This month, we’re kicking off a 12-part series for 2015. We’re calling it the “transparency” series, and it’s authored by none other than MC’s Managing Director, Jenny Rae Le Roux.
MC grew from 50 to 50,000 to 1.5M readers in a really short period of time. Why? We didn’t do any fancy Google SEO ninja stuff, and we didn’t even have a good content strategy. We just wrote really insightful, really honest, and really (sometimes) funny articles to share about life before, during and after consulting.
For almost 1 year now, I’ve been thinking of how to share more transparently on my journey into business in general, and consulting in particular. In many ways, my life has been a Cinderella story – great grades, entrance into a top school, internships and scholarships galore, the discovery of passion early in my life, selection for Bain, entrepreneurship, and early “retirement.”
But my journey has also been plagued by insecurity, paralysis by analysis, fear of failure, battles as a woman in the marketplace, loneliness, betrayal, loss, reconciliation between justice and profit, and more. In short, my Cinderella story has not been without villains, naysayers, and scary times – originating from influencers, business partners, and even myself.
Over the next few months, as I’ll share my honest journey with you, here are the 12 pieces I’m working on as we plow through this year:
- Why I Never Wanted to Go Into Business
- Why I Never Wanted to Be A Consultant
- How I Fell in Love with Business
- Starting My First Business – Pre-Consulting
- Crashing Into Consulting + Networking
- How I Prepared for Consulting Interviews
- The Bain Interview Process (as a then-outsider)
- Sell Weekend(s) aka How I Decided to Join Bain Atlanta
- Year 1 at Bain – Starting Slow
- Year 2 at Bain – Blasting Off
- Year 3 at Bain + Deciding to Leave Bain (and Consulting)
- Life After Bain
Some of these will be abbreviated parts of my journey, and some would merit their own 12-part series as a deep-dive – but let’s just get started and see how it goes. If there’s something on this list you’d like to know more about, or something NOT on the list you’d like to know about, let us know that too.
So, without further ado, let me begin my story.
I was born into a pretty normal family – or so I thought, until many years later (more on that in Part 12). When I was 3, I reportedly told my parents that I didn’t want to hang out with the kids – “adult conversation is more stimulating,” I reported. I’ve always had an old soul.
I was the oldest of 4 children, and did silly things I thought were normal as a child, which I have since realized are not normal. At my grandmother’s house in Florida, I picked the neighbor’s fruit – and sold it door-to-door up and down the street, which included a bit of a brazen attempt to sell the neighbor’s own fruit back to them. (They bought it, because I was cute and under 5 years old).
Back at home in Tennessee, I found my neighbor’s flowers beautiful – and since the Florida fruit venture was so successful, I picked a bunch of tender daffodils (I cut them with scissors in broad daylight, actually) and sold those to the neighbors. This time, the Daffodil House owners weren’t super impressed when I tried to sell their own flowers back to them, because Daffodils are a bit precious and I’d decimated one entire bed with my scissors.
Undaunted, I started a lemonade stand, expanded it when we moved to a corner property, diversified into strawberry lemonade and cookies, helped watch neighbors pets and mail, and generally made a cash killing. I opened my first bank account and watched it grow (I’ve never been great at spending what I make).
When I was 8, we moved to Pennsylvania, and after 3 short awkward months, I ditched my southern accent for a cool Pennyslvania non-twang. I was a little slow getting started in business, but after a year my vision was revitalized when an opportunity presented itself.
I had to sell 25 candy bars to raise money for my basketball uniform, and I took them into school. After I sold out in 2 days, I still had more than a week before I had to turn in the box – so, I asked my mom to drive me to the local grocery store where I stocked up on goodies to refill the box. After all, my uniform was paid for – now I could pocket the profits.
Feeling limited by my storefront (the box in the classroom), I expanded the territory and sold candy out of my winter coat on the playground. When I went back to refill the box again, business was booming – but after a few days, parents started calling the school to complain that their kids were spending their lunch money buying candy “from a kid on the playground.” I was the dealer, and the gig was up. It was the one and only time I went to the principal’s office in elementary school (I did have that short-shorts incident in high school, but let’s not go there).
I kept a dedicated ledger as I grew up that included a number of things – the boys I liked, the money I made, and the dreams I had were some of them. Whenever I made money, I saved most of it, gave 10% of it away and put 10% into my college fund. My parents began teaching us about budgeting. We’d moved from lower middle-class, just making ends meet, to solid middle class, to upper middle class. We lived the American dream, stayed in hotels instead of with family, and ate out more than once a month.
I was born for business, but I just didn’t know it yet.
My dreams changed as I grew, but some of them were awesome – I wanted to be a firefighter in 2nd grade, the first woman President of the United States in 3rd grade (before Greg Voigt told me I couldn’t since he wanted to be president and his birthday was on July 4th, which seemed pretty compelling to me), and an astronaut when I studied space in 5th grade. I wanted to be a vet in the 6th grade, but after I got a dog that wasn’t very well-behaved (my fault, probably), I decided people would be easier patients and from 7th-12th grade, I was set on being a doctor.
