Shared Tracks

I stand at the corner of Confusion St. and Certainty Ave. I take in the cool breeze, observing with cautious comfort the shimmering Ocean of Opportunities in the overwhelmingly infinite horizon. I hear the familiar rattle of the earth, and I prepare to jump onto the approaching They Line streetcar, yet much to my surprise, it seems to be rapidly accelerating. I step back as it perilously roars around the corner at an unprecedented speed, violently shaking the neighborhood. The car rips away from the electric line and uncouples from the tracks. Before I cover my ears and close my eyes as it inevitably careens into calamity, I look in through the rear window, expecting to see hundreds of terrified faces. From my admittedly limited glance, it curiously appears devoid of a single morning commuter. Nonetheless, I shield myself, preparing for the worst. After an eternity of silent seconds, I open my eyes to a neighborhood that shows no signs of any unusual activity, and the streetcar is not in sight. As I begin to reflect on what has happened, the bell of the They Line jingles as it arrives in front of me, full of passengers.

Did I miss something?

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Secede to Succeed

I am driving 95 through the Carpal Tunnel. I am vertiginous in the midst of a deliberate downpour. I am experiencing a schism of schisms, and my ideal cosmic response transcends prior planetary possibilities. My only hope is to create an alternative alternative, but my universe is familiar solely with destruction. Meanwhile, the risk of exposure increases at an alarming rate. Coterminous with the ticking of the portentous clock, their lights flicker freshly in my rearview mirror.

There were plenty of signs directing me in the right direction, but I was too busy evading the authorities. I took an absurd combination of exits and ended up in the middle of nowhere, yet I still hear the sirens approaching. I find myself in a cul-de-sac of cul-de-sacs, and I am contemplating continuing the chase by foot.

Stay tuned. I might be in your neighborhood soon.

Speed Limits, Hiking Trails, and Flawed Assumptions

I’ve seen a respectable amount of highways in my short life. I don’t remember the exact location, but near Mt. Rushmore, there is a highway that winds through the depths of the Black Hills. On a winter escape a few years back, enjoying the lack of traffic and cool mountain air with my windows down, I took the Avalon on her first big road trip. The speed limit was 55. In spite of it being the middle of January, the road was free of snow and ice, so I felt comfortable driving 55. After all, that speed limit sign tells you the speed it is safe to drive under normal conditions. The roads and signs have been around for years, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people have driven these highways. There was obviously planning involved, and it is reasonable to conclude with certainty that anyone can safely travel on this road at the indicated speed. However, on this tranquil January day, I started going around a corner. Remember, this isn’t one of those side roads where you have to slow down at every turn. No, this was considered a highway. It just said go 55. No other signs. No warnings. As the cruise control was on, I went 55 around the first big winding bend, and I thought my car was going to flip. Startled, I turned the cruise off and began going 45ish. But on the next big turn, I had to slow down again at the risk of death. What in the world? Is anyone else seeing this? No. No one was there. I slowed down for the rest of the journey through those crazy hills, but I will never forget my initial shock when my otherwise firm assumptions came into question.

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I have been working six days and over sixty hours a week. It’s just a temporary thing – I definitely couldn’t sustain this. But while I’m doing it, I have been trying to make weekend trips to parks and trails in the Bay Area for the sake of getting away and finding some semblance of peace. Lucky for me, the weather has been great almost every weekend, and I have chanced upon a number of gorgeous locations in the middle of nowhere, or sometimes in the middle of somewhere.

One recent hike was particularly poignant, and I’ll get to that in a second.

In the last few interesting years, I have definitely noticed a trend: I am not able to recognize my deepest thoughts in the present. Even when I, for example, meditate on a peaceful mountain away from the noise I am so confused by, my thoughts are still muddled. Every time I would try to get away in the recent past, I would be confronted with the same frustrating blindness, and it always stressed me out that I wasn’t gaining any clarity. I chalked many of my so-called important trips up as failures, and I was pessimistic that the outcome of any future endeavors would be different. Not so fast, though. While I am still not able to articulate many of my deepest thoughts in the moment, I am nonetheless filled with an ever-increasing clarity that comes in delayed form after these getaways of inner exploration.

