I realize it may seem silly for me, only four years out of college, to write advice to seniors. I certainly have not accomplished anything great, had a transformational experience, or stumbled upon some rare discovery that I am burning to share with you. But I did spend four years on a much-desired traditional path and have walked away with a few new impressions and reactions I did not have upon graduation.
I don’t regret my post-college experience of working at McKinsey & Company and then in private equity. The two greatest advantages of such a path are the people you will meet and the doors that will be open to you. But the way I view what I want going forward has changed since graduation, and I would love to share it with you.
The first realization that occurred to me four years out of college is that a career is not simply a path to get through as quickly as possible in order to reach some end result of success. Rather, a career is more an exploration of an individual rather than an expression of an individual. Finding the right next job is not necessarily about where can I succeed the most or signal my value the most; it is about where can I learn the most about myself. The content on the job is ever-changing, and frankly, like school, you will forget most of it. More importantly, you will walk away from each job knowing more about what interests you and what excites you. If I had been told as a senior in college that a job would be a mechanism for self-discovery, I would have probably responded, “you are so ending up in law school, dude.”
The second key lesson is the difference between significance and success. Success is very easy to signal: wealth, influence on others, prestige. Coming out of college, I had been successful in gaining admission to an elite school, and I wanted to be successful in getting prestigious jobs and creating wealth—not for a selfish reason, but to validate all those who had supported me, believed in me, and had confidence in my success more than I did.
Four years later, I realize that success is very fleeting, especially in the business and political worlds. Significance, or making an impact through what you do, is not. I think there are successful people in the finance world that are hugely significant by the way they choose to spend their wealth, but there are also many non-successful people in areas such as local politics that, in the day-to-day, have a greater significance on the lives of those around them. For a student, it can be hard to understand how success can be won and lost since your value is largely understood through your perceived potential. Grasping the importance and value of making a lasting impact can be difficult. While there is some correlation between success and significance, I believe one should target the latter, and if the former accompanies it, see it as an added benefit. Four years ago, I would have thought the opposite.
All the clichés are true! Enjoy life, make mistakes, and donate to the College! But now is not a bad time to be honest with yourself about what motivates and excites you and how can you make a lasting impact.
Marc Bhargava ’08 was a government concentrator in Eliot House.