Eric Jordan '09: “Your career reflects a broad grouping of your life experiences, goals, and values”

March 8, 2024
Eric Jordan '09

Eric graduated from Princeton in 2009 with a B.A. in Architecture. He later graduated from Harvard Law School in 2014 and is a licensed attorney currently residing in Boston. Eric works at Harvard University’s Office for Dispute Resolution as an investigator, where he conducts civil rights investigations throughout the University, often in regards to allegations of sexual and gender-based harassment.

This interview is part of the Career x Identity series, which provides students a look into alumni career trajectories with a focus on intersections of career and identity. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


What does your identity mean to you?

I’ve always had a really strong connection to my Black identity growing up in Prince George’s County, Maryland, near Washington D.C. The area has a large Black community, and I was fortunate to be exposed to a lot of Black representation and culture. As I got older, I became aware that my experience in that regard was relatively unique, and part of my wanting to go to Princeton was because I wanted to attend a school that would offer additional types of diversity to what I had been exposed to growing up. 

While I’ve identified with being Black forever, my gay identity is something that took me more time to embrace. I grew up in the church, and while I had a wonderful experience with that, it was nevertheless clear that homosexuality was viewed as a sin, so it took me a while to work through those thoughts and feelings. When I got to college, every year was a year of me progressively coming to terms with how I felt. I remember being terrified my freshman year, not wanting to deal with the possibility that I was gay. During junior year, I realized that this is just who I am and I started to accept it. I remember coming out to people and how scary that was, but also how blessed I felt to have friends and family who were really supportive.

Can you describe your career journey so far?

I was confident my entire life that I was going to be an architect. That was pretty exclusively my career plan since elementary school. At Princeton though, while I genuinely enjoyed my experience in the architecture program, I started getting the impression over the years that working as an architect might not offer the type of professional fulfillment that I was hoping to experience. I was drawn to architecture because of the aesthetic aspect of it, but also the problem-solving component. Over time, I realized that I might not get to be as creative as I had hoped — I was worried that I would join a firm and just be adding windows and doors to someone else’s designs instead of contributing my own. Now, however, I can appreciate that I may have been a little preemptive and naive in that assessment.

In weighing new, post-graduation plans, I thought it made sense for me to try something service-oriented, because then I could do something that I would be proud of while I figured out what new profession to pursue. I ultimately decided to do Teach for America (TFA) in the Bay Area, and I was hired as a middle school teacher.

As an educator in California, I realized that I want to be of service to others in a larger capacity and decided that going to law school would put me in a good position to pursue that sort of career. So, I went to Harvard Law School, and then I went through the process of trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my legal degree. After some time working at a law firm in New York City, I learned about my current office at Harvard, where we conduct investigations into allegations of harassment and discrimination based on protected classes, work that I have found really interesting. I’ve worked my way up the ladder in my office and have become an investigator, which has been awesome.

How have your identities impacted your career development and career path exploration?

Ultimately, my identity has been a really important metric in my career decisions because I decided early on that I want to feel comfortable in my work environment. There are so many things we can’t control, but I wanted to limit the degree to which I might deal with bias, ignorance, or animosity towards the things that I both cannot and would not change about myself.

During senior year of college, I applied to a lot of different programs and eventually landed on TFA. I remember thinking to myself that teaching through TFA was a great way to engage with communities that have historically been disenfranchised. When thinking about the other programs I had applied to, including various international programs, I thought it would be cool to travel somewhere and learn about a new culture, but I was concerned that if I were to live abroad at that time that I might feel compelled to go back in the closet and repress my full identity. I didn’t want to feel as though I would have to undo or even pause the internal work I was doing to feel more comfortable in my skin. I was also conscious that the TFA opportunity was located in a metropolitan area, which was enticing to me because I would likely have more access to LGBTQ communities and resources there than I would have in a more rural area. 

In my career planning, I’ve also been thoughtful about where/ to whom I’m lending my time and my talents — I don’t want to be giving my time to an employer that doesn’t respect me, my identities, or people in my communities who share my identities. Sometimes people feel as though they have to hide things about themselves in order to advance professionally, and I would never say that that’s wrong to do per se, but I absolutely would encourage people to think about what that repression might mean for them and their day-to-day lives, because how you feel about yourself and your environment is extremely important.

As students think about their next career steps, how can they figure out if a certain place is somewhere they will be comfortable at?

Get a sense of the numbers in terms of an organization’s demographics and review its mission statement. It doesn’t tell you everything, but it’s information nonetheless. I would also encourage students to speak to people at varying levels of the organization to get a better sense of what people’s day-to-day experiences look like. 

Every workplace should be actively trying to grow and improve, but there are definitely organizations that are still in the early stages of that work. You may be happy joining a job where you like the community and the team, but it’s not too diverse in terms of demographics. You might be fine hoping for that to improve over time and contributing to DEI work at the organization. I recommend that students figure out what level of work they're willing to contribute in that regard and what makes them most comfortable. Everyone’s idea of comfort looks different. 

What advice do you have for students who may have trouble picking a career/job?

Choosing a career can be very scary and daunting, and few people have a ton of clarity as to what their career will look like while they’re in college. There isn’t really any wrong answer or decision in terms of what you decide to do, because along the way, you’re going to learn different skills, which is where the focus should be. A lot of successful and happy people have found themselves in positions they were never even thinking about directly, but they pinballed from one job to another until they found a great fit.

If you don’t have a clear cut idea of what your job is going to be in twenty years, that’s more than okay. Ultimately, you will want to be able to craft a story as you’re going through your professional life about what you’re able to offer, so building skills is imperative. And many skills - such as organization and attention to detail - are transferable between jobs. 

Another thing that’s important to keep in mind is that your job doesn’t need to be the only thing that brings you fulfillment. Author Elizabeth Gilbert discussed how there are four categories we can think about in terms of how we spend our time: career, job, hobby, and vocation. For one person, those may all be the same thing, but for another person they may be four different things. My thinking used to be, “Your job is your career,” but actually, your career reflects a broad grouping of your life experiences, goals, and values. Reframing my mindset to understand that my professional fulfillment doesn’t need to be completely derived from my job (i.e., it could be shared with my hobbies) has been really comforting as I consider different professional opportunities, and I would recommend that others similarly think about ways they can experience fulfillment even outside of a traditional job.