Where’s My Dogma?
October 12, 2012
by Andrea Murad
Ever have those mornings when you have no idea why your alarm is going off? This happened to me at the end of my finance career a few years ago. At that time, the market sucked and my bonus was a Dilbert cartoon. One door was closing, and it was finally time to change my life.
Know your dogma.
When I applied to college, I listened to my father instead of myself. “Why don’t you try engineering—you might like it!” he said. He was an engineer and wanted his children to be engineers. Not many people know what they want to be when they’re five years old anyway. No child has ever exclaimed, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! I want to be a BOND TRADER!”
Plus, Steve Jobs had not yet made his famous commencement speech to Stanford’s 2005 graduating class about not wasting your time by living someone else’s life.
“Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking,” he said.
In college, I spent more time perfecting my ability to spatial relate like a kung fu master than thinking about how to live. My goal after college was to get a job, as my father pointed out repeatedly.
Doing something is better than nothing.
Like everyone I knew, I became an
office mechanic IT consultant. Since first jobs aren’t for forever, I started looking for something new after a few years. “I want to change my job because I want to do something more quantitative,” I told potential employers. Even today, I’m not sure what that means.
At my next job, I forecasted and wrote commentary about producer and consumer price indexes. Nothing exciting ever happened except that one time when the index for prescription drug prices jumped because a little blue pill called “Viagra” was introduced to the impotent masses.
Do your research and find inspiration.
A family friend suggested I read Liar’s Poker. I inhaled every word and dreamed about Wall Street. Gorging on Mexican food while being disrespected by oversized, arrogant men during a day of trading mortgages seemed like an adventure compared to waiting for the price of Viagra to rise.
Spamming is never a great idea.
I faxed close to 50 resumes to random headhunters until I was offered a job as a
tape cracker analyst at an investment bank. The headhunter made the job sound so romantic—I’d be part of the team that wined and dined clients and closed multi-million dollar bond deals. One minor detail, I didn’t know what a bond was.
At the investment bank,
s*** flowed down and landed on me I was one of the more unappreciated analysts. The work environment was different—men flipped each other’s ties to check the labels, managers yelled at subordinates, subordinates chugged Pepto-Bismol, everyone crammed into empty offices to fight over designer ties that “fell off a truck” and Tabasco sauce was the fifth food group.
In the cubes around me, one coworker was a devout Buddhist who prayed (a lot) while another with slicked-back hair like the decade-old Gordon Gekko character didn’t talk to anyone unless he had to. Along with my Wall Street colleagues, I didn’t eat anything unless it was a** on fire hot. I saved my stomach and left after nine months. To this day, I still don’t talk to Gordon Gekko.
When you make excuses for why you can’t leave, you really need to leave.
I stayed at my next job for almost 10 years. I finally knew what a bond was but never seemed to get my mood right. I was too light-hearted when I should have been serious and too serious when I should have been just serious. Part of me didn’t care. I had this strange feeling that one day, I’d do something different.
About eight years into this job, while recovering from an injury at my parents’ house in Virginia, my father and I took a walk. That day, his words surprised me. He told me to quit my job and travel for a year.
“You worked hard and deserve it,” he said. He knew I hadn’t been happy for some time.
“I’ll collect two more bonuses and then resign,” I said. Freedom was a year away.
Life happens when you make plans.
Months later, the market started to crumble. I couldn’t sit behind the stacks of papers in my office for one more late night and hired a life coach. She gave me writing assignments—what’s your fairy tale, what’s your ideal life. After reading a few of my stories, she looked at me and said, “You should take a graduate level writing class.”
Most of us have to try many different things to figure out what we’re good at. I signed up for writing, guitar and drawing classes. Months into my very first writing class, my coach suggested that I apply to a graduate writing program. On a whim, I did. No one at work knew—I had survived two rounds of layoffs and wanted to make it through a third.
Don’t question what happens next.
I was accepted to school on March 17, 2009 and laid off on March 26, 2009. During the next 15 months, I wrote about boxing, cricket, mountaineers and Chinese tattoo artists while learning sculpting and photojournalism. Graduate school was like going through puberty again in your 30s—not impossible but very uncomfortable. After I graduated, at my father’s 50th high school graduation, I overheard him tell his friends, “She studied engineering for me and journalism for her.” Finally, I figured out my dogma.
What’s the moral here? If you’re unhappy with your job, talk about it. Hire a coach if you’re lost. Go outside your comfort zone. You’ll likely find answers in the oddest places but once you start down the right path, life will push you along. And when that door opens, be ready to step through the archway without looking back.