I want to go into a career in journalism because, simply speaking, I like learning about the world and sharing through my writing what I’ve learned. I love politics, foreign affairs, and startups. I want to discover everything there is to know about the journalism industry. My ultimate goal is to merge my passions and report on the ways entrepreneurship can disrupt and bring about social change. But I’m having doubts, and I think I know why.
It has been almost a year since I copy edited articles for the Washington Monthly’s 2014 college guide. In that issue, elite millennials came in for much criticism from their elders. Amy Binder examined why so many students from elite schools are flocking to Wall Street and management firms. That piece came on the heels of William Deresiewicz’s book, Excellent Sheep, which was excerpted in the widely shared and condemned New Republic article, “Don’t Send Your Kids to the Ivy League.” Then there was Kevin Roose’s book, Young Money, a searing portrait of eight young Wall Street recruits who stand in for the prototypical overachieving millennials suffering the misfortune of getting what they wish for.
When Ezra Klein interviewed Roose for Vox, the headline was “How Wall Street Recruits So Many Insecure Ivy League Grads.” And, with a few months to go before the next batch of college graduates flock to finance and consulting, I foresee more millennial-bashing articles coming up on my radar soon.
These pieces truck in stereotypes, and rightly so. I see a lot of myself in these insecure students. I am a senior at Georgetown University, studying History at its Foreign Service school. I am from Hong Kong and went to high school in England. While I know how fortunate I am, I’m still the Insecure Millennial who has never broken away from the herd.
According to the millennial-bashing authors, elite college students like myself spend half their lives manufacturing their experiences just to get into the right college. Once there, even without helicopter parents and college counselors, we only know how to mimic everyone around us. Just as we followed the herd to New Haven and New Hampshire, we are now following the herd to Wall Street and K Street.
I travelled with Habitat for Humanity to a Chinese village to pass bricks and mix cement, so I could tell colleges that I volunteered in my spare time. I was Managing Director of my high school’s “Young Enterprise” team, even though I never had any intention of becoming an entrepreneur myself.
My sophomore summer, I worked at a financial services firm in Hong Kong because I wanted to work in finance just like everyone else. I taught myself financial accounting and Googled every other word I saw in the company reports they tossed at me. I worked hard at summarizing my research of companies’ histories and end-of-year reports. I’m pretty sure my supervisor threw all my work out and re-did everything as soon as I left.
Whenever I encounter “failure,” no matter how minute, it sends me into an existential crisis. Once, when I was told a piece I submitted to the Washington Monthly’s editors lacked some background information, I went home, baked brownies, and lay in bed wondering why I was put on Earth in the first place. Something similar happened after I received a ‘B’ on a Political Science paper. Many of my friends can be this dramatic, too.
I am just as manufactured, risk-averse, and insecure as the next elite college student you will find suited-up at the college career fair. That’s why I find it so hard to break away from the herding to finance and management consulting. I took the “best” subjects for my British A-Level exams. I wanted to do History of Art, but was told to do Economics because it would make me “look smarter” and help me get into an elite university. My Georgetown interviewer told me to major in Math “because investment banks love that.”
But, I don’t want to work in the hallowed halls of JPMorgan or McKinsey. I want to be banging on doors, cold calling, and hunched behind my laptop writing and editing pieces.
With risk-averse, high-strung, and highly accomplished peers around me almost all the time, it is impossible not to have constant bouts of self-doubt. “Where are you working this summer?” was a hot topic at house parties during junior year. Sure, my friends support my decision to stay away from finance and consulting, and work in an industry about which I am truly passionate. But sometimes, I don’t know how genuine they are because, even though I know their hearts lie elsewhere, they are all going to Wall Street.
My mother doesn’t want me to go into journalism because she equates it to snooping and phone tapping (which is somewhat understandable). I told her I wasn’t Rebekah Brooks, and that I am going to do what I want and what I believe I am good at. She has stopped trying to push me towards law school as an alternative post-grad plan.
I know my decision to break away and do something my peers aren’t shouldn’t terrify me as much as it does. Our shelves and newsstands are lined with people who decided to follow this exact career path, and I am determined to join them up there. But, as my career office begins to organize numerous recruitment fairs, and my friends receive their return offers to finance and consulting firms (rendering them secure and panic-free for the next few months), I will continue to question my motives for going into an industry about which my career counselors don’t appear to know much.
According to Binder, a “full 70 percent” of Harvard’s senior class submits rÃ©sumÃ©s to Wall Street and consulting firms, showing the extent of risk aversion among elite college graduates. Last semester, I submitted rÃ©sumÃ©s to about twenty consulting firms and flew across the country for recruitment interviews, only to realize that journalism–not consulting–is where my heart truly lies
I can’t overhaul the entire higher education career guidance system, but I can speak for my generation. If universities stop rigging their career systems, as Binder suggested, maybe the world will have more journalists, artists and nurses, and fewer bankers, consultants, and insecure college grads.