Early on in my senior year of college, I took a look around me. 90% of the smart, talented people I knew were clamoring for consulting jobs. Being a consultant meant advising the nation’s top companies on business strategy and receiving a generous salary, a bonus, and a future filled with glamorous cocktail parties and networking events.
I, being an English major, had never given much thought to consulting, but I figured, “If everyone wants this job, it has to be great, right?” The fact that I had never independently been interested in business was unimportant. I became filled with a frantic desire to land one of those coveted, prestigious jobs.
So I suited up and practiced case interviews until I was doing them in my sleep. Every other sentence I uttered was about profit margins or “benchmarking.” The process wasn’t easy; I recall bursting into tears during a mock interview when they asked me, “Why is a manhole cover round?” and I drew a blank.
During my real interviews, I was often asked why I wanted to work in consulting. I didn’t want to say, “Because everyone else wants to and I don’t have a better idea,” so I would talk about taking ownership, interacting with people, developing a skill set, and other things I knew I was supposed to say. I never actually reflected on whether the choice was really right for me.
After several painful interviews, I landed myself the prestigious consulting job everyone wanted. It turns out that I should have thought harder about what I wanted to do with my career, and a little less about competing with other people.
From my first day, I knew it was going to be a struggle to conform. Our corporate headquarters were located somewhere in the nameless strip mall that is Northern Virginia, amidst hundreds of rectangular office buildings sprouted up like concrete Legos. I once even got off the bus at the wrong building, because everything looked exactly the same.
The Orwellian terror that seized me didn’t stop there. As a consultant, I often felt like I was wearing a bright red suit and everyone else was wearing dark blue. I could never quite get comfortable with the all the acronyms, my title as “functional analyst for work order 13”, the endless documenting of processes. For a free-wheeling English major like myself, this was painful. I learned a lot, but it grew continually harder for me to feel happy or productive because every day I struggled to hide what I didn’t want to admit to myself: I hated my job.
The day that I wound up writing a document about documenting a document, I knew it was time to jump ship. It had taken me two years, but I finally came to terms with the fact that not everyone is cut out for the business beat. I walked into my boss’ office and gave her my two weeks notice, and took a job as a magazine intern.
My parents and friends thought I was crazy, going from a stable job with benefits, a high salary, and lots of prestige to making $8 an hour as an intern. But you know what? I didn’t regret it for a moment. For the first time since college, I woke up every day without a pit of dread in my stomach. I was engaged in my work and excited about contributing to the team. I had to scrape together bus fare to get to work every day and change my diet to Easy-Mac and Spaghetti-Os — but it was worth it.
Growing up, I believed I would have a job that I was dedicated to and that I loved. Maybe a lawyer, a firefighter, perhaps a florist or a ballerina or a Congresswoman. I fought hard for that dream when the future was comfortably far away. But as the time got closer, it was easy to forsake those hopes as juvenile and get on board with the pragmatists of the world. Leaving consulting, I found the courage to reclaim my dream and stop compromising. Now, even if I fail, at least I know the only “process” I’ve followed is my own.