Just over a year ago my life was consumed by my job. Not unlike many trying to climb up the corporate ladder, I never stopped to think where that ladder led. When I tried I was blinded by the safety of a steady salary and the fear that anything else would lead to failure. It is way too easy to focus on the next rung and ignore the possibility you are on the wrong ladder altogether.
Falling off the ladder. It took me over seven years in the financial services industry to realize I was on the wrong ladder and even then it took getting knocked off to realize it. UBS Investment Bank, my employer, decided to completely restructure my division by cutting thousands of jobs and several regional offices. My office in San Francisco was one of those offices.
My initial reaction was shock. After seven years of service that included many 100-hour weeks and sleepless nights, my co-workers and I were let go just like we were only numbers on a paper. I stood outside the office building for what seemed like forever, not knowing what to do. In many ways, UBS was my life and it was no more.
Direction from an unusual source. My last day at UBS was a Wednesday, the day of my weekly trip to West Oakland as a BUILD mentor. BUILD is a special non-profit organization that uses entrepreneurship to motivate youth in low-income areas and help them with the journey to college. As a mentor, I spent two hours each week helping my team develop a business plan and start their own small business.
I always looked forward to Wednesdays and the opportunity to spend my evenings with the brilliant minds of Cynthia, Jonny, Francisco, Crystal, Jorge and Christian. Each week, their dedication to building their business and the tangible feeling of hope that it will succeed inspired me. This particular Wednesday, it reminded me of myself before I got caught up in the world of finance. The dream of becoming an entrepreneur and understanding small business is what drove me to college in the first place. My time in Oakland that evening also put my old job in perspective. My job was not my life.
Change is not easy. I realized I wanted more from life than finance, but the security of having a job was tempting. In the weeks following my departure from UBS, my years of climbing the ladder told me to jump back on before I lost ground. I looked into other banks, technology companies looking for someone with a financial background, and even the UBS New York office. Without knowing it, I was getting sucked back into my old life.
Saved by coffee. I was always interested in coffee and my time in San Francisco gave me access to some of the best shops in the country. Since I had some free time for the first time in my life, I decided to take a coffee profiling and roasting course at Boot Coffee to scratch my itch. After a week of exploring the nuances of specialty coffee from farm to cup, learning the basics of roasting and meeting others that were already deep in the industry my eyes were opened to a possible life other than finance.
The spark created that week gave coffee a permanent spot in my mind. Despite what now seems obvious, I still continued to go through the motions for several open positions. Yet, coffee dominated my thinking and filled my free time while my traditional job options shared a space with taking out the trash. No matter how hard it would be, I had to follow my passion and never look back.