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Andrew Stephens: Back To School

Teaching is far more challenging than IT consulting--in all the right ways.

Andrew Stephens, 32, doesn't think of it as his wake-up call. Yet his memory of one meeting remains vivid. Stephens and his team of technical recruiters had a grueling day of interviews looking for IT recruits for Bell Atlantic, and the company wasn't happy with the results.

"We got chewed out and we looked bad; we felt like crap," Stephens says. "When one of us said, 'But we'll still make $100,000 this year!' it launched a discussion around one question: Would you rather do something you love really well--and make $35,000?" His reaction: if I could wake up and feel good, of course I'd do the $35K.

He was the only one.

So despite his two years at Andersen Consulting's change-management practice and the lucrative IT recruiting he took up after leaving the firm, Stephens walked away from it all. He hasn't had a moment's regret.

He's found something he loves: teaching middle school math at St. Stephen-St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Va. It's anything but glamorous, but Stephens' four sections of seventh-graders keep him on his toes. "I'm intellectually challenged more often," he says. "Flexibility is a real strength in teaching; in corporate America, it's more common to find people who are highly structured."

Even though there was financial pressure to stay in IT, the money wasn't enough to make him overlook the workplace culture. At Andersen, he was put off by what he calls a lack of authenticity. "People weren't themselves--they put up a front and create an image," he says. "For example, if you're in tech support, you're supposed to know all the answers. It's a real CYA mentality."

He's had to give up certain things. His downsizing cost Stephens, among other things, his "cool apartment in the city--but it's not that big a deal," he says. He does some tutoring on the side to bring in what he calls his play money. "I'm a totally different person," he says. "I will never go back to IT."

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