Descending the Corporate Ladder

By Rohini Venkatraman, CAS ’10

I graduated from the College with a Psychology degree, after which I landed a job as a product manager at a large tech company. Eighteen months after graduating, I decided that I wasn’t doing the “big things” I planned on doing when I received that diploma. A recreational blogger, I, somewhat on a whim, decided to write a book in my free time. I didn’t quite know what it would be about, and nothing I came up with felt “good enough.”
Early in the book-writing journey, I found myself out at a bar with friends, sharing my writing aspirations with a middle-aged man and complete stranger.

“Wait what? You just told me that you are a product manager at a technology company down the street. You are writing a book?” He asked judgmentally. I chose not to respond. He continued, of course. “Your life is boring as shit. You need to accomplish something first. You want to write a book? Go work for Kiva. Go make a difference. Then write about what you learned. That’s what people will read.” This destroyed me. For days and maybe weeks, I couldn’t have felt more insignificant. I was wasting my college degree, my potential, my life. And then it struck me: this “conversation” could be the premise of my book.

My first few years in the real world were much less than what I expected them to be. After spending my academic years pushing through to the finish so that I could set myself up for some palpable and immediate success, the corporate world came as a disappointment. More specifically, at a point in my life when I believed I would be able to soar and take the world by storm, I was instead learning how to bullet my emails and buzzify my speech. Mostly driven by a need to prove that I was capable of a corporate job, I forced myself to try to be an intense career person like the many of my friends who ended up on Wall Street. While it never felt right, I never let on to that. It took several trials for me to finally accept that it wasn’t necessary for me to mold myself into my first corporate role and that, for the first time ever, my work did not need to be my life. I needed to turn inwards and reflect not on what I was doing but why. And sometime during that journey, I really and truly discovered my true passion — this, writing.

In talking to friends and witnessing a few more waves of people enter the real world, I realized that my experience was anything but unique: We’re all trying to do these “big things” and at some point or another, we’ll convince ourselves that we are not making any traction. And that’s the problem: While plowing towards that title that looks wonderful on paper, we’re discounting our day-to-day as nothing but a means to an end.

It has been three years since I graduated from Penn and while I don’t know a lot, I know a little more than I did back then. I’m here to tell you to forget your epic ending and instead get lost in the pages. Think about what you deeply value. The dreams that consume you. The moments that define you. That’s your story. You’re writing it every day and you get to make it a good one. If you want to read my story, check out my book, Descending the Corporate Ladder, on Amazon.

Author: Barbara Hewitt

Barbara Hewitt is the Executive Director of Career Services.