Busy Come, Busy Go

Potential employers have collectively stopped counting to 1,000 in this game of hide-and-seek. Now that their eyes are open, they can finally see what is standing right in front of them. I got tired of hiding. Why not just count to 100?

The same thing happened last summer. I hadn’t been able to find anything at all for months, not even one return e-mail or acknowledgment of existence. Then I got a real estate finance internship.  A few days later, my temp agency contacted me for the first time in two months. They offered me a job doing busy work at Chase, and I quit the unpaid (yet full-time) internship for it. A day after that, I was contacted for a temp-to-hire position doing finance and criticism and writing, but due to my ridiculous 2nd / 3rd shift hours at Chase and the unknown duration of my assignment, I turned down an interview. Based on the interest I was drawing in the present, I wasn’t worried about being able to find something in the future.

When I found myself with no job a few weeks later, I went back to being invisible to the job market. Nothing at all changed. I was still the same Curtis applying for jobs, yet my Inbox and Voicemail stayed empty. I began scouring Craigslist for anything and everything. I sent hundreds of e-mails, e-mails that I put time and effort into, and I wrote up numerous great cover letters. Nothing. No response. On extreme occasions, I would get a “Thank you for applying, and we’re impressed by your credentials, but you’re not what we’re looking for at this time.” I applied to Target. On the application, I checked every box for the stores in the city I would be willing to work at, every box for the positions they needed help in (including overnight stocking), and every box for time availability. Weeks later, I got the usual e-mail. I couldn’t even get a freaking interview for minimum wage overnight work no one else wants to do. Same with Walgreens. Same with Barnes and Noble. A number of grocery stores. I couldn’t even get a call back to be a pizza delivery driver. Apparently I’m not as overqualified for those jobs as I thought.

I had my resume looked at by the Loyola Career Center, and besides a lack of relevant work experience, they thought it was very good. I had Bradley’s Career Center review it years back, and they thought it was fine. There isn’t a glaring weakness or a “Don’t Even Dream of Hiring Me, Don’t Think About Interviewing Me, Ignore My Qualifications and Extreme Flexibility, Don’t Bother Letting Me Know You Received My Job Inquiries or Have Made a Decision Either Way, and Pretend I Don’t Exist” stamp.

Lately, I’ve been applying for things in many different areas, but I’ve naturally been focusing on finance. The same resume and credentials that were ignored the last few months are somehow in the spotlight again. Last week, I had a phone interview with a tech start-up for a business development / finance internship. A day later, my (third) temp agency awoke from its slumber to inform me of a finance position at an accounting firm. The same day, two other finance-related companies not only responded to applications I had sent, but responded with invitations to set up interview times. Hours after that, the tech start-up let me know I was chosen for the internship; I start next week(!) I wouldn’t be surprised if I get the other jobs as well.

It’s ridiculous how my life works. I was looking for something to do to benefit myself besides learning French and writing, so I started the CFA thing. I just started my hardest quarter in school. Combine the academic workload with a job (or two or three), and I’m going to be absurdly busy. Where was everyone when I had nothing to do and no commitments? It’s like I’m that guy girls only want to date when I’m unavailable.

Is this what I wanted? I do need a job for work experience and money, and I’m trying to benefit my future self. Yet I don’t have time to think anymore; there is no time to reflect on who and where I am. Am I moving forward, or am I just a hamster on a wheel? I’m going too quickly to know if this is right. I’m working very hard for the future with little regard for the present. In terms of the composition of my life, I’m increasing quantity, but am I increasing quality?

I am forced to ignore my inner awareness, to repress important questions and observations. I am sacrificing mental independence for positive future prospects. I am hesitantly taking the bus instead of driving my car. This can end up well, or it can end up in disaster.

There’s always been a wall between the real world and myself, and every time it starts crumbling, I run away. I don’t like feeling imprisoned by life. Subdued, inhibited, contained. I’m not going to give myself up for the sake of “necessity.” I will either come out of this unscathed and content or powerfully inspired by my discontent.

