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Question 0

Do you feel stuck?

Kerri Axelrod

My story isn’t so much about the “American Dream” not being what I expected, rather how difficult it is when you realize six years into your career that what you thought you wanted to do is not what makes you happy, and how hard it is to start over and find another path with the constant stress of monthly bills and student loans nipping at your heels.

I’m currently 29 years old and grew up in Andover, Massachusetts. Growing up, I had access to a great school system and a supportive community where I was taught that career success is readily achievable with a little dedication and hard work. Not having a successful, professional career was never really something I considered.

I obtained my undergraduate degree in International Relations from American University in Washington, DC. This achievement in itself was part of my “American Dream” realized. Ever since I was 12 years old, I knew I wanted to work in politics and live in Washington, DC., so my career path was relatively easy for me. It just felt like I needed to put one foot in front of the other and things would work out.

I majored in U.S. foreign policy as an undergraduate, interned on Capitol Hill, and worked my way up at a few different jobs in DC. Eventually, at 26 years old, I landed a job as the Pennsylvania communications director for President Obama’s Organizing for America. This job, I thought, was another part of my “American Dream” realized. Every job I had up to this point seemed to just fall into place and lead me to this point. I never really struggled to find a job and here I was, at 26, landing the job I always dreamed about.

But after nearly two years, I had to come to terms with the fact that the campaign lifestyle and working in politics, at least in the capacity that I was, did not make me happy. Walking away from that part of my “American Dream” was the hardest decision I ever made, but deep down I knew it was the right decision.

Now, one year later, I’m much healthier and happier and in the midst of starting over and figuring out “what’s next.” I still care deeply about public policy issues, but know I don’t want to go back into politics — or at least not right now. I’ve become passionate about health and nutrition over the last year as I’ve dealt with my own health issues, so I have started training to become a holistic health coach, but I’m not entirely sure how I want to utilize this degree professionally.

I know I love to write and would love to write about women’s health issues one day and combine it with my passion for public policy and nutrition. Starting over and breaking into a new career field has been difficult, so for now I’ve moved back home from Washington, DC, to live with my parents and wait tables part-time as I figure things out. I refuse to believe that I’m “stuck,” but it sure will take a serious amount of determination to get myself out of where I’m at now.

On the flip side, I know that I’m a much happier person now than I was a year ago, and if my story can help someone in my generation struggling, then I’d love to share it.


  1. M Leek at 10:18 am, September 20, 2012

    good for you Kerri, I think a lot of great people have come to this realization and haven’t had the courage to make the big shift – I look forward to reading more from you particularly about women’s health and nutrition issues.

    All the best,


  2. Slev524 at 11:16 am, September 20, 2012

    Kerr- I can’t wait to read your blog. Good luck chica!

  3. Kerri at 2:51 pm, September 20, 2012

    Thanks for the support. It definitely took a lot of courage to leave the safety net of a good job, but my health was definitely the most important thing for me so I know it was the right decision.

  4. Amaya Tune at 3:21 pm, September 20, 2012

    Thanks for giving voice to something that many of us struggle with in politics. We have these “dream jobs” but sometimes they aren’t fulfilling or they aren’t really our “dreams” You are so brave to step out on faith and do something different and new.

  5. Emily Dulcan at 5:23 pm, September 20, 2012

    It’s so great to really hear the real stories of people who are experiencing the murky mid-career uncertainty instead of being pigeonholed by media stereotypes. Thank you Kerri for opening up and sharing your journey.

  6. Morgan at 6:16 pm, September 20, 2012

    Kerri, it’s so great to hear a story about someone shifting careers! It’s good food for thought and motivation as I work towards the conclusion of my grad program and, hopefully, a similar shift.

  7. Molly Carolyn at 6:29 pm, September 20, 2012

    I’m excited to hear more of your life experiences Kerri – At 29, I too am struggling to find my “American Dream” and dealing with allI the pressures that come from chasing it; the money woes, the failed relationships with both jobs and people, and the inner struggle we all face in our transition to “adulthood”, if that’s what you call it….. looking forward to you blogg and props to you for already achieving so much.

  8. Kara at 6:33 pm, September 20, 2012

    Beautiful story. I enjoy working with someone who is in the same boat as I am. It is a tough road, but with our determination and drive, I do truly believe we will achieve all the dreams we foresee in our future. I just wish someone had taught me how hard and difficult reality truly was!

