I’ve always been a very pragmatic person when it comes to my career, blindly assuming that I would do what any other reasonable girl would do — go to college, graduate on time, get a job at a major firm, do something business-related and probably only do that one thing for my entire life.
In the first grade, when they asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, the big dreamers of the class shared things like “space cowboy,” “pop star” or “pro baseball player.” I, on the other hand, had outgrown my kindergarten dream of wanting to be a dolphin trainer, and faced the cold, hard reality of life at the ripe age of six.
“I want to be an accountant,” I announced to the class. The other students looked at each other, silently wondering what the heck an accountant was, while the teacher looked at me, understandably confused as to why anyone, let alone a six-year-old, would ever say that sentence out loud.
And for a long time, I did want to be an accountant. That is, until I took my very first accounting class and realized that I find the prospect of putting numbers into little boxes to be mind-numbingly despicable. But, a few weekends ago, I found myself running around New York City with a group of people I had never met before — reconsidering that no-nonsense, straight-and-narrow plan I’ve always had for my life after college.
Upon the urging of one of my roommates, I applied for the “social entrepreneurship” track of the HackCville startup trip to New York, despite the fact that I am not a HackCville member and had very little idea what “startup trip” or “social entrepreneurship” even meant. Somehow, I still got accepted into the program and soon found myself boarding a bus at Beta Bridge, en route to one of my favorite cities.
We spent the first day visiting five different startups in the city, almost all of which were focused on using business as a means of changing the world for the better. My favorite place we visited was a marketing firm that creates campaigns to fight for social justice issues, ranging from the fight for clean air in New Delhi to gun control to LGBTQ and women’s rights. You know the refugee team that competed at the Olympics in Rio? This is the company that partnered with UNICEF in order to make that happen.
Before these meetings, I had never really stopped to consider things like the importance of upholding a triple bottom line business model or how a for-profit enterprise can be used as a means of creating positive change in the world. It made me think about that scene in “Good Will Hunting” where Minnie Driver talks about how her brain is going to be worth $250,000 once she’s done with school. What’s all the money we put into our education really worth if we don’t use what we learn in school to make a difference or at least to do something that we find personally fulfilling?
The rest of the weekend was predominantly spent taking multiple subway trains across town in a desperate pursuit of cheesecake, occasionally getting lost in the subway tunnels and socializing with University alumni.
One of the most inspiring parts of this trip was when a small group of students and I were assigned to go meet an alumnus for lunch. We were only supposed to meet with him for one hour, but he spent nearly three hours with us instead, taking the time to share his stories and advice on everything from life at the University to his career to happiness. His honesty was inspiring, and I left with a new understanding of what the whole point of “networking” is. It’s not just about getting your name out there and scoring your next job or internship — it’s about making connections, learning from others and being reminded that there’s no such thing as a “wrong path” that you can take.
I left that lunch and the trip overall feeling more open-minded and excited about my future than I have in a really, really long time. As our bus drove away from the city, I listened to U2 and tried to imagine myself doing something post-college that I was passionate about, rather than something I was taught to believe is “practical.” But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t figure out what it is I would want to do every day, that would make me wake up excited to go to work every morning.
Even though I don’t have everything all figured out yet, I know now that working at a major corporation straight out of college isn’t the only option I have available to me. And I’ve realized that those big dreamers in the first grade were right to imagine their life limitlessly; there are so many career options to explore, we shouldn’t forgo passion in the name of practicality.
So, maybe I’ll work at a startup. Maybe I’ll be a writer. Maybe I’ll take a year off and travel, simply because I’m young, life is short and it’s something I want to do.
No matter what I end up doing, though, I’ll have the newfound peace of mind that comes from knowing that there’s no right path for everyone.
There’s simply the path that you choose for yourself.