She opened up the online system, prepared to click the checkbox that would send her on her way to the paved life of dry cleaning pickups and dropoffs, glittery downtowns, hours long meetings in grand boardrooms, and fatter salary checks than she’d ever imagined. She’d spent the last two years at a fancy financial advisory firm doing the unglamorous and time-sucking work typical of a recent college graduate. “Copy, paste, copy, paste,” she used to joke to her friends when asked about what she did at work. Despite the self-deprecation, Sandy thrived at the firm. Her double major in social psychology and finance provided her with the perfect skillset to navigate the hierarchical, OCD environment of a typical financial workplace. She learned how to tie her weekly goals to the two dimensions, for example:
By Friday …
a) Build a spreadsheet that Mark (one of the partners) makes at most ten comments on
b) Find time to compliment each partner at least once about the one thing that they are the most insecure about
Jean loved hearing how she was more analytical than the other male partners at the firm, Brian enjoyed hearing how fantastic he was at schmoozing a client, and Mark would revel in comments that alluded to how his attention to detail was the defining factor for his great success. These compliments bought Sandy quite a few free lunches with various partners at fancy restaurants, invitations to join their exclusive gyms and clubs, and on one occasion, the use of Mark’s beach house for a weekend.
Of course, when the business school application season came around, the partners were thrilled to recommend her. On one calm morning, Jean pulled Sandy into her office for a brief mentorship session. “Sandy, let me tell you as one woman to another,” she started in her uncomfortably mothering voice, “business school is your ticket to achieve your dreams of becoming a partner in a financial firm such as ours one day, in fact, perhaps even our own! You have shown your potential as a natural in this business. The world is your oyster …”
‘blah blah blah’ is all Sandy heard as she stopped listening to Jean and began to observe her, her frenetic movements, her raisiny, pursed lips, her starched collar and high-cut trousers cinched at her starved waste, her wrinkly unadorned fingers. Jean once claimed she was 40, ‘bullshit,’ Sandy thought as she continued to ignore Jean’s mentorship session.
Years later, after Jean was dropped from the partnership, she would write Sandy a series of long-winded emails, sharing her deep sadness, the fact that she had waited too long to live her real life, her disappointment at having missed her own youth, and describing in painstaking detail, the lonely life of an unemployed, single middle-aged woman.
By the end of Jean’s mentorship rant, Sandy was certain that she didn’t want to be a Jean, or a Mark, or a Brian. But, business school seemed like the route of least resistance, so she applied nonetheless. A few months later, she received an acceptance email to Harvard Business School. It seemed that the only options were to stick at her job or move on to business school and defer a life decision until later.
So there she sat, mouse hovered dangerously over the Accept button, considering how simple it would be to check the Decline button instead. She mused to herself as she paused, two completely different lives standing just a quarter of an inch away from one another. So, in a momentary lapse of her usual level-headedness and risk aversion, she tested what it felt like to click “Decline.”
Sandy stared at the screen. This is what it would have looked like if she had ever had the time to daydream of a different life. Her eyes crossed letting the screen blur in front of her, the two check boxes melding into one. What will life be like now? She clicked ‘OK.’