© 2017 by Natasha S. Alford

Career Chronicles: I Left My Six-Figure Job to Make Copies and Ended Up Finding My Life’s Purpose (Part 1)

August 24, 2017

Have you ever had the feeling that you wanted to do more?

 

That even though people expected you to be happy something was missing?

 

Eight years ago this month, I had that feeling.

 

At the time, I was in my first job out of a college, a 22-year-old management associate making six-figures at the world’s largest institutional hedge fund.

 

I worked with some of the most respected people in the industry, enjoyed plenty of perks and had developed genuinely close relationships with my teammates.

 

Although on paper it sounded like a good situation, I found myself feeling pretty empty on the inside on the daily.

 

Younger me hadn’t quite found the words to explain what I needed, but looking back today I understand exactly what was wrong.

 

I lacked purpose and passion for my work.

 

You see, I’d chosen a job as a means to an unknown end- rather than discovering what I was uniquely gifted to do and how I wanted to serve.

 

A lot of factors went into the decision to take that job, some which I can be open about here:

 

1. It was the height of a national recession.  

 

Like many college seniors in the fall of 2007, I was stressed about job prospects.

 

Coming from a working-class family, I had no trips to Cancun or brand new car waiting for me when I graduated from Harvard University. Just my old room at my parents’ apartment back home.

 

I had to work and needed a job right away.

 

2. I was uncertain about what my future held.

 

My junior spring, I’d been diagnosed with a blood disorder, going from a 20-something with perfect health to getting pricked with needles by doctors on a weekly basis.

 

Security was at a premium for me.  This job represented that and more.

 

3. This seemed to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

 

There were a few key women I respected at this firm and an unconventional CEO who I wanted to work closely with.

 

Working with them could be impactful for me and many years later, I can still attest that it was.

 

4. I was okay with 'maybe.'  

 

Maybe I’d learn transferable leadership skills... Then maybe I’d go to business school...  Then maybe I’d lead or build something!

 

I wasn’t sure exactly what, but in my 20-something mindset, the possibilities sounded good enough.  I'd figure the rest out later.

My reasons for taking the job weren't necessarily crazy.  By there's a difference between choosing a job and a career.

 

When you're young it takes time to learn what you want to do.  Learning what you don't want to do is just as important.

 

During this time, everywhere I looked, I saw things I wanted to take part in: Barack Obama’s campaign for president!  The movement to transform public education!  New digital media brands being created!

 

But I was watching other people work on the things I cared about, while pretending to care about where I actually was.

 

 

 

After sitting on the feeling for months, I raised my concerns to my manager and tried a stint in different department.

 

While my team was supportive, I knew it was time to step out on faith.

 

So I started exploring jobs in education, a field my mother (a public school teacher) always told me to consider but I'd dismissed as something I couldn’t afford to do.

 

Having earned a good salary without really being happy at work, I finally understood the saying “money isn’t everything.”

 

Within just a few weeks, I landed a year-long leadership fellowship at a new middle school in New York City.

 

I’d be leading in a field I cared about, but also packing lunches, answering phones and as I would soon find out- making lots of copies.

 

I would earn just $35,000.

 

And it would be one of the best decisions I ever made.

 

(Stay tuned for Part 2 of Career Chronicles: I Left My Six-Figure Job to Make Copies and Ended Up Finding My Life’s Purpose.

 

Or if you have time on your hands, you can watch this video version of my story from a speech I gave earlier this year.)

 

 

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