I got an email from a fellow alumnus of my university asking for help in finding a position on Wall Street. The first thing I replied was – of course – that I had left New York and now lived in Florida, so his attempt at networking would be virtual instead of meeting in person. My second point was that this was not the time to be finding work in New York as an inexperienced graduate of a small public university in the southeast.
I’ve spent enough time around young people to realize that they dream big. When you are young, you are invincible and old people are pathetic losers. Everything is possible and the only reason you’ll fail is that you haven’t been hitting LinkedIn or Facebook hard enough. Well and good – perhaps that is the truth, and perhaps that may be the way to go in the future.
When I arrived in New York almost 12 years ago, I had the experience and skills to make most companies swoon – an MBA, experience working in the world’s most insane market (Russia) and hardcore Big 4 experience. I didn’t have to network – doors opened up for me without asking. From day one in New York I earned more than I spent – and I spent a lot. But four things happened that changed things forever: 1, the dot com meltdown; 2, Enron (and Sarbanes-Oxley); 3, the real estate market collapse and 4, the end of Wall Street as we knew it.
I always suspected the good times wouldn’t last forever. Money was insane in the late 90s and early 2000s. If you had the basic skills and some half-hearted charisma, you’d go far. When the four crises hit, things went south – you suddenly needed more than to be a well-spoken grad of a southern public university.
Right now you can’t get in with a good firm unless you’re willing to accept a reduced lifestyle. Times are tough. Nobody wants – or needs – to hire a fresh-faced grad at a premium price. Grads are a dime a dozen, and the only people being hired are people who are willing to suck it up now in hopes of a future reward. I wasn’t one of those people. I bailed on the high-cost-of-living, low-quality-of-living lifestyle. Would I have bailed if I was younger, or single? Probably not. New York is the Mecca of single, young American lifestyles. But now I couldn’t think of a single reason to stay.
What could you tell a young person today? Stay in New York at a deflated salary, living in a horrible neighborhood and struggling out a difficult existence in hope of future returns? I probably would. Why not? There’s time enough for the suburbs in the future. But it’s sobering to get an email from a young college grad and realize that for them – today’s grads – the fun times and glory days that some of us had in the dot-com years and shortly thereafter are gone, and gone for good.