How I Ended Up Here (or Starting Down One Path), Part 2

Last week I told part 1 of my journey. What I didn’t write was that I had already started down a path. A path I would eventually diverge from, which would lead me to where I am now. But at this point in the story, I am in my mid-twenties. I just finished the M.B.A. program and began walking down a path that

But at this point in the story, I am in my mid-twenties. I just finished the M.B.A. program and had already begun walking down a path that would take me to corporate America.

a skyline view of corporate America

In my last semester of my M.B.A. program, I started working part-time for a company, or at least a division of a company, that did credit card processing. What is credit card processing, you ask? Well, anytime you swipe your credit card, that credit transaction goes to a processor. The processor does the mechanics of the transaction—taking the transaction message from the merchant and routing it to the credit card issuing bank, and then sending the issuing bank’s response back to the merchant. (You can read more about this process here.)

If that sounds boring, it’s because it generally is (even though it is good to have at least a general understanding of how credit cards work). But I digress.

I was hired to work at the company’s local call center. As a processor, the company dealt with merchants, not consumers. So in the call center, I helped merchants with their credit card equipment and answered their questions about transactions. Compared to part-time retail, the money was better and the hours were more regular, both important to a grad student, although I did continue to work my part-time retail job for a bit longer. (Hey, employee discounts are a great way to boost one’s wardrobe when one is a poor grad student.) It was this job that introduced me to corporate America and the concepts I had been studying in my M.B.A. program.

When I finished my M.B.A. program, I was offered full-time employment by this company. I gratefully took it and happily resigned from my part-time retail job.

It was my first “adult” job.

Meaning, it was the first post-college, full-time, regular job I had.

Honestly, I accepted the job because I spent the time, money, and effort to get a M.B.A. and felt I should do something with it. I also didn’t know what else to do, as any idk_successoptions I may have considered, I felt were viewed as frivolous flights of fancy. So at the time, I thought this job would assuage the pressure I felt to “get a real job,” join the “real world,” and be an adult. Plus, this job had prospects of benefits, like health care and 401Ks—things I had been taught were important adult-things to have and that added to the success formula.

I have learned over the years that success is a tricky concept because it means different things to different people. But at that time, I thought success meant that middle-class, post-WWII ideal: a “good” job, which meant it provided for one’s life/family and included benefits like health care, stock options, and retirement.

The choice of accepting this job had started me down the traditional college-to-job path. I didn’t realize it at the time (because I figured I would do this job while looking for what I really wanted to do) but my lack of focus and interest in so many things would end up keeping me on this traditional career path for a while.

At this point, I want to be clear. This corporate America, traditional path I started down isn’t a “bad” path or a “wrong” path. In fact, it works great for many people. It just wasn’t the right path for me.

And as a non-quitter, I stayed on this path, for the next 6 years, working for this same company, doing what I thought I should be doing in order to achieve the American dream and be “successful.”

I figured, hey, this it what everyone else is doing, so it must be right, right?

For a corporation, it wasn’t a bad one. I mostly* enjoyed working for this company. (*Mostly, except for spreadsheets. I hate spreadsheets and numbers in columns.) I worked with fun people and some great managers. I learned a lot about how a management style can make (or break) a workplace and I cemented my business school knowledge with practical work experiences. And during these 6 years, I moved up the corporate ladder with 5 promotions and a move to the company’s HQ in Dallas, Texas.

I figured, hey, I’m doing okay because this is what success is, right? 

Because I was rewarded with promotions and people telling me that I was successful and being able to afford a lifestyle that poor grad students merely dream of, I continued to hold onto my preconceived notions that I shouldn’t quit something I started and I convinced myself that I was “on track” to be really successful. But by year 5 of corporate life, I had a harder and harder ignoring that unhappy voice in my head. The one that kept whispering to me in quiet moments, filling my head with thoughts of life outside of spreadsheets and software.

roads_frostMy life compared to my dreams didn’t mesh.

And this disconnect had an effect. Simply put, I was miserable. I was almost thirty and completely stuck in a rut. Or as my friend Camilla says, I was stuck on the hamster wheel. (Side note: if I had known my friend Camilla then, I might have gotten off my hamster wheel bit sooner.)

And on top of being in a rut, I was facing age thirty. It’s amazing how looking at a new decade of your life can make you take a hard look at yourself. It was looking at thirty and starting year 6 of corporate life when I made the decision to diverge from this traditional corporate path I had been on and finally forge a new path for myself.

To be continued.

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