My Crazy Success Story!
Hey everyone. First of all, it's pretty surreal that I'm writing this post on here on the "success stories" section. Maybe writing this is one piece of officially cementing my career journey from where I started to where I am now.
To put this in perspective, I think I discovered WSO sometime back in 2011 when I was GMAT-ing, looking at business schools, and figuring out what my path forward would be. Since 2012, I haven't been very active on WSO, but I hope this post is inspirational to other people here.
Native of the washington, DC area, class of '00 in high school (waaaay before any of this stuff existed).
Undergrad: went to a pretty good local high school but didn't get stellar grades, and had motivational issues. Spent 1 semester at community college, and then transferred to UMBC (near baltimore). Picked Geography as a major because I really liked playing SimCity and thought that urban planning / zoning would be an interesting career... Until I had to re-take Cartography, which was hours and hours of making maps on the computer which was intensely boring.
I transferred to Salisbury University to switch to exercise science, because I was pretty serious into soccer and wanted to play more and get into coaching. I was very driven and for the first time found something to really sink my teeth into. By the time I finished college, i had every coaching license available to coaches in the US except the very highest level ones.
Spent a year in florida having fun and coaching part-time, moved back to DC in fall 2006 and picked up a few teams for the fall season to train in the afternoons. Over the next 2 years, I had a series of jobs during the daytime, none of which lasted more than 3 months, including:
Personal trainer at Gold's gym
Real estate agent
Marketing assistant for a loan officer
Oddly enough, what would happen is after 3 months I would learn as much as I could about what I was doing and then realize that it was a dead end. However, I picked up a lot of things along the way, such as when I worked as a recruiter, I was able to really understand the hiring process from the inside, learn what makes a great resume, and understand nuances of interviewing.
In 2008, I tore my ACL in a soccer game and had to get surgery; during my recovery period I made a VOW to myself that I was going to get my career handled, NO MATTER WHAT. Although I really like coaching (and I still do it today), you need something to do during the daytime to really do OK financially and live a normal lifestyle around here... the DC area is somewhat expensive unless you live way outside the city in Maryland or Virginia.
I literally had no idea where to begin as far as career planning. Originally, because of my 3 months as an IT recruiter, I thought I had some inkling of a shot in anything related to technology. I although thought that I should naturally combine that with finance, because hey, finance is the place to be. Go big or go home.
Well living in DC isn't exactly the place for tech unless you're in military tech or anything related to government... so aerospace and defense industry it is, since all the major companies are headquartered here. So my new path became equity research focusing on the aerospace and defense industry. If I broke into the field and did well, maybe I would have a chance to work for the Carlyle Group.
Next step was set my sights on an MBA program. Since I had take ZERO math / finance / accounting / economics / business courses during undergrad, went to a slightly out-of-the-way school in Maryland in a non-business major and graduated with a 3.1 GPA, I realized I would have to do some work to get into a program, and I would probably have to do it part-time so I could work and live locally. DC is actually a pretty good place to be for career/education if you know how to navigate here.
So in fall 2009, I did an internship, leading to a 2-year stint as a part-time research assistant in which I worked mostly from home analyzing defense budgets of other countries. During that time, I took another full-time job that lasted a few months (while working the part-time research job remotely) and taking classes in the evenings and Saturdays. Yeah, don't ask me about how I managed that.
From January 2010 to August 2012, I took these classes which were really inexpensive at a place called Graduate School USA. It is also known as the Harvard Extension School of DC and is the cheapest/highest quality place you can take classes in the area without paying out the nose for graduate credit. Each class costs something like $300. (Maybe its slightly more expensive these days)
Accounting I, II, III
Auditing I, II
Business, Government, and Society
Precalculus, Calculus I, II (thought I was going to die but it turned out fine)
The congressional budget process
Financial statement analysis
Government accounting I,II
Intermediate accounting I,II
Linear algebra (hated it)
Math for economists I, II (don't take this unless you like torture)
Natural resource economics
I may have missed a few but it was 30 classes in total. I ended up with a 3.5 average. About 2/3 of the way through these classes, I left my job and did nothing but studied for the GMAT for 2.5 months. Literally nothing else. Took it once, got a 530. Was traumatized by the result and completely burned out. Programs around the DC area really look for a 600 or higher. Immediately after went back to work for the same company I had done research for but as an analyst on their consulting team. Over 100 people applied, 2 were hired. I came in on a referral since I had already been working at the same company but in a different silo. The MD said they were too busy to look through all the resumes, so they just hired the 2 of us based on our interviews.
