From one island to another
Career Pivots
 • 
Feb 12, 2021

From one island to another

Cassie Coash
Cassie Coash
MBA Candidate at Stanford GSB
Cassie Coash
Cassie Coash
MBA Candidate at Stanford GSB

"People making big career pivots - and especially pivots to new countries - don’t always have tried-and-true processes. A coffee chat, a 30-minute call, and a forwarded email changed my life."

I used to walk through Central Park in the early mornings thinking about how and when I would make my career move to a mission-driven company, preferably outside of the US. When people learn that I left New York City and moved to the paradise island of Mauritius, they often ask how it all happened. It wasn’t a common move to make after working at an investment bank. People making big career pivots - and especially pivots to new countries - don’t always have tried-and-true processes. It looks a little different for everyone. 

I have always had a high tolerance for risk and comfort with ambiguity; these attributes were incredibly helpful as I navigated the process of making a big career pivot after 3 years in New York. With my natural excitement for and comfort with change - such as moving to new locations and adapting quickly, or taking on projects with minimal guidance - having a process to actually make the change happen helped move me forward. The process I eventually followed through this experience - reflecting often, asking for help, and helping others - is now a framework I will continue to use throughout my career. 

Reflecting often

“What is your mission for your life?” When walking around African Leadership University’s (ALU) campuses in Mauritius and Rwanda, staff and students hear and reflect on this question often. A few years ago as a new ALU employee, I was taking tangible steps to uncover my mission and pursue it, too. 

When I was living in New York City working in finance a few months prior, I was very focused on the work of the moment, and I wasn’t frequently asking myself, “what is my mission for my life?” In the moments I did think about the next step in my career, I could see several clear paths (mostly all involved staying in finance, since it was the easiest and ‘safest’ route to take), but the path I knew I wanted to take was less defined. What I did know is that I hoped to focus on investing in entrepreneurs and supporting ecosystems for entrepreneurs. I also wanted to work and live internationally, which added another dimension to my search. 

Since I didn’t yet have a consistent practice of reflection, my initial guiding question to help me start was: What is the first thing I cannot wait to read about when I wake up? What are the topics for which I have endless open tabs? Becoming more aware about my interests helped me narrow down the companies and regions where I wanted to work. It would take me several months of hard work for my eureka moment to appear.

Now, I have a system for reflection. As I make my next career pivot (I’m in the process of doing so now at graduate school), I know I already have this foundation and can make moves quickly. A few aspects of this system include:

  • Frequent check-ins with my list of values, to make sure the work I am doing or pursuing has alignment. These values relate to both my personal and professional life. 
  • Mind mapping exercises with friends. Using easel paper and markers is my favorite way to map. Sometimes I will map many parts of my life - for example, the central idea will be me, and the subtopics might be “job”, “finances”, “health”, “relationships”, “hobbies”, etc. For each subtopic, I’ll make more branches for goals, or maybe aspects that are going well and aspects I would like to change. 
  • Creating and referring to my personal strategy map (see: The Seventh Sense: How Flashes of Insight Change Your Life by William Duggan). 

Asking for help

Once I had initial guidance from reflection and research, I was ready to share my goals with friends and colleagues. I find it helpful to talk to people about my interests and curiosities, even if they don’t have a background in those interests. People often have insightful perspectives to share, and I learn how to better tell my story. 

There were two meetings I had that completely launched me onto the path I’m on now. The first was a coffee chat to catch up with a friend who also worked at the bank. During our conversation, I started talking about the career move I was hoping to make. Up until this point, I had mostly tried to find my pivot through job and fellowship applications rather than sharing my goals with people in my network. While I still did not have the clearest sense of what that would be, she suggested that I talk to a friend of hers with interests that overlapped with mine.

This led to the second meeting which was a call with this connection (who I am now lucky to call a friend as well!). During our 30-minute conversation, she shared the story of her own exciting career pivot with me. A few weeks later, an email jumped out at me in my inbox: the person I had spoken to forwarded a job opening for Chief of Staff for the CEO of ALU, an opportunity I would never have found through my research. ALU immediately passed my “what am I eager to read about all day?” test, given its innovative learning model and its mission to develop ethical and entrepreneurial leaders. Since I had a strong foundation from my reflection practice, I knew the role and the company fit what I was looking for. After initial interviews, the finalists for the position were given one week to prepare a work sample test, which only further confirmed my excitement for the role. Three months later, I was on my way to Mauritius. 

*What I did not detail in this story about finding ALU was the number of jobs and fellowships I applied to at different companies in the months leading up to my ‘eureka’ moment. It was a journey of preparation, and persistence, so keep going if you’re on the path to make a change!

Helping others

A coffee chat, a 30-minute call, and a forwarded email changed my life. What may have been a pretty standard call for my friend (she’s a generous and helpful person) was the inspiring and energizing call I needed to let me know that what I wanted to do was possible. Now, my dreams and goals for my future, both professional and personal, are rooted in the opportunities I had while living and working in Mauritius, and then Nairobi, Kenya, with the same company.  

Career pivots can be scary, and it can be hard to leave a career with a fairly clear path, but helping people can make the experience easier. Help can come in many forms, such as connecting people, forwarding opportunities, sharing a relevant article or book, or storytelling through writing or a phone call. There’s always time in the day to look for ways to share. 

I will always be grateful for the help I received and the support I continue to have from my networks; and, throughout my career, I’m committed to fostering environments where people can talk about and pursue their goals. Whenever possible, I’m ready to help and be a change agent in someone else’s career pivot. 

If you're interested in finding both a group of peers and advisors that will help you make a change and grow, get in touch!

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