Tag Archives: career

Los Angeles vs. New York… Working to Live, vs. Living to Work?

Growing up in Boston and having gone to school in Cambridge, I had a strong conviction of East Coast superiority. I loved the history of Boston, the competitiveness in Cambridge, and, after spending two summers in New York, the pace of Manhattan. There was a gritty, dog-eat-dog mentality that permeated throughout the city, both up in the boardrooms and down on the streets. There was a toughness and an urgency that New York required, as evidenced by the fast walking, fast talking culture. And even though the suits could be parading around with million-dollar bank accounts, they all still carried themselves as if entering the school of hard knocks: brows furrowed, collars up, and wielding a vast repertoire of profanity.

Even with its rat-race culture, I loved New York. During my senior year of college, I interviewed solely for jobs that were based in the city. Having grown up in the ambitious East Coast lifestyle, it just seemed like a natural progression to move to Manhattan, with its promise of hard work begetting career advancement.

img_0387I ultimately accepted an offer to work in a program which required a year in New York and a year in Los Angeles. When I got my first assignment, I was devastated to learn that I was starting in California. On a cold, wintry day in Boston, I packed my bags and flew out to the West Coast. I figured I’d just wait it out for a year until I got back to New York, where my career would actually begin. After all, LA was about its actors and singers, smoke and mirrors, and Britney and Kevin. Instead of M&A, I figured I’d just find T&A. It certainly wasn’t the same type of professional environment that I expected in New York.

img_0383Throughout my year in LA, I did encounter many examples of the superficiality that I expected when I first came to California. Most conversations centered around the gym, the beach, or the latest celebrity debacle. Meeting people out on the town invariably turned into a casting session. There was an endless supply of aspiring actors, models, and dancers moonlighting as waiters, secretaries, and personal trainers. There was a sleepy, slow pace to LA, where people mostly ambled along. Furrowed brows and premature wrinkles were nonexistent, if not for the worry-free lifestyle, then for the rampant use of Botox.

img_0271To my surprise, I found myself drawn to many aspects of the laid-back, West Coast lifestyle. One huge part of this was the weather. When I first arrived at the Burbank airport in January, I was greeted by 65 degree weather and bundled-up Californians. My landlord, wearing a thick black parka, apologized for how cold it was. (Over my year in LA, I could count on one hand how many times it rained. Almost 90% of the days were over 70 degrees and sunny…even in “winter”. I remember going to the beach in February, and just like in the Corona commercial, feeling disappointed when a cloud would appear in the bright blue sky.) The beautiful weather was something I didn’t expect, and it seemed to justify the slow pace of LA. Lying on the Santa Monica beach in the middle of March, I remember feeling rather smug–while my friends back in New York were shuttered away in their tiny apartments, I was out on the beach every weekend, enjoying the sun. While they were trekking through snow and maneuvering through the NYC subway system, I was cruising down Ventura boulevard in my car, windows down, radio blaring. While they were working weekends and long hours, I was putting in ten-hour days at most, with enough time to go to the gym and still get a margarita after work.

img_0281Yet even with this carefree lifestyle, there were often times when I felt anxious about the life I was living. I almost didn’t want to get too comfortable… it seemed like I was getting complacent or soft. I worried that I was losing my drive and ambition to the allure of comfort and sun. I didn’t want to become the stereotypical airhead Californian, without a care in the world. I’d think of the negatives of living in LA (the superficial people, the earthquakes, the traffic, and the smog) and remind myself of my East Coast convictions. I was bred to be a New Yorker after all, and there was some built-in angst that I had to have. Even with all the comforts out on the West Coast, I was never free from anxiety about my career, future, and ambitions.

A week ago, I moved back to New York to start the second year of my program. As I sat at my austere desk and looked out on the gray horizon, I missed the carefree days of life in sunny California. I can’t help but reminisce about LA and its anti-New York philosophies: work to live, don’t live to work. Life’s too short. Don’t worry, be happy.

A year ago, I would have thought that these philosophies were just an excuse for being weak, lazy, and of course, soft. Now, I’m not so sure. I don’t think I can ever completely embrace either side. As much as I loved LA, perhaps I’m programmed to feel guilt for “settling” or being too comfortable. Perhaps I can’t shake that gnawing ambition and ensuing anxiety. But now that I’ve seen how the other half lives, I don’t think I can bear the rat race of New York. I’m still awed by the intensity and energy of the city, but I’m not quite as keen to be immersed in it. Maybe that means I’m more willing to sacrifice career for life, in order to have fewer wrinkles when I’m older. Or, maybe I just need a few more weeks to get used to the fast pace of NYC again.

At some point I’ll have to choose… but I’m probably just not ready to do it now.

