The experience of voluntarily leaving an established career

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Business Administration


Rodney Chesser


career change, small business, entrepreneurship

Subject Categories

Business | Sociology


This exploratory study was designed to investigate and describe how six men and four women made sense of their unique career-change experiences. The participants in this study voluntarily left established professional, technical, or managerial careers to become working proprietors of their own small businesses in nonprofessional, nontechnical, or nonmanagerial areas (for example, one manager became an organic farmer). They left what appear to have been highly-valued and desired positions--careers in organizations--to start small businesses. Participants were identified using the Standard Occupational Classification Manual (U.S. Department of Commerce Document (USDOC), 1980). They were between 38- and 48-years old when they left their careers and had been working proprietors for between two-and-eight years at the time of the interviews. An unstructured interview with each subject was used to discover how the subject understood his or her change. The popularly-held notion of career as an upward progression of moves through an organizational hierarchy fit this group as they described their past positions. The concept did not fit their jobs as working proprietors. Although this group worked harder than they did on their career paths and were performing more menial tasks, they valued the fact that no one else controlled their choices or their measures of success. They rejected their previous focus on income, status, and power, and seemed to be changing their ideas of what gave meaning to their work lives. They discussed five characteristics of their jobs that were important to them: pride in the finished product or service; enjoyment of the process of creating the product or service; social connections with family, customers, and their communities; autonomy; and personal change and growth. This study brings into question the effectiveness of the traditional career path as a means to influence and motivate employees in organizations. To curb the turnover of valued employees, organizations could consider creating environments where level-of-job involvement and tasks would be flexibly negotiated between employees and organizations. Such an environment might provide the level of freedom and ownership this group experienced and valued as working proprietors.


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