Don’t follow your dreams.


That’s what Jeremy Reff might tell you. Reff is the round-faced, jovial vice president of corporate outreach for D.E. Shaw & Co., an investment firm based in New York City. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University in 2004. With a degree in English. And a specialization in modernist poetry, of all things.

Reff wears signature college bro plaid and jeans to work, and his shoulder-length hair and unshaven scruff might look more familiar in the quad than on the polished floors of a New York investment firm. He admits he used to fantasize about holing himself up somewhere to craft achingly beautiful poetry.

Now the closest Reff gets to such existential ecstasies are his lectures to the firm’s young recruits, where he discusses the importance being a lifelong learner and a responsible citizen.

So how the hell did this guy end up in finance? And why does he encourage other humanities graduates to abandon their lofty academic goals and follow the same path?

  • Reff got a job straight out of college at a firm he hated. But he soon quit, joined D.E. Shaw, and fell in love with the company’s values. He cautioned questioning youngsters to ask themselves what kind of people they want to work with when applying for jobs. “Are the people leading this company excited about the things I am deeply interested in?” Reff asked himself when he considered a position at D.E. Shaw. Evidently, the answer was yes.
  • I should mention that Reff and his colleagues are allowed to dress casually. Apparently there is no stigma attached to looking like a total hipster in the D.E. Shaw office, so what’s not to like?
  • You should know that your dream job is similar to a unicorn: You will probably never find either of those things, so stop looking now. “I think that there are unicorns out there and that they’re fantastic, but mostly they’re just painted horses,” Reff said. In other words, abandon those unicorn dreams and settle for a dependable 9 to 5.
  • Don’t go into academia. If you do, you will watch the circle of people you associate with grow smaller and smaller, until you are only capable of discussing your upcoming book on the racial politics of postcolonial Bolivian sculpture with the five people on this planet likely to read it — other professors in your department.
  • “Academia often provides a culture in which you don’t interact with a lot of people from different perspectives … In graduate programs and beyond you sort of specialize and you start having smaller and smaller conversations with people in your subfield,” Reff said. As opposed to the world of finance, where your colleagues will all be so very diverse!
  • Don’t pursue your passion as a career. Once you start getting paid to perform a task, that type of project will forever be linked with dirty capitalism in your mind: All the intellectual passion will disappear behind crushing pressure to make a few bucks.
  • Friends used to ask Reff, a notorious bookworm, whether he would consider a career in publishing. He always had the same answer ready: “No — I love books, but I wouldn’t want to go into publishing. I also love sex, but I wouldn’t want to go into working in a bordello.”
  • Ultimately, no matter which job you land after college, Reff said it’s healthy to ask yourself one important question from time to time: “What do I want to be doing next year?”

Well, Jordan and I have got the question bit down, and as for the rest … ahem, one step at a time.

Image via

— Arielle

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2 Comments on “Don’t follow your dreams.”

  1. JR says:

    “Don’t pursue your passion as a career. Once you start getting paid to perform a task, that type of project will forever be linked with dirty capitalism in your mind: All the intellectual passion will disappear behind crushing pressure to make a few bucks.”

    I meant — pursue your passion, but don’t confuse a career tangentially associated with your passion as actually giving you the autonomy to pursue your passion. If you love development economics, work on development economics for an NGO, or found a start-up, don’t go into emerging market growth equity. That job will be a painted horse.

    JR

    • plasticsblog says:

      Ah, thanks for the clarification! That makes sense. My comment about dirty capitalism was in response to what you said about not wanting to go into publishing. I identify with your bordello analogy, I think — l love to read books and write things about books, but a career in publishing might just stop me from ever wanting to sit down with a text for fun.

      — ajm


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