even if you love your work, experts say, fantasies of a different career can be a relaxing diversion and a source of inspiration.

September 18, 1988|DAVID WHARTON | Times Staff Writer

Jack's Cafe & Stogie Parlor opens for business just after dusk. Patrons drift in from the street and walk to the back room. There, seated at small tables, they discuss the day's events over espresso and Cuban medianoche sandwiches.

John DeSimio thinks often of this cafe. It is a place he has dreamed up, a place that exists only in his mind.

DeSimio is a vice president at a successful film and television production company. He speaks excitedly about his job. He says he is one of the lucky few who enjoy their work.

Nevertheless, the 36-year-old executive harbors fantasies of another career.

"One of the things I really like to do is entertain. I somehow have this host quality," DeSimio said. "I think, 'Wait a minute. The perfect thing would be to own a restaurant.'

"Then," he said, "I start fantasizing about what kind of restaurant it would be. . . ."

Such daydreams are common among working people, say experts who specialize in the psychology of the workplace. For some dreamers, the fantasies may be a subconscious signal that it's time to switch jobs. But for others--people who are happy with their current job--daydream careers are merely a diversion from the pressures of the working day.

"It's a mini-vacation," said Dr. Marianne McManus, an associate professor of psychiatry at USC who also counsels corporations and executives. "Instead of just visualizing a trip to Spain or the Galapagos Islands, they are placing themselves in another life.

"People are multitalented," McManus said. "One job doesn't fill all their needs or use all their talents. I don't find daydreaming bad at all."

Lisa Sahakian's daydreams take the form of song.

"I sing when I'm getting ready for work, when I'm driving in my car on the way to work and when I'm at work," Sahakian said. "I sing constantly.

At 22, she works for a Beverly Hills firm that sells television commercial time. She says the stress of the advertising business makes life interesting.

"You never know what's going to happen next," she said. "The fast pace . . . it keeps me going."

But it's hard to shake the blues. Sahakian hears that music and she gets an urge to hit the road.

She figures she'd sing rhythm-and-blues in roadside bars, making just enough money to survive until the next night's gig. She'd make her way east, spending hot days and cool evenings with the hottest and the coolest.

"I'd enjoy singing and that kind of contact with people that you get in small clubs," she said. "Jazzy clubs, with lots of smoke filling the room."

For now, Sahakian satisfies her musical needs by listening to Billie Holiday albums and singing in the shower.

"My brother is a musician, and he keeps mentioning to me that we could play together," she said. "I just might do it. You never know."

The dreams of another worker come in hues of green and yellow and brown--the colors of the earth.

Parry Popejoy spends his weekdays in the three-piece suit of a real estate banker and, during the weekends, he's on his hands and knees in his parent's back yard.

"I like going to the nursery and buying a whole bunch of dirt and plants and going back to the yard and digging a hole," the 30-year-old executive said. "I've always wanted to landscape peoples' yards. I enjoy the results of something that looks good."

As vice president of American Real Estate Group, Popejoy works in the highly technical and often frustrating business of loan restructuring.

There are added pressures to the work--his father, William J. Popejoy, until recently was chairman of the company's parent corporation, the troubled Financial Corp. of America. In recent months, Parry Popejoy's job became the focus of national attention when the Wall Street Journal wrote that the boss' son was earning $70,000 a year. The first word of the article was nepotism.

"Sometimes it gets a little tough," Parry said. "I think people expect more from me now."

That's where the landscaping comes in.

"I don't think it would have half the hassles that my job now does," he said. "You would be pleasing yourself and your client."

However, starting over in the landscaping business would mean relinquishing an annual income that Popejoy has become accustomed to.

"It would be hard right now to give up my salary and all of a sudden start planting plants all over the place," he admits.

If fantasies of another career are vivid--or persistent--enough, they may eventually inspire the worker to quit his or her present job.

But, like Popejoy--who's raising a family in Newport Beach--many people can't afford to drop everything for new work in an unexplored field. And experts warn that daydreams alone aren't good enough reason to change careers.

It's just as wrong, though, to ignore work fantasies, they say.

"Those stories are your mind telling you about feelings and skills and dimensions of yourself that you value," said Sherrie Connelly, who counsels companies on the subject of job happiness.

And, short of a career change, there are steps you can take to fulfill your dreams.

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