After a year as an economist with a government agency — a job I enjoyed — I decided to join the portfolio management division at a global investment bank. The job paid very well, made my parents happy, and put a bold-faced name on my resume. But more often than not, I was miserable.
I worked 60-hour weeks and ate more lunches, dinners and late-night snacks at my desk than I’d care to remember. I’d arrive and leave work in the dark, and everything in between was endless spreadsheets and flashing green and red terminals. It didn’t take long before any creative impulse was wiped out by standard operating procedures and endless compliance measures.
Making matters worse, I received little feedback about my performance, got few opportunities to expand my skills, and found most of my colleagues to be uninterested in little more than making money. That, of course, was the purpose of my job, and it became increasingly difficult to get motivated by the idea of making the world’s richest people even richer.
I took the job because, like many people, I was a box checker. I got good grades, got a good degree from a good university, and thought a well-paid corporate job was just another in a long list of boxes I needed to tick off. The problem? A well-paid corporate job does not equal fulfillment. And “find your passion” was never on the list.
Despite the fact that I was miserable much of the time, I now know how essential the experience was to my career.
It gave me credibility when I met with venture capitalists for my current startup, something I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t worked for one of the world’s largest investment banks. I gained new professional qualifications that taught me about raising startup capital, which has been incredibly useful in my current job. I was also fortunate to experience the financial crisis first-hand: Being a part of history opened my eyes and helped to give me direction.
But I could have gotten far more out of the experience. And no matter how much you’re dreading the next couple of years of spreadsheets and soulless corporate jargon, you can too. It’s one thing to work in a job you find monotonous; it’s quite another to work in one that uses absolutely none of your marketable skills.
What would I have done differently? First, I would have sought out mentors immediately. All too often, I turned to my boss for advice, but he was motivated to keep me focused and the department running smoothly, not to help me figure out what I want to do next with my life. Buy people coffee. Join a corporate sports team. Work on a company volunteer program. You may cringe at the thought of spending even more time with people at work (I know I did), but the people you get to know outside of your department may be much more important than the ones inside it.