Karina’s Reflection on the HKS Reunion 2018As I listened to my fellow alumni share their journeys ten years since graduating from the Harvard Kennedy School, I was struck by the thoughtful and purposeful approaches to their professional endeavors. Whether promoting mindfulness among students to decrease the risk of suicide, spurring innovation in city government, fostering financial security for vulnerable Americans, providing access to affordable health care or enabling the workforce to adapt to the rapid pace of technological change, their work revolved around tackling complex and messy issues. Of course, life did not stay still in the past ten years as my friends had overcome life-threatening illnesses, welcomed children, and encountered new and unexpected personal challenges. At the reunion, regardless of one’s path, we shared a common denominator: the need to pause, reflect, and refresh. I used the 10th year reunion as a moment to reflect on my professional journey and realized that my needs and expectations have evolved. Even though I felt fulfilled with my work in international development, I craved new experiences, specifically ones that would enable me to delve into complex issues, unleash my creativity, and engage with diverse constituencies. In spite of having a mortgage and two young children, I made the decision to change course and requested a reduced role at my full-time job. This allowed me to take on a teaching role at an institution serving first generation college students, contribute to a vanguard study on the impact that immigration status has on quality of life, help plan a premier Global Social Enterprise Conference, and advise graduate school applicants during the admissions process. In parallel, I reached out to many people within my professional network to learn about their professional trajectories and worked with a career coach to refine my pitch and value proposition. I am still in the early stages of this intentional professional pivot, but I have already learned that the most fulfilling professional paths are non-linear and that I thrive in environments that are dynamic, entrepreneurial and collaborative. In spite of initial trepidation about embracing new but uncertain professional opportunities, I feel confident that I will succeed due to my sense of purpose, proactive nature, and strong support network of HKS alumni. In this process, I have reached out to my HKS friends for guidance, feedback, and support as I have discovered that many of us are sharing similar challenges in our professional lives: trying to find a balance between the need for professional recognition and visibility, demands of children and family, all while staying true to the versions of ourselves when we walked through the door on the first day of class at HKS. We even formed an informal network of HKS women who share professional opportunities with one another as well as provide advice and guidance on job applications, networking, and salary negotiations. When I applied to graduate school, I viewed it exclusively as a pathway to a better job. What I learned, ten years out from HKS, is that my notion of a “better job” changed overtime as my priorities shifted. I’m grateful that my Harvard network serves as a pillar to navigate the process of reflection and exploration of what meaningful work looks like within the context of my family’s needs. I did not expect that ten years since earning my degree, my HKS network would get me through this uncertain yet exciting moment in my professional life.
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