As I am starting my senior year, something that I am constantly reminded of is finding a job and starting my career post-graduation. This summer, I started to work on case interview prep with my roommate. We spent an hour or so (sometimes more, sometimes less) each week reading consulting books and quizzing each other on market sizing, business operations, etc. questions. Prior to engaging in case prep, I thought I’d decided that I was not going to recruit this fall semester for consulting jobs. Then when my roommate asked me again, I reconsidered and decided “why not?” and went ahead with case prep. But as the summer approached its end, I started talking to my “mentors” (my colleagues and my bosses) to ask them for advice on going into consulting instead of jumping into the social enterprise field directly. The conclusion I came to was that I will not recruit this fall semester, and instead will conduct informational interviews. If by the end of the fall semester I think I might want to go into consulting, then I would recruit in the Spring.
There are many reasons why I have, for the time being, decided that I may not want to go into consulting straight out of undergrad. While those reasons are all valid and require just as much attention, I want to focus on one in particular: salary-level and financial gains.
It’s not a secret that those working in management consulting get paid a lot more than those who work at either a NGO or social enterprise. And while for the past 3 years of my life, though I had been setting my mind to working within the social enterprise field, I had not really and truly considered what it means to work for a social enterprise, from a financial standpoint.
For me, part of what it boils down to is my background, upbringing, and financial stability which affects my career choices and how that would affect my lifestyle. I’ve talked about this more than once on this blog, but coming back to it — I’ve had a “fairly comfortable” (if not “overly comfortable”) life growing up… and partially I think this is also what made me realize that I need something more than “wealth” to be happy. And here, too, are multiple things going on: perhaps I think I’d be unhappy with “just wealth” because I lack the same sense of “personal achievement” that comes with wealth. And so who is to say that if I were to make something of myself in my future career and made a good amount of money, I wouldn’t be content enough with this? That’s something I cannot discount, because frankly I don’t know how I’d feel if I got to that point. But the point is that in my present state (or throughout my life) I never felt like pursuing a career that would bring in a lot of money would be enough for me, from a career standpoint.
So thus begins my pursuit of a career in social enterprise/social entrepreneurship, what I believe is a way for me to achieve that “something else” that I feel like I lack. But pursuing a career in this field means not making a lot of money, perhaps just enough for a “comfortable” lifestyle. And, to be honest, I think this is what scares me the most. The fact that I’ve grown up living a certain lifestyle, being provided for by my parents, and not having to worry about money is what makes me doubt my ability to learn how to want less and how to be content with a less “extravagant” lifestyle.
And while I can say this fear/doubt of mine can be attributed to my upbringing/growing up, it can just as well be attributed to social and peer pressure. Society — American society especially – breeds a culture of excess, consumption, and materialism. We are bombarded daily with new products or new “somethings,” and are constantly reminded of how awesome it must be to be rich and wealthy.
Let’s take my recent weekend trip to Las Vegas, for instance. Vegas is perhaps the epitomes of excess, consumption, and materialism. Table service at clubs costs thousands of dollars; suites or penthouse suites can cost up to $10,000 per night (can you believe that?!); lounging at the VIP section of a pool party can easily cost $3,000 for the afternoon. While it is not that hard to “crash” these VIP places, there is a sense of “coolness” and even “superiority” to be had when we are able to sit in these places or have the “VIP” treatment. We are conditioned to think that being VIP, having bottle service, or staying in a penthouse suite is what it means to be “baller”, “high rollers”, and just plain awesome. The implication behind all of these words is that: you have made it, you are wealthy, and that is something to be looked up to (in a sense). And being surrounded by that, and to see people’s reactions to this excess/consumption/materialism (myself included), only reminds me more of how much our society idolizes what it means to be wealthy and how that is the ultimate achievement.
While I am not discrediting wealth as achievement, I think there are other forms of achievement that are often downplayed. But when we are surrounded 24/7 by this excessive, materialistic, and consumption-focused culture, I think it is difficult to train ourselves — to re-condition ourselves, in a sense — to believe that there are, in fact, different forms of achievement, and that we don’t HAVE to buy into this wealth=achievement type of thinking (even though I am not saying people cannot have this type of thinking).
Peer pressure is another way we are conditioned to believe that achievement and wealth are synonymous. As an undergrad at a business school, I see a good percentage of my peers recruiting for investment banking, consulting, and accounting jobs. While I don’t believe this of all of those recruiting, a good amount of them want jobs in these industries because their end-goal is to make a lot of money. And to be honest, can I blame them? Is it really so wrong for those who: 1) grew up living a comfortable or extravagant lifestyle and want to sustain that for themselves in the future OR 2) did NOT grow up wealthy and thus want that kind of lifestyle — to pursue a career that will bring in a good amount of money? No, it’s really not so wrong.
For me, I think realizing all of these factors and being surrounded by this type of “philosophy” (if I may call that) only makes it harder for me to slowly accept the financial/lifestyle consequences of pursuing what I want to pursue. I need to learn how to be OK with living “modestly”; I need to, despite the fact that my sister is pursuing a career in the fashion industry (an industry that I also am interested in, as a hobby, but also an industry that thrives on excess and wealth), not participate alongside her desire to purchase expensive designer items, because that’s her future line of work, so it would be OK for her to want that, but it’s not mine. Most of all, I need to start thinking realistically what going into this field means financially and lifestyle-wise and start accepting this and being OK with it, despite the constant reminders that “more is better and wealth=achievement.” Otherwise, I am just kidding myself and will remain sitting here, thinking up some great scheme about how I am going to participate in poverty alleviation/changing the world, allthewhile still being supported by my parents and not having any financial burden at all, until I am thrown into it and hit by the reality of what it really means to want to work in the social enterprise space.