Symcox: The view from the 40th floor

Students who make their way to Yale don’t write admissions essays about their aspirations in the corporate world. At 17 and 18, we dreamed of changing ourselves and the world, whether tramping around sub-Saharan Africa quinine in hand or rooting out social injustice right here in America. During our summers, weekends and breaks many of us do just that, taking advantage of the service opportunities available through our university, whether through Reach Out, Dwight Hall or the dozens of other campus groups that dedicate themselves entirely to service. Yet by the time we face graduation, most of us find ourselves queued up for miles at the gates of the for-profit world, begging McKinsey recruiters like we once begged admissions officers for a spot among God’s elect.

I, like many graduating seniors, have been grappling with the existential crisis provoked by the above realization throughout the job interview process. I, who grew up dreaming of becoming a soldier, who came to college with grand intentions of returning to Oklahoma and changing my state for the better, am now standing outside the offices of middle-managers in New York. These people work from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, and I, like them, am about to dedicate my professional life to the efficient allocation of capital.

Forty stories up in the heart of Manhattan, you can feel yourself at the nexus of the world economy. From here, the places we grew up in look small and unimportant, the fact inescapable that these three rows of desks contribute more to the American economy than does my entire home county. You can feel the rat race seeping from the soft fluorescent lights, a feeling accompanied by the gentle hum of thousands of bright young minds scrambling furiously toward a house in New Canaan or some other unknown objective.

Whatever one’s thoughts on Fairfield County, the rat race itself isn’t the tragedy. Those of us without the benefit of inexhaustible inherited wealth or the courage to commit our lives to something truly wild — going pro in a rock band, buying a one-way ticket to a foreign country and never looking back — will have to work to support ourselves, and eventually, our families.

The tragedy is that so many are so eager to sign on for a life dictated by BlackBerries and that we, myself included, do so while we are so young. We all dreamed of going off the map, of adventure, of doing something crazy or unique or distant, but the reality that accompanies our first credit card bill does much to put such notions to rest. Indeed, many of us will leave here in May and start new jobs on the first of June.

As I sign on with a wonderful firm that I am tremendously excited to work with, I cannot shrug the notion that the window for doing something different is closing. I can do something wild and crazy now because I am accountable to no one other than myself; as I age and responsibility accrues, that will no longer be the case. The corporate train is one that rarely stops from start to retirement, and by getting on at 22, I effectively guarantee that I will never be a Marine officer, join the Peace Corps or do any of the other dozens of things young people can do to prove themselves as women and men.

I know that I am lucky to be working and blessed to have the luxury of an “existential crisis” — working hard just to get by is the rule rather than the exception. Still, one cannot help but wonder how life would turn out if a 45-year career in office black was exchanged for 43 of the same and two in Marine blue.

Kevin Symcox is a senior in Silliman College.


  • A Piece of Fruit

    Beautifully written; captures the plight of our privileged world and its trap door to success nicely. Hear Willy Loman:

    “I put thirty-four years into this firm Howard. You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away. A man is not a piece of fruit.”

    Willy Loman
    (as he is being fired)
    Death of a Salesman


  • ac

    Much as I can empathize with this existential crisis, I would like to point out the obvious; there are many good paying jobs (read: yes, you can pay back your student loans) that do not involve “the efficient allocation of capital” i.e. finance. That Seniors see only two paths — the risky non-profit, and the safe “finance” — simply demonstrates a lack of imagination and creativity. Frankly, I suspect that the “Everything but finance won’t allow me to make enough money to live” is simply a fallacious justification for “I’m scared to do anything that UCS doesn’t hand to me”.

  • ’09 out West

    In my experience, part of this “crisis” stems from the fact that many Yalies don’t consider careers outside of NYC. If you’re going to live in a place where crappy housing costs $1,500 per month and a sandwich runs you $15 or more, you’re unsurprisingly going to gravitate toward jobs that will (at some point…hopefully) enable you to live comfortably in such expensive surroundings.

    And traveling abroad isn’t the only option for those who wish to change the world, experience adventure, or simply do something different. How many Yalies have visited even 15 of the states in this union? How does that number change if you don’t count New England and California? Forget living in a studio apartment above a Chinese restaurant while you work 70+ hours per week trying to make it… there are other options, and you don’t even have to get a passport or learn a foreign language to try them.

  • Capital crimes

    As we have been made utterly and painfully aware this past decade, “the efficient allocation of capital” is doublespeak for making money from money without regard for ethics or social conscience. Since Clinton oversaw the repeal of the regulation of derivatives and commodities in 1997, the economic boom in technology transfered into a bubble of finance. Marginal gains (at best) in “efficiency” are not reason to allow unfettered and destructive gambling with the nation’s financial institutions.

    It is truly troubling that so many Yale graduates think the only way to earn a good living is by playing ball in the malignant and socially worthless financial sector.

    Most basically, it calls into question why institutions such as Yale pay no taxes — i.e. keep their non-profit status. After all, they have become predominantly efficient machines primed to churn out investment bankers. What social purpose does this serve? Why should the American public forego taxing Yale? Why must the country subsidize the creation of its own entitled elite?

  • Horse Little Soldier

    Sincere, profound, and timeless.

  • recent grad

    You write: “Forty stories up in the heart of Manhattan, you can feel yourself at the nexus of the world economy. From here, the places we grew up in look small and unimportant, the fact inescapable that these three rows of desks contribute more to the American economy than does my entire home county.”

    Those three rows of desk have probably done a hundred thousand times more damage to the American economy than anything in your home county could have done. But apparently, after four years at Yale, your understanding of this basic and obvious truth is as shallow as the “existential crisis” it has provoked.

  • BFG

    recent grad is correct: with “truths” like this one — that “the places we grew up in look small and unimportant” — no wonder that it appears that the “F” in BFG now stands for “feckless.”

  • Kevin Symcox

    I tried to write this earlier but for some reason it was never posted. As the author of the piece, “McKinsey” should never have been mentioned. The piece I submitted to the YDN said “human resources departments,” and the job in question was with WPP, a conglomerate of advertising agencies. Although far from the model socially responsible industry, the ability of a marketing firm to single handedly wreak havoc on the world economy is fairly limited. The job was not found through UCS, but through my own research.

  • ac

    Thanks for the clarification, Kevin. But that still doesn’t answer the basic question: Why are you not putting on that marine blue, if that’s what you want to do?

    More importantly, and what I actually take issue with, is that you defined life into two poles. That is to say, why is it adventure and fantasy, or banal rent checks, and loan payments? “Finding yourself” doesn’t require a backpack, journal, and a foreign country; just as responsibility is not simply getting a high paying job. Post College life is much like College life in one respect; you get out of it what you put in. There are many people who find work exciting, and there are others who manage to balance reponsibility with adventure — particularly when they are 22.

  • Yale 08

    @4 — because they and others of their caliber later pay 80%+ of the country’s taxes