I’ll be on my guard.

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Committed to Finance Always?

The Curtis of the daytime is studying hard for the CFA and finals and is fine with a career in finance. The Curtis of the nighttime wants to be free.

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I’m yearning for adventure. It’s been a while since I went on a trip or quit everything and made a huge change. Maybe that’s a good thing for most people, but I feel uneasy with this arrangement. It’s not just a yearning for travel. It’s not just a break. It’s not just wanderlust. My roots are somewhere out there, not cramped up in here. I am somewhat upset at myself for having so many reminders around me: pictures all throughout my apartment of beautiful places I have been, travel books, maps of my favorite cities, Facebook cover photos, et cetera.

I’m feeling a strong sense of urgency. This has been a productive year in terms of self-progress, but I want to make sure I’m progressing toward the right thing.

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I very spontaneously registered for the June Level I CFA exam. The pass rate keeps getting lower even though smarter people are taking it. It’s only offered twice a year and cost me $1,300 (non-refundable). As all my close friends know, I hate commitment. Thinking about something is one thing, doing it on my own terms is another thing, but doing it because I have to do it is a whole different beast. I feel imprisoned, chained to these study books, chained to financial analysis, chained to June 1st. If all I want is to be free, it’s hard to say why I would do something so confining.

Sure, it will vastly improve my career prospects, on top of the master’s degree I will have by that time, but only if I choose to go into that field. Otherwise, it’s an absurdly expensive hobby. I hate to say it, but that describes a good portion of my life.

One of my professors called me aside last week and told me I am really succeeding in this class and he (a multi-million dollar portfolio manager) would put in a great recommendation for me with a couple openings he knew of. It was a boost to my ego, but I didn’t get that feeling I’m supposed to. I’m spending the prime of my years choosing from a list of things I’m only slightly interested in handed to me by someone else. Sometimes I spend my time just stressing over what I should be doing. Sometimes I push it back.

Many of you might feel this same way, but I am in more of a position to control it. That’s a nice thought, but I don’t know the first thing about controlling my life.

I’ve been thinking of everything in terms of a “career” and making money, but none of it adds up. I was going wrong because I was looking at the world like other people look at it. I’m not other people. There are certain things in the world I can’t change, but I’m not going to accept the things I don’t have to accept. 

My “niche.” Freaking business term. My life is not a business. Of course I’ll have to find a way to make money on a regular basis. Careers don’t have to define who we are. I want mine to complement my personality and calling in life.

When I am on my death bed, I don’t think I will remember the time I “seized the day” by making an important decision in my lucrative finance job. I realize not all of life is seizing the day, but I just want to spend more of my life doing things that are my own art. If it helps others, so be it, but I am doing it for me. I want to capture my short time on earth in the best way possible, given my surroundings and circumstances. I might have a carpe diem moment in finance, but it would likely be a “local maximum.” I would only be having that moment because I was forced to have it in something; in a perfect world, I would not make a dramatic, life-altering positive decision in finance, a field I chose without much thought. That is what I am skeptical of. I’m going to continue working hard toward passing the CFA, but I refuse to let the thought of it bind me in any way. 

I know myself. I know I was destined for something very special. That might sound dramatic, but I don’t really care what anyone thinks. I’m meant for a life spent in a very unique way, and I need to stop thinking there is such a concrete and inflexible order to things that leaves little room for living differently. There are creative opportunities in finance that might work for me, or I might find something better. I’ll soon be able to tell.

In short, the nearer I get to a specific life path, the more I want complete freedom. I believe it is possible to break free from the chains and live this life on my own terms.

 

“Home” in the Swiss Alps

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Lungern, Switzerland, November 2011.

The last time I felt at home.

 

I checked out of my hotel and caught the next train from Luzern.

I was the only one who got off the train. Lungern, although nestled halfway between a bustling tourist-friendly town and Mt. Pilatus, among many other popular Swiss Alps destinations, is tiny and has no attractions.

