After I got my masters from Oxford University, one recruiter told me it would be a “waste” if I didn’t join a large Japanese investment bank. My first job was in corporate advertising then I worked in Japan on the JET Program and traveled in between so was a bit older by the time I graduated with my masters. I was 27 years old then.
The recruiter asked for my age and reminded me, “I still have time” before he painted a picture of the pristine corporate path of progress I should practice.
If I don’t join now, it would be 「もったいない」(“a waste”).
At first, fear, panic, and pressure hit me. Oh, he’s right. I have to hurry and hustle. So I landed an interview with a large investment bank in NYC. I got along well with the hiring manager but afterwards I felt so empty inside. I just knew in my bones I wasn’t born for this. Yet left and right I saw all my fellow graduates going off to the top consulting and investment banking firms and thought what is wrong with me if I don’t desire working at these firms? What else is there to do in life?
Until now, society has put too much value in large corporations and not enough emphasis on taking risks and trying new things while we are young. If we are to create a better world for future generations, this requires better ways of doing things which require better ideas stemming from a myriad of experiences, not the refinement of the same systems and experiences compounded over decades or even centuries.
After a discussion with a fellow classmate, I decided to take a leap into entrepreneurship. I applied and got funded by the European Union Young Entrepreneurs Program and was able to work in Spain, a dream of mine, for approximately a year.
Was that a mistake? Absolutely not, and here’s how I came to that conclusion.
It’s my “Deathbed Exercise”. Sounds morbid, I know, but hear me out.
Everytime I’m hit with a hard decision that ultimately impacts the trajectory of my life, I always ask myself this question:
When I die, will I regret this? Or rather, when I die, will I regret not having done ______?
If you sit with that question for a while, the answer you’ve already known arises somewhere from within you. In my case, I realized fearing not belonging or other people’s opinions of me was what was driving me to apply for a job in investment banking in the first place.
On the other hand, it was always a dream of mine to live and work in Spain. I had been enamored by the Mediterranean lifestyle and really wanted to experience it for myself. So the question for me was, “on my deathbed, would I regret not having worked at an investment bank for a few years like many of my peers and thousands of other people, something I wasn’t really passionate about anyway” or, “would I regret not having fulfilled one of my dreams of living and working in another country?”.
I concluded that I probably would regret not having fulfilled one of my dreams more. I’m not saying everyone should follow the same path I took. Quite the contrary. I’m saying people should be more conscious about the life they actually want to live and follow the path that’s appropriate for them whether that’s corporate life, entrepreneurship or otherwise. People should be allowed the opportunity to choose and not be socially shunned or shamed for their choices if it happens to not be the common path that most people walk down.
We should all follow our own voices and intuitions inside, and not let others direct or dictate us. It’s harder said than done especially when people within our social systems (like HR recruiters) reinforce business and systems as usual. But perhaps what is really もったいない “a waste” is if the creativity and desires within each of us were stifled by the masses and never had a chance to fully express themselves in our world.
So to the HR recruiter who told me my life would be もったいない if I didn’t take an investment banking job, I say my life would be もったいない if I didn’t live out the life I was meant to or at least try.