Fishbein: Unsolicited Consulting

Some tips for thinking about that ominous void called your future.

by Dan Fishbein | 9/25/18 2:05am

Like many seniors, I find myself facing the ever-present danger of succumbing to the anxiety of my uncertain future. So, like the enterprising Dartmouth student I am, I decided last week to attend Dartmouth’s Employer Connections Fair, promoted by the Center for Professional Development for its “relaxed setting” and representation of “many industry sectors.”

Unfortunately, I left the fair feeling less confident about my future prospects than I did going in. Perhaps some people wear designer suits and hand out copies of their resumes in “relaxed settings,” but not me. Perhaps “consulting” and “marketing / operations” are technically in different sectors. 

Being only one of 30 weeks into my senior year, I’m sure that these anxieties about my future are only in their infancy. To be clear, I have nothing against people who desire an office on Wall Street — most have worked hard and earned it. But for those of us looking for answers for what we want to do with our lives beyond the number on the stub of a paycheck, here’s some advice that I’m mostly giving to myself.

First, there’s no time like the present. To give credit where credit is due, the Center for Professional Development did manage to get key pillars in the social service sector — Teach for America, the Peace Corps and various AmeriCorps chapters, to name a few — to come to campus. The jobs these organizations offer may not be able to compete with Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan when it comes to salary and benefits, but I think for right now that should be okay. A study from Princeton University found that while happiness does increase with wealth, that correlation peaks at $75,000 a year. That is by no means a small amount of money — one won’t get to that peak by working as a teacher (at least at the pre-college level) or on an international development project. But it may be possible in multiple non-finance career paths, ranging from an art director at a communications firm to a veterinarian. Furthermore, most people who make $75,000 a year don’t hit that number right after graduating. Since 2009, peak earning years have occurred between the ages of 40 and 55. To make my point, I feel that students can all benefit by asking themselves how much money they really need and when they really need it. Answers to those questions could open up a lot of interesting possibilities in the two to five years one may decide to take after Dartmouth before seeking out a long-term profession. There’s much more out there to see than the drab concrete of the New York City skyline. 

Second, find the like-minded. Success, as my Zen Buddhist teacher told me a few days ago, is a relative term. I value his wisdom, and I look forward to the times when I can engage in silent meditation and shut off the noise of Dartmouth. My experience meditating has taught me the importance of deciding which noises I let myself hear, and I hope to bring this same attitude to my job search. The day after Dartmouth’s career fair, I ascended Franconia Ridge with a Dartmouth Outing Club group. Such summits will not help me climb the career ladder, but they leave me with a similar sense of accomplishment. As worries about what I want to do with my future come to me in the upcoming weeks and months, I hope to continue talking with my Zen teacher about what it means to “do something” and find activities that I can do here and now. 

Third, as Toni Morrison put it, “The work you do, the person you are.” Toni Morrison gave her contribution to the June 2017 New Yorker fiction issue this title. In order to avoid doing great reductive damage to the words of a Nobel laureate, I implore you to read it yourself. In the piece, Morrison offers her readers four suggestions on how to mitigate the stress of their work lives. She wrote, “1. Whatever the work is, do it well — not for your boss, but for yourself; 2. You make the job, the job doesn’t make you; 3. Your real life is with us, your family; 4. You are not the work you do, you are the person you are.” Not to extrapolate too much from Morrison’s story — concerned with her struggles to endure her overbearing white boss as a child domestic servant in the 1940s — I still believe Dartmouth ’19s in the 21st century could gain much from heeding her knowledge.  

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