Two and a half years.
What could you do with two and half years?
You could write, edit, and publish a new book.
You could purchase, practice, and play a new instrument.
You could struggle, stumble, and fumble your way through a new career.
My first two and half years out of college, I chose the latter.
For two and half years, I dug into my new career in finance. I learned all the phrases. I studied all the terminology. I tracked all the key indicators. I absorbed all the data.
By the end of my time at the bank, I could tell you the intra-day, fluctuating price of any bond in the high yield market down to the decimal.
That’s not necessarily something to be proud of, but I could do it.
My skill set and daily focus became so niche that sometimes I felt incredibly isolated. And not even the kind of isolated where I didn't know what was going on with the world. I mean the kind of isolated where I didn't know what was going on at the mortgage desk that was two rows away from me.
My focus was so myopic.
But I got that way, because I had to be.
You had to be an expert at your field in order to compete. If you hadn’t been in the business for 20 years or didn’t have a degree in finance, you had to know your stuff to even get invited to the table. And I wanted to be at the table, so I did what I had to do.
Then, seemingly all of a sudden, it was over.
Two and half years into this thing, I quit.
I looked at all the work I’d done. All the specialized knowledge I had stored away. All the certifications I had received. All the sleepless nights I spent thinking about the over-night markets. All the stress and struggle I had suffered.
I looked at all of that, and still, I made the difficult decision to give it all away.
Six months later, I was on a ship in the middle of the Indian Ocean speaking to my friend, Topy.
Topy had taken it upon herself to mentor many of the students that were on the ship that semester. Well, “many” would actually be a complete lie. She had chosen a select few and would sneak us into the teacher’s lounge on occasion to get away from the hustle and bustle of ship life. Our goal- to talk “life strategy”.
Through no fault of my own, I had become one of the chosen few.
Topy and I spent a lot of time talking about life, and specifically, about career.
She kept pushing me forward, but I was still stuck in the past. I couldn’t let go of the fact that my career in finance was over, and I had to start completely from scratch. I couldn’t get over the fact that all of my friends were going to be two and half years ahead of me in whatever they had chosen to do. I couldn’t see past the pain and the misery and the fatigue I had endured.
But most of all, I couldn’t deal with the fact that I had wasted all of that time.
The minute I said that, she stopped our session, abruptly.
She looked me straight in the eyes and said something that I had never heard before.
“Tracy,” she said. “Nothing is wasted.”
Nothing is wasted…
I let those words wash over me for a moment.
Nothing is wasted…
Was that possible? Was it possible I hadn't really wasted any time?
Was it possible that my two and half years in a niche business at a bank wasn’t wasted just because I didn’t choose to work there anymore? Was is possible that I could take something away from that experience and bring it to my next, even if my next experience was completely different? Was is possible that my life wasn’t over or somehow “behind” simply because my first job wasn’t my forever job?
Was is possible that nothing is wasted?
I’ve sat with those words now for almost three years, and I can tell you this:
Not only is nothing wasted, but everything is additive.
If you try hard enough, you can find a way to make everything that happens to you work for you. If you’re open to the possibilities of life and the doglegs in your path, then everything becomes a part of your story—the narrative of you. The twists and turns actually make the story richer, more robust, and even more unique.
Let’s take my Wall Street gig, for example.
It would be very easy to look at a career selling high-yield and distressed credit bonds to institutional investors and think, wow, what the hell can I do with that?!
But let's look a little deeper.
For instance, while I was at the bank, I learned what I like and don’t like about a work environment. I learned that I like collaboration and camaraderie, but not necessarily having to rely on a team to get things done. I discovered the balance of autonomy and infrastructure that felt effortless for me.
I built skills. Sales skills. Speaking skills. Writing skills. Mentoring skills. Bow-hunting skills.
Wait, scratch that last one...
But seriously, I built some incredibly transferable skills. Two and half years into my job, I could talk my way out of just about anything (except speeding tickets for some unknown reason). More importantly, I could motivate people to do anything our office needed. And I became the go-to person for our interns and new hires to learn from, because I had a gift for getting past the jargon and helping them settle in.
I met some of the most amazing people. People who are still close friends to this day-- exactly 3 years to the day of walking out of the door for the last time. I met influential people who have continued to help me find my way in the world and show me the light in the dark times.
When I look back now, none of that time was wasted.
I was being molded.
And now, I can even make that experience work for me—not only was nothing wasted, but everything has become additive.
Do you think when I tell my clients I worked at a Wall Street firm that they get impressed?
Do you think when I talk about the stress and pressure of that environment that my coworkers think I can handle all my work?
Do you think that when I walk into all-male work environments that even one bit of me gets nervous?
Ummm… that would be a hells-to-the-no.
None of us know what our future holds, but we know a lot about our past.
Instead of being a victim of the things that have happened to you or worrying about the continuity of your resume when things don’t go as planned, try something else. Try listing all of the things about your current role or job that will never go to waste. The knowledge, the skills, the people.
Then, make your story work for you!
List out all the things you can leverage from your current environment. All the things that will one day be additive to your success. All the things you will appreciate once you are no longer there and you’ve journeyed closer to the place that you want to be.
Nothing is wasted.
Everything is additive.
Make your life work for you.
Not the other way around.