You never know when your career is really going to take off. I certainly didn’t – I came from a family of engineers, so I grew up expecting to become an engineer, too. However, a chance encounter wound up completely changing my career path.
I was working as a design engineer for a firm on Long Island. The job gave me the opportunity to meet and work with clients from Wall Street and Hollywood. We were developing a mansion in the Hamptons for one of those famous people when my career epiphany took place. I knew nothing about the client who had commissioned us to build the estate, and I only met him at a series of meetings where I represented my firm. But, without meaning to, that client totally altered the rest of my career.
The client in question was Ron Perelman, a billionaire private equity investor and philanthropist. We met a number of times to discuss the house he wanted built, and after a few meetings I worked up the courage to ask him some questions about the deals his company (MacAndrews & Forbes) was doing. He was surprisingly warm and inviting; even though I was only a novice in the world of finance, he took the time to listen and respond to each of my questions in turn. Not only that, he challenged me to come back with even stronger questions – and I did.
When Ron asked me what had sparked my interest in the markets, I told him that, because of my family’s engineering background, I had never really considered pursuing a career in finance. But he pointed out that I had a skill set that would translate well to the corporate world – that I was bright, worked well with others and had a creative streak. While I didn’t yet have the skills I would need to thrive on Wall Street, he said, I had all the basic tools necessary for a successful finance career.
Our talk inspired me to think differently about the direction I wanted to take with my professional life. It also demonstrated to me the importance of being both curious and willing to ask disruptive questions, even when you think it’s not your place to be a questioner.
Usually, there are great people right in front of you whom you have to give yourself a chance to just talk to. Asking questions of those people can open up a galaxy of opportunities for you. But you have to be unafraid to speak up, and be open to the possibility that what you hear can completely reorient your life and your priorities. That’s what happened when I met Ron Perelman, and it could happen to you, too.
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