I grew up in a pretty affluent suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. It was a town where kids woke up to find a new – or at least used – BMW in the driveway on their 16th birthday. It was a town where you really were judged by the brand of clothes you wore; it wasn’t enough to just look good in something from K-Mart or Target, you had to be sporting the brands that mattered to teens. It was the kind of town where going to college wasn’t just something kids and parents hoped for – it was expected.
With that in mind, I’m not surprised that so many of my friends from back home have gone on to really lucrative careers. What has surprised me is how their professional success has made me feel.
Tiana graduated third in our high school class (I graduated two spots behind her) and went on to school at Southern Methodist University. Today, she works for Bain Consulting – not Bain Capital of Romney fame, but pretty close – and works with top business clients from not only across the country, but across the world. She’s routine flown across the country – via private jet – for business meetings with top executives.
Cecilia wasn’t what you’d call an enthusiastic student back in high school. She was, however, incredibly gifted when it came to languages. By high school graduation, she was bilingual. By the end of college, she was fluent in four languages. She’s currently a PhD candidate at Georgetown, where she just won a Fulbright scholarship to study the relationship between Brazilian literature and pop culture in Rio. Oh, and by the way, she now speaks six languages.
We lived in the type of town where the cheerleaders would shout, “That’s all right, that’s ok, you’re going to work for us someday” when our football team was down 40 points at halftime. Maybe Lori should have said that cheer to me back in the day – because she is now one of my “bosses.” (She’s my contact person for one of my freelance positions.) She works with big name clients like Ryan Seacrest, Aerosmith, and Amazon; she has Steven Tyler on speed dial (no joke).
What About Me?
When I left our hometown after high school, I thought I was on the fast track to one of those really high-profile careers. But along the way, I realized that I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. It was a major setback. I dropped my college pre-med major and stopped thinking about what would make me satisfied and about what would impress other people. That led me to journalism, a career that gave me absolutely no satisfaction, even though other people were, in fact, impressed by it.
I think what amazes me most about these high school friends is how inspired and challenged they are by the jobs they do. They are content – not in a “just happy to be here” way, but in a “I’m doing what I always dreamed of” way. The kind of way that could make someone jealous.
I’m not jealous, though, not really – not when I know how hard each one of these old friends has worked to get where she is today. I am disappointed, though, that I’m still vulnerable to letting the accomplishments of others dictate the direction of my professional life. I’m still struggling to figure out what makes me feel satisfied professionally. I am much, much closer than I’ve ever been before – I know it’s in communications, but not journalism, and I think it has something to do with numbers, but not math – but I still have a ways to go.
Do you ever let the accomplishments of others affect your opinion of yourself?