July 26, 2016 was probably the most horrific day of my life. At 7:00 am I was at my desk reading new fixed income issuances, acquisition activity, and investor presentations. Working at a mutual fund on the West Coast meant daily 8:00 am morning meetings to discuss recent market moves. After our meeting, I sat down and engrossed myself with financial modeling. It was my mother’s birthday that day and like any good son, I started researching gifts the day of. 10:35 am hit and my phone lit up with “Mom Cell” across the banner. I picked up and said “Hey Mom, what’s up”. With a very sullen voice she said, “Tim you need to come home, your father just passed”.
I’m a round two admit, which means, like many, I completed my application January 7, 2015. During the month before, my family and I could tell something was wrong with my father. He just wasn’t himself. So my father reluctantly went to the hospital December 23. Just two days after I submitted my Wharton application, my father was diagnosed with lymphoma. My stomach sank as my mom and I were relayed options by the Oncologist. After briefly talking, my mother and I realized that we would need to make quick decisions. Because of the severity of his cancer, my father required specialized chemotherapy treatments. Over the next three months of business school interviews, I visited my father daily. I struggled to convey enthusiasm about schools and speak to recent work experiences as my father struggled to breathe as chemo pumped through tubes connected to his brain, arms, and stomach.
Now, my dad worked as a trial attorney for a while. Anyone who has grown up with lawyers knows that trial attorneys will never stop fighting … EVER. My father loved to battle, so fighting cancer was nothing unusual. Sometimes he didn’t know when to stop. One day, my father believed the doctor cleared him to go home. The nurses said, “Sadly sir, we can’t let you go home because you have an infection”. My father’s courtroom experience kicked in as he presented his opening arguments. Eventually the attending physician was called to the stand. The doctor walked in and said, “What seems to be the problem, sir?” My father passionately pleaded his case how he, the Oncologist, just cleared my dad to leave yet the nurses were improperly “retaining” him because of an infection. The doctor promptly told my father, “I’m sorry sir that’s wrong. You have two infections.” Undeterred, my father objected the ruling and challenged the validity of the testing machinery by requesting a recalibration of the medical equipment. That is nothing compared to the time when he convinced the nurses to let him “escape” the hospital for a quick trip to In-N-Out Burger – but that’s another story.
Sadly, there is only so much fight in an old dog. My dad went in and out of remission for the next year and a half while we started Wharton. He passed on my mother’s birthday – July 26, 2016. My mother says that my dad passed on her birthday because he is probably in heaven, laughing and saying “There’s absolutely no way she’ll forget about me now.”
But why do I bring all this up? Many of us are choosing new careers or finding something that we believe is the “logical” or “appropriate” path. At the end of last summer, I obviously had a lot to reflect on. My internship, while filled with great people and interesting work, I realized was not for me. My father was no sage, but every once in a while he had a good line or two. He would occasionally say, “Life is too short to do something you hate.” I’m sure most have some derivation of this, but these lines and his passing made me remember that at the end of the day we’re all going to end up in the same place. If fame and fortune is what makes you happy, go for it; if you want to cure cancer, then try; if you want to hike Table Mountain (which I would never recommend!), then go out and do it. Don’t let fear of failure stop you from doing something you love. The journey each of us is about to take is hopefully a 50- to 70-year voyage. It’s better to be in love with what you do for the next 60 years than be miserable for the next 40. No one is requiring you to make MD four years out of school or become a PM at a major tech firm. If that is your life’s ambition, then go and do it! But only do it because it’s right for you.
My fiancée has this great line that you will be successful no matter what you do as long as it is something you love, because then you will never work a day in your life. Believe me, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making money, I mean we’re in business school for heaven’s sake! But on your journey to the top, make sure you enjoy the ride.