Update (6/25/09): What I Love About New York City

Update (10/14/09): Oddities in New York City

Update (3/31/10): I’m moving back to LA … Guess I’ve made my decision, huh?

Update (4/30/10): Goodbye, New York

Update (6/7/10): Truth is Beauty, and Beauty is Los Angeles

Update (6/29/10): Deciding On Lew Yongeles

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Passing Out Business Cards at the Bar

Networking, networking, networking…

Ugh.

The urban dictionary defines networking as: “A yuppie euphemism for kissing ass in order to get a job or obtain a raise or promotion. Ex: Regardless of your skills, intelligence, or education, if you are not good at networking you will always earn minimum wage and live in a trailer park.”  Networking has always gotten a bad rep: for many people, conversations under the umbrella of “career” seem fake and transparent.   They’re forced.  They’re not genuine.  They are just the result of two people, brought together by company booze, pretending to be interested in each others’ jobs while simultaneously gauging whether their partner is worth talking to for much longer. 

With young people, we’re often told that networking is the key to success.  Among us, expert networkers are the ones who carry business cards to the gym, start up conversations with strangers in the bathroom, and have an extensive profile on LinkedIn, detailing all their accomplishments and work experiences.  At conferences, they hunt down panelists and speakers to ask questions about careers, often framing their inquiries in the most flattering way possible (“just how did you become so successful??”).  They get emails.  They follow up.  They send impeccably-written thank you notes.  They can sustain long conversations about the economy, politics, and golf.  They praise people in a multitude of different ways.  The best networkers are probing but not overbearing; aggressive, but not rude.  They manage to make a blip on the radar of the higher-ups, and in a positive way.  At its best, networking is meeting interesting people and genuinely making new contacts.  At its worst, networking is shameless self-selling and pandering to others. 

At a conference I attended a few years ago, a consultant said that networking was more aptly described as netWORK.  That is, it’s work.  It’s trying to get as close as possible to the line, without going too far and coming off as a Fatal-Attraction-esque crazy person.

As much as I hate the self-promoting types who wave business cards at anything that moves, I would agree that there is value in networking.  Good networking arguably leads to better opportunities than good performance.  When we’re buying a car, hiring a babysitter, or shopping for headache medicine, word-of-mouth is often what makes our decision for us.  We may pore through piles and piles of consumer reports, but ultimately, our neighbor Bob’s opinion may lead us to choose the Camry over the Accord.  Similarly, what people think of us inevitably affects our careers, our promotions, and our progress along that corporate ladder.

Plus, we all like it when we’re on the other side, and we find people sucking up to us… just as long as it’s genuine, of course.

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Chasing the Dream, Quitting Your Job

Following up on an old post, “Why Young People Hate Their Jobs”, the recruiting firm Experience Inc. recently published a study which reported that 70% of college grads leave their first job within two years. The Experience survey, however, also reported that young people aren’t leaving their jobs because they’re unhappy, but simply because they’re not in the career they “expected” to be in.

So, we’re happy… but we still want to quit our jobs.

It sounds like an illogical argument, but it makes sense. People like to say that your career finds you; that deep down, you know what you’re meant to do. Warren Buffett knew he was meant to invest. Bill Gates knew he had a budding idea in Microsoft. JK Rowling knew she could bring to life a character named Harry Potter. But not all of us are Buffetts, Gates, and Rowlings–we may not all be confident that we can revolutionize PCs or make billions in the stock market. We may have to find our own career, and deep down, it may not come to us naturally. What if Buffett had chosen to become a professor instead? What if Gates settled for doing IT support? What if Rowling had stayed at her job at Amnesty International? None of us want to shortchange ourselves by settling for a job that doesn’t meet our high expectations… even if we are happy.

So, yes, I am happy with my current job. But I’ve been thinking about what I want to do, and I’m not convinced that I’m going to stay in my current role after two years. One plan I have is to go to business school and develop a start-up. Another plan is to work within the public sector, focusing on education. A third plan is to quit my job, live on the beach, get a Costco membership (those free food samples serving as my daily meal), and become a writer. Three rather different paths… and for me, each one is intriguing in its own way.

I suppose the downfall is that we have all these grandiose plans and ambitious visions, but at what point do we give up and settle down? It may be wrong to discourage dream-chasing, but sometimes you have to tell those poor kids on American Idol that, no, they can’t sing. Ambition is tricky–it can help us do great things, or it can unwittingly remove us from positions where we could excel, in pursuit of positions in which we cannot.  As much as I’d like to think I could pull an Orwell and write great prose amongst the lowlifes in Paris, I don’t think I’m ready yet to trade in my corporate job for a cardboard house and a pen.

Still… chances that I’ll accomplish either plan #1 or 2? I think 70% is fair.

