In 2010, Daniel Devoe was fresh out of Boston University’s School of Law when he landed what should have been a dream job: a spot at Ropes & Gray, a major corporate law firm in Boston.
Seduced by the high salary and the firm’s international prestige, Devoe eagerly signed on as an associate. But he began having second thoughts within a few months.
“The prestige wore off very quickly,” the 32-year-old Devoe says. “It just wasn’t enjoyable work.”
It’s an increasingly common refrain among young professionals, particularly for those who work in finance and law. A generation ago, a budding career at a respected law firm or a Wall Street bank was the definition of professional success in America. But, for many nowadays, those career paths are fast losing their allure.
Instead, a growing number of people are eschewing traditional legal or financial career routes for a chance to launch their own businesses or join startups. They are enticed by the opportunity to do what they consider to be more innovative and more meaningful work, not to mention the chance to potentially build the next Twitter or Facebook—and take home a piece of an outsized reward.
According to a recent nationwide LearnVest survey, when respondents were asked to name the two most aspirational careers in America today, they chose C.E.O. (36%) and entrepreneur (28%). Lawyer and banker barely registered, with just 2% each.
“What we hear students tell us is that they want to be able to see the impact they have,” says Maryellen Reilly Lamb, the director of MBA career management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.
In Devoe’s case, he spent over a year working late nights on tedious assignments before deciding that Big Law wasn’t for him. “I realized that the thing I really cared about was determining my own career path,” he says. “To do something I want to be doing—and not just for a lot of money.”
Spurred by the desire to one day launch a business, Devoe left Ropes & Gray and completed an eight-week course with the Startup Institute, which helps people pursue careers in the burgeoning field of tech. He now works for Drizly, an on-demand alcohol delivery app business, and although the transition hasn’t been easy, he’s much happier.
“It’s incredibly terrifying to go from a $200,000 salary to currently making no money and working for a startup,” he says. “There is a lot of risk, but overall, it’s definitely been a net positive. I am on the right track now.”