On Quitting Your Job & Changing Careers In The Middle Of An EMBA Program

LindsayCold and prickly. The phrase supposedly used at Amazon when a customer has a bad buying experience at the company’s hands, and what most people would feel at the core of their soul when leaving a career they’d built for over a decade.

But opportunity and challenge for anyone who goes to Wharton should make them feel warm and fuzzy. After all, why go to business school in your mid-thirties unless you are ready to take risk, to change and to transform? What really is the point of executing on the same tasks using what you’ve known for years, when you can take something you just learned and apply it to something entirely new?

And so I took the plunge. TV producer no more. VP of everything that is not engineering, I am. I left it all to join a tech start-up. As my friend/classmate/CEO says, “Rock and Roll.”

Which brings me to my own nonsensical statement:  Bless Tom Cruise.

Nothing, I mean, nothing says you’ve reached that rubber-meets-the-road -moment more than singing “Free Falling,” with the office goldfish in a zip lock bag in the backseat of your car or standing on Oprah’s couch yelling at the top of your lungs. I felt that way more than a month ago when I snapped a quick picture of what could be my last newsroom and left my badge with the security guard at the front desk.

After a year at Wharton San Francisco, a number of heart-to-hearts with Steve Hernandez who runs the program’s career placement and some chats with alums, what I knew already became galvanized in my heart:

Working at big companies can’t provide that visceral sense of independence that working at a start-up will because while big companies can offer security and money, most won’t give you a seat at the table or a cool title that only explains one-hundredth of what you really do.

But there is oh….risk (big sigh). It’s not just the bizarre board game that sat under your bed as a kid. No. It’s life— and not the third tier cereal you bypassed in favor of Lucky Charms. My life is full of risk these days. The opportunity to throw caution to wind is provided by the courage and encouragement of my husband who every morning reminds me “with great risk comes great reward.”

And the immediate reward is responsibility. The real kind, not the BS you write on a resume.

One classmate, who recently made a similar move, said that when he worked at Sony he would get up in the morning and think about his day in a passive sense.  Now that he works for a start-up, he stands in the shower thinking how his decisions could mean make or break for his company. This idea really captures the distinction between having a job, even a high paying one, and working at a place where each day could be the last or the beginning of an incredible future.

Then there’s my favorite reaction that came from one of my colleagues at Wharton when she heard I left TV. She expressed, in a very colorful way, that I was brave to take this risk, which I felt was a surprising statement coming from a person who manages millions.

And the truth is walking away from a career does mean growing a pair and thinking you can be a part of a team that has the mettle to build a company from scratch is pretty cocky, if not insane. But back is an old familiar feeling of doing something for the first time and stretching my wits. That’s not insanity. It’s a desire to be a part of something B.I.G.

And B.I.G. accomplishments at Wharton used to reside mainly on Wall Street and our banking colleagues will no doubt continue this great tradition. But now, we are taking a piece out of the start-up world too, with much encouragement from staff, faculty and alumni. As one of my family friends, mentors, longtime Silicon Valley venture capitalists and Wharton grad said to me last week: Congratulations, you are no longer sitting on the sidelines.  You are among the distinct few who wants to make a future for themselves and create opportunity for others.

And so that endeavor is well on its way, but I’ll never turn my back on what I’ve done before.

In fact, I’d like to think my producing days have just begun and the choice I have made, founded in good reason: I believe in the brilliance and vision of my classmate and new boss. He is wicked smart. And good producers know how to pick emerging talent and make them better.

So, I think I’ve found the guy. Now let’s go make a record, baby.

Lindsay Stewart is an MBA for Executives student at Wharton | San Francisco. Former special projects producer for KPIX- TV, she is now vice president of marketing for rboomerang.com.. Stewart graduated from UC-Berkeley with a BA in English in 2002. Her previous posts on P&QforExecs:

A Third Of The Way Into Wharton’s San Francisco EMBA Program
Why I’m Getting An Executive MBA At Wharton
An Apt Metaphor: Letting The Goat Into Your House
Working In Groups: The Quintessential Pearl Experience of The EMBA