Being Me in a World That Isn't Me
When working in an industry like finance, it’s easy to conform. It’s easy to become another mindless shadow. It’s easy to not be yourself. I didn’t get that memo. Oops.
I’m crazy. I’m always smiling. I love adventures. I’m really weird. I’m not your typical finance person at all. In fact, I’m still not sure why I got the job given the fact that:
- I’m a history major.
- I hadn’t taken a single economics or finance course in college before my interview.
- I still don’t know where the S&P is. Or what it actually represents???
- Definitely didn’t know where my firm was trading at during the interview. And didn’t even try to lie. I told them I didn’t know.
- I got both brain teasers wrong during my interview. You try figuring out how to measure 4 gallons using a 3 gallon and a 5 gallon bucket!
- They asked me to allocate 500k. I said give 100k to charity. Yes, I did actually do that.
- They asked me “Why Brown?” I said it’s the only Ivy League with a pole dancing team. #polarbears #truestory #wetalkedabouthowhardpoledancingis
- They asked me about my classes. I told them about one called “Why don’t we fall in love” which led to a 15 minute discussion on the definition of love.
- I talked about my travels to Khao San (think The Hangover in Bangkok) and whether my interviewer or I had the crazier experience. I won.
- My resume had amateur karaoke as an interest, alongside Game of Thrones and other weird shit. My interviewer and I fought over who had the better go-to karaoke song. I didn’t win.
I wasn’t right for the job. But maybe that’s why I got the job.
I left an impression.
Over my 5 weeks so far, I’ve been lost. I’ve been confused. I’ve cried. I’ve felt way over my head because everything is so foreign to me. But the one thing I didn’t lose was a sense of self.
I’m crazy. I’m always smiling. I love adventures. I’m really weird. And I express these unabashedly with my co-workers. It shows.
I’ve walked out of 1-on-1 meetings with the head of our sales team and him tell me, “I’ve never met a 20 year old like you. Keep in touch. I’m excited to see where you’ll be in the next 20 years”. Everyone else is scared of him. I make jokes with him. I also call him 100 years old. Apparently not supposed to do that, but he goes along with it.
I’ve finished phone calls with heads of other divisions who comment on my great questions.
I’ve developed a personal relationship with a chief officer just because I had the guts to ask for a personal meeting.
These are just three examples of the many. From inside jokes with traders, having a spot on the “Wall of Fame” because I was as ballsy as the guys who put me there, telling an executive director to skip the bullshit (yes, I said those exact words) and tell me if the job is worth it or not, and confessing to a managing director that I don’t know if my current role is actually what I want to do, I’m not trying to conform.
How did I stand out?
I figured out a few ways that might be applicable for anyone reading this.
Being genuinely me
If you couldn’t tell from all the examples above, I’m a little unorthodox. But that’s just me. Asking about the markets, the impact of Brexit or treasury yields isn’t exactly my forté.
I talk about dreams, adventures, and the unknowns of the future. Every single executive knows about my love for European history, the full details of my gap year, and the struggles I went through when I lost three of my friends. I don’t hide who I am. I wear myself on my sleeves.
I don’t hide who I am. I wear myself on my sleeves.
Finally, being genuinely me means actually getting to know the people I’m talking to. They’re not just a random connection to help me advance my career. They’re real people who I wanted to build a real relationship with.
Asking questions, the hard kind
One of the common sayings at my firm is we’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing us. So ask the hard questions! Be bold. Find out what you really want to know, and see if wherever you’re working is actually you.
Some of the questions I like asking are:
- Why should anyone work here?
- What are the benefits of starting here over tech/consulting/xyz?
- What questions should I be asking myself as I choose a career?*
- If you were me, what questions would you ask yourself?
- What about your career is fulfilling? How has your answer changed since you started?
- Why haven’t you left?
- How do you avoid feeling like a small part in a larger system?
- What’s a question you wish people would ask you but don’t, and what’s your answer to it?
- What will I walk away with by working here?
- XYZ is my end goal. How would this job help me get closer to achieving it?
The answer to question 3, I think, should be shared cause it was so valuable. He suggested asking myself:
What type of role do I want? More generalist or specialist?
What type of atmosphere do I want? More social or solitary?
What skills do I want to develop?
Where do I want to go?
I’ve gotten amazing answers to these questions. I’ve thought about new questions to start asking myself. And I’m much more comfortable with the decisions I’m making for the rest of the summer.
Doing the little things
One of our speakers told us, “Do the little things. Everyone can do the big things. It’s the little things that set you apart.”
I knew going into this, I probably wouldn’t be the star. The work didn’t come easily to me. I got lost in the jargon. I had no clue what a pivot table was. Pitching wasn’t natural to me. And I didn’t always have the highest quiz grades.
I played to my strengths; I’m good with people. I’m not afraid to email every senior executive that has (and hasn’t) come to speak with us (I’ve had meetings with 3 chief officers including the CEO). I’m not afraid to make a joke with my managers. And most importantly, I’m not afraid to let people know that they’ve made an impact on me.
On the last day of my first rotation, I wrote handwritten letters to everyone on the floor that I developed a close relationship with.
- To the director who let me cry in a conference room for 20 minutes
- To the trader who didn’t know the difference between India and Bangladesh, but tried biryani because I insisted
- To the sales person who said it’s okay to not do this
- To the manager who let me go back to my apartment, offered to drive me back to the train station, and gave me his personal number if I needed anything following the events back at home
- To the head of sales who gave me the task of keeping him hip
- And to the other 15 people who I’ve come to care about
They won’t remember my pitch. They won’t remember my quiz grade (I hope). But they might just remember me.
I may not have been the star. But I don’t mind being the unicorn.