With this in mind, and in a greater effort to be one with my surroundings, I have focused less on obtaining any deep philosophical insights and more on freeing my mind of preconceived notions about what is supposed to happen. As a Zen master told me, “trying to be peaceful is not peaceful.” I used to try to force thoughts to occur, but this would only end up with me thinking (stressfully) about thinking. Now, I am beginning to mindfully accept my surroundings and the peace they might provide me for what they are, and I trust that future reflections will yield wisdom and insight that I cannot provide in the moment. The goal is to just breathe and take everything in without trying to explain and categorize and rationalize things that are not fully developed or that simply aren’t there. Since I came to terms with this approach, I feel more honest with myself, and I can sense some very deep insights finally coming to light.

Let’s talk about that recent hike now that you have some background.

It was a weekend, and the place was swamped with people enjoying the weather. I, of course, took the proverbial road less traveled. Besides my distaste for crowds, I also saw this as a way to get to the top faster, as I was tired from a separate mountain hike earlier that day. I found myself on what was no longer a casual hill walk but now a rocky climb. This is the last time I could safely pull out my camera. Not bad, right?

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Yet the moderate incline had stealthily steepened, and I realized as I kept going up that it was becoming quite dangerous. To make things worse, I was wearing tennis shoes with very little tread instead of my hiking shoes. My pace slowed. I focused on the goal, the peak calling my name. I was almost there, but I started slipping, and it became increasingly difficult to take a further step. At this point, I had no choice but to stop in place.

My assumption the entire time had unwaveringly been that it was possible to get to the top. After all, there was at least the appearance of a trail that others had definitely taken. And this had been a well-known hiking area for decades. But I started to come to a complete awareness of my surroundings. I looked behind me, and for the first time since that drive through the Black Hills of South Dakota, I was legitimately afraid of the assumptions I justified my further continuance with. Walls came tumbling down in the most abstract part of my mind. I was much higher up than I thought, and I seemed to be standing on the edge of the world. How did the cities below get so far away? I actually experienced a sort of vertigo. I was dangerously teetering, and I started slipping again, so I fell forward in a sort of standing crawl from the grade, and I balanced my unstable feet on a set of rocks that were jutting out below me. As the disorientation faded, I found myself stuck in one spot, no longer standing, no longer able to walk. I was truly afraid of what to do next. I saw the footprints in the dirt right in front of me, yet no one was in sight. What is going on? Is this a joke? This is legitimately unsafe, yet there is no warning. Are my assumptions wrong? What should I do now?

I went up. Slowly but surely, inch by inch. My goal was to get to the top, so I patiently traversed onward in spite of the fear I was experiencing. I tossed those underlying assumptions that were coming into question aside. Maybe it wasn’t safe anymore. Maybe continuing was not the smartest decision, but I had this feeling that it might be a pivotal moment in my life.

Already, I have learned something from that final push in the face of fear, from that re-examination of those underlying notions I take for granted. Maybe my assumption of where I stand in the world is completely inaccurate. I’ve been relying too much on footprints. On marked trails. On road signs. External cues telling me what is okay, which I follow unconditionally. Maybe in the instance of the speed limit sign, it would be extremely unwise to continue at the same speed, but metaphysically, I’m saying “screw you” to these signals. They are misleading. I need to create my own assumptions based on my own goals. Had the same peak been placed in a different location without a path, I would have been much more cautious. I would have gone about things in a very different way. I might have taken a completely dissimilar path to the top. In this case, I took someone else’s path, and I almost paid dearly for it. I truly wanted to get to the top, but I didn’t think about how I would get there. It’s time to think about how I alone am going to get places. While we might have similar goals, I am sick of following your path, and I am tired of driving your speed limit.

By the way, on the trip back down, I nearly died.

Two Weeks Notice

During my first two years at college, I was ahead of the game. I obtained junior standing by sophomore year. I applied for internships and entry-level finance jobs and got my fair share of interviews. I applied to be an assistant resident advisor and made it to the final round of interviews. I didn’t land anything, but I was given a fair chance, and I knew something else would come up. By the time junior year began, the market tanked. The financial industry and job market were in pieces. I was just finishing up my finance major, so I was applied for advanced positions in addition to the jobs I was already applying for.  But something changed. The same resume and experience that earned me interest before was no longer useful. I no longer could get a response, not to mention an interview.

