“Somebody should have told me it would be like this….” - J. Cole, False Prophets
During my senior year of high school at a scholarship acceptance speech, I told the audience that post-graduation I planned on pursuing a degree in Finance at The George Washington University. To solidify that the scholarship was well-deserved, I mentioned my aspirations of becoming a Chief Financial Advisor. Later that evening in the car ride home, my pops and I were discussing my future in Finance, and I learned a few things including the definition of CFO, Chief Financial Officer. Despite knowing very little about what a career in Finance entailed or even what CFO meant, I went to college with a clear plan. I would do my best academically, get involved, graduate, and work in a company's finance department until I could start my own business.
As my collegiate experience unfolded, the self-aware and focused freshman with a clear plan transformed into a lost and disoriented senior. I was leaving more confused than I had entered. This became clear to me when I was awarded the “Outstanding Black Student Award” for our graduating class at the Multicultural Student Services Center graduation. After the ceremony, a few of my peers congratulated me and said that the award was well-deserved. To be polite I said thank you although I felt unworthy. What they didn’t realize was that no amount of accomplishments could cure an unfulfilled spirit.
Many of you who know my story may question my previous statement because the perception was that I had all of the pieces to life’s puzzle. However after almost a year to reflect, I now realize what was missing. In this article I want to talk about the challenges I’ve faced thus far navigating my “career”.
Opportunity Cost: Am I hunting antelope or field mice?
“A lion is fully capable of capturing, killing, and eating a field mouse. But it turns out that the energy required to do so exceeds the caloric content of the mouse itself. So a lion that spent its day hunting and eating field mice would slowly starve to death. A lion can’t live on field mice. A lion needs antelope…” - Tim Ferriss
One year removed I recognize why despite my accomplishments, I still felt unworthy and unfulfilled. It’s simple—the fine line between striving for betterment and fulfillment. To the eye these two appear the same because both can result in accomplishments. However at the core, the two part ways.
Some of my proudest moments during my undergraduate career occurred when I made steps towards achieving a goal or I actually accomplished a goal. When I was a sophomore I had a deep interest in Investment Banking, so I was thrilled when I was accepted into the Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO-U) Program as an intern prospect. SEO-U is a pipeline program for first and second-year college students interested in careers in Banking. As a participant you receive access to top online training programs used by major investment banks, as well as individual and group assignments to further enhance your finance and market knowledge. I was one step closer to my goal of securing an IB internship. When you strive to be better, you have a clear goal that you’re working towards. As a result, you only seek and accept opportunities that are moving you closer to that goal.
On the other hand, some of the lowest moments of my undergraduate career were the times I had no direction. During the fall of my senior year, I went back to the drawing board for my post-graduation plans. Despite having a full-time offer at a top firm, I was unsure if it was right for me. I then interviewed with a variety of firms for a range of positions and received a couple offers, but still nothing seemed right. When you strive to be fulfilled, the goal/vision is unclear. You don’t know what you want so every step “forward” seems insignificant because you are unsure if you’re heading in the right direction. One would think that after receiving several full-time offers, I would feel excited about the plethora of opportunities, but the excitement wears off when you are unclear about your goals.
The distinction between striving for betterment and striving for fulfillment brings me to my next point: Opportunity Cost. One of the most celebrated statistics at my Alma mater GWU is, “70% of our students have internships”. On the surface this statistic is exceptional. However digging a bit deeper, I wonder if those students ever evaluated the opportunity cost? Is this “resume builder” worthy of your time? Is it the best use of your time? The ability to identify and only pursue opportunities that are worthwhile and align with your core goals is critical.
Lack of Focus - You believe every opportunity is good for you.
During my sophomore year of college I had the opportunity to volunteer for the White House Office of Presidential Correspondence, where I helped operate the White House comment line and reviewed letters sent to the President. As a volunteer, I had a very flexible work schedule and could volunteer whenever as long as I worked at least 17 hours a month. After a few weeks of volunteering I was presented with the opportunity to become an actual intern, but it would require me to work a 40 hour week. It was a great opportunity, an opportunity that many would accept with little consideration. Many of the interns had even come from different parts of the country and had taken the semester off just for the position. However, as someone that had very little interest in politics or working for the government, it was not the right opportunity for me. I turned it down and that was the best decision I could make because it would have distracted me from my actual goals.
Desire for instant gratification - You want results now!
