Sasha McDowell is the founder of Epicycle Group, an organization that supports mothers and fathers striving to balance careers and parenthood.
Sasha’s professional life has been dedicated to social justice and increasing opportunities for underserved groups. She began working at a community-based non-profit organization, where she managed the youth development department, led teams, and developed out-of-school-time programs. She then worked in the corporate sector, funding non-profit organizations that created meaningful work opportunities for high school students. After graduate school Sasha led the New York office of a national non-profit increasing college access. She then worked at the New York City Department of Education, ensuring educational access for special populations.
Sasha has also volunteered in numerous roles to improve the lives of women and families, including supporting parents in crisis, mentoring young people, and counseling women who are survivors of domestic violence. Sasha received her BA in women’s studies from Trinity College, and an MPA and MSW from Columbia University. She lives in South Orange, NJ with her husband and two children.
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I believe that knowing yourself well is key to a career that blends accomplishment with meaning. While a strong skill set, tenacity, and continual growth are important ingredients for professional success, true fulfillment comes from identifying and sticking to your values. Purpose then aligns with the practical.
My career began in youth development and education working with at-risk youth and families. I started out doing direct service and program-development work, running after school and summer camp programs. It combined my passion for working with children with my commitment to social justice.
I loved working directly with people, hearing their stories, learning about their challenges, and figuring out how I could best support them. I thought my fascination for understanding others would eventually lead me to become a psychologist.
In the short-term I wanted to try something different, but I didn’t know what that was. When I told my boss I would be leaving, he created a management role for me. To my surprise, I relished this new role leading teams and strengthening programs. Creating a vision, figuring out the day-to-day steps to make it a reality, and motivating my team to drive results were challenges I deeply enjoyed. I thrived on the energy and the complexity that managing teams, overseeing projects, and designing processes demands.
Lessons in Leadership
As my career progressed, I worked with people with myriad talents who were successful for very different reasons. I saw that what worked for one person didn’t necessarily work for another, and that people attained success by capitalizing on their own unique strengths. When people pursue what they love, they’re naturally drawn to opportunities to “practice” and hone their skills- becoming better and better at their craft and ultimately achieving excellence.
Sitting on management teams in non-profits, within companies, and in government offices exposed me to vastly different leadership styles. I keenly observed the practices of those who excelled, and saw that they shared a commitment to a vision greater than themselves, empathy, a strong work ethic, a desire for growth and self-improvement, and that they genuinely listened to others. I also experienced a range of organizational cultures, seeing workplaces that created vibrancy, creativity, and valued employee retention, as well as environments where people were hesitant to share their ideas and simply kept their heads down.
A New Path
Well into this career that I loved, I became a parent. And I was truly unprepared for how significantly my daughter would shift my priorities. I still cared deeply about doing meaningful and engaging work, yet I wanted to spend a significant amount of my time with my daughter while she was little. So I needed to pivot, and envision a new future for myself, in which I could be both the parent and the professional that I wanted to be.
It was the most difficult time in my professional life. I had been on a path that felt right, had been successful, and had the next steps “all planned out.” And it was challenging to figure out what the next step should be amidst the sleep-deprivation and constant demands of being a new mother.
As I entertained various possibilities I also immersed myself in learning about workplace flexibility, family-friendly policies, and heard countless stories of smart, successful women leaving leadership positions in pursuit of jobs that complemented their parenting responsibilities. After much research and reflection, I arrived at my next step—starting Epicycle Group.
Running the business, coaching, and facilitating groups allows me to use my strongest skills and incorporates many of my deepest values. Today, I support parents navigating difficult choices to also arrive at career decisions that reflect their beliefs and utilize their talents. Through self-reflection, creating personalized strategies, and building skills, my clients make purposeful career choices that blend meaning and achievement with the parenting decisions that are best for their families.