Date of Award


Document type


Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Degree Program

Education (also CAGS)

First Advisor

Joseph B. Berger

Second Advisor

Sharon F. Rallis

Third Advisor

John R. Mullin

Subject Categories



This phenomenological study explores the lived experiences of five individuals who shifted their work and career from the business world to the nonprofit service sector. Through in-depth personal accounts, I show how the research participants made sense of "work" and "career" as they moved through, and after they completed the transition out of the business setting; and the degree to which their subjective experiences in the nonprofit work environment transformed their prior perspectives on "work life" and "career" that had been shaped by their experiences in the business world. According to the literature of subjective career development (how people shape their personal identity through their work over a lifetime) and transformative learning (how people change their worldview perspective to accommodate significant changes in their life circumstances), people who shift from business careers to nonprofit jobs are likely to be confounded by certain realities in the nonprofit world that cannot be readily understood or explained through past experience in the business workplace. The real-life personal stories of five such career shifters manifest clear differences in the "discourse of work and career" across the two sectors, resulting in an apparent disorienting paradox between the profit-driven "business mindset" (where the fundamental motivation is survival of the enterprise and objective personal advancement) and the mission-driven "nonprofit worldview" (where the fundamental motivation is service for a better world and subjective personal meaning-making). An analysis of these paradoxes of discourse suggests that the mission-driven nonprofit discourse ("we work for a better world") offers a valuable and constructive counterpoint to the more dominant enterprise-driven business discourse ("we work to sustain the company") that pervades the organizational landscape of our society. The implications of these findings as reviewed in the last chapter are significant for policy, practice and research in both nonprofit management and business organizational development. The work concludes with the suggestion that the nonprofit mindset opens the possibility for re-orienting one's "career" to a life-long process of self-actualization, where one works to find meaning and purpose through making a difference toward improving quality of life for a better world.


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