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Why Do Young People Hate Their Jobs?

Most college students I have talked to are excited about the real world after school – excited about the work, the perks, but most of all, the freedom. In the real world, there are no tests or papers looming over their heads, no professors to answer to, no dealing with the stresses and dramas that invariably accompany the college experience. Yeah, college is fun, but there’s almost a mythic quality about life beyond college: it’s substituting the sweats for suits, the kegs for martinis, the hookups for a steady, sickeningly-attractive significant other… While college seniors go through the requisite nostalgia in their last few months as an academic, this nostalgia is still often dampened by lofty expectations for the next stage in their life.

Why then, do so many young professionals hate their jobs?

(I must preface this by limiting my observations to those in the field of business. Most would-be doctors I know are happily trucking away in med school, most would-be lawyers are busily debating each other in law school, and for the rest of my graduating class—those who are doing research in Bolivia or writing articles for Mother Jones—they seem, on the most part, relatively satisfied. Then that begs the question: are jobs in the business fields overly cruel, or are those people that go into business just overly hateful? Note: This observation also excludes investment bankers, who should expect to hate their jobs even before they start.)

Some theories:

  • The College Hangover: For many young people, you’re thrown into the fire right out of school. You’re not used to waking up before noon and having to look somewhat presentable. You’re not used to being “on” all the time, every single day, at least five days a week. If only you could skip work without anyone noticing (like college lectures), and still get your big performance bonus…that would be the life. Of course, that would never happen, and thus the nostalgia for college never really goes away. However, the College Hangover only serves as a legitimate excuse for your first few months out of school… After that, if you’re still falling asleep at work in reminiscence of those college glory days, well, you should lay off the drinking.
  • The Bottom of the Totem Pole: You were a pretty big deal in college… president of some organization, captain of some sports team, leader of the beer pong circuit. Now, you’re the entry-level analyst who is seen as the little know-it-all who wants to shoot straight to the top, but in actuality is only making a contribution as a master formatter or lunch bitch. You’re relegated to modeling (thankfully we’re talking only about Excel), and making sure that someone less smart than you looks more smart than everyone else. Of course, no one is as smart as us, so it’s a tough reality to stomach.
  • Those Lofty Expectations: You thought it was going to be first-class, up in the sky, sipping champagne, living the life… Your job was supposed to be glamorous, impressive, and telling of your smarts, skills, and talents. You thought that you’d be challenged every second of the day; you would have interesting coworkers, exciting projects, and intellectual discussions. You’d be an integral part of the company, just short of the glue that holds everything together. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have interesting projects all of the time, and we certainly know a couple of coworkers who have a few screws loose. We don’t foresee the hours of administrative tasks and unrewarded legwork that is part of the daily grind. You start asking yourself why you are here, what you are doing with your life, and how you can get into a new role/company/industry that is way more glamorous than what you are in now…or so you’d like to think.
  • Too Much Freedom: When you’re young, there’s an ordered sequence of how things happen. After pre-school you go to kindergarten. After kindergarten, you’re in first grade. After first grade… etc, etc. The proverbial “life train” goes through a predictable sequence: elementary school, middle school, high school, college—from A to B. But after graduating from college, you’re alone at the train station, and only YOU have to figure out where to next. Get on the banking train, or the consulting one? Marketing, or sales? It always seems like the other train is moving faster, with nicer seats and greener grass on their side of the scenic route to your future. Anxiety strikes. Uneasiness festers. Resentment grows. You end up curled up in the corner of the caboose, hugging your knees, thinking you should have become a doctor instead… at least that would’ve delayed the decision-making for a few more years.
  • Your Job Actually Sucks: If you liked the train analogy above, then your standards for quality have obviously been lowered from your time spent on the job. Maybe all that modeling/formatting/Excel-ing is getting to your head. Or maybe your job actually sucks. Hey, it happens. Perhaps it’s time to go to business school then.

Regardless of all the reasons why many people hate their jobs, most of them are still in these jobs…so perhaps “hate” is a strong word. Only a few recent graduates I know have been so fed up that they decided to quit well-paying, respectable jobs and brave unemployment. Then, despite all the negatives, there must be some reason why we are still in the grind. Maybe it’s the money, or the benefits and perks, or the hope that things will get better. Or perhaps we are just paralyzed by fear that the next job will be worse. The main challenge is to balance the expectations of our jobs with a tempered ambition. There will always be days where unemployment looks preferable, but unless that starts to happen day-after-day, week-upon-week (meaning, Your Job Actually Sucks and you should start updating that resume), I’d say to just put your head down, put the hate aside, file it all under “Learning Experience”, and get to work.

Update (3/30/09): Why Do Young People Stay in Jobs They Hate?

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