- Wise Words -
Life is like a game.
A game of chutes & ladders
*writer opted for anonymity
I now know that professional life is remarkably unpredictable. As much as I have tried to plan and calculate the most direct route up the corporate ladder, my ascension has been more like a game of Chutes and Ladders (damn the dice!) than a well-planned game of Chess.
Yes, I watched Friends. Yes I heard those lyrics “So no one told you life was gonna be this way, your job's a joke, you're broke, you’re love life’s DOA” but I didn’t expect these words to apply to me!
Up the Ladder
To avoid being in the “Friends situation” I worked at it. At College, I used all my summers to work at internships. I was lucky to benefit from my “friends & family” network and secured internships in healthcare, communications, equity research, equity sales and trading.
The connections weren’t all close, but the companies I worked for needed cheap labor and I certainly fit that bill. One of those connections, was a high school friend of my aunt’s, Ian, who ran the trading desk at an Investment Bank. Ian became a mentor to me and in addition to his counsel, he helped me secure a role in Equity Research at his boutique (aka small!) investment research firm. It wasn't Goldman Sachs, but it felt like a great place to start.
I was sure I could learn from people who had experience in the financial markets. I wasn't in Ian’s team, but instead reported to the Head of Research. The first knock to my plan was that my boss left after about six months. Then Ian left to join a larger, more prestigious bank. It was unsettling. I decided I wanted to follow Ian and so interviewed at his new Wall Street firm and…
… and I got busted!
Down the Chute
The firm had been checking my emails and instant messages. Oops! When I returned to my office after the interview, my handprint did not work in our futuristic security system. The next thing I knew, I was meeting with the head of HR. About 1 year after graduating from college, I got to experience my first exit. I was let go.
There is nothing like losing your job to make you feel like a zero. The feeling of inadequacy, coupled with the need to sell yourself at a job interview is a tough combo. Things got especially bad when at month 3 I was still without a job. I had found that without a network I was on my own.
To earn my unemployment wages, I had to make the 45-minute trek downtown to Canal Street and show my face at the government office and take classes on how to get a job. This included a lot of activities like sending your resume into the deep dark hole that is Monster.com. Yes I got another job, but it was a slog competing with the other Early Stage Professionals who had similar experience and skills to me.
The Up Ladder: Digital Dice
10 years and one MBA later, I decided to gamble on another small company, this time a Silicon Valley-based start-up.
I had mentioned that I wanted to go into digital media marketing to my sister and this time it was her network that helped me out. She introduced me to a friend who was working at a start-up and loving it. When I met her, she seemed so confident and happy, like she could be her whole self and that work was something she truly just did because she loved it. I was sold immediately.
I looked at the roles available and the one that I chose had me working for a personable, genuine, hard-working guy named Frank. Frank seemed to be exactly what I needed in a manager. A guy who himself had had a lot of experience and was enthusiastic about offering his advice and his strong connections in the industry as well as within the company. Frank was not afraid to stick his nose out for people.
A month or two after I started, like many (all?) start-ups, there was a re-org. I was no longer reporting to Frank and I was going to report to a woman who was based in her home office far from NYC or Silicon Valley. I did my best to keep her informed, but I knew that unlike Frank, she had no stake in the culture or in the company. She had only her own interests.
When the company got acquired a couple of months later, 75% of us were let go (Frank and many of the friends I had made). This time, however, I felt the strength of the network I had built at the start-up. I was able to land a job at a very successful internet company where I have stayed ever since. As it is such a large firm my network has only grown.
Avoiding the Chutes. My Network as Safety Net
I owe much of my current success largely to the incredible network of people I met at the start-up. When things get messy and political, that’s when you can find out who you truly want on your side (or to hold your ladder – too much on the analogy?!?).
The moral of the story is this:
Surround yourself with people you trust. Continue to impress them with your work ethic and stay in contact with them. I have learned that as much as you can become a product expert or tenured at a company, companies get acquired and products get deprecated. In the end, the most important thing you have is your network; people who can say they worked with you, and enjoyed it! And when your company gets acquired or falls apart, those people will join new companies, and your network multiplies.
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