In my junior year of college, I had the privilege of being a fellow in the Management Leadership for Tomorrow Career Preparation program. One of the best aspects of the program is being assigned to a coach who helps with developing a personalized career roadmap. The beginning of the program was the most intense part. During the first two seminars, fellows connect with corporate partners and apply/interview for internships. While my counterparts were preparing for interviews, I was across the Atlantic Ocean enjoying my study abroad experience in Paris. I already had an internship offer in my back pocket, so I neglected that part of the program. On one call with my coach, she recognized that I was slacking and said, “Nathan, I understand that you are in Paris having a good time, but you need to get focused. You need to start reaching out to our partners, completing applications, and preparing for interviews.” Wanting to enjoy the remainder of my time in Paris, I accepted my outstanding offer even though it wasn’t what I really wanted. I do not regret that decision, but looking back I realized that I cheated myself. I missed out on one of the great learning and growing experiences, because one-on-one career coaching is not something that comes along every day. I was so focused on the now that I neglected preparing for my future. Moreover, this one decision led to several unforeseen obstacles. I mentioned earlier the difficulty I faced in my senior year with solidifying my post-grad plans. In hindsight, I believe many of the obstacles I faced could have been avoided had I done what I was supposed to during the program. The greatest danger of engaging in short-term thinking is that we believe we have control over what tomorrow will bring, but life always has an interesting way of showing us otherwise.
Self-awareness: The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth
New York City—the concrete jungle where dreams are made—is often the desired post-grad destination for many driven and highly motivated college graduates. Since coming to NYC in September, I have had the pleasure of connecting with many of these aspiring young professionals. A major topic of discuss, whether I’m connecting with someone new or catching up with an old friend, is work. From these many conversations, I’ve gathered a couple insights about myself and overall young professionals that I would like to share:
Conversation 1 - Senior Associate at PwC
A few months ago I had a conversation with a PwC Senior Associate that has since stuck with me. It was my first time meeting him so our conversation started with normal questions. How long have you been at the firm, what group are you in, etc. Hoping to get a bit beneath the typical surface level questions, I asked what he wanted to do in life. His response was, “I don’t know. I have been here three years now, and I was hoping that I would have figured it out by now, but I haven’t. Trust me, if you don’t know after a few months, you won’t know after 3 years.”
Lesson: Life is not like Amazon Prime - Your passion will not come to your doorstep giftwrapped, within two days. Often as young people, we think our passion or dream job will one day walk up to us and introduce itself. It won’t. It’s about constant evaluation. Think to yourself:
- Do I like what I’m doing? No. Okay, why not?...
- Do I like what I’m doing? Yes. What do I like about it?...
Conversation 2 - 1st Year Analyst
With New York City being the epicenter of global financial markets, many of my friends work within the Financial Services industry. The Financial Services industry is one of the few industries that offers full-time positions to some summer interns. Many of my peers were among the interns returning for full-time positions. The transition I’ve seen for many of my peers from being an intern to a full-time employee is quite intriguing. The individuals who were once excited and thrilled about their opportunity had become apathetic and indifferent. They questioned if they made the right decision.
As an intern we are often so focused on securing the full-time offers that we forget to actually evaluate the company and the role to see if it is a good fit. We fail to consider if the job is something we can do for a couple of years and not just 8-10 weeks. Receiving a full-time offer or being successful during your internship is not enough confirmation that the job is right for you.
Lesson: Be thoughtful when evaluating your internship and if it is the right fit for you. If you didn’t enjoy going to your internship everyday and the type of work you were doing, then chances are working full-time will be worse. Also, remember that performing well at your internship or receiving a full-time offer shouldn’t be enough the sign the dotted line.
Matthew 5:5 says, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the Earth.” In the context of that verse, meek was meant to mean self-aware. Why is that the self-aware will inherit the Earth?
A recent study by The Industrial and Labor Relations School of Cornell University examined 72 executives at public and private companies with revenues from $50 million to $5 billion. The study concluded that a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success.
Self-awareness is defined as an honest understanding of your own values, thought patterns, motivations, ambitions, strengths and weaknesses, emotions and effect on others. When you understand who you are and what you want out of life, the road to success is clear. But remember, because we are evolving and the world around us is constantly changing, this process is indefinite. One practice I’ve adopted is setting aside 5 to 10 minutes a day just to reflect and determine if what I did that day moved me closer to my goals and the person I aspire to be. Who we were yesterday does not set precedent for who we may become tomorrow. For this reason, constant reflection is necessary.