April 14, 2016

WEISSMANN | Reasonable Doubt

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People think I look young.

Usually, I average 15 — 16 on a good day. It’s mortifying in a lot of ways. In compensation, I use big words. I am trying to sound older, but really, I am merely playing at profound. Despite my best efforts in aging myself through language, something about my baby-faced features and short haircut still combine to form the perception that I have yet to qualify for a driver’s license. My parents insist this is a gift in the long term (you’ll appreciate this when you’re 40, you will!). But it feels like watching through the window as the big kids go out to play.

According to the Preliminary Cornell Class of 2015 Postgraduate Report, 58.4 percent of Cornellians are employed after graduation. Of those employed graduates (those who responded, anyway), 21.9 percent work in finance. 17.5 percent are in consulting and 12.9 percent fall under “general business.” That’s a whopping 30.5 percent of the Class of 2015 that ended up in high profile, top-dollar corporate jobs when they left this campus (that’s right, I did the math). Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Deloitte Consulting and Bank of America Merrill Lynch are listed among the top employers hiring our graduates. That’s nearly a third of our people. I’m no statistician, but I’d be willing to bet that a third of our students aren’t AEM majors. How do so many of us end up working these kinds of jobs?

Well, for starters, it’s what Cornell tells us to do. It’s a safe move, it’s a salary and, most of all, it feels like we’ve won. This was the end goal, right? That was what all those career fairs and resume critiques were all about. That’s why you did that internship. A good job with a big company — it’s just for a few years, we say. And then we can do something we like. But the way I see it, if ever there’s a time to suffer for our art, it’s now.

I will acknowledge that there is something to be said for hard work and earning money. But this sort of ugly internal compromise seems to be everywhere, and once you start to see it in the world, even the oceans look shallow. It’s short over long term; it’s power over passion. It’s Machiavellian, really — the ends justify the means. Forget life being a journey. We treat life as a race, and we are our own worst competition. It’s a terrible commentary on the way we live — but the reality is, we are all doing this; it is Survival of the Hypocrittist. Trying to trick the world — and ourselves — into thinking we have seen and done and know. Trying to be older.

I want to urge my fellow Cornellians to live of life of means, not ends. To feel like they don’t always have to take that high-profile internship or join that resume-boosting club or work in finance fresh out of graduation. I want to tell people they should open restaurants and write novels and paint their way across the country. But I’d be a hypocrite myself, because I’m still deciding if I have permission to shake off the Ivy League destiny and rearrange my preset priorities. “When I have children someday,” I think, “I’m going to make sure that they know they can do whatever they want with their life.” But maybe that’s what our parents said too.

It took me longer than normal to write this column. I couldn’t shake the idea that everything I was feeling was cliché, normal and pathetic. And perhaps it is. I say this now, but in two years I could easily be selling my soul to avoid sleeping on my parent’s couch. Every adult I’ve ever met tells me to relish in college life, because “the real world” is a reality check. Best four years of your life, right? Maybe I am deluded. Maybe I am cliché. But I get to be — I’m young.

So I’m not sure I mind when people underestimate my age anymore. It seems better than the alternative. Right now, I get all the “when I grow up, I’ll be…” that I want. My future is still fiction, and I like that. Our youth affords time, possibilities and the idea that we could still open that restaurant, write that novel, paint our way across the continent. We are still writing in pencil here! There is no reason to etch our future in stone before it arrives.

4 thoughts on “WEISSMANN | Reasonable Doubt

  1. Thanks for the titillating read (please note that your Cornellian peers also recall grandiose SAT vocab to seem older and more refined). Like you, my parents also told me that I could become whatever I wanted when I grew up. I never dreamed of being a restaurateur, novelist, or painter, as you suggest. According to my fifth grade yearbook, I was going to be head coach of the New York Giants (Full-disclosure: I am 5’9”, and like you am often mistaken for being younger than I am, suffice it to say that wasn’t happening). We’re starting to seem a lot alike. Now, I am a non-AEM major entering one of your reviled professions: finance, consulting, and general business. I don’t feel cliché or as if I am selling my soul, either. Judging by the way you hedge your bet (finance-speak) with the “hypocrite” self-proclamation, something tells me you may wind up across the hall from me in two years. If so, I hope you can share my pride.

    You omit many of the reasons Cornellians choose to enter finance and consulting. Some find it to be intellectually stimulating, the people you work with are smarter than the average bear, and few other jobs offer the opportunity to create impact of similar scale at such a ripe age. I also wouldn’t fault my peers who chose either profession to jumpstart paying back their student loans. Perhaps Cornell is guilty of more than creating an environment where getting a job from Goldman Sachs feels like winning.

    One thing is certain: you’ll be fine. I challenge you to do what you want after college. It will give me nor any of your readers any joy to watch you eat your words. Do something different. Take a stab at that oil canvas. Write the first act of a screenplay. You’ll be happier if you do… the money isn’t worth it, and neither is conforming to Cornell’s warped affirmations of professional success.

  2. I used to be just like you. I had my quarter-life crisis living on the beach post-graduation. Then I began to see things in a different light, and the need for money materialized. It’s much easier to “do what you love” (whatever that means) if you’ve spent a few years in a real job first, making real money and leaving a gold lining on your resume should your entrepreneurial follies not turn into the next big thing, or any thing at all.

  3. Take a look at the world around you, and notice all the things that must be made, all the work that must be done to feed, clothe, house, and otherwise provide for the world’s billions.

    You will want to be fed, clothed, and housed, and you are going to want to listen to music on your ipod as you drive around the country painting and writing. What are you going to do for the rest of us in exchange for us providing all these goods and services for you? Sell your paintings? What human capital are you going to create to make yourself worth employing during those years when you are indulging your desires? Or are you planning on asking your parents for an allowance?

  4. “I will acknowledge that there is something to be said for hard work and earning money.”

    Yeah, go open a restaurant and don’t have a profit motive. This will lead to nothing good.

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