After all, I was a girl, and I was good at math and science – so my 2 choices were engineering and medicine, and only boys became engineers.
I wrote my college essays about how much I wanted to be a doctor, and not just any doctor, but a pediatric neurologist. A friend of ours had her first seizure when I was on duty at our community pool, and after saving her from drowning, I was so intrigued to hear about how the pediatric neurologists helped, and ultimately comforted, her family when she battled a disease that led to her death (age 7) just a few years later.
Beyond my compassion, it was cool when I got specific from adults, and I craved positive affirmation, which saying you wanted to be a pediatric neurologist definitely gave me plenty of.
I was open, though, in a way that high-performers should be – as long as I could get famous for doing something awesome and hang out with people no matter what, I was game. In high school, I was in a “talent pageant” – I won our local bout and placed in States – where I spoke in public, did an awesome athletic dance routine in white shorts on stage with the other contestants, played the piano and wore an evening gown. As a reward, I got to shadow one of my idols – a local newscaster – and decided to keep communications on the table.
Plus, I was well-rounded – a viola player (the cello was too big, said my parents) in the orchestra with regional honors and a cast member in our annual school musical. I sang in my church choir. In the summer, I coached swim team and volunteered. I competed in science fairs and wrote a book about a girl and her horse.
In short, I was a total geek, and pretty unoriginal when I look back on myself. I had a few fellow loyal geek friends, and we did some counter-cultural things like dressing up in costume, playing pranks, and not drinking alcohol, but I wasn’t cool, I wasn’t really a leader, and I definitely was thinking against the trend but not outside the box. In fact, I was pretty lonely.
When I applied to college, the community consensus was that I could go wherever I wanted. Top SAT scores, top of my class, great extracurriculars. I applied to some Ivies, some privates, and some back up schools. Interestingly enough, the admissions officers didn’t consult my community and I got wait listed at all 3 top schools (Duke, Dartmouth and Princeton, if you must know). I cried my heart out, forsook food and mourned for 3 full days before setting out to decide where to go.
I’d looked at all the pre-med/science programs at the top schools (Duke and Dartmouth were the best, in my opinion). I thought I’d major in Biology, and so with the remaining options on the table, it came down to the University of Virginia (a large but highly-ranked state school with its own medical school) and Bucknell University (a small, privately funded college in the boondocks of Northern Pennsylvania).
It was a weighty decision – and I felt like I had to pull back and look at the big picture once again. It wasn’t just about picking the biggest name, but now it was about the program. As a part of the process, it was important to think about what I wanted to study.
So, I did what any teenager would do. I took stock of what I knew.
I’d had contact with all types of people. My eye doctor was weird. My regular doctor was nice. The woman I’d shadowed in TV was cool. The head lifeguard was bossy. My pastor seemed tired. On and on it went. And as I wrote my list, there were 3 conclusions I came to – two things I wanted out of life, and one that I didn’t.
First – I didn’t want to do just anything. I wanted to change the world. Working as a doctor or in the medical field was probably the best way to do that – but not the only way. So, I wanted a school with options and a vision for global impact.
Second – I wanted my work to made a difference to people. I wanted to know that what I had done mattered at the end of the day. Again, being a doctor seemed like a good way to do that, but I wanted to go to a school that encouraged its students to give back and to integrate into the local community.
Third – I didn’t want to be unhappy. From the interaction I had with everyone I knew, the people who were the most unhappy were the ones with the most money and the least time. And here’s the real kicker – everyone who I knew that was a sell out (or perceived to be one) was in business. I realized just recently that even my dad, who is now an SVP in Human Resources for a publicly-traded U.S. company and by every measure is (and was then) a successful businessman, portrayed his work as a duty that he would rather not be doing.
So, I made 2 important decisions that spring – first, I decided to go to the University of Virginia. It had the best fulfillment of my criteria above, but my pro and con list was long for both schools. To confirm my decision, I took a chance when I was accepting a Comcast scholarship in Philadelphia on April 30 (the deadline). I told my parents I would use the process of elimination on my 2 schools – if someone mentioned Bucknell, I’d go to UVA. If they mentioned UVA, I’d go to Bucknell. And if someone else mentioned both, I’d just pick. When my turn – next to last – came, someone else was going to Bucknell, so – sure enough – I announced that I would go to UVA.
The second decision I made was a private one. I decided that when I went to UVA, I didn’t want to blend in – I wanted to be a world changer, not a conformist. So, I decided to go by Jenny Rae from day 1 as a 1st year (instead of the stoic Jen I’d gone by up to that point). I brought a blue unitard and wore it in public. I danced in the dining room. I was wilder, more free, and more unique than I had ever been before. Once I was there, I took every opportunity to change the world.
And all throughout school, I kept my commitment – I would stay as far away from the pursuit of soul-sucking business enterprises as I could.
But, as you may have already guessed, this is by no means the end of the story.
I’ll continue the recap of my journey next month. If you have your own journey to share, let us know – we’d love to email or even chat to you about it.