JY Lee | Quarter-life crisis?
Wandering Deliberate Lee | My quest to balance feeding my body and soul
October 3, 2013, 10:09 pm · Updated October 7, 2013, 12:17 am·
Wandering Deliberate Lee
After my Boston Consulting Group interview this year, my interviewer told me I should work either in writing, teaching or entrepreneurship. Although I was pleased to receive gratuitous advice from a company that charges millions for its services, I still struggle to muster the courage to implement its recommendations.
I came to Penn aspiring to be just that: an academic, entrepreneur or travel writer. Embodying Thoreau’s call to “live the life you imagined,” I’d just come off from a gap year in which I taught English in rural China, peddled Kenyan art at festivals in Spain and kept a journal as I backpacked around the globe.
So on my first day of classes, I dropped out of the Management and Technology program that I had deferred to read literature and philosophy that resonated with my soul. I sold textbooks with Wharton graduate student Josh Magarick and sold Chinese flower tea to food trucks in exchange for lunches. I spent my weekends writing my gap year travel book for a Korean publisher. I was happy.
Just as how Marx wrote that one can “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize [literature] after dinner … without ever becoming a hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic” in his ideal society, I thought I could make a living by freely engaging in my passions without needing a boss or business card.
Four years later, after writing an unpublished travel essay about biking across America and a few whimsical entrepreneurial ventures, I am gravitating toward the life others expect. I now find myself in consulting interviews, reciting how my education and internship experience in journalism have prepared me for business strategy.
Have I become a sell-out? Perhaps. Or perhaps I simply grew up. I felt the weight of my family botanical garden and medicine businesses in dire need of management acumen. I learned that this “winner-take-all” capitalist society has very few niches for a bohemian jack-of-all-trades, and I needed to specialize in order to maintain my lifestyle.
Because my doctor-inventor-entrepreneur–professor-writer father grew up with nothing and made millions while curing thousands, and I grew up with a silver spoon in my mouth, I thought I could also get rich while doing good. Alas, I feel lost in his giant shadow now.
While my family and friends urge me to follow my heart, they are also “schizophrenic,” telling me to be realistic and indenture myself now so that I can gain freedom later. Although Robert Frost “took the one [road] less traveled by / And that has made all the difference,” the road less traveled is a hungry one unless one can write like Frost.
I do not know whether money first or passion first is the wiser move, but I’m encouraged by the various routes my peers have taken.
Despite the hemorrhaging of jobs in journalism, 2013 College graduate Humna Bhojani is interning at The Nation, a left-leaning publication about politics and culture. Jacob Gantz, 2012 College and Wharton graduate, chose to work at Palantir Technologies, a less-renowned startup which is now a billion-dollar software company credited with helping locate Osama bin Laden. After graduating from Wharton in 2012, Russell Trimmer hiked the entire 2,000-mile-long Appalachian Trail and is now working at a farm to learn more about food policy.
Wharton MBA and Penn Law class of 2015 Andrew Towne had bartending, camp counseling and construction labor on his resume when he graduated from college. But he followed his calling for public service and went to D.C., joined the CIA and has since worked at Boston Consulting Group and Goldman Sachs.
So where does that leave me and you? As I look forward to beginning my graduate studies next year, I feel like a freshman with infinite possibilities. And although we often forget, our friends serve as reminders of all the opportunities here that we are blessed with.
And lest you still feel lost, let us find solace in the myriad paths that Locust Walk leads us on and in the words of Tolkien that “not all those who wander are lost.”
JY Lee is a fifth-year College and Wharton senior from Gangnam, South Korea. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Wandering Deliberate Lee” appears every other Monday. Follow him @junyoubius.