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.)