Like thousands of other red-blooded American males across the country, I graduated college “knowing” in my heart that a career in finance was the path for me. The lifestyle it afforded, the nature of the work, and the fact that every one of my other buddies were getting into the same field only further drove home the point.
I was graduating NYU with an Economics degree and had worked to land a summer analyst position at the OTC rates desk at the esteemed Lehman Brothers during the summer of my junior year. Upon finishing the program, I was given a full time offer to start once I graduated. One minor detail – this all took place in the summer of 2007 – shortly before the largest global economic collapse in decades.
I’ll never forget the phone call I got in the middle of class during my senior year. The woman on the other end told me that my group at Lehman was dissolving, the bank was going under, and that my contract was no longer being honored. With that, she wished me luck and hung up the phone. Needless to say, this put a damper on my career aspirations, but I wasn’t going to give up that easily. I was adamant that the financial sector is where I belonged. If only I had seen the writing on the wall at the time.
After a mad scramble and countless interviews, I was recruited for an analyst position at a fin-tech startup that built a platform to trade derivatives. It wasn’t my picture perfect job, but at least I was still in finance, right? It’s here I spent seven years watching the office of eight people that I started in grow and eventually become acquired by a massive global firm known today as Markit. I was doing great work, had built incredible relationships, and even had offers from several investment banks to come work for them. By most standards, I had succeeded in the industry I had set out to make it in. So why wasn’t I content?
Along the way, finance taught me many important lessons about life and my place in it. The most important lesson? After almost ten years doing what I thought I was meant to do, I learned that the world of derivatives was in fact just not for me. This post isn’t about all the reasons that this specific industry wasn’t a good fit for me. Far from it. It’s about what I learned during my past professional life that set me up for success at a small, agile, and aggressively growing SEO marketing agency known as iPullRank. Forget my business acumen and all the hard skills that I acquired along the way. These are the “Ah-Ha!” moments that, looking back at, really validate my decision to leave the finance world and move to agency life at iPullRank
“That’s not my job”
I remember the first time I heard this from the member of another team while working on a project at Markit. It stopped me dead in my tracks and was almost jarring for me to hear. Now this sentiment is not specific to any one industry, as I’m sure many of you have heard the same line while working for any big corporation. However, it made me realize that I never approach an assignment thinking about what parts of it are included in my job description and what parts aren’t. I was always up for the challenge and loved the idea of collaborating with others to help meet the goal. This couldn’t describe culture that is promoted at iPullRank more. We don’t look at client services as a department, but as everyone’s job. Whether you are a copywriter, backend developer or an account manager like me, we all work together to produce high quality work for clients and do everything as a TEAM to exceed their expectations.
“Unhappy customers are your
greatest source of learning”
Bill Gates once said that your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. Well, as you can imagine, working in an environment where millions upon millions of dollars are consistently changing hands in the form of financial instruments, there’s a very low tolerance for error. With stakes that high and such a small margin for error, things were bound to go wrong at some point, and, of course, they did pretty frequently. Putting out fires was part of my daily routine. I’d never stress about getting on the phone with angry traders or upset front office heads. Demanding and difficult clients were just the nature of the business and I learned that pretty early on. They never expect you to be perfect, they just expect you to fix things when they go wrong. From that point, you look at why things went south and try to learn as much as you can from the situation so you can prevent it in the future. I’ve brought that exact same mentality to iPullRank and it has served me well so far. Difficult clients exist in any industry. Identifying the issue and learning from it is critical. What matters most is that you maintain the relationship by setting the expectation and letting them know that you’re actively working for them. That, in a nutshell, is relationship management. I built and honed this skill set while at Markit and really enjoyed that aspect of my job. When I considered a position at iPullRank I knew that it would have to not only be client facing, but also as unpredictable and volatile as my last role. So far so good!
If there is one thing that my professional experience has taught me that I’d deem the most valuable, it is this – ALWAYS ASK WHY.
It sounds simple enough, but when you start thinking about the “why” behind something, from anything as menial as a task you committed to doing at work, to a much larger concept like why even do this job at all, your approach becomes very different. I remember a few years into my finance career watching a Ted talk by Simon Sinek about this very idea of asking why. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend watching it. It really resonated with me at the time and inspired a different way of thinking. I started to think more and more about why I was in the role I was in, in the industry that I was in. Years later I sat down with my manager and had a very candid conversation about the direction of the company and my future. We spoke about the usual (my performance, future growth, etc.) and then he said something very unexpected. He brought up this concept of asking why. He told me that I needed to think hard about why I was in the role I was in because it would only help me do my job better. I truly believe that was the first time it hit me that I did not belong there. Asking why laid the very foundation around my decision to quit, explore my options, and eventually land at iPullRank.
The old cliché – failure IS an option. Most of your eyes just rolled out of your heads when you read that, but bear with me. This idea is a lot easier said than done. To actually adopt the mindset and practice it is quite difficult. It’s very easy to play it safe and stick with the status quo, as I had done most of my life leading up to when I started working after college. Luckily I had great managers and bosses along the way that instilled the idea that it was ok to screw up, as long as I came away with a growth opportunity. This mindset made life way less stressful and eliminated the anxiety associated with taking on a very difficult challenge. What’s the worst that can happen? It allowed me to take risks (albeit calculated ones) and not necessarily fear the outcome. I’m very grateful that my past managers drilled this into my head because it’s one of the pillars of the startup world. For any growing company to be successful its employees need to have this exact approach. iPullRank is no different and is very much aligned with this way of thinking, and I know it’s contributed to many people’s success here.
At the end of the day, I just wasn’t myself during my time in finance. I had to be one way when I was in the office and, somewhere along the commute on the express train home, I would transition back to my normal self. I really felt out of my element at stuffy networking events or industry outings. I’d find myself having the same conversation with the same types of people at the same wall street bars – it was all an act! I made the best of these situations and still managed to have some fun, and even made a lot of friends, but it just wasn’t me. My favorite cartoon character growing up was always Popeye so it really was a shame that I wasn’t living by his immortal words, “I yam what I yam, and that’s all that I yam!” I eventually found that having to put on a face all the time was actually making me unhappy. It took me a very long time to recognize this and ultimately come to the realization that I need to be able to enjoy the work that I do and, like popeye, always be myself while I do it – I needed to have fun!
I came to iPullRank with this attitude and am thrilled that others around me share this notion. I work with a diverse group of like-minded, genuine, people who rally behind our fearless leader, Mike King, and share a goal of shaking things up in the digital marketing world. Ultimately, I’m happier and feel like I’m finally enjoying myself at work. I’m so glad that I started my career where I did and have zero regrets about it. I can appreciate every one of the experiences in my past working life. I’ve learned so much about myself, what I like and don’t like, what type of culture I fit into, what environment I work best in, and ultimately what makes me happy! In this next chapter of my professional career, I am looking forward to continuing my self-learning while contributing to a company I care about in a role I truly fit into.