“Plastics Benjamin, Plastics”

A couple years ago, I was asked to speak to a group of very bright high school juniors and seniors for career day at my high school Alma Mater. This would definitely fall into the category of “elite private school”, by any standards. The subject at hand was “a career in Finance.” Three segments consecutively, with a few minutes in between, no break. Very enlightening.

I was paired with a sharp young man who was then working 26 hours per day for Goldman Sachs, “Straight Outta Undergrad,” from Johns Hopkins which is highly unusual.  He was sharp, poised, and a delightful young man. Two years in, he said he’d had about just one year left in him to do that job before surrendering.

Career Day. There were probably 10 or 15 occupational pursuits in which students had a choice about which to learn, and each segment ran every 40 minutes. Having chosen three potential interests each, they rotated from one room to the next. Everything from film, entrepreneurship, journalism, arts, engineering, lawyering, accounting and the like. (I wish I’d kept the list of choices to see what else was…and was not on there.)

I had looked at the roster and noticed one anomaly. As such, as contrarians, we began by asking the students, “Do any of you know which occupation had the largest number of the same segments running simultaneously”? ie. There was so much demand for certain careers by kids for which they needed to add more rooms and more presenters for that field. None knew the answer.

As it turns out, the most demanded occupation for career day was? Finance, by a factor of four.

We then asked the kids, many of whose parents were in finance themselves, and this being the NY Metro area, “How many of you know anything about what is involved in various aspects of banking and finance”?

Very few hands.

Next, “How many of you came here because you were told to go to this session because your Mom or Dad told you, “go to the finance breakout”?

Almost three-quarters of the hands slowly rose, sheepishly, as they looked around at their peers.

Like in most vocational pursuits, the most important requirement is unbridled passion, that comes from within. As my Dad always said, “if you’re going to be a ditch digger, be the best damn ditch digger you can be”! But in any profession, if you’re going to do it, do it for yourself and your own motivations. Enduring the long hours, taxing nights, the heartaches, the missed this and that, the cramped flights and often the humiliation along the way is impossible to endure if you’re there because “Someone else thought it was a good idea”. Or because “You heard it was good and pays a lot of dough.”

One of my favorite expressions has always been, “The secret to a rich life is when your vocation and your avocation are the same, and you never have to work a day in your life”.

I’ve been lucky. My skills, interests, and personality fit hand in glove with my career pursuit. I often “air thank” every teacher I ever had for not recommending Ritalin. And I thank my lucky stars for somewhat successfully navigating choices that placed me in each of those “right” times and places.

But my career pursuit doesn’t exist anymore. Nor do many related careers. And therein lies the message.

Learn to learn. Search far and wide. And embrace change.
Choose wisely.

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