“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” - Mark Twain
Thanks Mark Twain. With that, I do believe the journey of life will be split into two distinct phases. One of exploring until you "find out why" and then the journey you embark on to live out the "why". Though, I don't think the two phases are set as an absolute. As in, you could have "found it" and then proceeded to live it out but you may get lost again and have to go back to "finding your why" again. People call this passion, purpose, your why etc... There are many names. But what I think is all encompassing is that none of these will be static and will continuously evolve and change.
Personally, I think I'm in the phase of finding it. I have ideas, inklings, and hypotheses. But, I've still got to test em out continuously and that seems to be the only constant. The need to continuously experiment and test.
It's in such a world that I see value in looking outside at my surrounding and who better to look at for reference than colleagues who've worked for longer than you and at higher levels than you?
As I made my career decisions, observing and speaking with these individuals provided me with valuable data to aide me in my own self-reflection.
Most of my colleagues during my big 4 days as an accountant and management consultant planned to leave the firm. To them, the firm was providing them with a brand, work experience valued by the market, or insurance (accounting designation) to do something they really wanted to do (though most had no idea what that was). It was natural in these professions to have colleagues leave left and right every year. Practically the case unless you made partner after 10 years or so. So, the case for most of my colleagues was that they didn't like what they did. More so the accountants than the consultants. Though I would compare it as dislike vs. not minding. This was the case for at least 80%, with the % skewed to be heavier in the younger folks. Makes sense, if natural selection weeding out those who finally decided they wanted to do something different. I mean, it was common to go to company socials and see coworkers drink an excessive amount to a) forget their sorrows and sadness and/or b) get back at the firm by drinking a lot. Both very unfortunate and irrational behaviours.
But what about the 20%? The people who actually really loved what they did? Now that led to some really insightful and interesting conversations. Especially when 80% of your friends were not enjoying this, what made the 20% love it? What made them stick through this "non-popular" decision to like, even love, this profession? What about financial statements did they love? What kept them going at this profession for decades?
From the early parts of my career I was fortunate enough to have met auditors who loved what they did. They were rare but it was a great way for me to see the highlight reel. The upside of the profession from their perspective. All the great things I could experience and what helped them plow through the kind of shit they'd have to eat. Every profession requires some 'shit eating' and I find it's the shit you don't mind eating that will be an indication that you'd have found what you like doing.
So if I was not excited by the highlight reel, didn't feel connected or aligned with the purpose they felt their profession was helping realize.. well then.. that was a valuable data point for how not feel like that later on as well. It was not whether their point-of-view was right or wrong but whether it resonated with who I was and my beliefs.
Recently, I had a conversation with a fella at a hedge fund in New York. He had worked in the buy-side in Canada and transitioned to a new fund in New York. We were connected by a mutual friend who believed I would be able to provide the individual with some perspective as he felt lost in his current investing role. What surprised me was that this guy did not have a passion for investing. At least, I felt he didn't. He didn't have a strategy he was aligned with, he was unfamiliar with basic investing books and the top equity funds anyone plugged into the industry should know about. To him, he was doing it purely for the money to pay for his expenses and lifestyle and he did not believe he was adding any value. He was surprised to even hear me state that passion and love for investing need be a requirement to do this career long term because none of his colleagues liked what they were doing either. This was a shocker to me.
When I was in my buy-side role, I met with all the portfolio managers individually to understand why they did what they did and what kept them at it at the same firm for 10+ years. Contrary to other places, most of my colleagues in the hedge fund loved what they did. They loved it so much some would pull all-nighters doing what they loved. Some even spoke of wanting to return from vacation faster because they missed the work so much. Even financially, many did not have to work and they could retire but they chose to continue to do the work. That seemed to indicate a love for what they were actually doing.
It's when you see this continuous obsession to become the best at their craft, when you meet people who are doing the work not for the sake of income but also with a sense of purpose for mastery. After knowing this, you can even start asking yourself whether you feel the same emotions towards your work like your colleagues do. Do you feel the same kind of euphoria they describe as feeling? The same kind of purpose and drive? If you don't, then maybe this isn't right for you. But if you feel something close but something is just a little off, then you know you are beating around the right bush and you just have to look a little closer and beat around a little more until you find what is right for you.
The benefit of being in an organization is that you are not alone. There are going to be various personalities so try to find the ones that love what they do. If 80% don't like what they do then don't focus on them. Find the 20% that love it because they're probably the ones bringing in 80% of the gains for the company anyways. Question them and try to understand what drives them and why they do what they do. Then have the self-awareness to see if that relates with you. If not, then you'll have a clear reason for why you should move on to explore something else.
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