I blazed my own career trail, so can you

mm Bill Pace

At the time I joined a management consulting firm – another in a line of pivots from teacher to interim dean to business student – I thought I was going to stay for 2-3 years, pretty much as a postgraduate degree in business, and then work my way back to the field of education. But things didn’t turn out exactly as I planned. Why not?

It turns out that I loved management consulting. Every day’s schedule was different (unlike teaching), each project was challenging, and my colleagues were amazing. Along the way, I figured out that there were three keys for me in having a fulfilling and productive career: 1) learn a ton, 2) make significant positive impact through my work, and 3) have fun. Pretty simple, but all three were true for me in consulting for the better part of the three decades that followed.

And then… they weren’t. One day I woke up and said to myself: “I don’t want to die being a management consultant and I need to leave before it kills me”. Pretty melodramatic, but true. I was just burned out on travel, long hours, rigorous client expectations, and so on. That happens to lots of people, some earlier, some later, some multiple times. And that’s okay. The key is knowing what to do if and when you hit a wall.

So what did I do? First, I planned for a departure from consulting. I talked to family, friends, and colleagues about my need to shift to something else and got tons of incredibly helpful feedback and ideas from all of them.

Based upon those discussions, I developed some ideas about what I wanted to do next. Specifically, I decided that I wanted to shift to work in either workforce engagement, economic development, or education (yes, full circle back to education). I also knew that whatever I did next, it had to be in my own back yard. No more airplanes, at least for awhile.

Then, I started reaching out to people to talk to them about my areas of interest. Over the course of six months, I talked with over 100 people in over 50 different organizations. Through those conversations, I learned a ton about each of those three areas and about many relevant organizations.

At the end of this process, I ended up getting involved in all three areas (I couldn’t help myself). I took a job with Encore.org (encore.org) as a Fellow, joined the board of Pacific Community Ventures (pacificcommunityventures.org), and joined the advisory board of Aspire Public Schools (aspirepublicschools.org). All three are incredible organizations with great people where I 1) learned a ton, 2) made a significant impact, and 3) had fun. Same rules, different contexts.

That was a few years back, and plenty has happened since then, including getting involved with Clearly Next. Recognizing and embracing the need for change in my career was the big first step. Being proactive in determining where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do was the necessary legwork. And it paid off.

Bill Pace is Managing Director of ClearlyNext, a guided online career program that helps people of all backgrounds and incomes figure out what to do next. Read more >