One of the best pieces of career advice I ever received was from The Wire.
While you wouldn’t think working as an analyst at JPMorgan would have anything to do with a Baltimore based crime drama riddled with stories of drugs and corruption, there’s one conversation from the HBO drama that I have constantly referred back to for guidance in my young – sometimes stressful – career:
Lester: Tell me something, Jimmy. How exactly do you think it all ends?
McNulty: What do you mean?
Lester: A parade? A gold watch? A shining Jimmy-McNulty-day moment, when you bring in a case sooooo sweet everybody gets together and says, “Aw, man! He was right all along. Should’ve listened to the man.” The job will not save you, Jimmy. It won’t make you whole, it won’t fill your [expletive] up.
McNulty: I dunno, a good case—
Lester: Ends. They all end. The handcuffs go click and it’s over. The next morning, it’s just you in your room with yourself.
McNulty: Until the next case.
Lester: Boooooy, you need something else outside of this here.
McNulty: Like what, dollhouse miniatures?
Lester: Hey, hey, hey, a life. A life, Jimmy. You know what that is? It’s the stuff that happens while you’re waiting for moments that never come.
As is clear from the quote above, McNulty and Lester are both detectives working for the Major Crimes unit of the Baltimore police department. Both are cops who are working on taking down a notorious drug operation with McNulty particularly invested in the outcome on a personal level. Lester, who is senior to McNulty in both age and wisdom, alludes to him that he needs something “outside of this here”.
I think the point Lester makes is an important one for anyone about to embark on a new job or opportunity. Coming from an academically rigorous school like Northwestern, we are used to working as hard as we can to achieve the high goals that many of us have had since we were kids. However, what I’ve learned in my own high intensity career – and what the seemingly fictitious Lester has learned in his – is that it’s important to have balance in your life – or as he puts it “something outside of this here.” What does balance mean? It means having a healthy dosage of “stuff” outside of work – whether that’s personal hobbies, interests, relationships etc. As Detective McNulty fails to understand, getting ahead at work and getting behind in your own personal development are not mutually exclusive.
Sure there are days when I work late. Sure there are instances when I spend weekends in the office. To be completely honest, I’m going to do these things because my job is important to me. However, my job isn’t the ONLY thing important to me. For Lester, he balances using wiretaps to break criminal codes by creating wooden dollhouse miniatures. Likewise, I’ve learned to balance financial analysis and spreadsheets by attending Brooklyn Nets games or volunteering through my company’s outreach program. Taking your mind off work and pursuing your own passions, even if it’s just for a few hours a week, can go a long way towards your own development as a well-rounded person.
The truth of the matter is, if you’re reading this blog on this career website, you are already very invested in the outcome of your own career. In fact, you have probably succeeded in most things you’ve done in your life thus far and are going to do whatever it takes to succeed at the next level. As you move towards achieving your goals and aspirations, however, just remember to have a healthy balance. The “well roundedness” that made you successful at a place like Northwestern can make you successful in your career too. But hey, don’t take my word for it – just listen to the words of Detective Lester Freeman: part-time crime solver and part-time career counselor in the world’s greatest show.
Naveen is 2nd year analyst for JPMorgan Asset Management.
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University Career Services’ alumni blog series “Where The Wildcats Are” features the career experiences and advice from Northwestern University alumni of all ages and stages. Learn where your fellow Wildcats are post-graduation and how they reached their career goals. Are you a Northwestern alumni interested in sharing your career development process with current students? Email email@example.com and include “Alum blogger” in the subject line.