Sorry for being MIA and missing a post last week. The past month has been challenging as I have been going through some big internal debates, and I haven’t addressed them here on the blog. A lot of good friends and family read this blog though, so I finally figured I should blog about it. Warning in advance: it’s a mostly personal and long post!
Everything I’ve learned and experienced about happiness basically boils down to 1) having a purpose (aka work/compelling goals), and 2) having people you care about in your life. I feel happy and fortunate with my relationships (even though I often regret not making a better effort to stay in regular touch), but my purpose has been hazy for a while now.
Without the necessity to get up in the morning at a specific time I found myself sleeping in longer, starting to wind down ever earlier in the evening, and in general wasting time throughout the day. It’s a vicious cycle that was brutal to break once I got into a pattern, and it became easy to pass the time in a soul-draining psychosis with FB/IG/time wasting websites.
I have a love/dislike relationship with the process of writing fiction, but on several obvious levels I’m not a professional in that arena yet. The past 6 months I’ve been trying to focus on it as a profession, even though I haven’t yet put a single work out for sale, and trying to mold an artistic hobby into a business so pre-maturely stunted my process worse than if I would have just kept it as a hobby. It’s a ridiculous excuse, but I started and stopped several projects (although I’m still determined to finish out my poker book) just because I was worried that they would pigeon my writing brand into a certain genre, or wouldn’t be marketable enough, even though I hadn’t even completed a single book!
Without any real work outside of writing I put all of the weight of my career needs/dreams/goals/aspirations onto my writing hobby, and I found myself paralyzed into inactivity.
On the outside I was living a dream life that people regularly told me they were jealous of: living/traveling around the world, no schedule, loads of free time, no restrictions, no obligations. Internally I often felt more lost than I ever did when I had no money or time freedom though.
During a slate-grey and stormy evening in New Zealand a little over a month ago, after a glass of strong local cider, I decided to apply for a job at a hedge fund whose public research I really enjoyed reading (not going to use names, but it’s a big one). I had read several influential things they had written, including a great book, and they are known to have a unique and highly intelligent staff.
Just like how I quickly adapt to the weather wherever I live (I’m comfortable with a scarf and gloves in LA when it gets down to 70 degrees), I felt like some small-town New Zealand kid emailing the President of the United States knowing that I was wasting both my time, and the time of the machine that was going to negatively process my application.
Even though I’ve started several successful businesses, made money, and done some cool things, I don’t fit the mold for many jobs. I’m not fresh from college or grad school, I have atypical work experience, and it’s hard for some people to think that I would be ok to start over working under people younger/in general less experienced than I am (which oddly doesn’t bother me at all). For a while now I’ve put my own money up to start the companies/jobs I want to do ever since I did well with my first job out of college, and I haven’t cared at all about my appearance for the employment world.
I realized I hadn’t applied for a paying job (I did do two internships in the film business in LA for free) since I graduated college in 2004, and being self employed for nearly a decade left me with the lame task of re-writing my resume, plus creating a cover letter from scratch. I put on my headphones to focus and took down another glass of the strong cider. I wasn’t sure if what I was writing was good or not, but I was certain that it was a waste of time. Writing a bragging bio about myself was far more painful than any fiction/blogging I’ve ever done, but the fancy artisanal New Zealand cider got me through it.
After submitting the application, even though the end result would be a waste, I still actually felt pretty good about myself. I had something that I could point to that I did that day! I was applying for work that someone needed enough that they would pay me to do, even if I wasn’t actually going to be picked.
Life continued, and a few days later I got a generic email from the hedge fund requesting me to do a personality test as well as watch some videos about the company. It would be a few hours long, but I would get the results and learn something about myself. This sounded like fun, and I was all too happy to drop my morning writing to go at it.
I answered the questions as truthfully as possible, ranging from things like (me paraphrasing from memory): “it’s sometimes ok to steal?”, to “which word do you like more: innovative or logical?”.
I got my results back immediately from the automated test, and for their cultural requirements I could clearly see I scored terribly for the position I applied for. I shrugged it off, and went back to my normal life. The question of why I even applied wouldn’t go away though, and I started journaling every day trying to figure it out, but the answer eluded me like a puzzle where you feel like some pieces are missing from the box. This frustrated me, but I finally chose to succumb to the mystery for the time being.
One of the reasons I was able to get through the application was that a friend had previously applied, and he actually got a response back. Even though it was negative I respected that they gave him an answer, and I would be fine getting my “no” as well; in fact looked forward to it closing out the process.
Several days passed, and I grew annoyed waiting for my rejection. It was one more unfinished task on my list.
Finally one morning I woke up with an email from a real person from the company. I jumped up and opened it immediately to finish this whole process.
(Paraphrasing again) “Dear Andrew, the fit for you and the job that you applied for isn’t there for us. We have a more senior position in Investments that we are interested in for you though. Would you like to be in interested in that?”
I quickly googled and found a jobs website http://www.glassdoor.com that had some information about the exact position title that she stated. This job wasn’t on the hedge fund website as one they were hiring for, but it was much more interesting to me (focusing on investing/trading vs. managing), and paid literally triple the compensation according to Glassdoor. The money wasn’t the reason I applied, but it didn’t hurt that it was enough that I could live a very comfortable life in the expensive NYC area (I didn’t want to have to move into a cramped micro-studio), and still have money left over to invest/save.
I replied affirmatively, got in touch with the new HR person for that department, and sent her my availability for an initial phone interview for the following week. It was the week I was flying to Sweden, so it was a little tricky, but I still was open 3 out of the 5 days that week.
