I’ve been told many times that your 20s are the scariest time of your life. Nearly five years in, I can understand why this opinion is so ubiquitous. For the first time, expectations are not set by parents or professors. There is no syllabus, rubric or Dean’s List to measure your success by. Instead of relying on prescribed metrics for motivation, we have to realize our own path – a foreign, terrifying and humbling process. My move from finance, specifically as an analyst in the private bank at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, to the start-up world has been fraught with anxiety. But I still think it's one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I love the complexity of creating something or solving a problem, and I especially love the thrill of the sale. As a kid, I was the neighborhood lemonade-stand mogul and homemade beaded-necklace peddler. Of course, my key demographic tended to be any sucker who entered my house, but nonetheless I was ready to upsell anyone who walked through the front door.
During my junior year at Wellesley College, it became clear that I needed to complement my political science major with summer work experience that would develop a firm analytical foundation for my future career path. Pursuing an internship within the realm of finance seemed like a necessary step in becoming a well-rounded and hirable post-grad.
While abroad in Shanghai during my junior year, I was recruited by a Wellesley alum who worked for J.P. Morgan. She told me that the private bank would be a perfect fit, since I’d learn how to work with spreadsheets and asset classes, but also develop my interpersonal skills that are crucial to that role and many others. I interviewed a few times over the phone and the process ended in a superday in J.P. Morgan’s Miami office.
At the end of my summer internship, I received a full-time offer to join J.P. Morgan Asset Management as a full-time analyst in Washington, D.C. This was a tremendous relief considering the 10-week summer analyst program was an arduous marathon of non-stop interviews.
Going into my senior year with a full-time job offer made my final semesters in college zoom by. Despite my bank job, I grew increasingly anxious as my friends received and accepted their own offers for jobs at enterprise companies, consulting firms and start-ups. Listening to their preparations and case studies where they evaluated solutions to particular problems made me wonder if Excel spreadsheets and equity analyses would be interesting enough to occupy me for three years in the analyst program.
Even with these seeds of doubt, I entered my private banking role within J.P. Morgan’s asset management division ready to make an impact. The work was demanding and a the team motivated me to succeed and expand my knowledge base. Although first year analysts are tasked with more menial work, building from basic skills to develop speed and precision differentiated analysts from one another.
After a few months, I noticed that the third-year analysts within my team were spending their days doing exactly what I did, only faster. I began to worry that instead of growing my skill-set and strengthening my experience, I’d become a machine churning out spreadsheets and repetitive data analysis.
As months passed, I began to feel the entrepreneurial itch. Eventually, that itch spread and grew strong enough that I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I decided that I needed to make a change.
My decision to leave the bank was difficult. However, I knew that my true interests would be within a more entrepreneurial environment. That’s when an opportunity at a tech startup, Skedaddle, fell into my lap. The firm has created the technology for users to crowdsource bus rides to go anywhere in the U.S for difficult to reach locations like ski and snowboard destinations or places outside of major cities. It was a huge change from working at one of the biggest banks in the world – at the time I joined, the four co-founders had only made three other hires.
Private banking wasn't for me, but I’m confident that I wouldn’t be nearly as successful in my current role without having previously worked in finance. Not only did I develop the hard skills of building macros and financial analysis, but I also learned to take a solutions-focused approach, and to seek concrete data to explain phenomena.
Whenever someone asks me if I’d recommend starting off in finance or if they should pursue something more entrepreneurial, I consistently urge them to try out finance. Even if they spend a year agonizing over numbers and working long hours, both the hard and soft skills from the time spent at the bank will pave the way for their future success.
My twenties have so far been the most terrifying and humbling time in my life. I switched jobs post-graduation, moving from a big bank with job security to a tiny startup where we were building the ship as we sailed it. Ultimately, though, it’s finding the right balance of risk and reward that keeps life interesting, and it’s the pursuit of your interests that keeps you motivated.
Hayden Broberg is the lead operations manager at Skedaddle.
Photo courtesy of the author