Park Perspectives: To change careers, follow your passions and abilities
Park Perspectives are authored by Johnson’s Park Leadership Fellows.
By the summer of 2016, I knew I wanted to transition from a career in the Army to one in the private sector. The question, though, was in which industry did I want to work and in what function? Up until that point, the only thing I had ever truly wanted to be since I was 11 years old was a leader of an infantry unit. Growing up, that seemed the most tangible way to make a difference in the types of challenges and conflicts my country faced.
Throughout my career in the Army, however, I learned that big, complex challenges were rarely overcome by any single functional area or organization. Those challenges were complex precisely because they weren’t easily solved by any one group. I knew whatever I did next, it needed to contribute toward a greater effort because a service orientation helped me to construct meaning for my work and tap into the motivation to do it well. I also realized that there were likely numerous jobs I could pursue that would allow me to make an impact.
Finding my calling: Climate change
As an Oklahoman, I became aware at an early age of the effect that specific climate events can have on a community. In 1999 and 2013, my hometown, Moore, was struck by F5 tornadoes, with winds between 260 and 318 miles per hour. They were so devastating they physically and emotionally reshaped the town forever. While these events weren’t caused by climate change, they made me tangibly aware of the permanent effect that climate events can have on our lives.
This experience informed my perspective and increased my interest in the topic of climate change as it came to be discussed in greater frequency within society. It seemed to be a challenge that was significant and complex. And while I knew I wasn’t articulate or charismatic enough to stump on political reform, and not smart enough to design rockets or brave enough to fly them, mitigating climate change seemed like something I could do something about. Once I’d found this meaningful calling, though, I wondered, how do I actually do it?
I didn’t know the answer. How could I? I had never worked in the private sector, knew nothing about the energy industry, and had no idea how to abate climate change. I had studied management as an undergraduate and was a generalist in the Army. The worst mistake I could have made at this point, though, would have been to not accept my ignorance, resolutely pursuing, instead, a specific function—such as operations, human resources, finance, or marketing—simply because I had prematurely determined that function to be the one that made the most “impact.”
Discovering my talents and interests at Johnson
I’ve learned over the years that people have the most effect when their intrinsic motivation, natural ability, and intellectual curiosity are aligned in the work they do. As an MBA student at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, I realized I needed to figure out what interested me and what I might actually be competent at doing.
The comprehensive core classes at Johnson are great because they give students a strong academic foundation, but also expose us to subjects we might not otherwise be inclined to take. I found that I actually enjoyed classes like accounting and finance—classes I expected to be dry and boring prior to coming to Cornell.
While taking the classes, I also reached out to Johnson alumni who worked in a wide array of roles within the renewable energy industry. With their help, I gained a better understanding of what business developers, project managers, and finance associates actually do.
Through all of this, I came to believe that pursuing a career in investment banking within the renewable energy industry would satisfy a lot of the desires I had for my next professional career. It would allow me to work toward the abatement of climate change by helping source capital for renewable energy businesses and projects, give me a broad understanding of the systems-level factors affecting the industry, and permit me to internalize a probabilistic and risk-conscientious financial mindset. I believed these last two determinants were aligned with the sustained curiosities I had developed since arriving at business school—they would help advance my professional work and career as I worked toward making a difference in climate change.
Next step: The real world
Now it was time to actually try out that profession that seemed so perfect for me. Business school is great, but it’s not the real world. None of us will truly know if a profession is for us until we’ve actually lived it for a while. Thankfully, Johnson’s Two-Year MBA program allows for such an experience right in the middle of the program. I loved my summer internship experience and was fortunate enough to gain a full-time offer from a firm where I’ll get to work in renewable energy finance on a daily basis. This outcome was great, but ultimately it was a byproduct of a long developmental process.
My experiences have taught me that we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves or rush to a conclusion if we are uncertain about what to do next. Start with an effort you find meaningful, but allow your passion, curiosity, and abilities show you were to go next.