Leaving Academia — and Starting a New Voyage of Exploration

Over the past two years, I’ve completely changed my trajectory. I left the job I’d worked so hard for, waved goodbye to my colleagues and my students, wrote a book, started a business, and transformed my life.

Perhaps understandably, many people thought I was crazy.

The truth, though, is that I’ve never felt calmer or more in control of my life — and I’m more excited about the future than I’ve ever been. Let me explain.

Looking for a bigger picture

As an academic, I specialized in knowledge management — the study of how organizations acquire, disseminate, and use information to drive value and make smarter decisions. It’s an important field, and I loved what I did. But I couldn’t help feeling that it was only one piece of a much bigger puzzle.

I decided to take a sabbatical, and came to Boston to meet and collaborate with some of the biggest names in business, leadership, and knowledge management. Virtually as soon as I got off the plane, though, the COVID pandemic struck and the universities I’d been planning to work at closed their doors.

That left me with time — time to think, time to read, time to reach out to others, and ultimately time to ask myself some tough questions. Why was it that I felt like something was always just beyond my reach? What was it that was missing from my discipline, from my work, and from my own life?

I realized that I needed to cast a broader net. I wanted to talk not just to other knowledge management experts, but to business leaders, philosophers, artists, psychologists, scientists, and everyone else who might have a useful perspective.

I started doing just that — and realized that in focusing so intensely on just one domain, I’d neglected to look more broadly outward, at the full richness of the world around me, and also to look inward, at my own needs, feelings, and core values.

A new perspective

In the months since then, I’ve been rethinking much of what I thought I knew. I’ve worked to create a new evolution of knowledge management that I call Knowledge Mindfulness — a framework for helping leaders develop the principles, processes, and techniques required to elevate their knowledge maturity, and thereby achieve meaningful and fulfilling success.

I won’t go into detail about Knowledge Mindfulness right now. (If you want to know more, be sure to order my book!) But one thing I want to share with you all is that my own journey is, in its way, an example of what Knowledge Mindfulness can do for us both as individuals and as leaders.

One of the key lessons of Knowledge Mindfulness, in fact, is the idea that we need to  think creatively, anchoring our decisions in clear and purposeful objectives while also seeking to renew and refresh the ideas that no longer serve us. Knowledge Mindfulness also challenges us to avoid stagnating in the moments we’re most successful, and to constantly strive for new ways of understanding and acting in the world.

That drive for renewal and revitalization is a thread that runs through my own life. After I married, I spent a decade as a full-time mother and spouse. It was delightful, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything! But a time came when I realized that I was ready for new connections and new challenges — and that’s what led me to turn a new page in my life, and start applying to PhD programs.

I had succeeded as a mother and partner — but I didn’t let that success turn into stagnation. Intuitively, I knew I needed more, and that in turn I had more to offer and more to give.

It was the same story with academia: I’d achieved all my goals, but instead of resting on my laurels — or giving in to the fear of what might happen if I shook things up — I realized that focusing only on a fixed checklist of tangible, short-term goals was limiting my possibilities. It was time to pursue a different vision — a more purposeful one that sought out the possibilities inherent in the long-term and the intangible. It was time for me to look outward, beyond myself, and set out on a new journey.

The continuing journey

Knowledge Mindfulness tells us that the boundaries we perceive as holding us back or anchoring us in place are actually much more flexible and amenable to change than they at first appear. The key is that we need to learn to actively question, test, and reach beyond them — by finding a richer perspective, a new way of thinking, a strategy that drives more value for both yourself and others.

Above all, in fact, Knowledge Mindfulness is a commitment to the idea that interconnections — between the various aspects of our own multidimensional self, the totality of our knowledge, and the context within which we operate — are incredibly powerful things. By recognizing and leveraging these interconnections, in fact, it’s possible to enhance not only our knowledge, but also the capabilities we need in today’s complex and fast-changing world.

You don’t have to quit your job or change your profession in order to realize those benefits, of course. But you also shouldn’t let your success rob you of the courage to explore and act on a new idea or realization, or let fear of change lead you to overlook the possibility of continuing growth and evolution.

My transition from academia to independent thought leader and entrepreneur is a reminder that change and growth is possible at any age or stage of your career. It’s always possible to reimagine, rewire, and relaunch your life — in fact, as your knowledge evolves, so should your life! I’m proud to be continuing to adapt and grow. I hope you’ll join me on my continuing journey of exploration.