Stories Go Stale

Two years ago I was trying to decide whether to take a career risk by leaving my large and famous law firm in New York for a small and obscure impact investment private equity fund in Australia. I discussed the prospect endlessly with family, friends and my now-fiancee. Would the work be interesting? What would I get to learn and do? Was it too big a pay cut? What story would I be able to tell about this unconventional move once I got back?

Of the many questions that were raised, the one that I felt reasonably confident about was the story one. Given my career goal of arcing away from legal services and toward more entrepreneurial endeavors, I guessed that no matter what happened in Sydney a demonstrated appetite for reasonable risk would be a good credential. That I would read as more than simply a corporate lawyer fantasizing about hitting the lottery in the startup world. (To be clear, Emma and I had reasons unrelated to optics to make this move but that’s for another post.)

Two years into the experiment I think that my intuition about the career narrative was right. In addition to getting to share a once in a lifetime experience with Emma  I had a great personal story to tell as I started networking: “I’m Jeremy, trained as an engineer and lawyer, worked on large corporate transactions for four years and, during that time, ran a designer paper goods company at night and on the weekends, moved to Sydney with my fiancee for an adventure and for the opportunity to make socially and financially positive private equity investments, passed level I of the CFA, learned to surf, biked to work, practiced yoga, traveled for a while and just got home.” Since the first couple of months back in New York were spent meeting lots of new people (who had interesting stories of their own, by the way) I got to tell this story a fair amount and felt that it was a good calling card.

However compelling a story it was I knew that it would nevertheless grow stale over time — how long could I keep saying “and I just got home” … — and certainly once I started meeting with people for a second and third time. I knew that to deepen relationships and unearth the opportunities I was looking for I would need new experiences and that it would be up to me to make sure I had them. Things have been happening but this is one of the more intimidating and exciting aspects of working in a world where there is no path: I need to continually decide where I go next and need to keep authoring my story.