Xavier Flory | Following Franklin, not the Benjamins
Taking advantage of our potential and opportunities post-graduation
October 27, 2013, 6:49 pm · Updated October 27, 2013, 11:26 pm·
As I near graduation, I’m faced with two pressures. One is financial and immediate: I have loans to repay. The other is intellectual and perhaps even moral: Spending years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to study the great thinkers and actors of the past is a luxury that can only be fully repaid with similarly intellectual or public-minded achievements.
But many Penn students see only the former responsibility. Over 50 percent of the class of 2012 working full-time is in finance or consulting, many of them with no particular interest in or motivation for the fields.
Fellow columnist JY Lee wrote about his transition from literary and entrepreneurial ambitions to consulting interviews, citing material comfort as one reason he needs to be practical. He’s not alone. Many will dabble with social entrepreneurship, charity work and novel writing while in school. But when it comes time to choose a career, few of us risk comfort.
One of my close friends admits, “Banking doesn’t interest me at all,” and yet she says she will be working at CitiBank next year. She isn’t sure what she would really like to do, and she probably won’t find the answer on an Excel spreadsheet. She’ll be working such long hours she won’t have time to explore outside of work either, and by the time she finishes her two-year-long stint, she will have changed.
Putting financial security first when choosing our first job out of college is risky. The underlying assumption is that our work environment — our colleagues and the ethos of our company — doesn’t have an effect on us. But they do, and I imagine that the effect is nowhere greater than in the highly competitive and elitist world of finance.
The first years out of college are as formative as those at Penn have been — we are not necessarily choosing a lifelong profession, but our first experience after school will shape how we make decisions and what we value going forward. The people we meet and work with will inspire or stifle us. The difficulties of our circumstances could help us grow, or the comfort of our situations could dissuade us from taking risks. After all, who wants to give up a $100,000 salary?
Financial independence and parental pressure are also often cited as reasons for pursuing the safe route, but part of asserting independence lies in choosing our own path, succeeding at something despite the admonitions that it is risky or impractical. People often hide behind monetary or societal imperatives, but one doesn’t need a banker’s salary to make ends meet. However, some might need the prestige of a high power job for self-esteem. For example, I’m convinced one of the reasons that Teach For America and law school remain so popular among Ivy Leaguers is because they are considered elite.
Slipping into the mainstream usually means leaving our more cherished ambitions behind. Some do use the contacts and salary of a lucrative consulting or banking job as a base upon which to build their dreams — after several years working at Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan, my boss from two summers ago quit the industry to found her own school in Hong Kong. But I think she is the exception rather than the rule.
It takes courage to look past the values of our parents and society, but discomfort — not security — may be exactly what we need to realize our ambitions. Necessity and pressure spur productivity — just think back to your last all-nighter cramming for a midterm. As new college graduates, we should feel the need to prove ourselves. We should have to worry about next month’s rent.
Young, energetic and unencumbered by marriages or mortgages, if we are not capable of daring and independence now, then when?
As a 2011 Harvard graduate and professor at the University of Caen puts it, “Ivy League students are very good at jumping through hoops that others set up.” But as we prepare for life outside the ivory tower, we should be setting up our own hoops, even if it means deserting the paths of recognition, wealth and comfort.
Xavier Flory is a College senior from Nokesville, Va. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @FloryXavier. “The Gadfly” appears every other Monday.