By all traditional metrics, investment banking associate Priya Patel had a successful career before joining the MovingWorlds Institute. It checked the boxes of what she had understood success to mean: a prestigious and competitive job, financial wealth, and a clear path forward. Now all she had to do was follow it.
The only problem was this nagging whisper that there had to be more than this. But to succeed in investment banking meant picking a track and dedicating herself fully to it — the things that truly gave her a sense of meaning, like volunteering in her community, would have to take a backseat. “I had that typical mindset of, ‘once I have savings or some kind of livelihood set up, then I can do what I’m more interested in,’ which for me was contributing to the community and being an active part of it,” Priya explained.
And then COVID-19 happened.
Between a global pandemic, subsequent economic collapse, and worsening social and climate crises, the status quo was flipped on its head. All the while, that inner whisper was getting louder. She found herself wrestling with bigger questions about her purpose and the role she could play in shaping a better future — she didn’t know the answer yet, but she did know that investment banking wasn’t it anymore.
And then there is the most dangerous risk of all — the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet that you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.
As Priya recalled, “I realized that I had a choice, and that if I was no longer motivated to stay on this path, then there’s nothing keeping me from doing something else that did motivate me. I started having conversations about it with my friends and family. That helped make it real, and started me on the path of trying to figure out how to merge the things I really cared about into my work, instead of trying to fit them around it.”
Taking the leap
Priya’s research led her to MovingWorlds blog, where she discovered the whole world of social finance. “Finding those resources and learning about the transformational power of impact investing is what really helped me see this as something I can truly see myself doing and being part of,” she remembered.
Excited, she opened the Global Fellowship application. She quickly realized that this wasn’t the kind of application where she could just list her accomplishments; it was going to take some real introspection. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘ok, this really isn’t some pay-your-way-in type of thing, it is going to require some serious self-reflection and work to answer these questions’,” Priya shared. The focus on execution that had gotten her this far wasn’t going to do the trick this time. And that made her nervous… what if she didn’t have what it takes? She closed the application.
Fear and anxiety many times indicates that we are moving in a positive direction, out of the safe confines of our comfort zone, and in the direction of our true purpose.
Charles F. Glassman
It takes courage to leave an arena where you have already proven your ability to succeed and step into the unknown, where there aren’t such clear cut answers and neat lines. But instead of playing it safe she decided to put herself out there — when she couldn’t stop thinking about the Fellowship a week later, she applied. Cole, the Director of the Institute, followed up shortly thereafter with additional questions. She explained, “I think that was the moment that I really knew I had to do this. Based on his line of questioning, I saw that this program was going to challenge me in a way that I wasn’t being challenged before. I realized that being pushed outside of my comfort zone was the only way I could see what I was truly capable of.”
When the acceptance letter arrived a few days later, Priya was as excited as she was nervous. She explained, “I had typically been a very guarded person, sticking to predictability and order. The fact that I had no idea what was going to happen next, but was opening myself up to the possibilities, was exhilarating.”
If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.
Before the Fellowship, Priya was taking an outside-in approach to analyzing her career options. She was trying to figure out her end destination first — did she want to work in social finance? Impact investing? She wasn’t sure. But MovingWorlds takes an inside-out approach to career development, starting first with understanding who you authentically are and then using that as a compass to figure out where you want to go. For Priya, getting to know both herself and her peers over the course of the Fellowship kickoff weekend “gave me the confidence to explore and be open to not knowing exactly what I want next.”
In particular, the assessments and exercises around strengths and purpose helped Priya shift her perspective about herself and the way she related to others. She shared, “the results reconfirmed what I had known deep down but had a hard time articulating, and it was really validating to go through the exercise of saying them out loud in this space where it was safe to be vulnerable. That experience will hold with me for a long time. It was one of the first times in my career – and maybe my life? – that I’ve been that open and vulnerable with people, especially with people I had just met!”
Being rooted in a supportive community of other professionals navigating something similar helped Priya start to befriend the unknown. She shared, “That was a big shift for me – being ok with not having all the answers. I’m still early on in my journey, and there’s so much out there that I want to explore.” And within the self-directed learning model of the Fellowship, Priya was able to do exactly that. She reflected, “It was a bit intimidating at first when I realized that I could take ownership of my own learning process to dig deeper into the areas that piqued my interest. We were going through this experience as a cohort, but at the same time having completely different experiences based on our individual needs and interests. I didn’t even know it was possible to customize something like that on this kind of scale.”
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.
That combination of flexibility and structure helped Priya push beyond her comfort zone in both setting goals for herself and staying accountable to achieving them. “It makes such a difference going through this process with a close-knit group of people who really believe in me, and for that reason aren’t afraid to challenge me when I’m thinking too small and am capable of more. Just today our accountability group was reflecting on how much we’ve catalyzed each other’s development and grown in such a short period of time.”
Translating personal growth into career growth
By stepping boldly into the unknown and doing the work to meaningfully introspect, she was able to translate her goals into reality. Not long after the program kickoff, she landed an interview with Stand Together, a philanthropic community that identifies, vets, and creates organizations with innovative ways to remove barriers in education, business, communities, and government so every person can rise.
It was an arduous process, but through multiple rounds of interviews with leaders from across the organization, Priya was able to leverage her learnings from the Fellowship to stand out from the crowd. She explained, “The way we went through purpose drivers and strengths in the kickoff helped me more effectively communicate how I could add value to the organization, and the concepts we were learning also helped me ask better questions. For example, I remember having discussions in the Institute about the topic of power as it relates to working in this space, and how to balance power through co-creation. I was able to bring that perspective to my interviews with Stand Together, and it gave me the ability and confidence to ask more thoughtful questions that go beyond the surface level.”
When you know your values and stop worrying about making the “wrong” choice, you can move forward with greater confidence and clarity of focus.
Priya left a lasting impression on the Stand Together team, and ultimately was offered the job. She explained that, “When I got the offer, I actually set up time with Cole to make sure it lined up with what I had uncovered about myself so far. Having someone who is willing to listen and talk through things with you, who knows you on such a deep level and has your best interest at heart, really helped me confidently take the next step of saying yes.”
Even after accepting the position, the Fellowship has continued to inform her work. She explained, “Coming from a non social impact background, the readings and case studies definitely continue to help me and inform my perspective. It’s made me more mindful about taking a human-centered design approach to keep the people we’re serving at the center of my work. I now have more intention in the type of work I’m creating, rather than just going through the motions to develop an end product. I’m now able to take a step back and think through the approach that will best serve the community, rather than solely focusing on the execution. That’s been a big shift for me, especially coming from investment banking!”
Reflecting on the experience as a whole, Priya had this to say: “For the longest time, I suppressed that inner whisper that something more was out there and continued on autopilot in the industry I thought I ‘should’ be in. This experience has helped me wake up to the fact that I’m in the driver’s seat, and am capable of more than I ever thought possible. I am the one who gets to decide what success means for my work and life. And that is incredibly empowering.”
If you are not willing to risk the usual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.
Priya’s story is an inspiring reminder that real change happens at the edge of your comfort zone. If you’re ready to push beyond your comfort zone to merge your profession with your purpose, take the first step by applying to the MovingWorlds Institute Global Fellowship.