Saturday, January 21, 2012

A short history of career pursuits

In high school and college, my career development was more or less defined by what I thought I should do. I needed to prove that I could cut it in the real world – I wanted to know that I had a place, and that I had earned it. I also wanted to afford myself choices in life.

And so, at first, my objectives were defined, as many at that age are, by:

The yearning to make money – I went to business school. I chose finance as my major.
But I didn't want to suffer the economic shifts as drastically as those in finance often do, and so with this came:
The desire for stability - i.e., adding the other major: accounting.

When I graduated, I accepted a job in corporate banking, where I spent a year and a half. (Of my life. Of my youth.) It didn't fit, to say the least.

I learned a lot – a little bit about debt structure and probability of default; a whole lot more about how deeply flawed some people – especially those in positions of power – can be.

And it was during those 15 months that – between the job and the coinciding attempts at earning my Masters in Accounting – I realized two of my most life-changing truths:

1.     I hate convention. I hate rules. I hate letting details reign over my work. I hate hierarchies. And I hate being governed by “the way it’s done.” So it almost goes without saying that I hated corporate banking. And accounting. Hated.

2.     But more importantly, I realized: you create your own stability in life. If you’re scrappy and tenacious and good at learning to be great, you’ll create your own job security. Once I realized this truth, I began preparing to jump ship.

I spent an almost inconceivable amount of time in my cubicle at the bank doing what I called “soul-searching” – seemingly circular, possibly repetitive but absolutely comprehensive research and self-reflection. I looked at astrology; I colored my parachute; I took every self-assessment I could find. I read tirelessly about career development and happiness. So when my boss pulled me aside at year end and, eyeing me from between her blinders, asked me if I’d (please) consider moving on from the company, I knew what I was going to do. So I said yes.

(She pulled me aside a few weeks later to retract her suggestion, asking if I’d like to make the bank part of my “long-term plan.” Had I had any doubt in my decision prior to that moment, that proposition – and the evidence it provided on her competence as a manager – would have most certainly quashed it.)

And so on I went to the next phase, defined by:

The yearning to touch clients directly
The desire for influence – to add real value.

I hated being in the cubicle. I knew with certainty that I wanted to speak directly to the client. I also knew I liked travel, and would never aspire to a plush corner office. And, lastly, I knew I wanted to see my day to day work add direct value. Those truths made consulting a natural channel.  

In my search, I must have gone through thousands of company websites and sent out over a hundred resumes to secure interviews with about a dozen firms. I accepted one offer and quit the job four months later. Just a few months after that, I found the one I was looking for.

(During this transition, I also bootstrapped an overall 50% increase in salary in less than a year (8 months, to be exact.) It pays to know what you’re looking for, what you need, and what you bring to the table.)

And I already know the next phase – the soft elements not being satisfied in my current role:

The yearning to create.
The need to strike out on my own

And so the time will likely come to pursue those. Until then, I’m enjoying the sense of achievement in having realized phase 2 (as well as that earned by leaving phase 1 in the dust.)

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