Don’t Freak Out

As recruiting season approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about the type of lifestyle I want beginning in 2020. But that’s just because I have long commutes, and I need a distraction from all the other crazy thoughts that pass through my head on a minute-to-minute basis. Why is there an inordinate number of above-ground pools near airports in the US? What sort of futuristic, utopian society would we live in if Adam Sandler had never made movies? Would there still be cancer? Why is my credit card bill so high after Friday night? At least I didn’t invite a homeless guy to my hypothetical destination wedding. Not this time.

I’ve lived in seven countries over the past three years. I’ve never lived in the same apartment for more than ten months at a time.

I can only cook four dishes. Two of them are good. Sometimes I see people walking down the street with a girlfriend or a dog or an intention, and I can’t help but think how nice it would be to finally have some stability.

I know I have it in me—this summer, I had my first desk job since 2015, and it’s been great. I have a morning coffee routine. My co-workers are delightful. I haven’t stood up without provocation and yelled “None of this actually matters!” before storming out. Not this time.

I can very clearly see myself ten years from now with a young family in a semi-residential part of town with a dog that I trained to bring me the newspaper. My wife and I would have busy careers, but we would still make plenty of time for each other. We would go on romantic getaway trips, and when she’s extra stressed, I would surprise her with breakfast because I can cook in this scenario. Our home would be particularly comfortable, the feng shui doing wonders for my qi. A cactus is somewhere. Our little munchkin child just learned how to talk, so it’s time to teach him about baseball and Nietzsche. On the weekends, I host my buddies for a barbeque out by the pool (which is in the ground because I’m not a sociopath). One of them is mostly bald by now, but he takes our ridicule like an absolute champion.

On the other hand, I have an irrational fear of boredom. Routine breeds boredom. Not I-guess-I’ll-catch-up-on-Colbert boredom, but real boredom.

“None of this actually matters!” boredom. What if every day is the same, and the job slowly eats away at my vitality, but I’m too tired or afraid to change careers again? What if I don’t mind what I do, but I never become passionate about it or accomplish anything truly important? What if I end up just riding the slaughterhouse conveyor belt through life without having ever really accomplished anything? What if I realise I don’t actually like dogs? I definitely don’t like newspapers. They’re an antiquated means of word conveyance that should’ve been completely eradicated with the advent of the internet. Plus, there should be more trees. There should also be fewer people, but I’m a bit too arrogant not to have my own children. I’ll just stick to not owning a car.

This recruiting season is a watershed moment for most of my classmates. We are about to figure out where we will be and what we will be doing for at least the next few years.

I should be nervous. I should be overwhelmed. Oddly, though, I’m relaxed. Better yet—I’m excited.

I have my summer employer to thank for that. I put my heart into a position that I think actually does matter, and it felt good. I worked hard and felt rewarded. Every day was both the same and different. When you spend enough time working jobs that don’t feel consequential, it’s easy to forget that in the next phase of your career, it is indeed possible to work and be happy.

I’m equally grateful for INSEAD, who should really be paying me for writing such nice things about them. At least send a guy a T-shirt. From classmates, interviews, and professors, I’ve learned that there are several ways to disrupt routine in a way that also adds value to my future company. As a consultant, I could take on pro bono social impact projects or try to land new clients through networking and relationship building. As a venture capitalist, I could source deals in high-growth spaces that interest me, like renewable energy or food security. As an investment banker, I could… never mind, rule that one out.

Ideally, my next job will bring me the stability my life clearly needs, but with enough challenge—and just a soupçon of unpredictability—to keep me sharp.

I want my future company to benefit from the qualities that make me myself.

To sustain this level of relative calmness—and to mitigate any possibility of a borderline neurotic episode as per the fourth paragraph—it’s necessary to understand why we do what we do. Do we really care about helping giant utility companies improve their margins, or do we care more about solving challenging puzzles? Do we really care about generating value for geriatric shareholders we’ve never even met, or do we care more about gaining the requisite experience to start our own companies or to reach a certain position in an organisation whose values we truly identify with?

Why are we spending so much time at work? Are we really that passionate about it? Is it a conscious short-term sacrifice for a known long-term gain? Why do we need the money we’re making? Do we plan to spend it on family, charity, angel investments, or our own creative endeavours, or are we spending it foolishly on things we don’t need or equity stake in WeWork? Long-term goals can help alleviate short-term anxieties, but only if we see the big picture and understand how and why we will get to where we’re going.

I’ve learned that envisioning specific, ostensibly ideal scenarios sets narrow expectations and tends to be counterproductive, and they never come true anyway. That makes me sound like a sad clown, but it’s actually the best part about being in professional purgatory. Now that I’m positioned to succeed—thanks to my family, friends, and INSEAD—I can just sit back and enjoy watching how this baby shakes out (so to speak—don’t shake babies).

I don’t expect stability to fix my problems, but that’s also not what I want. I want my problems to evolve into better problems. Challenging and fun problems.

For the first time in years, I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing how my life turns out.

Pivotal moments can be nerve-racking, but if we prepare well and support each other, everything will fall into place, whether it’s during recruiting season or after. I think the key is to try not to expect certain offers from companies or idealistic lifestyle scenarios or the physical existence of a cactus, but rather to trust yourself and embrace uncertainty one last time. Don’t settle for a position that doesn’t make you happy just because you think you have to. Also, don’t be an investment banker. But most importantly, don’t freak out.

Not this time.