“I would just sit in some meetings and think about how little everything mattered.”
What work were you doing previously?
I led a digital marketing strategy agency within a group of healthcare marketing companies.
It was actually a pretty cool opportunity and we did some great work with medical and non-profit partners. Before that, I had a short stint in public accounting with PwC.
What are you doing now?
I'm the CEO and co-founder of MovingWorlds.org – a platform that helps people volunteer their real skills around the world, on their own or through corporate-sponsored programmes.
Why did you change?
There's a lot that goes into big changes like this and I think it was a long time coming. But the 'straws that broke the camel's back' were when the following two things happened in quick succession:
1. I had the realisation that, even if I grew the best marketing agency ever, we weren't solving the root causes of some of the world's biggest problems.
2. I'd applied to the Acumen Fellows programme (which is awesome!) but wasn't chosen in the final stages. Knowing that I still wanted a global experience and to diversify my skills, I decided I'd plan my own 'fellowship' by spending a year volunteering my skills around the world.
Are you happy with the change?
Launching a start-up, especially one that focuses on social mission above profits, is a hard journey, but it's incredibly rewarding.
Every week we hear new stories from our 'Experteers' who have these incredibly transformative experiences; at the same time, we hear from social change leaders who benefit from these Experteers and thank us profusely for bringing them together.
What do you miss and what don't you miss?
It's been a long time since I thought about this.
I suppose I miss some things, like financial security, and being able to 'switch off' from work on the weekends or holidays. It's hard to have those things now, and running an organisation can become so all consuming.
But feeling that every effort we make counts, and – especially in these tumultuous times – that every thing we do, every email we send, every meeting we attend can actually contribute to the greater good, that makes it worthwhile.
I remember in my last job that I would just sit in some meetings and think about how little everything mattered. That was soulless for me, so I don't miss that at all. If having 'purpose' means being overly connected, I'm willing to pay that price.
How did you go about making the shift?
With a little bit of rash decision making, and a little bit of process!
As I was thinking about this change, I found myself getting caught up in decision paralysis. There were too many choices, too many options.
So, I told a friend that I would make my decision by the end of the month. I knew that I wouldn't be able to plan a whole year of travel in that time frame, so instead I figured out the first and last things I would do. The first so that I would be committed to starting, and the last so I would commit to giving myself the time and space to stick through it.
I think telling a friend to hold me accountable, and planning the two keystones of the experience, enabled the rest to fall into place.
What didn't go well? What 'wrong turns' did you take?
The biggest one was my over-confidence in myself. I have been humbled at every stage of my transition and continue to be so now as an entrepreneur. By accepting that I've been able to learn and grow much faster.
How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?
The great thing about Experteering during my transition was that I essentially lived for free – or at least very close to it.
In this way, it was relatively easy to stretch out my savings.
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
Whether people realise it or not, I think we take a lot of strength from our current work teams and social circles.
When you leave those, it's easy to feel selfish, or that you're abandoning people you care about. I found that hard, and a little lonely.
While many people talk about making big career or life changes, the reality is that few actually do. Making the leap isolated me a little bit, and that brought some intense emotions that I wasn't accustomed to. Those are tough to cope with.
What help did you get?
I found a lot of balance in yoga, mindfulness, and journalling.
I knew that my transition experience had to be driven from within, and so turning inward to find answers and support was, I felt, a critical part.
What resources would you recommend to others?
1. A journal. No matter what stage you're at, write down your goals, and your reflections as you work towards them. It's one of the best ways to find clarity.
2. Accountability buddies – whether that's a friend who's also transitioning, someone who's done it before who will push you, or a coach that will help guide you, find accountability so you don't let yourself down.
What have you learnt in the process?
This is totally clichéd, but it really is about the journey.
The things I remember the most from my transition were not the things I thought I would.
For example, I had a really unique chance to ski off a 6,500 metre peak in Nepal. I was sure that would be the highlight of my experience, but it wasn't nearly as special as a small, impromptu hike I did with some teachers from a school that I had been Experteering at after my climb.
In other words, I learnt not to over-design or over-commit. I had to just go with it, and be open so that I could connect with those random, special experiences.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
Don't over-design it.
I've never met someone who's taken a leap to transition their career and regretted it afterwards, but I've met many people who regret never taking the chance.
Just set a goal and your first step – the rest will fall into place.
You can find out more about Moving Worlds at www.movingworlds.org.
What lessons could you take from Mark's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.