Don't give up out there, kids.
I'm a high school drop out who's now a Manager at a top 10 consulting firm. For all of those out there who are asking 'do I have a chance if...', here's your answer: you f*cking bet you do. The only thing stopping you from getting that prime job is a little gumption, some solid dreaming, and that burning desire to go after it with everything you got, and a little more. If I can get to where I'm at today, you can, too.
Alright, here we go.
That wasn't a typo up there, nor was it the crappy airplane wine making stories. I dropped out of high school after my junior year of high school because, well, it sucked. I had my sights set on breaking into extreme sports like every self respecting teenage punk and, besides English and Photography classes, I couldn't stand another year of high school.
Yes, I was the product of a broken household in Baltimore City. (See: The Wire)
Yes, I was with that crowd who got into bad stuff. (See: Baltimore Drug Trade)
Yep, arrested when I was 17. (Nothing to see here)
You get the idea.
1. Have some character.
However, the extreme sport thing kind of worked out - I was pretty good at mountain biking. I rode every day as much as I could, even getting ranked internationally a few times. I was passionate about something and I wanted to get better at it for the simple fact of knowing that I was better than myself after every ride. (Little did I know that drive, that psychological ability to get above the pain, would come in hand later on in life.)
2. Be passionate about something. It will pay dividends.
Then the hustle started. I started working at bike shops as a way to fund my hobby, slowly making my way up the ranks from broom pusher to sales guy. Sales guy to mechanic. Mechanic to service manager. I was even asked to write for magazines. Retail was my home, but I wanted to be more in life than a bike mechanic.
3. Work hard. Now, work harder.
I should have been in college at this point but didn't want to take a step back (stupid), so I took some reputable Project Management courses and earned some certifications. I started applying to every single job online; I was a recruiter's worst nightmare. I looked at jobs and always thought 'I could do that'. When the occasional callback did happen I swear I was an expert in whatever the topic.
4. Don't let someone else's doubt get in your way of being awesome.
I was hungry.
I landed a couple project management jobs and made the jump out of Retail, but was laid off at each of them because business was bad and, hey, I was the lowest on the totem pole and was already a stretch hire. I got the first one because the company owner was into cycling and knew of me. I got the second one because a friend believed in me and recommended me to the owner.
I felt awesome getting those jobs - I felt like I 'made it' - and felt like such a failure losing them. Life started catching up at this point. I lost jobs. I didn't have a college degree. I wasn't successful at much besides bike riding, and even that started to wane.
While collecting unemployment I asked around and started working PT at some bike shops under-the-table to make ends meet. I wasn't above anything. I was lucky to be able to afford rent. But I couldn't afford that and had to ask the landlord to break the lease. I was buying ramen noodles......with my credit card which was getting maxed out.
I will never forget having to go to McDonald's for dinner ($1 menu) and not being able to use any of my three credit cards on me because they were maxed out.
5. Things are gonna' get bad. But, listen, keep your head above the water and wait for the moment.
I mentioned I was trying to get back into corporate life to someone who worked at the bike shop, and it turned out her husband was an MD at a top-10 consulting firm. I chatted with him about my situation, talked about my experiences and built up what little moxie I had left to present myself as someone who could do well in consulting. I was completely honest about my educational background and said it might be an issue with recruiters. It turns out government contracts, especially those for long term outsourcing gigs, have stipulations that say resources can have more years of experience in lieu of a degree.
I interviewed strong and left a great impression with the group, eventually getting an offer in the outsourcing group as an entry level analyst. In other words, I got the absolute lowest level position available within the US at the firm and couldn't have been happier. I got a job at one of the world's best consulting firms. Holy shit. Literally, I went from brooms to briefcases.
6. Present the best of yourself everywhere you go. The person next to you could be the link to your favorite job.
Fast forward about 5 years and I've been on a tear at the firm, getting transferred into the more prestigious units, promoted ahead of schedule, and then promoted ahead of schedule again. I'm frequently sought out for my industry experience and am well regarded as a savvy communicator who can go from the board room to the factory floor with a 'surprising amount of ease for a consultant', as I've been told by many a client. I'm not above any job - I'll print the best god damn presentations ever. You need a coffee? I gotchyou', and I already know you like a dash of soy milk in your medium americano.
You are always in a position to be the best version of yourself, at all times. Dig deep.
Stay strong. Stay hungry.
Mod Note (Andy): Best of 2016, this post ranks #28 for the past year