Unpacking Career Binaries: Life Beyond the Orange Bubble

As I write, I’ve just finished my first real job as a summer analyst for PRINCO, the company charged with investing Princeton’s endowment. Being a rising senior, I’ve enjoyed many inevitable conversations with friends, colleagues, and family that start with the innocuous What are you studying? and soon progress to my plans after graduation.

Upon hearing my decision to intern at PRINCO, many friends and family members were incredulous. How could someone like me be interested in investing? I felt dangerously close to being judged a “sell-out,” someone who was abandoning her passions to climb a ladder of wealth and ambition.

Their dismissals, however, weren’t all that new. I’ve sensed the same judgements from others who discover that I major in the “impractical” field of philosophy–what an idealist! Both these judgements can be as chafing as they are simplistic. As a result, I often tailor my answers about my post-graduation plans to who, exactly, is asking. I alternate between saying I plan to explore graduate study in philosophy, or build my business experience while pursuing projects in educational entrepreneurship. In truth, I would love to do both.

theHOBMOB team and friends at the event! Cid is on the far right.

theHOBMOB team and friends at the event! Cid is on the far right.

Of course, these paths aren’t mutually exclusive, as I was reminded a few weeks ago at a get together I hosted at Life is Beautiful art gallery in Hoboken. The meetup was an in-person celebration of my website, theHOBMOB: connecting incredible people to share their passions. After an informal talk by an aspiring photographer, I sat down with Cid Mendez, the gallery owner and artist-in-residence (read an interview with him here). He asked what I want to do with my life after graduation, and I started to hem and haw.

Saving me from my indecision, Cid jumped in with his own story. I discovered that he was trained as an engineer and ran various companies before becoming an artist at age 41. He learned how to craft furniture from wood using online videos and thus taught himself his work. He successfully navigated the corporate world and the art world, which each taught him valuable skills. “Don’t pay attention to the critics,” he said. “There are no binaries.” He was reaffirming that my many passions didn’t translate into mutually exclusive career choices– I could be a writer and investment analyst or a entrepreneur and an artist at the same time.

The most recent time someone asked me about my career plans, and expressed doubt at how the PRINCO internship fits in, I took a cue from Cid and spent a few minutes to explain.

I want my future career to (A) stem from a collaborative and intellectually curious culture and (B) make an impact. Philosophy, entrepreneurship, and PRINCO all fit the bill. I love the creative aspects of my work in philosophy and educational entrepreneurship. I enjoyed PRINCO’s collaborative culture and the challenge of navigating the investment world to benefit the university’s ability to support student programs. My experiences in each category enhanced my ability to create top-tier work in each other.

This time, my questioner didn’t react with incredulity. I didn’t feel like I was teetering between being judged a “sell-out” or an “idealist.” Instead, we had a conversation.

Vidushi Sharma, Humanities Correspondent