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  • Writer's pictureJack Mullaney

Attractive Isn't Always Compatible

Attraction is common. Compatibility is rare.

Attraction is easy because it requires us to evaluate something (or someone) else.

Compatibility is hard because it requires us to evaluate ourselves.

But in making difficult decisions - where to go to college, what job to take, even whom to marry - I've come to believe that the best option appears not from analyzing the choices as much as it does from understanding who we are.

Let me tell you about the summer of 2014.

I was an intern at the Federal Reserve in Washington DC. Rooming in a residence hall at American University, I'd get up at 4 AM and go for a run down Embassy Row, curious to see which countries' diplomats were working at that hour. After breakfast, I'd take the red line metro from Tenleytown to Farragut North, walk seven blocks past George Washington University to the Martin Building, one of the Fed's properties just off the National Mall. I felt like a character in a James Bond film, flashing my badge to the armed security guards as I entered.

The people I worked with at the Fed were some of the most intelligent and friendly peers I've been around in a professional environment. I even had a few encounters with Chair (now Treasury Secretary) Yellen, who, in addition to doing a Q&A with the interns, would regularly eat lunch in the cafeteria, going through the line just like everyone else.

The weekends were great as well. Summer in DC is like one big college campus because almost every government organization has fairly robust internship programs. I explored town, joined a running club (shout out to WRC), went to Washington Mystics games, attended the Citi Open Tennis Tournament, saw Manchester United play Inter Milan at FedEx Field, and waited all morning to watch President Obama give his Memorial Day Address at Arlington National Cemetery.

On paper, everything was great. On social media, I'm sure it seemed that way. Just writing it out, I feel like I'm boasting.

Here's the thing. The work wasn't for me. You know, as in, the reason why I was in DC in the first place.

Working at the Federal Reserve, and all that came outside of it, sounded really attractive. But what was going on inside was something I wasn't compatible with.

See, I interned in the Reserve Bank Operations and Payment Systems (RBOPS) division. Within RBOPS, I was part of a smaller group tasked with conducting accounting reviews of each of the 12 District Banks around the country.

The thing about an accounting review is that there's really only one way to do it. Either the rules are being followed or they aren't. To ensure a thorough review is conducted, there has to be a specific, repeatable process that's being honored for each one. Simply put, there's not a whole lot of room for imagination, especially for an intern.

While working at the Fed proved not to be the right fit, it's one of the experiences I am most grateful for. It allowed me to see that I do my best work when there is space to be creative and put my unique stamp on a job or project. As a logical thinker, I love to look at something and hypothesize how to make it better. It's why I love the puzzle of helping an athlete improve, and ultimately, why I love to coach. Shoot, it's also probably why I like writing this blog.

Working at the Fed was really attractive. But now, when I look in the mirror, I realize it wasn't compatible.

Now, when making decisions, I recognize that there's many aspects of a choice that can be attractive. But arriving at the best decision is about knowing how compatible I'd be with all aspects of a choice.

It isn't just about getting to flash a badge and walk past armed security guards. It's also not just about getting to see famous people. In fact, it's not really about that at all.

It's about the day-to-day. It's about the lows as much as the highs. Most importantly, it's about what brings out the best in you.

But to know that, you have to know yourself.

Only then can you know if you're compatible.


Dressing like a banker and taking a (very blurry) photo with Chair Yellen. There were definitely some aspects of working at the Fed that I found to be very attractive.

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