Resilience, Surrender
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First Day at Bain

At the age of 24 was so excited about starting my first professional job at Bain and Company international strategy consultants that I barely slept the night before. Was about to begin my dream job but worried they may have made a mistake in hiring me. What did a small town working class kid understand about international business? Bain had hired me straight out of Harvard Business School with no experience working for or with large corporations. Even dressed in the white shirt, tailored blue suit, and red tie of a strategy consultant was scared to death. Still worried I might arrive on the first day and they would take me aside to explain my job offer, signed by Bill Bain himself, was a clerical error and they hadn’t really hired me. Was afraid they would quickly discover I lacked sufficient work experience to do this job. Even though my lack of corporate experience had been clear on my resume. They could reasonably decide I was too young or too unsophisticated to command the respect the job required. Wearing my best dark blue suit. Had butterflies fluttering in my stomach.

They instructed me to arrive for work by 8:30 am at Bain’s headquarters in Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Anxious not to arrive late found myself at the entrance to their building around 7:45 am. Was afraid this was too early to arrive so instead walked several times around the block to burn off some time and my nervous energy. The morning was cool but in my nervousness was sweating profusely. My newly purchased black oxford dress shoes were stiff and my feet began to ache. My newly starched white shirt already going damp against my back. Hoped to make it through this first day without any glaring mistakes that would show my inexperience. By 8:15 am decided it was now late enough so reported to the receptionist at the front desk. She asked me to be seated and I waited another 20 minutes for someone to come greet me. The whole time flipping through the Wall Street Journal, and various magazines on the table in front of me, trying to look busy. Unable to focus on the meaning of the words on the page. Finally was greeted by a sharply dressed sophisticated looking fellow, perhaps 2 to 3 years older than me, who introduced himself as my manager.

He took me through a labyrinth of corridors to my desk. My desk faced a wall at one end of a large room which housed six consultants grouped around two secretaries in the center of the room. Bain’s headquarters in 1980 was a hodge-podge of work areas, partner’s offices, and conference rooms spread over three interconnected buildings on two different floors. The walls and corridors seemed at first sight to go on forever in a completely random pattern. Not sure I could find my way back to the receptionist, much less ever locate my desk again if I did, but everyone seemed friendly enough. Didn’t want to appear obtuse by asking questions. Over the course of the morning was introduced to a partner, my manager, and two consultants with whom I would be working. It became immediately apparent this was no place for the meek. Intellectual arrogance and quick wits was the preferred communication style. I could relax. My older siblings had long ago taught me how to impress with wit and intellectual displays. These skills finely honed at HBS. In such a setting I could dazzle intellectually!

By lunchtime was starved, exhausted, frazzled, and thoroughly disoriented. But also a little less nervous because no one has yet questioned my right to be here. My manager offered to take me to lunch and I gratefully accepted. Could easily consume a steak or perhaps a large fried chicken dinner. As we came down to the now bustling Food Court at the Marketplace was amazed at the incredible variety of possibilities to choose lunch from. My manager stopped before a counter and explained he generally gets a banana and yogurt for lunch, which he then purchased, looking to see what my choices would be. Readily agreed to eat the same. Had never eaten yogurt before. He explained he usually buys lunch and eats it at his desk, to save time, but since it is such a beautiful day we opt for sitting on a park bench outside. The banana is under ripe. The yogurt is watery and lumpy and tastes like milk gone sour. Do people willingly eat yogurt for lunch?

Survived lunch and a mere fifteen minutes later we go back to work. Was thoroughly sick to my stomach that afternoon. Threw up in the bathroom about an hour later. By the end of the afternoon am nearly certain to be able to accomplish what is expected of me. The intellectual dueling and critiques of each other’s ideas are not much different from the banter with my older brothers. Have all the skills to do this kind of work. May even grow to be good at it. Leave the office around 5:15 pm and promptly go to the Food Court to order and devour an entire roasted chicken with a large plate of French fries. Stress perhaps makes me eat too much but I might actually enjoy this job. Arriving home, to our newly purchased house and overwhelming debt, Loretta anxiously asks me about my first day at work. I nonchalantly reassure her the people seem nice and the day went about how you might expect it to go. So began my traumatizing career in international strategy consulting which would propel me to early success in the world of big business.

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