One of my first interviews out of college was on the floor of the American Stock Exchange in New York City. After spending a frenzied hour in the QQQ (or Nasdaq) pits and touring the ‘stands’ where trades were documented and obsessively triple checked (the job I was going for), I had a sit-down interview. The only question I remember from that evening, now almost 18 years later, was why someone like me could handle a job as panic-driven as this. It wasn’t your ordinary office job; I’d be dealing with making and losing millions of dollars in a single afternoon on the floor of an exchange. My answer was simple: I was a determined chameleon and could adapt to almost any environment.
I explained that after having grown up in the dangerous city of Philadelphia in the 80’s, my family moved to a cattle ranch out west where I learned to vaccinate, castrate and brand calves (at age 10)- that is, when I wasn’t fixing fence and chasing down escaped bulls on horseback or motorcycle. 6 years later, I moved to a boarding school in South Florida where kids were driving $100,000 cars and never wore the same piece of clothing twice. See? I had been able to adapt to plenty of environments in my short lifetime. I thrived under high stress and quick thinking, this job was made for me. By now, the interview had screeched to a halt. “I’m sorry- did you say castrate? Look… we’ll call you, don’t call us.”
The surprising thing wasn’t that I didn’t get the job. That was obvious in the first 30 seconds when Josh Bailer, one of the 20-something year-old owners of the trading firm, bounded down the stairs to let me in at security and announced over his headpiece in a shocked voice that I was a chick. And I was hot. (I guess they weren’t looking for women in this position… in hindsight, using my middle name of Alice or a photo on my resume may have been helpful.)
Pretending not to have heard the comment, I made my way through the interview as if I wanted this job more than anything in my life (as you do in interviews). I’d walk through walls for this job.
My bravado was as unmistakable as shining armor, but underneath, I was secretly looking sideways at the lack of women in the space and the men in suits ogling at me. There were no female distractions in this pit of testosterone for a reason.
Chameleons mold to their surroundings and adapt without thinking about it. Kids from military families who move schools over and over have a knack for meeting new people and, not surprisingly, excelling in changing environments. Likewise, I moved to 5 schools before I got to college, one of them being overseas. I was akin to a military brat.
Similar to adjusting lifestyle façades were my ever-changing goals. I can’t speak for my goals under 10, but I do remember wanting to be a good horseback rider when I was living on the ranch. I loved being up in the mountains and I adored our animals (despite the brutal description above). I wanted to pull my own weight- to be good at herding cows and throwing bales of hay up onto trucks. When living in Boca Raton, Florida, I wanted to be beautiful like all the sun-kissed blonde South Florida girls I was surrounded by, to wear a mask of indifference and hold my head high. My dirty jeans and cowboy boots looked silly and I wished my clothes were as nice as everyone else’s. I learned to fit in.
At 22, in New York City, I still wanted to fit in, but I also wanted to stand out and make money. Impressive job titles and nice apartments dazzled me. Men who bought tables in fancy night clubs, wore 3 piece suits, and sported a 5-o’clock shadow (after the market closed, of course) made me spin. Fancy jets, Cristal Champagne, private yachts, and expensive restaurants were on my radar. I couldn’t be further from that girl who wanted to throw a hay bale onto the back of a flat bed truck if I tried.
So maybe it’s no surprise then that I’ve pivoted again. Night clubs don’t interest me anymore, but the great outdoors do. Animals, natural wonders and simplicity dazzle me. Adventurous men who are good with animals, confident but unimposing, make me spin. And as for clothing, I’ve cut back to one standard daily uniform, my hair in a permanent ponytail. But I love it.
Sometimes when you step outside of yourself and look back, you see a chameleon trying too hard to blend in. It’s only when you shed that chameleon skin and gain awareness of who you really are, that you can finally appreciate the person looking back at you in the mirror.