  9. Brad at 10:12 pm, September 20, 2012

    Kerri – I feel fortunate to have met you during your year of transition and convalescence – and I can relate entirely to the angst of “what’s next”. You were a tremendous help to us at the yoga studio with your keen insight and sharp skills. I am eager to read your updates and see where your road leads you!

  10. Marty at 11:19 pm, September 20, 2012

    Forty-five to sixty thousand a year. Give it a rest! Toughen up and face the real world. You sound like a spoiled little girl. I bet you are a constant complainer and run to your parents to boost your ego!!! I am glad you are out of politics as you don’t have the back bone to do the work it takes to be a leader.

  11. Kerri at 11:56 pm, September 20, 2012

    Thanks, Morgan. I’m glad my story can help you shift through your own thoughts about your career and what is best for you. It takes a lot of courage to even think about a career shift. The most helpful advice I got when I was making the transition out of politics was to trust my gut. And I truly believe each individual knows deep down what is best for them. Thanks for reading and good luck! Look forward to sharing more of my story with you.

  12. Kerri Axelrod at 10:28 am, September 21, 2012

    Thanks for your comment, Marty. I do feel very fortunate to have a job that allows me to pay the bills while I work on going back to school and launching my next career, which is something that I address in my first blog. I also feel incredibly grateful for the amazing people I met while working in politics and those that have shown me another side to life outside of the political world. Stay tuned to hear more on this subject and I look forward to hearing your feedback.

  13. Katrina E at 12:15 pm, September 21, 2012

    I can totally relate to this. At 25, I achieved my dream job of becoming a product manager for a great footwear company and 5 years into this dream job, I felt I needed more than just making money. I realized I needed to start taking care of myself and dedicating my work life to an organization that I believe in. With that said, my husband and I decided to leave Massachusetts and start a new life in California to continue my career in footwear while trying to make a difference in the world.
    I’m happy you were smart enough to leave your comfort zone in politics when you realized you felt stuck. Many people our age fear leaving their comfort zone due to the economy and the security they feel about their job.
    What the older generation does not realize is it’s not all about the money! I could make six figures but if I’m not happy, I would leave that job to find something I’m passionate and care about. The older generation are quick to judge Generation Y as people that don’t know what they want and that we don’t value work. That’s simply not true. Life quality is better than monetary quantity!

  14. Kerri Axelrod at 12:49 pm, September 21, 2012

    Thanks for sharing your story, Katrina. Your story hits home for me as well. I think a lot of people our age underestimate our ability to what we can achieve and how resourceful we can be in achieving anything we put our minds to. Good for you for having the courage to follow your dreams and make changes when you know that you are not living the life you want to live. I think you hit it right on the mark when you say it’s not about that “we” as a generation don’t value work, because I feel like I never shy away from hard work, but it’s about finding work that compliments who you are as a person. Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing more of your feedback.

  15. Rista at 8:23 pm, September 24, 2012

    I think it’s wonderful that you are going to share your experience and put it out to the world. It’s definitely not easy putting yourself and your story out there. I admire your courage and willingness to share your journey. I’m really excited and looking forward to your posts!

  16. Courtney at 1:17 am, September 25, 2012

    Thank you for sharing your stories, Katrina and Kerri! I think it’s interesting that when we link our idea of happiness with achieving some sort of job title, when we finally get it, we either feel unfulfilled, or just find ourselves being momentarily happily but then quickly moving on to thinking about the next milestone. It’s rare that we feel the way we thought we would feel when achieving certain professional goals. I think it’s because we associate being happy with this ‘image of success’ but then realize that real happiness doesn’t come from appearing successful, but from doing work that feels meaningful and purposeful from day to day with people who inspire you.

    I also think there’s so much pressure to do things the way your parents did things, or the way your peers are doing things, that even when everyone is unhappy doing what they’re doing, you still feel like you have to do it the same way to follow suit. I admire you both for having the courage to step out of that cycle and pursue your passions. It reminds me of the quote, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

  17. Kerri Axelrod at 7:13 am, September 25, 2012

    Thanks for the support, Rista. Look forward to sharing more of my journey with you!

