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To What Ends: How Career Pathways Helped Me Re-Evaluate My Professional Purpose

Monday, September 19, 2022 - 10:26 am
Dr. Marvin Carr

My decision to pursue philanthropy was borne out of frustration. I had been at the Obama White House for over a year and, like many of my colleagues, felt stifled and discouraged by a lame-duck session. Despite my fancy White House Policy Advisor title, the local impact that I hoped to foster depended on my ability to convince others that the communities were important enough to invest in. I thought I needed to make a shift in my career so that I could be the one deciding who gets what, when, where, why, and more importantly, how much. It did not take long before I realized that in philanthropy, getting resources to the communities that I thought needed them would take just as much convincing as in government.

As my career in philanthropy began in 2021, I realized that I needed a deeper understanding of my "why." The initial frustration that informed my decision to leave policy and research to pursue a career in philanthropy was insufficient. I needed to better ground my work in purpose — both my personal purpose and the reason behind the societal change I wanted to create. The Council on Foundations' Career Pathways program helped me find the answers to many of these unknowns and helped me better understand my purpose in this work while building relationships with over a dozen other colleagues working to do the same. 

Exposure to my amazing cohort members was the most enjoyable and impactful part of the Career Pathways program. I was surprised at how open my fellow participants were and how much their vulnerability enhanced my own experience. The realization that they were facing the same issues as I was brought me reassurance that I was doing the right work and gave me a new set of friends to tap for solutions.

Career Pathways helped me reassess why I had chosen a career in philanthropy and realign my career journey with my purpose. It exposed me to new voices in the movement for social and racial justice and provided the tools I needed to convince others to deepen their own investment in addressing the root causes of inequity. Most importantly, Career Pathways helped me realize that becoming a grantmaker was an incomplete response to that initial disappointment when I was in the White House. The program revealed a pathway toward greater impact — going beyond deciding who gets what, when, where, why, and how much — towards shaping to what ends.

Career Pathways helped me decide whether my professional life would evolve beyond or through philanthropy. In the end, the program helped shape the why and how of my career pathway as much as where the pathway was leading — going beyond portfolio management and leading enterprise-wide strategy grounded in equity. I am now better able to use philanthropy as a tool to change mental models and shift investment strategies tied to my own values and the core values of the enterprise — helping people live better. While the program was challenging, emotional, and thought-provoking, it was worth the investment and provided me with the tools needed to be successful in the next chapter of my career.

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Professional Development