When Naomi started working with Blue Stars in her sophomore year of high school, she was an avid runner and ardent environmentalist with an interest in science. Flash forward five years, and Naomi is now a graduate of Barnard University working as an analyst in sustainable finance on Wall Street and thoroughly enjoying her life in The Big Apple.
Why did she pivot from science to finance? And how can her story help high schoolers planning for college? Here’s our interview with Naomi.
DrM: You’re now a professional in the finance sector in New York City. A hearty congrats on your success! Looking back at your younger self in high school, what would you tell that person?
Naomi: I would drive home the importance of constantly taking advantage of interesting career and personal development opportunities as they come up. Being open to new, unexpected pathways will open exciting doors. Pursuing different internships in varying fields at college is a great, low stakes way of trying out different types of roles because they only last a few months.
DrM: It’s so interesting that you’re advising students to be open to change once they get to college. Most students and parents we work with are looking to find that one definite major or career before even going to college.
Naomi: For me personally, I started out interested in environmental science and engineering, but after working as a lab research assistant and in environmental consulting, I realized it was what I liked to learn in the classroom, but in practice it wasn’t as aligned with my skill set. Then, I tried environmental law and policy, seeing it as an intellectually stimulating way to make a significant impact. While I loved the work itself, the timeline for affecting change was longer than I wanted. Then, I landed an internship in finance, sort of by accident.
DrM: Yay for happy accidents!
Naomi: As I continued in the recruiting process, I saw an opportunity to leverage my sustainability knowledge and project management skill set and be a value add. I took the finance internship over other offers because it terrified me the most – it was the most outside of my comfort zone, and so I knew I would learn the most and get exposure to something completely new. I ended up loving it, more than any of the other internships I had tried, and I now see myself working in the field long term.
DrM: Keep an open mind. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone. What other advice do you have?
Naomi: Use your time as a student wisely. Many people are willing to share knowledge with you. Do lots of informational interviews. Ask people about their day-to-day (to understand if you would like the role) as well as what skills and knowledge they honed for the role (to understand how to position yourself well). Take all the advice you can get, but also form your own opinions. The more information you take in over time, the better decision you can make for yourself.
DrM: I know that the beginning of your college experience was impacted by significant loss. While you were planning for college, and during the early part of your college years, your mom was dealing with cancer and eventually succumbed to the disease. It’s just so much for a young adult to handle. Yet you are and have been so successful, despite the loss of your wonderful mom. How have you managed to stay focused on your goals? Do you have advice for students who might be in this situation?
Naomi: First and most importantly, find community and solidarity in groups and individuals that you can rely on for support. Having a feeling of support and love from those around you – whether it be a college club, a religious group or your family, is so important to get through tough personal times. It’s equally as important to find community in whatever sense works for you, through classes, clubs, an affinity group, or a sports team.
DrM: Great advice! What else?
Naomi: Find routines that work for you. When times are tough, you have to be disciplined about taking care of yourself so that you can continue to work towards your goals. For me, this was focusing on my mental and physical health. During this time, I got much more into running, which I continue to love for the structure it provides to my life. It doesn’t have to be running. Whatever it may be for you, find healthy routines that keep you motivated and set you up for success, and stick to them.
DrM: I love this. Routines can be such a stabilizing force in one’s life. I do believe you were quite disciplined already in high school, so it looks like the great habits you set in place then paid off when times were especially tough for you. Thank you for sharing. Any other tips?
Naomi: Finding a reason for “why” you’re pursuing a certain passion, class, or a club is really important. This internal drive will keep you moving forward even during less enjoyable times. Also, remind yourself why you’re passionate about your goals. For me, I am extremely passionate about the intersection of sustainability and finance, so continuing to learn and advance my career in this area was something I could work towards even when things were tough because I was consistently inspired.
DrM: A sense of purpose is indeed a form of personal superpower. Aristotle and I would agree! I’m now wondering, given how well you’ve done, as you think back to your college planning days, what top three things did you take away from your Blue Stars experience that helped you succeed?
Naomi: First, I gained a sense of intellectual curiosity and a focus on intersectionality. I remember writing my admissions essay for college about the intersection of climate issues and gender inequality. This context for thinking set me up for analyzing and proposing frameworks to mitigate complex issues in college and my career. Second, consume lots of information about topics that interest you – articles, books, podcasts, etc. and become well versed and comfortable with these topics so that you have a unique knowledge base. Third, focus more on the areas that you are interested in rather than being perfect all around. Think about how to differentiate yourself and what your unique value add is.
DrM: Any other advice for teens?
Naomi: Focus on building sustainable, positive habits that motivate you to work towards your goals, whatever they may be. Be less concerned about figuring out exactly what you want to do and try to stay really open and flexible to feedback based on your academic and career experience. It will lead you to do really intriguing work that you will be genuinely interested in and therefore are more likely to excel in.
DrM: Thank you so much for this excellent insight. It has been a true pleasure catching up with you!