  18. Kerri Axelrod at 7:43 am, September 25, 2012

    Hi Courtney- Thanks for your comment. Yes, I agree. I do think it was the case for me with politics that there was an allure to having a professional job and the thrill that came with it. I had finally achieved what I had been building up and anticipating for four years in college. The allure quickly wore off over time as my life became over run by my work. But for me, it wasn’t just the allure of having a professional job, I did care and deeply believed in the work I was doing, and still believe in that work, which is what kept me going and why I stayed at my job. It was really the lifestyle that no longer worked for me.

    I think the most difficult part for me has been the fact that I still want to find meaningful work, but work that more agrees with the life I want to lead. It is something that is hard to do and find, when the image of success in our society is getting up and going to a 9-5 job everyday and your worth is often based on how many hours you can spend in an office.
    Part of me still craves the professional lifestyle, but I also know I need something more flexible, a job that let’s me be in control of my own life. I’m really looking forward to the next chapter that I just opened through my training on a health coach. It is work where I can still help people who are in need, but work where I can also shape my practice and business into what I want it to be. Thanks for reading and look forward to hearing more of your thoughts.

  19. Sarah at 8:13 am, September 25, 2012

    Man, did your blog hit home for me. I was SOOOO stressed with the political work, the economy, put on too much weight and was just miserable- the work we did about the BP Spill just sent me over the edge. I finally got out of my depression, was promoted at my company. Now we mostly do work for American Red Cross, NGOs and non-profits. Still need to do a few political things here and there to keep the lights on but it doesn’t consume my life the way it used to. On top of that I ended my 8 year relationship, where we owned an apt together, and instead of moving into an insanely priced apt in DC right away I moved home with my parents. Now I’m focusing on my health, paying down my student loans, and finally saving some money.

  20. Grace at 2:32 pm, September 26, 2012


    I like to say that I have had 2 “mid-life” crises, both in my 20′s: the first occurred when, half-way through applying to Ph.D programs in Psychology I realized I was no longer following my heart. The second occurred after my decision to pursue a career in culinary arts- I jumped, followed something I was passionate about, and then found out the daily grind of the food industry is 1.) exhausting and not sustainable 2.) really unhealthy.
    So I started my own business, as terrified as I was to do so. And here I am at 27, finding a way to bring together psychology and nutrition. It has been a bumpy road and it is by no means over- but I completely relate to your feeling that after spending years pursuing what you thought was “The Dream”, you find it is not how you want to spend the rest of your life. I always say, I wish someone told me in high school NOT to feel pressured to pick a career right away. I always felt like I was supposed to know what I wanted before I was even an adult. And now after spending ridiculous amounts of money on a B.A, I have to find a new path.

  21. Kerri Axelrod at 3:26 pm, September 27, 2012

    Thanks for sharing your story Sarah and Grace. It’s comforting to know that others are experiencing career shifts and uncertainty about the path they are on or were on. It definitely takes a lot of courage to truly listen to your heart, make changes, and follow the path you feel rather than the one you think you should be on. I think this is especially the case when their are so many people struggling to find employment, and the messages that keep getting re-enforced (at least for me) is that I should be happy just to have a job. Making a career transition has definitely been challenging and their are days I question wether I made the right decision, but I think at the end of the tunnel is a more happy, sustainable lifestyle.

    Keep plugging along and listening to your heart, it always seem to guide us in the right direction.

  22. elucas at 10:31 am, September 28, 2012

    Congrats on choosing you!

  23. Phoebe at 2:05 pm, October 4, 2012

    Very inspiring Kerri! I wish you the best of luck, looking forward to seeing where you end up!

  24. Gee at 5:20 pm, October 4, 2012

    Kerri, kudos for your response. You didn’t take the bait at all. Learning how not to let others take you to a place you don’t want or need to go is a skill that takes some a lifetime to master.

  25. Kerri Axelrod at 9:57 am, October 5, 2012

    Thank you for your kind words and taking the time to comment, Gee. This experience for me is definitely about opening myself up and hearing from people that both agree and disagree with what I have to say. This project has been such a learning experience and with each comment, both positive and negative, I grow and learn more. Thanks for reading.

  26. Kerri Axelrod at 9:59 am, October 5, 2012

    Thank you, Phoebe. It’s an exciting and terrifying journey to start over. Looking forward to updating everyone soon on my next projects. Stay tuned.