More Than Money: Why Three Badgers Followed Their Passion

There are many reasons to take a particular job: salary, benefits, and so on. But what about nonfinancial reasons? What about flexible scheduling or growth opportunities or simply being passionate about what you do? These are significant factors — and, for many Badgers, they may outweigh the incentives to pursue a more stable or lucrative job that doesn’t make them as happy.

What is it like to pursue the less certain path? What are the pros and cons, and how does the path change over time? We asked three Badgers to share their personal experiences.

Sara Eskrich ’09, MPH’15, MPA’15

Sara Eskrich has always been driven by service. Her passion is to make a small difference in the world through systemic and policy change. She has been a health care lobbyist, worked for the UW Population Health Institute, served as a member of the Madison Common Council, and held several other positions in political and nonprofit organizations. Choosing to pursue her passion hasn’t been easy, and she’s changed gears a few times to rebalance her life.

“In politics,” Eskrich says, “you often have to ‘prove yourself’ by working on campaigns. Employment is not stable. It’s short-term and odd hours. For someone who is much more comfortable (for many reasons) with a salary and employment contract, the campaign world was not my forte. I struggled with underemployment — which was emotionally challenging. It was a difficult way to start my career.”

But Eskrich felt that the privilege of a mission-driven career was worth it. “It is a benefit to get to know your community so deeply. I have connections across sectors and disciplines. I cultivate relationships with so many amazing people, and my life is the richer for it.” Becoming a city alder broadened her opportunities, while also presenting its own challenges. “The role is compensated on a very part-time basis, but to do it well, I found it required nearly 30 hours of work per week. And yet, most local elected officials needed to have a full-time job to pay their bills.”

These days, Eskrich is the executive director of Democracy Found, where she focuses on battling political dysfunction. Not only does she love what she does, but this position has also given her more of the stability that was lacking in her earlier jobs. As difficult as those jobs were, though, she says she wouldn’t have done anything differently. “It is amazing to be able to earn a living doing what I care about so deeply,” she says.

Scott Resnick ’09

Today, Scott Resnick is the cofounder and chief operating officer of Hardin Design & Development, a web application and product development firm. But that wasn’t always the plan. “I was convinced entering college that I was going to go to law school,” he says — something that, in many ways, may have been a less risky path. Most startup companies don’t survive even when the economy is good, and Resnick graduated into one of the worst recessions in recent history. “Many lucrative jobs simply didn’t exist,” he says.

Resnick founded his first startup company with a few friends in his senior year at UW–Madison. It wasn’t supposed to be the start of a career; he simply needed to make more money to pay for his education. The startup job earned him $200 a month, which he notes was “more than I could make on campus at the time.” Once bitten by the entrepreneurship bug, he started reconsidering his future plans. “My mentor once shared, ‘Your startup might not make it, but law schools will outlive you,’” Resnick recalls. “It was great advice. Law school slowly became my backup plan and eventually out of sight,” even as his parents urged him to reconsider.

The gamble paid off. Now, Resnick is paying it forward. In addition to his position with his firm, Resnick is also the former executive director and current entrepreneur-in-residence of StartingBlock Madison, helping to nurture Madison’s entrepreneurship community. He was also a member of the Madison Common Council for two terms, where he introduced and helped pass Wisconsin’s first open data ordinance — a move supported by many community-driven entrepreneurs.

Overall, Resnick says that his career is “substantially more rewarding now” than it might have been if he’d followed the path expected of him. His only regret is not diversifying his studies more while he was at the UW. “I should have spent more time exploring classes that sparked an interest outside of legal studies. I should have taken an art history class or sports psychology.”

Bhavana Jain ’02

Not everyone who follows their passion started out on that path. Bhavana Jain adored art since childhood and had an undeniable talent. But she came from a family of health care workers — including her father, who is a physician — and they impressed upon her that health care would always be a stable career option. Jain wanted to follow in their footsteps, so she became a clinical pharmacist.

“It wasn’t until a few years into it that I started to feel something missing in my life,” Jain says. Needing a creative outlet, she started taking classes in fashion design, which she’d always been interested in. “At first it was a hobby, but as time went by, I realized this was something I wanted to pursue.”

Making the switch from health care to the fashion industry a decade into her career was no simple move. “I had no contacts, no idea on where to start with a business, and no business background,” Jain recalls. “It was quite discouraging in the beginning. Slowly, though, I did my research, started to network, and that really helped me meet mentors that would open so many doors for me.”

Jain finally launched BhavyJ Designs in March of 2018. “Looking back,” she says, “I might have decided to major in fashion design earlier in life and made that my first career choice. I always knew that I excelled in the arts, and I should have listened to that inner voice to pursue my dreams. However, I also believe that things happen for a reason and that this was the way my journey was to unfold. In general, I have no regrets.”

Jain still works as a pharmacist part time, but BhavyJ Designs is her primary focus now. The journey has been transformative. “I have been able to fulfill a dream that I never thought was possible!” she says. “There have been so many hurdles that I have encountered, and from it, I have grown so much as a person.”

Need further guidance?

If you’re considering a career path based on nonfinancial factors, you probably have a lot of questions. Here are a couple things that may help:

  • Connect with a Badger mentor on Badger Bridge. You can search the alumni directory by geographic location, field, willingness to help fellow Badgers, and more. Find someone who has already walked a path similar to the one you’re considering and see what they have to say. They may be able to offer advice, industry connections, or other valuable support.
  • Interested in starting a new business or nonprofit? Look for local government resources or incentive programs to help you get started. In certain cases, you may be eligible for assistance through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) or Discovery to Product (D2P) at UW–Madison.

Remember that almost no one has a direct career path these days. It’s ok to try something and fail — and try again! Just make sure to calculate carefully before you jump and make use of the experience of others. That way, you’ll give yourself the greatest chance of success.