Escape From Corporate America

Six-figure jobs on Wall Street and elsewhere just aren't enough for "Millennial" workers, who want their work to have "meaning" too.

For Manish Vora, then 26, a salary package around $500,000 wasn't enough. Nor was his epic climb from Citigroup i-banker to research director at a boutique firm. He liked his company-but where was the passion? A politics and art junkie who had been heavily involved in the New York political scene, Vora was convinced there was a way he could marry his interests and talents to do something more useful.

So, in 2006, he started a website. With Branden Muhl, then a 25-year-old executive at a hedge fund that shared office space with him, Vora launched OldCampus.com, a site focused on compiling the latest political information and adding discussion forums around it-like an interactive political campus. The two each invested $25,000 in OldCampus.com and worked on it 40 hours a week for a year and a half, on top of their regular day jobs. This past January, Vora finally left the corporate world to work full time on OldCampus and develop a new site, Artlog.com, a social-networking site for artists and art enthusiasts like himself.

"I'm going to be at least providing something that's going to make an impact on people," says Vora of OldCampus. Echoes Muhl: "Stock picking, in a lot of ways, was extremely gratifying, but had its drawbacks. What did we really change in the world, or what did we really contribute?"

If all of this sounds a little too precious, it's not singular. Muhl and Vora are members of the so-called Millennial Generation-the 80 million or so workers born after 1980 who researchers say tend to place job satisfaction and lifestyle concerns ahead of their desire to simply move up the corporate ladder. Unlike their parents, experts say, this generation is less likely to become "corporate slaves" focused on earning a paycheck and achieving middle-class status. In fact, these workers are more likely to keep job-hopping until they find a job that fulfills them and offers the flexibility and perks they have come to expect.

Says Marian Salzman, a trendspotter and executive vice president at J. Walter Thompson, of Millennial workers: "I don't think they loathe their jobs. I think they loathe the demands the job puts on them." A 2004 Northwestern Mutual survey of 1,700 recent college grads found that 73 percent said how they spend their time on the job is more important than how much money they make, while 70 percent said money is not the best measure of success.

Take Ben Rattray, for example. He rose through the ranks of a Washington lobbying firm, starting as an intern and eventually becoming a senior consultant working with large international companies. But he found no satisfaction in his work, calling it valueless. After seeing the power of social- networking sites like MySpace.com, Rattray, 27, quit his consulting job in June 2006 and moved to San Francisco to work full time on Change.org, a social-networking site he founded that connects millions of nonprofits with grass-roots organizations and potential donors.

"I have no regrets about leaving the corporate world," Rattray says, even though it may be two years before Change.org sees a profit and he's only making $30,000 year, a third of his old salary. "My previous job used to feel like work I had become resigned to, but Change.org is not a job; it's my passion." Before Change.org, Rattray had never voted, made a donation to charity, or volunteered his time. But he knew he wanted to somehow have a "positive impact."

Like Rattray, other Millennials say life is simply too short to spend time on a job that doesn't hold their interest or excite them.

Holden Karnofsky and Elie Hassenfeld were both 25 years old and each making more than $200,000 a year at hedge funds based in Connecticut when they realized that what kept them up at nights was researching their favorite charities, not the financial markets. So they left and started GiveWell.net, a venture that analyzes charities' financials with an eye toward determining how effective and impactful they are.

Karnofsky, who now makes about $65,000 a year, says it was an easy decision to leave his old job. "We were very passionately interested in the idea, so we did it," he says.

OldCampus.com's Vora and Muhl are optimistic their endeavor will take off and one day make them money, but on the chance it doesn't, they still view it as a better investment than doing something like going to business school. The friends, along with their other full-time partner Josh Bauer, see Apple founder Steve Jobs as an inspiration. After Jobs dropped out of college, he took calligraphy courses, which helped him design the typefaces and fonts for the first Macintosh computer 10 years later.

"He knew he was getting valuable experience in something, but he didn't know what," Muhl says of Jobs. "We think we know where this is leading-our business plan is evolving every day...[but] this may end up being valuable to us in a completely different way than we think."

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