She drops dark blue suits for bright lights

Her story sounds like its own television drama.

Wall Street trader decides to give up a successful and lucrative career to work in the world of television.

But that's exactly what Beth Schniebolk did.

For the past year, Ms. Schniebolk has been working as an estimator, drawing up budgets, for the hit TV drama "Law & Order."

"When I tell you, 'I'm a different person,' I'm a different person. I like what I do. It fascinates me, and it's intriguing," says Schniebolk, who has always had a head for numbers and a love of entertainment and pop culture.

Her journey started back in 1994, after she received her MBA and was hired at Chase Manhattan Bank in its global investor services division.

She had spent the previous 9-1/2 years working on Wall Street, first as a trader and then as a seller.

"I knew in the middle of my stint at Chase I was in the wrong place," Schniebolk concedes. "I'm not good in a big corporate environment, and I'm not good with a lot of red tape."

So she started researching other fields - cooking, working for an art gallery, and entertainment. She read about them and talked to career counselors and people in the professions.

"I had done a lot of work to find the right place where I needed to be," Schniebolk says.

In 1996 Chase merged with Chemical Bank and mass layoffs followed, eventually hitting her department.

"I considered my layoff from Chase to be a blessing in disguise," she says. "Job change is a process. You make a decision and you set out on a path to explore the options. My package at the bank gave me the freedom to do that."

In September 1997, when she left Chase, she told the outplacement counselor she wanted to be in entertainment.

"If you want to get a job in a new industry, you have to become part of the industry," Schniebolk says. "You have to speak its language."

So she read trade publications and built a network of industry contacts. And she spent three months sending out rsums and making calls every day. "I told everyone [I was looking for a job in entertainment] - people in clothing stores and grocery stores, neighbors."

She started interviewing for corporate jobs in entertainment - what would have been a relatively easy transition. But they felt too much like her previous positions.

"I realized I wasn't getting personal satisfaction from that kind of work," she confesses. "It just wasn't singing."

One source told her to go to an entertainment seminar - where top industry executives sometimes showed up.

There she met the auditor who worked for "Law & Order." She gave him her rsum. Three months later he called her for an interview.

In July 1998, she started working for the show - as a clerk, filing, faxing, photocopying.

"I walked away from corporate America and from a really good salary - at least for now. But it doesn't feel like I sacrificed," she says. "I'm not living the extravagant lifestyle I used to, but I made a decision that I wanted to find a job where I was going to be happy."

Within three months, the staff saw her computer ability, and she started doing cost estimates for the show.

"I touch upon every aspect of the show," she says enthusiastically. She talks to the associate directors, the prop master, the art and location departments, labor, and set dressing.

While Schniebolk says she isn't doing her dream job yet - she's shooting for line production, where she would call the shots on the budget - she's on her way.

Her advice: "Really think about what makes you happy: environment, stimulation, daily chores and tasks - and talk to people about it."

"In all my job hunting times," she says, "I was so intent on getting a job that I never really looked at the job I was taking."

Opting out

A growing trend among executives in corporate America is "opting out" - leaving the corporate world behind in a quest for an improved quality of life.

In a recent study by the Association of Executive Search Consultants, more than three-quarters of respondents (85 percent of CEOs, 67 percent of human resource heads, and 78 percent of those deemed "future CEOs") said that they knew some-one in upper-management who had left the corporate world to pursue other interests.

Moreover, a majority of all three groups (56 percent of CEOs, 68 percent of HR heads, and 56 percent of future CEOs) said they personally have considered opting out.

In years to come, respondents expect this trend to become even more widespread.

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