The musings of a former London PE guy turned Silicon Valley technophile
Remember that not always getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
- Dalai Lama
My First Job
When I graduated from undergrad with a degree in business economics, it was clear that I should get a job at a Big 4 accounting firm (it was the Big 5 at the time). My university had painted this path for most of my classmates and anyone “smart” followed that road.
I remember buying my first suit for these interviews, my Dad teaching me how to tie a tie, and thinking to myself, “if I get one of these jobs, I am set for life!” I wanted it badly. I bought all the books on how to interview for a job, did mock interviews, and was ready – I was going to crush it. I received 5 out of 5 interview invites and with hubris, dreamt up conversations on how I was going to turn the other 4 firms down. The following week, I received calls from all the firms; all responded with the same message “we regret to inform you that we cannot offer you a job”. I was devastated.
My life was turned upside down – 0 out of 5 – I thought I was a loser and out of options. What I had been working towards slipped through my hands. It wasn’t until a good friend told me about something called investment banking that I started to think about other options. The i-banks recruited later than accounting firms so I had another shot at getting a job. Long-story short, I interviewed and got the job at the i-bank. The moment I inked my signature on the papers, I never looked back.
I realized that not getting what I wanted was one of the best things to happen to me. Through the i-banking job, I was able to learn a new skill set, live abroad in London for most of my adult life, learn how to be an investor, which led me to grad school, and am now at a startup. There are so many positive ripples in my life that I would not know where I would be today if I had gotten what I wanted.
Not getting what I wanted brought perspective into my life. My immature self had solely focused on the destination rather than the journey itself.
Why It’s Relevant To Me Today
I recently thought of these events in my life against the backdrop of the tech gold rush these days. I have friends who have done really well, and conversely, have friends that have not. Some are happy; some are not. As I step back, and as obvious as this may sound, I realize that success does not equal happiness. Those happiest are ones pursuing what they are passionate about. They feel like they are making a difference, they feel heard, and they feel like they are respected.
The energy around those who want to be an entrepreneur and pursue their dreams these days is simply awesome. When I talk to entrepreneurs and sense their passion, it just invigorates me. When it’s innate and natural to be an entrepreneur or work at a startup, nothing can be better. When it’s done for other reasons, such as pure financial success, it’s always empty. Research has shown that all we need is about $75,000 per year to be happy in our lives – beyond that, our marginal utility starts to flatten out. More importantly, it’s how that money is spent, either buying things for others or enabling us to have experiences (and not on fancy cars or giant TVs) that creates that happiness.
In my short-time working at a startup, I’ve learned a ton. The one key lesson that I have taken away is that the one currency we all have, whether rich or poor, is time. Everyone has 24 hours in a day – no more, no less – and what you do with that time also defines your happiness. I get excited about going to work, thinking big, and making a difference. And if success comes, that’s great, but if it doesn’t, I know that I’m still happy doing what I am supposed to be doing. I’m enjoying my journey and spending my 24 hours the best way that I can. While everyone wants to be successful, not everyone gets what they want and odds are that any startup has the same fate as my luck in interviewing for accounting jobs. The pursuit of your passion – the journey – is the true success.
Because when the dust settles, you can’t always get what you want. You can’t control your destination but you can control your journey. Since my early first failed job attempts, I’ve learned that you gotta roll with the punches, and when you have a chance, to throw a few punches as well. At the end of it all, it’s what you do with your time and pursuing your passions is what matters most.