The Holy Grail of Finding Yourself
I decided to leave the military after my obligatory five years of service upon graduating college. Two operational tours on two ships and one non-operational tour recruiting nuclear engineers was the perfect amount of time away from home and hazardous duty.
I had proudly served my nation well, left with many awards, and was very successful inside the walls of the navy.
Upon exiting, I was accepted into a veterans transition program offered by a bank in Charlotte and was to work for their securities division.
Nine veterans selected from four-hundred applicants through a rigorous three day interview process, I had done it. I had won a job that was littered with Ivy League grads, gave me plenty of financial security(money!), and was going to impress my friends.
I didn’t have a ton of experience, but I do have a bachelor’s in economics. I still hadn’t practiced econ outside of investing in Starbucks stock and logging on to TurboTax every year to complete my taxes.
I consider myself a snappy dresser, so my ridiculously sharp suit game should cover up my lack of financial experience and give me time to play catch up. In short, I was confident I was going to crush it.
Day one was exciting. The trading floor is a fury of activity — people buying and selling financial securities to collect commissions and keep clients happy.
Hundreds of screens glow into faces that anxiously wait for spreads and deals to finalize. Not as loud as the trading floors in the 80’s and 90’s, but still a beehive of activity.
And there I sat. Next to the Chief Operating Officer of the Markets division running financial allocations, putting together presentations, and pouring over financial documents to piece together business strategy. The finest SuitSupply suit couldn’t have saved me. I was lost in a world of financial statements, excel, and macros.
l gained fifteen pounds in three months and was not great at what I was doing. Not only that, but I was emotionally miserable . I could not fire myself up hard enough to get interested in what I was doing. This was a huge opportunity for me and I felt lost.
How did this happen? How was I failing? On-the-job training was part of the learning curve, but why couldn’t I get this right?
Three months and I had left the bank. No backup plan, no security blanket, no income. Note: Luckily, I did have a saving grace — the navy. I was able to come back on a two year contract to my old unit as a nuclear engineering officer recruiter.
I carefully look back on my time at the bank and observed many lessons that I call upon every day. Here are the three lessons to take away from my rough transition from the military.
I Wanted to Win it More Than I Wanted to Work it
Admittedly, I am good in interviews. I prepare like crazy for every time that I get the opportunity to speak with someone in a formal setting and this wasn’t any different. In fact, I ramped it up a couple notches.
I could tell you everything that was happening in the news affecting financial markets, every responsibility of the federal reserve, and even had a prediction on hand for the future of interest rates. I was like Jim Cramer except more hair and less loud. I was ready, baby! And the competition was fierce. There were no slouches in this group.
What followed was something that had me way less excited. I had to work twelve hours a day in the bank. Trust me, I love working hard. Oh, I love putting in hard work. But this work was not fulfilling to me.
I found zero purpose in what I was doing and no amount of money could fill the void I felt when I entered the grand marble walls of the bank. Tons of people brimmed with excitement as they traded securities, advanced business strategy, and researched companies big and small for clues on how to invest. I was not one of them.
And that was when I realized I wanted this job for every reason that didn’t include my “purpose”.
What I realized was that until you put yourself in a position where your skills, interests, and feeling of personal worth intersect, you will never be fulfilled.
Don’t Put Your Blinders On
It was difficult to think about anyone other than myself while working at the bank. Constantly on edge about performing, I rarely took an opportunity to engage with others and offer any help that I could.
Despite being inexperienced in my particular role, I was still a 28 year old human with years of work experience under my leather belt. Surely, I could assist someone if needed.
Instead, I made it a point to prove to myself and others around me that I was going to be the hardest working person on the trading floor. Naturally competitive, I was not nasty, mean, or stand-offish. Rather, I was very focused, intense, and kept mostly to myself.
While with good intentions, I could not separate the fact that I had to prove myself every single minute of every day. I was like a basketball player that felt he needed to score every time he touched the ball. I forced everything and nothing flowed throughout my day.
Finding an emotional groove that meshes well with the physical environment is key. Pressing to be a world-beating superstar will rarely work. It will limit your ability to focus on others as a leader and prioritizes your personal success over the team success.
Your Boundaries Are Where You Set Them
As I took the elevator down from the fourth floor of the bank and headed out the turnstile onto North Tryon Street in Charlotte, I can remember feeling a sense of happiness and hopelessness.
A mutual split from the bank, I was now unemployed. The senior leadership of the bank stated that if I ever wanted to return to the bank, they would welcome me back and find a role that suited me.
Thing is, I didn’t want to go back. Not because of them, because of me. They didn’t do anything wrong. This sounds like a bad relationship(it’s not you, it’s me), however it’s what happened. I realized my boundaries do not lie in the sanity of what people think is a “normal life”.
There is no set way to live a fulfilled and happy life. Common sense dies hard in the face of someone determined to live the life they want. I wasn’t built for corporate America and I’ll go on the record saying it.
I’ve decided to turn my back on what some may call safe, comfortable, and pragmatic. But this is what I want. I want my life. My dreams. My fulfillment. And I’m willing to die trying to fight for happiness.
There is nothing more precious in this life than your time and your happiness. No one can set boundaries on you. This is your life, go capture it!
You either want your happiness or you’re willing to let it pass you by. I choose happiness and will bring as many as I can with me.