This employee made a questionable professional move. You won’t believe what happens next.

Last month the World Economic Forum graduated another awesome cohort of 20+ Global Leadership Fellows. I was so giddy for being their Alumni keynote. Especially that I had left my high-flying job there only 3 months earlier. I felt my only “achievement” to speak of, was that I had left the Forum – a decision that had been described as “stupid” by my then-boss (who’s a mentor and awesome in his own right), and as “crazy” by many of my big-mouthed-truth-speaking colleagues.

So I made a crazy, stupid professional decision. Here’s sharing what’s happened since, in the hopes that there is something relevant for recent graduates or those taking stock of your professional life.

Why I left

My résumé is like a lot of my colleagues’: a trail of organizations (World Bank, UN, Harvard, ministries…) that makes my parents proud. In continuing with that tradition, I joined the World Economic Forum as the youngest Global Leadership Fellow of 2012. Within 3 years I was the Forum’s youngest director. I had a great team. I loved my boss. I enjoyed my work.

Okay… so why did I leave? Truth is, I became comfortable. I knew my way around. Something weird started to happen which is slightly embarrassing to admit. I started to believe that I’m naturally good. I became a bit more defensive about my weaknesses. A bit too measured in my risks. A bit too careful.

In short I was loosing my growth mindset – the very same thing that had gotten me where I was. I needed to scare myself a bit (now I’m scared pretty much all the time).

What it’s like to be out there

To be clear, I am not preaching for leaving corporate, established jobs. But I am preaching for leaving our comfort zones.

For full disclosure: I do feel stupid everyday, because there’s so much I don’t know as a first time entrepreneur. And I do feel crazy, because at Huloul, the organization I co-founded (launching soon!), we want to make governments in the Middle East more accountable by informing and engaging citizens in typically dreadfully boring topics like policy and economics.

Here are a few more things that’ll happen when you set off on your own.

  1. You will crave external validation (because you don’t have a boss). People liking my tweets is the most upward feedback I get these days.
  2. You’ll discover the best of feelings: employing people with funds you raised. I can hire a woman living in Gaza under occupation, working from home, because she has good internet and great UI/UX skills. That’s a great power to have.
  3. You’ll discover the worse of feelings: the daily micro-failures. The uncertainty of not knowing whether I am spinning on a hamster wheel or on the mountain track.
  4. The realest thing that happens is that you no longer have a system to rely on. It’s DIY all the way. I can spend a full day choosing fonts. Yet, somehow, it’s so rewarding.

This got me thinking: why do so many of us Fellows, choose the entrepreneurial path after graduating from the program? Probably because we have no clue how hard and lonely it can be. But also because we’re primed for thinking differently. We’re awakened to all the global challenges that need solving. We’re empowered to visualize solutions. We’re offered a laboratory of the world and of power in a safe, contained environment. And we’re surrounded with a network of kindred fellows to experiment together.

This ecosystem of people with public sector hearts & private sector minds, united for purpose and for action, is undoubtedly what’s needed in a future so uncertain it’s been dubbed the “fourth industrial revolution”.

In conclusion

Sometimes to keep growing, we need to make unconventional moves.

The good news is: nothing is too crazy or stupid when we put our growth mindset on, because everything is an opportunity – to acquire experiences, gain skills, and maybe even to succeed.

The real value of an education, especially one like the Global Leadership Fellows Programme – has little to do with knowledge, and much to do with awareness and consciousness.

Borrowing from David Foster Wallace for a moment: What is awareness? It is the fish acknowledging water, hidden in plain sight (an awareness that is forcefully increased through the GLF programme’s dozens of personality tests.) What is consciousness, but making choices beyond the common default setting. Think about it. Isn’t that what leaving our comfort zone is about?

So, whatever you do,

Do something that makes you feel stupid – it means you’re learning.

Do something that makes you feel crazy – it means you’re aiming far enough.