Allessandria Polizzi has been in corporate education, change management and organizational development for over 15 years, and currently leads education for 7-Eleven. She has a Ph.D. in English. In this post she helps you do a systematic diagnostic on your current career goals and life values. “Decision by Excel” worked for her–give it a try!
(For more on Allessandria Polizzi and the complete list of her planned posts, see this post.)
The first question to ask is: why? Are you fed up with student drama? Lonely working by yourself? Tired of not having weekends off? Have carpel tunnel from grading? Looking to make more than a kid running a pizza joint? Wanting more job security? Tired of the hustle?
Or are these just the reasons I left academia?
I reached out to Karen because I wanted to share some of the experiences I have had in making the transition from adjunct faculty to corporate leader. This isn’t to judge those who stay committed to academia. This is not to say that you shouldn’t follow your dreams and embrace your passions. And this is ABSOLUTELY not to say I have all the answers.
My goal is to help those who want to explore a different path than the one they started. Karen has graciously invited me to do that in partnership with her and to provide a forum to pass along advice, share some of my experiences, and give a different perspective from the “dark side” of a corporate career.
So, lets got back to those questions, shall we?
It’s important when beginning to explore your career options to do a lot of soul searching. Identifying why you want to change is a big step in that process. If you know why you want to leave, you will know what to look for and what to avoid in your new career choice (or choices… There are a mind-blowing-lot of options outside academia). You will also be better able to answer this question when you get asked it during an interview (& you will get asked this A LOT because people in the corporate world do not understand why you would leave the”cushy” job of a professor and will tell you OFTEN how they have dreamt of one day going back to college to get their degree in French or Engineering or whatever and live the high-life of an academic).
I recommend making a pros and cons list. I know that sounds pretty pedestrian, but I like to see things on paper. Personally, I have actually used Excel to map out career decisions before. I wrote down the things I valued on the left column (time with kids, ability to take time off for personal travel, collaborative work, autonomy, compensation, travel through work, etc), assigned a scale based on priority (5 points for must haves, 3 points for maybes, and 1 point for optional), and then scored each option using Excel magic to calculate it all and spit out an answer like one of those old timey fortune teller machines. Stop laughing. It helped me graphically see if the current path was still the right one or not.
Should a “decision by Excel” not be your thing, there are other ways to get this process going. Speaking to a counselor, religious professional or a good friend can be a great way to talk through your options. As a former English professor, I find free writing particularly helpful (in case this isn’t something you have done, it is just writing nonstop for a period of time, even when you have nothing to say). Or research and find your own way to deconstruct where you are emotionally, psychologically, and perhaps even physically. The important thing is to have a clear sense of what it is that is driving you to begin considering an alternative, so you are clear on your goals and objectives and don’t just take the first or most obvious thing presented to you.
Of course, I did none of this when I first left. Rather, I stumbled into a summer temp job for a telecom company (this was the 90s before the telecom crash, so there were budgets galore and a lot of people spending it). I was a contractor and had negotiated $25 an hour (which is laughable to me now, but we will get to that a bit later). I thought I had struck the jackpot. I walked in, day one, met the people (who were nice and approachable), saw the work I would be doing (which was not mind-numbing as I had feared), did the math (I was making more in an hour than I made in a day teaching college) & called the hubby to announce I was changing careers.
The biggest thing to keep in mind at this point is that you aren’t actually leaving academia yet. You are just doing a quick “diagnostic” to ensure that the thing that sounded like a good idea when you were in your early 20s (or whenever you decided that academia was the right path for you) is still, well, the right path for you. It could be that it remains the best way for you to fill your needs and feel fulfilled. In which case, I hope Karen can help you land a tenure-track position and get a great spot at a fantastic place. If not, I hope you come back and read my posts and eventually attend my webinars on how I recommend navigating through the process.