There was a walking trail from the train station to the town. I found myself heading toward the dreamy emerald-colored water.

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My travel backpack and duffle bag were even more burdensome than in the previous weeks (I had walked miles in Dublin, Paris, Barcelona, and Nice with the same bags), so I had to take frequent breaks. It was a nuisance, but a wandering traveler has no other choice than to carry his baggage.

The trail wasn’t exactly a sidewalk; it weaved steeply down a hill through backyards, gardens, and fields. The town was very quiet at this time of day and probably at every time of day. Once I made it to the lake, I found another trail.

I walked almost a mile along the water. I saw a little peninsula with a great view of the lake and the Alps. That was where I headed.

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There was a man fishing nearby in a small boat who happened to be leaving his spot; I was going to have the space for myself.

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The view was breathtaking.

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There was a lone bench shaded by a few trees with falling leaves. It was mine. The peninsula was all mine.

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I had no clue what to do with all of this – it was too perfect. I put my bags down, sat on the bench, and tried to soak everything in.

 

Part of my being seeks its own Walden Pond.  Completely separate from civilized society and all the “noise,” I can think more clearly. Tranquil, natural beauty makes me realize how little I really need. It also gives me hope that, if nature can achieve something this magnificent, so can I. Maybe I don’t want to be completely self-sufficient, but I do want to break free from the strangleholds of society. All I want is to be unencumbered by the superfluity that is thrown at me.

 

I took a few pictures but found myself unable to encapsulate what was right in front of my face. I thought a place like this would give me clarity, but it only made me more confused.

I took the long walk back up to the outdoor train station and found myself alone for almost an hour until the next train arrived. The cows grazed a few feet in front of me, their bells ringing loudly. A crisp breeze was blowing through the valley. Straight ahead were a few more houses, which gave way to slowly inclining fields, which turned into green hills and mountains.

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I looked closely to see a couple primitive trails through the hills, and I remember thinking how exciting it would be to hike those trails. A train on a separate track from mine briefly stopped. A single passenger got off and a car picked him up. I was too tired to think anymore, so I relaxed.

This is where I had my moment of clarity, not on the bench at my peninsula.

For nearly an hour, I had attained freedom. For the moment, I was free from all of my worries and anxieties. It was just me and the cows; the cowbells rang but the wind provided an ambient noise with which to dampen their otherwise shrill jingle.

This is where I felt at home. Not in a specific location. With few creature comforts. Not necessarily isolated from all civilization, but in an environment where the focus was on no one person or thing except nature in general. Peace. Beauty. “This is what I want.” That’s the only thing I wrote in my journal.

Then the moment passed, and I started thinking again.

I thought about what it would be like living in Lungern. “A large part of whatever it is that I am looking for is here,” I thought. But reality kicked in. I am in Switzerland. I have no clue what to do with my life back home, let alone in a pastoral setting in the mountains in a foreign country. What would I do here? Do I really want to live ‘far from the madding crowd?’

These thoughts were racing through my mind, yet an hour after I left, the Indian summer ended and the winter began. As I passed through the town for a tour of Mt. Pilatus the following day, there was nearly a foot of snow on the ground, and it was 40 degrees cooler. I couldn’t see outside at all. The perfect, serene, beautiful Lungern I had experienced was gone.

Was this some sort of sign? Would I really want to live in Lungern, Switzerland? Perhaps, but that is not the point. The point is, when I was waiting alone at the quiet train station, I was no longer detached from my surroundings. We’re all trying to figure out where we belong in life. We all want to know where “home” is. Some find it in a physical location; others have a more abstract definition. My home is where my mind is able to shut off. Where I can become one with my surroundings and not just be an onlooker. In the rare, usually accidental instances where I am not a tourist of life, I am at home.

I do not know what this means for my future, but I do know that I have endless opportunities to find my home and my calling if I stop thinking and start doing. I still have a ways to go before I settle on a life path; if winter comes abruptly, nothing is tying me down.