I told a select few friends, and went on a cram session to rival anything I’ve ever done in college. Not only did I study everything I could find about the company and the industry, I studied myself with a vital sense of purpose. I wrote down every mistake I could remember making in my life since I was a kid (and looked for any themes), thought deeply about what my strengths and weaknesses are, and solicited my best friends for an honest evaluation as well. I repeatedly talked out loud about my resume, accomplishments, mistakes, and goals (my first few run-throughs were embarrassingly bad, but I got the hang of it pretty quickly).
I finally had a reason to get up in the morning, and this job preparation gave me energy morning to night. Everyday I was refining my speeches (vs. what at first I could only guess was the truth as to my strengths/weaknesses/career), which were starting to refine my thoughts.
I realized I was missing motivating/challenging work, and I wanted to surround myself in a quasi-academic environment with the smartest people possible. We get so influenced by the people around us, and I’m no exception, so why wouldn’t I elevate myself by surrounding myself with the best?
I got no response before the following week started as to the interview date, but I was relieved to get maximum prep time. With the clarity of the work and environment I wanted to be in, I unfortunately only found myself with one solution: I had to get this job.
The first week in Sweden I continued to prep, but diminishing returns set in, and after putting in full day and nights preparing there quickly wasn’t much else to cover.
The week in Sweden I oddly got no response still, and I sent a follow-up email saying that I was literally available everyday the following week with the ability to move my schedule around to accommodate the interview.
The following week started progressing, and still no response. Since I no longer needed to prepare I started looking at competitors and other jobs in the financial arena. The few companies I liked weren’t hiring, or not hiring for any jobs that I was interested in, and the other companies I looked at were pretty much in the same boat. I didn’t want to get a job to “get a job”, I wanted to do something that I was interested in, and the finance industry doesn’t have a lot of that for me anymore. The industry has been on a pretty steady decline, and it seems like that’s a trend that will be continuing.
I went through a brief period where my backup idea was to go back trading stock options electronically like I used to, but something about it didn’t feel right. My plan was to put myself in an academic environment where I could learn, but this would be setting myself in a solitary room clicking away on my computer. It also felt financially driven, which is a short-term motivator for me, but gets hollow quickly for me.
Another week went by with no response from the hedge fund, and I sent another email with my schedule for the following week. I was starting to care less about the job, which was a good thing in many ways.
That following week a friend pointed me to a blog post from a poker player who detailed how he became a programmer in San Francisco at Airbnb. He went from 0 resume experience, to getting into a top coding bootcamp, to becoming the best student there, to getting 7 job offers from the top tech companies. He also documented in a clear way the process to replicate everything he did.
I’d thought several times about the tech industry, but dismissed it due to my previous starting/stopping attempts at learning programming. Something felt different though this time, and I quietly followed the first step of doing a free Java Script course at CodeAcademy.
I happily finished this course spending about 4-6 hours per day programming 7 days straight. I emailed my brother (he’s a programmer in Silicon Valley) when I was almost done asking him to give me an honest answer if I was too old, if I could learn programming, and the like. I wanted all of my fears to be addressed immediately if I was going to go any further. I was embarrassed to be talking to him about programming as I’ve been semi-inspired to learn it several times before, and told him so, before abruptly giving up. It was one of those little emails that is innocent, but had life altering questions.
He responded saying that the ageism thing isn’t as big of a deal as it gets press for, he knew some people who’ve done these software development bootcamps and been successful, he pledged the support of him + his friends for me in the industry, and he said he believed in me that I could do it.
It feels cheesy to admit, but my younger brother (whom I put through college, hired for an internship at my trading company, and tried my best to help guide him in life) saying that he believed in me meant a lot. I decided to continue to go full-steam with learning technology, and the language of technology (programming/coding/computer science or whatever you want to call it).
It’s only been about 2.5 weeks, but I haven’t looked back. I haven’t taken a day off, I do some programming study in the morning, afternoon, and often in the evening. I don’t need any motivation or goals, I just do it whenever I have any chunk of time, and the time flies by. I also read about the industry, cryptocurrencies, learning, and even enjoy reading hard science fiction more now that my brain is into that vein.
I still haven’t heard anything from the hedge fund (and I sent a final email right before I got deeper into the programming to both HR people that I had contacts for requesting an update), but I’ve been enjoying my time learning about technology so much that I haven’t even cared. I love the community of people who create everything in the technology infrastructure, much of it for free use to benefit society, and there is an endless amount to learn.
Everyday I read articles about different things going on in the tech world, I can barely understand a lot of it, and that’s amazing. I’m also very impressed by the intelligence and ideas of the people, and I’d be happy to emulate their creative approaches to problem solving. The tech ecosystem is collaborative, educational, and helpful. The free resources for learning alone that people spend so much time putting together has added some extra faith in humanity for me.
I’m so used to money-centric businesses where it has a natural tendency to pit everyone against everyone else in a competition to be the richest. I can handle myself well in those money arenas, but I start to question myself as to why I need to keep putting myself in those positions?
I think the biggest thing for me is I thrive in adversity/difficult environments. Instead of being in emotional/psychological financially challenging environments, I have to realize I have the option of being in intellectually challenging businesses like tech. Learning programming is hard, rewarding, frustrating, but somehow enjoyable.
I don’t have my 5 year life plan or anything yet, and still keeping all of my options open, but I’m going to see where this takes me.
In the meantime I have to get back to some practice problem sets!
(my current home Stockholm)