When I graduated from college, I sent my resumé to dozens of employers all over the United States. In time I received a call from a big financial firm in New York City. The very next day, I hopped on a bus at Boston’s South Station and travelled straight to the Big Apple. Bright-eyed and eager, I showed up for the interviews along with about 30 other people. By the third interview, there were only five of us left.
Finally, we were given job offers. I was thrilled beyond thrilled, but when I turned in my documents, the hiring manager said, “You’re not an American citizen?” I explained how I came to America on a student visa and was given a year to obtain full-time work anywhere in the United States, after which I would need to be sponsored. His face fell and so did mine, because I knew what was coming next. “We don’t sponsor foreign workers anymore,” he said. My job offer was rescinded.
Dejected, I walked out of the big fancy office. The next few weeks would play out the same way at countless other firms across the city. Finally, I decided to fly home to Manila. That was in 2008. A few weeks later, Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. I didn’t realize it then, but the start of my career was right smack in the middle of one of America’s worst financial crises.
I remember watching Obama deliver his victory speech from my parents’ bedroom in Quezon City—miles and miles away from where I wanted to be. His whole campaign had revolved around the promise of change. Americans were in tears as they listened to him, hopeful that he would deliver. I remember feeling angry that everything had to collapse right when I was about to jump in. I wanted to blame someone for causing such a bad economy that firms could not afford to hire overseas workers like me. Like the rest of America, I pinned my hopes on Obama because he represented change in so many ways.
The financial crisis was caused by greed, they say—Wall Street greed. From the Madoff scandal to the subprime mortgage controversy, people were pointing fingers at corporate jocks who wanted a quick profit. As an impressionable fresh graduate, I declared I wanted nothing to do with the sleazy financial industry. So what if I was an economics graduate? So what if financial professionals earn a lot of money? These were the types of people who caused the collapse of the American economy. They caused me suffering and I am not about to be one of them. I am not going to compromise my values for a buck.
So I tried TV, where, as journalists, we were habitually bribed by politicians. Then I tried advertising, where we were routinely asked to skirt the law so our products could get more public exposure. And then, I unwittingly found myself in the government, and you know where the government is. I deliberately avoided the financial industry because I was afraid it would compromise my values—and look where it got me.
Four years later, I have come full circle. Obama again ran for president and was reelected. I, on the other hand, am not only in the financial industry: I am actually an advocate of it. I am even raring to go back to school to study it (again). Did I simply get jaded and lose my youthful idealism? Heck, no. I just realized that a greedy person can work as a priest and still manage to be greedy, whereas a morally upright person can be in politics and still uphold his/her morals. In other words, we are who we are regardless of the careers we choose.
I learned this after being uselessly angry at Wall Street for robbing me of my future. I learned this after having my values tested in other industries that I thought were safe havens for the righteous. And I learned this when I took accountability for what is happening in my life rather than faulting some unknown force in the universe.
I blamed someone for snatching my American Dream and hoped Obama would give it back to me, all the while making excuses. What I did not do is accept that I should not have given it up in the first place.
So today feels like a fresh start for me in the industry I never should have feared and hated, because, really, I love it. And who knows where it would lead one day? All I know is that no matter how the global landscape looks in the future, I will never use it as an excuse to not go for my goal.
Michelli Carmel Collado, 26, is a stock trader and writer (www.traderscamp.org). She is a graduate of Boston University (BA, mathematics and economics) and will start working on a master’s degree (economics) at the University of Sydney in March 2013.