• October 6, 2016 |

    Making enough money to eat

    And other things on my to-do list

    article by , illustrated by

    I’ve spent the past nine weeks thinking about what I’ll do when I graduate. I began thinking about it on the third of August, when I received a job offer from Unnamed Large Telecommunications Company. I asked when they wanted my response, and they said they wanted it immediately. I said no, and then they gave me until December. I’ve been trying to convince myself not to take the job ever since.

    I decided to apply to other companies, since I’m not deeply committed to telecoms. (I suspect consultants, for the most part, aren’t deeply committed to anything.) As a consequence, I haven’t been thinking about my future so much as been constantly immersed in the awesome realm of all possible outcomes. The weeks since I got back to Brown have been like one longer fever dream. I could work for Simon-Kucher! I could work for small proprietary trading firms that specialize in the electricity market! Or perhaps I’ll never get hired again, ever, and this job I have is all that’s left.  

    First, there are the information sessions, no fewer than two per day. There are the big companies, then the small companies, and then it hardly matters who comes next—there’s just some company with some combination of Key-Clear-Water-Bridge-Smart in its name. Most of the companies will claim that their firms have the best people on earth. All of them tell you that you’re going to be very useful. They’re all looking for “smart,” “driven,” “independent,” “collaborative” young people, like you—except for the quantitative trading firms and the tech firms. You need skills to work at those companies.

    Then, you write your bevy of thank-you notes and edit your cover letters. You get your nice clothes dry-cleaned. You send out your applications. You get interviews for some places and rejections from others, and then you do the same thing again next week.

    Meanwhile, all of your friends are doing the same thing. What’s more, they’re all talking about it. They’re discussing whether they’re getting or not getting jobs or internships. They’re either depressed about rejection or subtly glowing about validation. They want to talk about career paths and trade tips about networking and find out how to ask how shit the hours are going to be.  

    The point is, you’re not exactly spending every moment between information sessions thinking about your future. But you’re not exactly doing anything else.

    Don’t mistake what I am trying to convey. This entire process of information sessions, applications, and interviews is immensely helpful and informative. But it is overwhelming, and I’m fairly sure it is intended to be overwhelming. Understand what you’re getting into.

    When you sign that job offer, don’t be fooled. You didn’t decide right then to take the job, and you didn’t decide last night, and you didn’t decide two weeks ago. You decided when the mere mention of your job offer changed how a friend looked at you. You decided when you started looking at apartments in New York. You decided when you started planning out your impromptu vacations to Paraguay and India and Havana and Santiago, just checking out the airplane tickets, for fun. You decided when you looked up your college debt, then looked up your first month’s salary. You decided when you remembered the lovely blue veins and the golden bracelet on the girl who shook your hand and looked into your eyes, and you decided when the wolfish young analyst handed you his index card with (what you thought was) a hint of suggestion, and you decided when you slipped on your nice flats and interview dress to go to all those sessions, day after day. You decided when you wondered what it would be like to never have to worry about money again. You decided when you looked up the salary. You decided when you applied.

    We do not make our decisions piecemeal. We do not make our decisions by writing lists, counting up factors in the “good” and “bad” columns, and then choosing a side. Those are actions we might take before we sign the papers, but they are mere formalities. When you look at the lists you’ve made, you choose to weigh up the good and the bad based on decisions you’ve already made.

    And by the way, this decision isn’t even that important. You could fall in love with this job, meet your life partner, find the person who promotes you to glory and beyond. Or you could decide you don’t like what you’re doing all that much and go back to school after two years and do something else with your life.

    But you want to be sure, if you’re making this choice, that you are in fact choosing. That is, that you are making the choice you would if you weren’t awed by the money and exhausted from the process. Be sure that it’s not the glamour or the nametag that’s making the choice for you. Don’t tell yourself that you can jump through all the hoops just to see whether you want the job once it’s offered to you. If you want to tell yourself that you can step up to the edge and step away—be sure that you can.

    For my part, I’ve already decided.