No, I have not lost my mind. It is the classic catch-22 - you can't get the job you want until you have experience and you can't get the experience because they won't hire you. It is the same for new college graduates, mid-career transitions, and moving up the corporate ladder. So how do you get that coveted "experience" to land you your dream job?
I have always believed that volunteering offers you a chance to give back to your community and try out new things without making a major career change. If you have an opportunity to serve on a committee that is in the area you think you want to go in, I say jump on it. Not only do you get an insider's view of the position and some coveted "experience" but you will likely find some top notch mentors along the way.
I also think that taking on volunteer or collateral duties at work is a great way to challenge yourself, network with others, and try something out on a temporary basis. If you learn by doing, you may find this the best way to "try something on."
My last recommendation is a bit controversial in some cultures, so check it out before you commit what may be the corporate kiss of death - lateral jumps. I personally believe wholeheartedly that individuals who take lateral jumps are interested in constantly learning and often have a broader view of the organization than some of the leaders who went up one expected ladder can ever have. I think it allows for cross-pollenization, sharing of new ideas and efficiencies, identification of duplicative processes, and increased partnering across silos. However, in a culture that values subject-matter expertise, it may not be a legitimate path to leadership. Not that you shouldn't do it, just make your decisions consciously knowing the pros and cons in your culture.
What are other unique ways in which you have gathered experience? What did you learn in the process?