Despite being really frustrated with the GMAT, a friend of mine suggested I look at a certificate program offered by Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. If you look for the school on here, there are a lot of posts about people curious about the school since it's pretty new and not ranked yet. I applied to the certificate in investments program, got in because I had done well academically and had good work experience from my research jobs and good recommendation letters. YES. Got in.
Got decent grades and transferred into the part-time MBA the following year (early 2013). During that time left my analyst job after a year to start a crazy business idea with a good friend. Both of us thought we'd eventually go find jobs in government, and I was looking at positions at the Department of Defense.
It took me 3 years of going to JHU Carey part-time to finish. I actually am taking my final class now, and have 7 weeks left before I am done. Also, that crazy business Idea that we started has turned into something that has a lot of potential. Now I am in the process of getting ready to raise funds for a technology platform that we want to build. I am also beginning to teach entrepreneurship since I have gone through the process myself.
A few funny stories looking back:
I can't tell you how desperately I wanted to get into equity research for the defense industry. There are really only a few financial companies that have good analysts for that industry, and junior positions rarely open up. I sent a resume to the head analyst at a local firm and followed up with a call. Was nervous as hell. He said "you have a great resume"... "but we're going through some restructuring right now, but I can pass it onto HR". So yeah, never heard back.
I also called up the founder of an aero/defense boutique consulting company here. Did the same thing. Said he appreciated the fact that I called and would pass to HR. Nada.
Met a managing director from the Carlyle Group after he spoke at a conference in 2009 when I was interning and asked what type of people they look for. "Oh, usually we hire people off wall street".
At the time, I didn't know what that meant, and I thought you had to literally work on the physical street in New York for them to consider you, not realizing he meant the financial industry.
Very recently, I went to a conference where someone who is very, very successful that I happen to look up to as a role model was speaking. After he finished his talk, people basically swarmed him as he walked out of the conference room. He actually did talk to a few people before it really got ugly. Since I go for the gold, I approached him and he basically kept walking. As he was exiting, I approached him again and started to introduce myself, that I heard him speak several years ago and model my career after him (which I do) and tell him that I would like a short leadership mentoring session from him. He basically says "oh that's nice" "very good" "uh-huh, that's great" a couple of times while avoiding eye contact.
Let me tell you, when someone you have admired in business for years completely ignores you when you have a chance to talk to them, it actually makes you into more of a man when you realize that everyone is human and these super-successful people that we idolize are just like you and me and they don't have time for everybody in the world. Everyone should try doing this, and the more famous the person you choose, the better.
There is probably a better time and a place to interact with this person again, but I felt like I accomplished my goal from having a series of jobs that I would never touch again with a 10-foot pole to having about 1 minute one-way conversation with a prolific business leader that I (still) admire as a role model, minus the starry-eyed aspect of admiration.
So the story is that everything turned out great, I LOVE being an entrepreneur, our business has a lot of promise and potential, and I found out that being an equity research analyst and consulting wasn't my thing after all (although I'm still a defense industry junkie), and I realize that everyone is human regardless of how much money you have, where you went to school, what you do, where you work, or what your gmat score was, or how many beans you can fill a 747 with when the beans are different shapes and sizes.
And I feel at peace with myself and am happy with my choices. I now feel that I can leave the chaos of my "early" career behind and begin a new leaf for the beginning of my "mid-career" phase.
Hope this is helpful to everyone, happy to answer any questions or elaborate on any specifics. Writing this helped me get this out of my system. A bit of a rant but I hope someone finds this inspiring.
I'm living proof that you can do your best, ultimately find your place, and do what makes you happy.
But you HAVE to work your a** off for it.
And we are ALL monkeys.