foregone profits and what we choose instead

Last weekend, I was asking a friend about her experience at one of the most competitive, well-respected research institutions. For six months, she had led a project focused on leveraging private sector influence to fund innovation in developing countries. In my last blog, I discussed how millennials are choosing career paths that are “activist” in some sense of the word. And yet, even though she is passionate about entrepreneurship, my friend decided not to pursue the role because “there was not enough opportunity for professional development.”


Other friends and I nodded in understanding. Her rationale made perfect sense to us. In fact, 76 percent of millennials prefer “a more creative, inclusive culture rather than an authoritarian, rules-based work approach” (2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey). But this seems so obvious to those of us in the midst of it, guiding our whole life by opportunities that bolster our potential for growth.


When I was a senior in college, I had the choice between deferring for two years to join Teach for India or working in consulting immediately following graduation. I gave up a substantial salary for two years because I knew the learning alone from TFI was worth the opportunity cost, without even taking into account the potential impact I would have on my students or any of the other positive externalities.


Even the decision to return to consulting after TFI was based largely on considerations of professional development. If I am to contribute meaningfully in education, I felt I needed the skills I would acquire in consulting. I wanted to hone my ability to think strategically, distill insights, communicate effectively, and convince stakeholders and partners.


The word I go back to is “impact.” I want to create a positive impact for the stakeholders I choose to work with. But before I can do that, I need to make myself into an individual who has the skills to create change.


Part of this mindset is societal. It is common for millennials to stay in school longer. More millennials have college degrees than any other generation at comparable life stages. Post-graduate degrees have become an implicit expectation in many industries and circles. Graduate school enrollment amongst 18 to 34-year-olds increased from 2.8 percent in 1995 to 3.8 percent in 2010, which represents a 35 percent increase.


Although formal education and degrees are crucial ways to gain knowledge, I strongly believe learning can be found in most experiences, interactions, and jobs. That being said, there are definitely some job prospects and organizations that lend themselves more easily to personal growth and development. As I seek to develop myself for now, I prioritize those experiences. In a few years, I believe I will shift my priorities towards impact over learning, while continuing to seek learning from all experiences.


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