I wish I could just feel normal.

I wish I didn’t feel inadequate.

I wish I could just want the same things as everyone else.

When I got to Duke, I actually liked it.  In fact, I loved it.  For the first time in my life, I felt like I had a group of friends who I had a lot in common with.  I joined a fraternity with some of the best people I’ve ever met.  I had the most perfect, beautiful girlfriend.  And get this—I was crushing school. By the end of my sophomore year I had a 3.95 GPA as an Econ/Statistics double major. I was on top of the world.  In addition to taking a rigorous course load, I was a member of Campus Enterprises and Duke Business Society.  My life was everything I had ever hoped it would be.

Until it wasn’t.

When I got back to campus for the fall semester my junior year, I immediately knew something was amiss.  All of my friends—the ones whom I had come to love dearly over the past two years—they all had a new edge, a different look in their eyes.  I’ll never forget that fateful night when they asked if I would be joining them for the first Goldman Sachs info session.

“No,” I replied.  “I’m not really interested in pursuing finance.”

That was the beginning of the end.

They assailed me from every direction, aggressively inquiring with “why not?” and “are you fucking kidding me?”  They felt that, because of my high GPA, stacked resume, and perfectly coiffed hair, I would be a shoo-in for the most prestigious internship.  Foolishly, I replied that it simply was not a field that interested me.

“So then you’re interested in consulting?”

“Consult with whom?” I replied ignorantly.  “Regarding what?”

Over the course of a five minute conversation, I had lost the respect of my three best friends on the planet.

So I sought the help of my parents. I told them about what a strange day it had been.  They had met my buddies the previous summer, and when I explained that they had turned against me, they were incredulous.

Until I told them why.

The ensuing shouting match with the two people who I thought would support me no matter what cut even deeper than losing my best friends.  My parents had never previously told me about their expectation for me to pursue finance or consulting.  “It was implied,” sneered my father, Sterling I.  “We’re not paying $65,000 a year for you to throw your life away.”

I had wanted to go to law school.  I had no idea that my goals, my dreams, were considered to be some kind of wishy-washy BS cop-out for the unlettered, the unconnected.  My father, also an alumnus of the prestigious Lawrenceville School, even went so far as to suggest he should have sent me to an inferior boarding school, like Groton or Deerfield.  Or even a normal prep school like Pingry.  My own parents, my own flesh and blood, turned against me.

Did you feel warmly accepted when you arrived to Duke, only to have your naive expectations shattered? Did you dare to dream of a career path where you might follow your own organic interests? Did you used to cringe when you walked into Vondy and saw a bunch of men in suits discussing synergy?

Me too.

But I cannot offer you an encouraging message about being yourself or self-acceptance. I cannot, in good conscience, feed any of you such lies.  Mine is a cautionary tale. Learn from my mistakes. The self-hatred you’ll feel if you don’t try to change is far, far worse than the conflict of pretending to be something you are not. Finance recruiting started early this year– you’d better start networking.

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