Sunday, May 1, 2016

The $500 Trajectory

It's a story I've often found myself telling, and I'm sure you have a version in your history like it as well. A moment, when you might not have known it at the time, when the trajectory of your life took shape, all over some almost meaningless distinction. For me, it's the $500 moment, and the next 16 plus years have been shaped by that relatively small amount of money.

In early January of the year 2000, just after we miraculously survived Y2K, I pounded the pavement as a new college graduate (a semester early), trying to find my first full-time job. I had two not-so-great business suits, paper resumes laser-printed one at a time on expensive stock, and $23 left in my bank account. I worked with two different staffing agencies, playing one against the other, conserving quarters to call them in between interviews from various payphones around the city. Within two weeks, I had two job offers. Not a lot of direction or idea about what I wanted to do with my life, but two offers nonetheless.

Both offers were from solid companies, but very different opportunities. The one I got first was with a prominent Boston family office, where they owned a lot of property then used as parking lots. I would help manage those parking lots - carry a lot of cash, work with the employees of the lots. I was told that they knew someone like me wouldn't expect to stay in a job like that for very long, but that the family was so well-connected, they'd help me find something else within six months to a year. They would open doors, invite me to fancy parties. I had no idea how I'd afford the kind of lifestyle they suggested on the salary they offered, and I was worried about my odds of succeeding in a position like that, but I still felt it was a solid job offer.

I'd only had my first round interview with the other company at that point, and my second interview was scheduled for the following day. I was tempted to blow it off, but also worried about being "nice" and didn't want to cause problems for the recruiters who had been helping me, so I went. I was young and dumb (or maybe smarter than I thought), but I told the woman interviewing me that I already had another offer. I couldn't find any information about this private company online (there were few websites for this sort of thing back then) and almost nothing in the press. But the offices were nice, and I'd only be working in one spot, not all over the city. They asked me how much I was offered. I answered honestly, mostly because I was so proud of the number. They came back with $500 more.

I figured that even if I hated the job and only last six months, I'd make $250 more there than at the parking lot job. That was a lot of money at the time. I took the second job offer.

I stayed for almost six years. I've stayed in this very niche industry for the entirety of my career.

I think back on that moment often. I'd never negotiated for anything before, much less a full-time job. I knew incredibly little about the decision that I was making, just that I really wanted to stay in Boston and I needed a job to make that happen. And, a really good, successful life and career has been the result. I never could have imagined then, having the type of job I have now. I couldn't have imagined it even when I started my MBA program a few years later, or when I applied to join the group I'm in now. But I do wonder what might have happened to me if I'd taken the other post. I would have feared for my physical safety, I'm sure, but I might have thrived. I might have met someone at a party like they promised me, and seen my life go in a completely different way. Sliding doors, as the movie goes.

As I said, $500 doesn't seem like that much money to me now, but it's still not the kind of money I spend on anything regularly. But over the course of a year, it's less than $10 a week. Even less after taxes. Less than $10 a week, a #Hamilton, influenced my destiny.

Pretty crazy to think about. Has anything like that happened to you?