It’s Monday, it’s 6am and I’m tired. My weekend was too short – in part because weekends are by definition too short, but mostly it’s because I haven’t actually had a weekend off in a few weeks. I ask myself “is this [job] where you belong?” I’m not sure. I ask myself the same questions a few more times as I walk to work. And then I sit at my desk, pull up the investment analysis I’m working on and put my earphones in. This is where I belong. And every day at work I reach that same conclusion.
The curious part about feelings of belonging in this job is that a) it is by far the toughest thing I’ve ever done, mentally and physically; and b) odds are you’ve never heard of where I work. In a world of high-prestige finance and name-dropping, I am likely to go by unnoticed. A year ago if you were to tell me I’d be happy working at a little-known place, I’d call you crazy, but that is only because when we’re in college and we’re looking at the real world, all we see are shadows.
Bear with me. 'The Allegory of the Cave' is a famous story told by Plato in The Republic. Plato tells us of men who grew up chained at the back of the cave and could only look forward, staring at a wall and watching shadows that were projected on the wall by the people who walked outside past the entrance to the cave. Eventually one of the men escapes the chains, goes outside and realizes the difference between the shadows and the real world, but when he goes back to tells his friends that shadows aren’t the real thing they call him crazy and refuse to believe him.
Being in college and looking at the real world is much like being in Plato’s cave. The idea of prestigious jobs as synonyms to happiness is a major shadow. Not that these aren’t great jobs to be in and one can’t find happiness in them, but that ultimately it is not prestige that will make you happy. When you’ve been in the office all weekend and you haven’t really slept right or seen much of your friends in a while, telling yourself you work at a bulge bracket is not enough. You must believe in what you are actually doing. You must find some amount of pleasure in the 18 hours a day you are in the office for. You have to feel you belong “there”. However, “there” is not a name or a brand – “there” is actually a path; one that your job pushes you through.
Ultimately, your job is a tool for you to shape who you want to be. Your job is not an all-encompassing end-goal, but instead something that propels you to do (or be) something greater.
The biggest shadow of college is believing a “branded-job” will keep you happy regardless. I promise you it is not the case. This industry (finance) requires too many personal sacrifices from you, and so you must believe all those sacrifices are warranted.
Find a job that excites you. Forget about what it’s called. Forget about whether or not you’ll get random emails from kids at your school asking you how you “made it.” Think about who you want to be and what you want to learn. Discover the skills you value in yourself. Is the journey you are choosing the right path to wholesome happiness?
Ultimately, will you believe on the content of your work, or are you hoping a fancy letterhead will make up for dull words that you didn’t enjoy writing? Stop. Look around you. What are your shadows?