When I set out to write this blog, I promised that I would give a “tiny bit of insight about me, but a giant glimpse into the importance and influence of others.”
This week, you’ll get that tiny glimpse of me that I just know you’ve been jonesing for.
Now, I can’t quite remember the exact set of circumstances surrounding the first time I heard this quote:
Every once in a while, blow your own damn mind.
I don’t know who said it. I don’t know where I heard it. I don’t even know why it came up.
But I do remember the very first thing that came to mind when I heard it.
Let’s go back…
In January of 2011, the weather in Southern Connecticut was particularly brutal.
I’m going to disregard the collective grumbling from my readers in the Northeast right now. Yes, this winter has been worse, and yes you are miserable, and yes I no longer live there so I can’t rightfully complain.
But I’m doing it anyway.
So deal with it.
Anyway, that winter was terrible. It was the first time I can ever remember hearing phrases like “arctic blast” or storm names such as “snow-magedon.” I was no stranger to Connecticut winters with four years of college under my belt, but for some reason, this one felt worse.
There was one whole week near the end of January when all anyone could talk about was this approaching storm that was to be named… wait for it…
A snow storm to end all snow storms.
Geez… c’mon people!
Get a grip.
While everyone was nervously anticipating our impending doom, I was a wreck for a completely unrelated, but equally terrifying, reason.
At that time, I was about six months into my first job out of college. I had landed the ever-coveted but never-comforting Wall Street gig that was the envy of every Ivy Leaguer who hadn’t chosen either Capitol Hill or the non-profit industry.
In the eyes of society, I had won.
In my eyes, I was losing... quickly.
For starters, I had graduated from Yale with a degree in behavioral and social psychology. While I had loved math in high school and toyed with the idea of minoring in it, Yale had other plans. After one overwhelming experience in an intro-level calculus class with a TA who spoke negative amounts of English, I got gun-shy.
I ended up fulfilling my college quantitative-reasoning requirements with classes like “Statistics for Psychology Majors” and “The Pleasures of Counting.”
Yes, these are real classes.
No, they will not prepare you to calculate discounted cash flows on a potential stub equity investment.
Then there was the whole “finance thing.” Up until the summer before I started working, I knew less than nothing about the financial industry. The extent of my knowledge about Wall Street came from pictures of the Exchange in magazines and quotes from traders in movies like Boiler Room or Trading Places.
I’m pretty sure I once yelled “sell, Mortimer, sell” on the desk just to feel like I fit in.
I also made some wildly inappropriate comment referencing Gordon Gekko’s haircut.
Cue constant ridicule from coworkers.
As if that wasn’t enough of a deficit to overcome, in true Tracy fashion, I just had to take on a little bit more.
At the beginning of every career in either sales or trading, there is a peculiar mating ritual between analysts and desks. Over a six week period, this process requires every new analyst to rotate among all of the possible product groups (aka desks), bragging about where he/she went to college, trying to make a case for the applicability of his/her given extra-curricular activities, and otherwise kissing ass in an attempt to land on the most coveted (and often most lucrative) desk on the floor.
It’s like speed dating mixed with the med-school matching process except hooking up is frowned upon and you get paid to do it.
Oh, and it decides your entire career path.
No big deal.
It’s a ritual worthy of its own National Geographic documentary.
Anyway, in this process, I actually did very well. That’s because this ritual was my proverbial equalizer. Interviewing was one of my strong suits. Check. I went to a reputable, Wall Street-feeder school. Check. I played a varsity sport. Check. I can smile and kiss ass with the best of them.
I also had the luxury of knowing exactly what I wanted out of the process.
I had reasoned the following:
I knew full-well that I would absolutely be discovered a financial fraud if I remained an analyst for long. There were only so many crappy models I could build before someone tossed me out on my ass. I also knew that I didn’t want to be a trader. Visions of anxiously checking my Blackberry at 2am and chugging Nyquil to go to bed just didn’t seem appealing to me.
Half of that was unavoidable, but that’s another story.
Regardless, the entirety of my previous work experience was in sales.
So I had a mission, and it was simple:
Weasel my way out of the analyst desert into the promised-land of the sales force.
And wouldn’t you know it, oases do exist.
Because on the horizon that was the High Yield Credit desk, an opportunity appeared.
At the time, there was a female sales person on the desk who was just approaching her 7th month of pregnancy. The desk had been scrambling to find someone to cover her accounts while she was on maternity leave. They wanted a young person who they could shape and mold to hold down the fort in her absence.
After some negotiating, we agreed that I would remain an analyst for the three remaining months she had on the desk. Once she left, I would transition to the sales desk and take ownership of her accounts while she was away.
If it went well, I got to stay. If it went badly, I went back to being an analyst.
To me, this looked a lot like a free option.
In college, my motto was always “if it’s free, it’s for me.”
Needless to say, I took it.
So, for the next three months, I slaved away in Excel and waited impatiently for my day to come.
When you’re fresh out of college, three months can feel like three years.
Unfortunately for me, three months went by faster than three days, and I found myself very scared and unprepared to make good on this agreement.
So there I was, stuck in between two of the most unruly things in nature:
Babies and snow-storms.
Oh, cruel fate…
Brought down the hammer.
That’s right, people.
As fate would have it, both the storm and the baby arrived at the same time on the same day.
Midnight on a Monday.
That morning, I woke up to two feet of snow and a text message that Cindy was in labor.
I found this to be a very apt test of the old notion that God will never give you more than you can handle at once.
Cue freak out.
But as one of the few employees actually living in Connecticut, I had no choice but to go into the office and face the music.
The desk was a barren wasteland.
The female salesperson was in the hospital. The head of the desk was out recovering from surgery. All of the salespeople and traders who lived in Manhattan were stuck there with limited transportation and connectivity.
I was a woman on an island.
When I finally calmed myself, I started looking around for guidance.
I was given these less-than-comforting words of “wisdom” from the only other salesperson who chose to make the harrowing journey to work while the world was ending:
I don’t know. There’s no handbook for this. Just do your job.
So that’s what I did.
I sat in a chair that wasn’t mine.
I answered calls that were for me.
I facilitated trades above my pay-grade.
I managed to not blow-up the bank.
I did my job.
I blew my own damn mind.
I don’t know if you’ve ever looked up the definition of the phrase “trial by fire,” but soon thereafter I did. Turns out, the phrase is actually “trial by ordeal,” which refers to an ancient judicial practice by which the worthiness of an individual was determined by subjecting him to an unpleasant experience.
Usually, the magnitude of this test was life or death.
The proof of innocence was survival.
The collision of snow-pocalypse and childbirth was certainly was not a matter of life and death.
But at 22-years-old, it definitely felt that way.
And I lived.
No matter what challenges came after that, I could look back and see that I had survived and would survive again. Blowing my own damn mind once made me aware that it could happen again. That day gave me the confidence necessary to do some of the most amazing things in my life.
That list ironically includes eventually quitting that very job to chase one that I loved.
Never forget those days.
Always remember you’re stronger than you think.
Don’t underestimate yourself and overestimate the world.
And blow your own damn mind.
What series of events showed you your real strength? When was the last time you blew your own damn mind?
I believe that every greatness we enjoy right now can be traced back to one person, conversation, or observation that provided a turning point in our lives. I’d love to hear if you believe this, too.
Did this story resonate with you? Or did it make you think of a story of your own? Share your story or your reaction in the comments below.
Because sharing stories is an instinctual, powerful way to touch the hearts of others and change the world around us.