 

Here are some rough estimates for the last 5 years:

Serious applications to entry-level finance jobs and internships I am qualified for: 800

Since I graduated college with a B.S. in finance: 700

Unpaid positions: 90

Applications to places like Barnes & Noble, JC Penney, Walgreens, Best Buy, coffee shops, medical supply couriers, and anything else under the “Etc.” category: 220

Jobs applied for this year: 200

This summer: 120

Temporary agencies and recruiters I have been in contact with / worked for: 7

 

Here are the results from the 1000+ total job applications:

No response: 860

System-generated “We’re not interested”: 110

Real person “We’re not interested”: 20

Face-to-face interviews: 3

Phone interviews: 2

 

Jobs: A graduate assistant position and a three-month unpaid internship

 

Yes, I have tried networking, and people have put in a good word for me for an open position. This at least gets me a phone call or an email, but it ends up with “You seem smart, but we’re looking for someone with more experience” every time.

I thought once I got graduated college, things would change, but they didn’t. I thought once I got a graduate degree, things would change, but they haven’t.

If I were at least getting interviews and responses like I used to get, I wouldn’t mind the “just keep trying” mentality, but let’s face it: I’m not even close. 0.5% of the time, I get an interview. So far, I have had two very good experiences, but only one single interview from a real entry-level position. That is 0.1%

I have not restricted myself to a specific location or hours. On the contrary, I have applied for overnight and weekend positions, positions in North Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Europe, Australia (besides almost every city in Illinois, Florida, and California) and many more.

For those of you who are facing a much better job market, or who grew up when things were much easier, please stop saying I am looking for that “perfect job,” because I’m not. Yes, I have been very confused, but this kind of success rate will make a person question things, will it not? Yes, I have been lucky enough to get to travel and do some fun things. When you’re constantly stressed and depressed and tired of failure, it is okay to take a break and actually try to enjoy yourself, is it not? For those of you who think I’m enjoying “funemployment,” that lasted about one week. It’s not fun. I am not happy having this much spare time. Most of my time is spent trying to make myself more marketable or applying for jobs or stressing about life and trying to find some sort of peace in this crappy situation. I get more worried every day that goes by that I don’t have experience, that I haven’t even started the career path yet. I’m going to be 140 years old by the time I have enough “experience” if things continue like this.

To those of you facing a similar situation, I empathize with you. This really sucks. To those of you who think you have it bad but really don’t, you’re lucky. I envy you.

Almost 5 years of this, and I have been in and out of school and states and countries to delay the inevitable reality of trying to pierce this veil, but there is no more hiding. I am as ready and eager and willing as I can possibly be, yet absolutely nothing has changed.

I just passed Level I of the CFA. Congrats, Curtis! The pass rate was 38%, and I truly didn’t think I did my best, but I am happy to have been successful in something that I worked so hard for. Registration and books for Level I amounted to $1,300. I just paid $1,100 for Level II, which is offered next June. If I am lucky enough to pass that, there is a Level III the next year. If not, I wait another whole year to take the June Level II exam.

I started an LLC to manage investments, but in order to make even a little money in this industry, you have to manage millions of dollars. I have to obtain licenses and pay lawyer fees and register in multiple states and fill out hundreds of pages of paperwork. It is almost impossible for a small fund to make money in this industry since 2008, and I don’t expect to make my costs back anytime soon.

My point is this: the finance job market tanked in 2008, right when I was looking for jobs. I didn’t gain experience in this time because there wasn’t any to be had. Now it is impossible to find even a finance internship, and when I do finally get to talk to a real person, they tell me I don’t have enough experience.

At what point am I supposed to call it quits? I’ve been “hanging in there” for years to no avail. I am wasting valuable time for something that isn’t there. I have to face the reality. Should I say goodbye to finance? Should I continue paying thousands of dollars and spending months intensely studying for a well-known designation that is not gaining me any attention? I don’t even know what to say about the Panera interview I can’t even get.

I am close to giving up. Many of my problems and much of my spontaneity and transience have resulted from this job situation. I am tired of it – anyone would be. I do not feel like a real person when I’m continually treated like nothing.

I will give finance just a little bit more time; I think two weeks will be a good gauge as to where I stand. If nothing has changed by the end of those two weeks, I am re-evaluating my life and placing finance much lower on the priority list.

I don’t have many strengths that easily translate to careers, but I do have many strengths. I can’t change myself overnight, if that is necessary. I would like to work with what I have, yet that is just not working. I wish there was something I could just go do right now, and I would do it.

Yep, I’m complaining, and I have a right to. I am weird and crazy and different and shy, and I have brought some of this upon myself. I deserve more, though. The next two weeks could determine the rest of my life.

Just a rant.