“Something fundamentally broke inside of me.”

Image of Alexandra Nemeth
From Health Recruitment to Social Enterprise

Alexandra Nemeth's corporate career was stalling in a culture that valued profits over people, and less still her gender. Yet it was exactly this that pushed her to look inwards and seek more. Here, she shares how it feels to be making a difference in a sector she loves, and what it's taken to get there.

What work were you doing previously?

I was working in recruitment on the private equity side of a large medical practice in my hometown of Houston, Texas. 

The job wasn’t necessarily something I was intrinsically drawn to, but it checked the boxes of what I had understood “success” to mean up to that point: namely, wearing a suit to work, having an office, and starting up the corporate ladder. 

What are you doing now?

I work for a social enterprise called MovingWorlds based in Medellin, Colombia, where I manage content marketing. 

I’ve always had a passion for writing, and it still feels a bit miraculous that I’m able to make a living by doing what I love for a cause that gives me purpose. 

Why did you change?

I realised that I had the power to choose where to bring my talents and energy.

I wanted to bring them somewhere that they would be valued.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

There were a series of moments that led up to me ultimately reaching a breaking point. 

For context, when I was being hired, my future boss explained that although the role I’d be starting in wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, I should think of my career in two-year increments. If I could prove myself in this role, then after two years, I would then receive a title change and a raise. 

I hit the ground running, singularly focused on proving my value to those around me, working 60-70 hour weeks.

As the end of my first year came and went without the bonus, I finally mustered the courage to ask my boss about it. His response was “Maybe if you wore lower-cut shirts to work, you’d get your bonus.”

I was stunned into silence. For weeks afterwards I kicked myself for not standing up for myself. But by this point I was well into year two and I was determined to get that promotion I’d already been working so hard for.

As my second anniversary approached, I felt that there was finally light at the end of the tunnel. Then, I received an email from a colleague with a link to a job that my company had posted externally – the job I was told I was being promoted into.

I asked my boss about it, who said “Oh, we forgot to tell you. You won’t be getting the raise or promotion because Corporate decided to bring someone external for that position. However, can you train the person we hire?”

Something fundamentally broke inside of me. It was like realising that the Wizard of Oz was just a guy behind a curtain. I couldn’t un-see that.

Are you happy with the change?

Incredibly so. 

In a way, I think it’s easier to find the courage to make a bold change when staying put becomes unbearable. The disillusionment I experienced in my corporate role ultimately opened a space for me to ask myself for the first time in my life: what do I even care about? 

The answer I came up with was making a difference in the world. I wanted to use my strengths of writing and communication to bring people together for a greater purpose, working towards something more than solely financial gain.

I've found that and more at MovingWorlds, and will be celebrating my three-year work anniversary in a couple of months' time! 

What do you miss and what don't you miss?

That’s a good question! 

My previous work had not been a positive experience, so I can honestly say I don’t miss much. But looking back, I can see that it was the catalyst for me to end up where I am now, and I’m grateful for that. 

I definitely don’t miss operating within a culture that prioritises profit over people, the sexual harassment, the lack of autonomy, or the politics. 

How did you go about making the shift?

This time I took a completely different approach to the job search: starting with introspection about what mattered to me, rather than using other people’s expectations of me as a guide. 

From there, I dove head first into researching opportunities at the intersection of business and social good, which is when I discovered the social enterprise movement. 

As I went down the rabbit hole of social impact job boards, I discovered that MovingWorlds had an open position in Medellin, Colombia that was almost uncannily aligned with my skills and interests.

It was a six-month contract, with no guarantee of a full-time position afterwards, but that didn’t matter. I wasn’t doing this for the ‘carrot at the end of the stick’ like in my corporate job; I was doing this because I genuinely wanted to learn about social impact and make a difference with my skills.

I learned everything I could about the organisation and mapped out how my skills would be a good fit, and was thrilled that the team ultimately agreed.

Three weeks later, I was on a one-way flight by myself to Medellin, Colombia to start my new role! 

What didn’t go well? What wrong turns did you take?

On the one hand I wished I'd paid attention to the red flags at my corporate job sooner.

But at the same time, reaching that breaking point is what ultimately set me free. 

How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?

I'd been saving a portion of my corporate pay cheque each month, and had built up a decent amount of savings by the time I left. 

I took a significant pay cut, but the cost of living in Medellin was significantly lower, and as a result so were my outgoings. 

When I was offered a full-time position at the end of the six-month contract, the leadership at MovingWorlds was very clear and transparent about our financial position and ultimate goal of bringing all team members up to market salaries.

They have kept that promise, and as our revenue has grown I’ve received incremental raises that have brought me a lot closer to what I was making before. 

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

Managing the uncertainty that my family felt about the change.

I was raised by my dad, who is a corporate attorney, and as you can imagine he was not thrilled by my decision. 

Luckily I have some incredible friends (and a beloved grandmother) whom I turned to. With them I was able to process my own fears and uncertainties, and find support for making the choice that was right for me.

I’m happy to say that my dad ultimately came around. He came to visit me in Medellin about a month after I arrived, and once he experienced the city for himself, loved it so much he came back to visit me again with his 90-year old parents!

What help did you get?  

Since joining the team at MovingWorlds, I’ve received a tremendous amount of support related to both personal and professional growth. 

What resources would you recommend to others?

We recently launched a series on the MovingWorlds blog called #SocialImpactCareerGuide that takes you through each step of the career-change process (with free templates and examples), starting with the all-important introspection that I mentioned earlier. 

Another thing that helped me think through the transition was the Gallup StrengthsFinder Assessment. 

What have you learnt in the process?

I’ve learned that no one has better insight into what’s best for me than I do, and that it is my responsibility to honor and advocate for my own needs. 

Another lesson that has stayed with me is that I don’t have to change who I authentically am to belong.

If a plant is wilting, chances are there's nothing wrong with the plant – it's just in the wrong environment. The same is true for us at work. My people were out there all along – I just had to find them.

And to do that, I had to find myself first. 

What do you wish you'd done differently?

By the time I decided to leave my corporate job, I was completely burned out, but still not fully able to ask for what I needed. 

Out of a misplaced sense of guilt I offered to stay on for a few weeks to hand-off tasks and bring the new hire up to speed, but I wish I'd shortened the time line.

Particularly towards the end: it became excruciating.

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

Know your worth.

Examine your motivations behind accepting a potential job offer. Are you doing it to please or impress other people, or are you doing it because it honors you? If you’re blindly grasping for the next achievement to validate your worth in other people’s eyes, you'll never reach your destination.

Pay attention to discomfort, to signs appearing that show something isn't right (Why am I crying after work every day? Why did that conversation leave me with a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach?). Each and every one of us has the right to place boundaries, make adjustments, and change our minds based on new information.

Give yourself time and space to look inwards. One of my favorite quotes from the philosopher Alan Watts is “Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.” The same applies to your mind when you feel overwhelmed, confused, and conflicted. 

Take the leap. If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s. Freedom means the freedom to make mistakes, too – there's no guarantee that the direction you choose is the ‘right’ one. But what I’ve realised is that there is no single ‘right’ move, so have courage and remember that no matter what happens, you’ll have learned something valuable about yourself along the way.

Thanks to our friends at MovingWorlds for this story. To find out more about their work, visit mwi.movingworlds.org, or learn more about them in our Retraining Directory.

What lessons could you take from Alexandra's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at [email protected]. and you could win a £25 / $35 voucher in our monthly draw.