Everybody knows I’m an advocate for the step back to grow.

That’s the counterintuitive career move we make that opens up future opportunity rather than providing immediate gains in prestige or compensation—or whatever else it might be that we value as remuneration for our employment.

For Deb Dugan, guest on the Disrupt Yourself podcast, the step back to grow was a move from Wall Street attorney to head of a nonprofit: Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. She took a $70,000 a year pay cut, despite being early career and neck deep in student debt.

Today, Deb is the CEO of (RED), founded by U2 front man, Bono, in partnership with Bobby Shriver, whose father was a founder of the Peace Corps. (RED) has the ambitious goal of eradicating AIDS in our lifetime, and pursues this noble objective through a variety of disruptive social media and marketing initiatives.

“I love working at (RED) because I feel like it uses all of my skillsets that I used in business to disrupt philanthropy. I deal with youth and if you can get youth to give a darn about this world, companies come. And then if you get youth and companies to come to the table you can use that to effect policy.

“I feel like I had a career of using my skillset in business often to make rich people richer. I’m using that same skillset to hopefully change the world.”

But Deb’s present role wasn’t something she could envision when she took her big step back. She made the dramatic move to be able to do something that mattered to her, not necessarily something that would lead to a particular career destination. She had realized that helping struggling artists meant more to her than multi-million dollar Wall Street deals.

“It was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done in my career….People thought I was absolutely nuts. I was on track to be a partner.” This was Wall Street in the roaring late 80’s. Nobody walked away from that.

Deb had taken a strategic personal inventory: “Where do I see myself in 20 years? And it’s not just about where you’re working. It’s what am I wearing? Where do I live? What is my partner like? Do I have kids; do I not have kids? Am I skiing on weekends or am I volunteering at a soup kitchen?” She says she worked backwards from her vision of that future to decide her present, realizing in the process that she didn’t want to be a partner in the law firm. “It just wasn’t me.”

For more on philanthropic disruptor Deb Dugan, (RED), and the innovative tactics this small organization uses to make big things happen, listen to the podcast above or on iTunes.

Resources Mentioned in the Show and Transcript

Sponsored by Harvard Business Review and HBR Ideacast

Deb Dugan
Twitter – @debdugan


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