Your Core Desires Won’t Change Just Because You’re Changing Careers

For a long time I couldn’t fathom the thought of leaving academia. Doing so seemed like a betrayal of who I was—not only because of the time I’d committed to earning my PhD, but because of why I pursued that career to begin with.

I’d always wanted a job that was intellectually stimulating and allowed me to make a positive impact on the world. During college, academia seemed like a perfect calling. I loved studying the literature and history of ancient Greece and Rome, and saw teaching as a chance to improve society by making generations of students more critical thinkers. The lifestyle looked attractive, too. Job prospects were improving when I finished my BA in 2007, and I had little reason to think I wouldn’t be able to raise a family on a professor’s salary at some point down the road.

A decade on, however, I had to reassess that judgment. Tenure-track jobs were in short supply, and professors from small humanities departments were no longer being entrusted with the deanships and other administrative positions I hoped to attain later in my career. Soon I realized that working in academia wasn’t just undermining my personal goals, but threatening my professional aspirations, as well.

My impulse to seek work that was meaningful nevertheless made it hard to look beyond the professoriate. I knew I needed a degree of financial stability to enjoy the things I wanted out of life, but doubted whether business would excite me. “Making an impact” and “making a living” looked mutually exclusive.

The way I resolved this dilemma was twofold.

First, I accepted that any job I took was unlikely to provide both moral and financial satisfaction. This meant disentangling two things I wanted in my life and finding ways to achieve the former outside of work. To prepare for that reality, I began volunteering with charities in my hometown and started a blog to chronicle my career change and give advice to others coming behind me.

Second, I redefined what I meant by “making an impact” within the context of work. Although I doubted whether most companies did good in any metaphysical sense, I was drawn to the complexity of the challenges they tackle and the practical impact they have on how people live and interact. That made the corporate world more attractive over time—and eventually allowed me to be comfortable accepting an offer in the private sector.

Today I’ve managed to strike a balance that works for me. As a pursuit manager for a global consulting firm, I serve as a communications strategist and proposal writer for high-value projects. Every month I learn about new companies and industries—and help experts in those areas clarify their vision for how to address our clients’ greatest challenges. There’s never a shortage of excitement as we race towards a deadline, and it’s fun to craft sales pitches for some of the most recognizable organizations in the world.

This job also lets me fulfill my other aspirations. Not only has it provided me with the financial security to start a family (our first child was born just a few months ago), but my company offers sixteen weeks of paid family leave. This has allowed me to bond with my son during his first month of life and will help me smooth my partner’s transition back to work when she resumes her academic job in January.

My ability to impact the world feels greater than it did when I was a professor, too. I can now support the charities I care about with more regular donations, as a more effective advisor, and through connections to a wider personal network. And of course I haven’t forgotten my roots. I regularly take networking calls with academics and can now provide more concrete guidance to make their transition to a new career less painful.

A few words to sum up. Remember that your core desires won’t change just because you’re changing careers. As you leave academia, it’s important to make room for all the things that matter in your life—even though you’ll necessarily have to rebalance them. And while the path you eventually take may be different from anything you can imagine now, you can still enjoy a life that checks all the boxes that drew you to the professoriate in the first place.


Christopher L. Caterine, PhD earned his PhD in Classics from the University of Virginia. He currently is a Pursuit Manager at Deloitte.

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