Career and Money Advice At The Intersection Of Business And Technology

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Who was the bartender I met at Montana?

August 24th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Several years ago I was part of a group of first-year MBA students who did a week-long service project in Southwest Montana.

If you have never been to Montana, you should definitely visit it once in your life time. When you get there, you’ll understand why it’s called big sky country. It’s beautiful, wide open, calm, and down-to-earth. In the small town we visited, most families still don’t lock their doors. It’s like going back to the 1950’s.

We stayed at a lake side lodge. It has a restaurant and a bar in the front, and motel rooms in the back. During the day, we went out to plant trees, helped renovate historical train depot, gave talks to local high school students from disadvantaged social-economic background, etc. At night, we hung out in the bar, playing pools and darts. 🙂

The bartender was just like any bartender in America, wearing a T-Shirt, a pair of jeans, and occasionally a baseball cap.

One night we had a "team building" activity. There was a grass area on top of a small hill behind the lodge. The bartender helped us set up a bonfire. As we were preparing food and getting ready for the activities, several of us chatted with the bartender.

He asked us what our group was about. We told him that we were a group of first-year MBA students. We came to Montana to work on service projects as well as building camaraderie among ourselves.

He started asking us about what we did in the past, what we planned to do after business school, etc. Our answers were pretty typical: investment banking, management consulting, brand management, high tech, etc.

He asked us about what finance classes we would be taking. We talked about the national economy, the stock market, and efficient market theory.

It soon became apparent to everyone that the bartender knew a lot about finance.

One of us asked him: "You seems to know a lot about finance. Have you worked in finance before?"

He smiled. Then, he said, "Actually, I worked in finance for many years. My most recent job was the Chief Investment Officer at Chase. Before that, I ran the state pension fund for Montana. But, I got tired of working on the Wall Street. I knew the owner of this lodge, and came down here to help. I love bartending."

It was the perfect setting for a conversation like this. In a remote and peaceful area of Montana, a group of ambitious, career-driven MBA students, and a former Chief Investor Officer at a major bank who quitted his high-paying job to become a bartender in Montana.

For many of us, it was a wake-up call.

One could sugarcoat it in many ways. But, let’s face it, based on my own interactions with fellow MBA students, the typical MBA students share a few things in common:

  • they’re ambitious and driven
  • they want to make a lot of money
  • they want to move to the top of the corporate ladder

There are exceptions. For example, some people want to get into social or non profit sectors. But, even those people, tend to change their minds during business school or switch to for-profit sector a few years after business school.

I have heard some variations of the following statements MANY times:

"I know Investment Banking/Management Consulting is long hours. I’m willing to have no life for a few years or even ten years. Then, I’ll make enough money to retire and enjoy the rest of the my life."

My questions for those folks are:

  • how do you know you’ll be able to live that long? Life is very unpredictable.
  • how do you know that you will be able to make enough money by working really hard? Hard working doesn’t necessarily translate to career success
  • how to you know your career will progress to the point that you will be able to retire?
  • what would you do to enjoy your life once you retire? A lot of people are so hard-working that they don’t know how to enjoy life.

It’s better to never retire.

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Tags: MBA · Work/Life Balance

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 sue_29 // Aug 26, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    isn't it funny we fight everyday to climb the ladder and then once we realize the top isn't what we thought it would be we look for the bottom most rung to the ladder

  • 2 Ski Goggles // Dec 31, 2009 at 8:52 am

    nice post

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