Know your stuff, and know yourself.
My first real work experience beyond high-school summer jobs came when I landed an internship after my sophomore year at W&L on the corporate investments trading floor of a major bank in Charlotte, N.C. (the same kind of division that has currently gotten J.P. Morgan in hot water). The experience, working in this field called “finance” in a glassy skyscraper with its own floor of restaurants in a big city like Charlotte, was exhilarating for this townie. I spent most of the ten-week period in a bewildered, fascinated daze. The people I worked for were a smart, motivated, impressive bunch who also took home a pretty penny (this was 2005, after all); the only thing that kept me from going down that career path was a nagging feeling that as good a gig as finance seemed at the time, it wasn’t quite right for me.
It is easier for me to tuss out in retrospect why; I am the kind of person who is better thinking about a field like finance and covering it than living it. That has as much to do with the things I’m not good at — like sophisticated math and making high-stakes bets on events beyond my control — as the things I am (like public performance under pressure). Sensing this, after the bank internship, the following summer I pivoted and did a stint at a newswire service in Washington, D.C. I immediately felt better suited for the job, which helped to free up my mind and got me motivated to learn as much about my assigned role covering economics and politics as I possibly could. Having started to figure out myself, in other words, I got down to knowing my stuff.
That served me well through the post-grad internship I landed at the Wall Street Journal, which fortunately enough turned into a full-time job. It was during this period I frequently was asked to do radio or TV appearances reacting to the (ever-worsening) economic news. From the start, I sensed that these appearances were something I enjoyed, that I might even be suited for. So I took whatever such opportunities came my way — like hosting the Journal’s live video programming when we launched it in 2009. (It also meant turning down some great opportunities along the way because I just wasn’t quite sure.) By the end of 2011, I felt I was ready to make TV a bigger part of my career. I joined CNBC in February; on Monday, I was part of the relaunch of our “Worldwide Exchange” show, which I am co-hosting from London.
Why London? It goes back to my original point. I felt personally as though I needed to break out of New York City after a nearly five-year stretch, and professionally as though I needed more international experience. It was not a role many would have recommended for me at the time, but I followed my instinct (and not on a whim, but for those two important reasons) and I have not for a second doubted the wisdom of making this move.
I still don’t know “where I’ll be in five years,” thankfully. But I have learned that it isn’t just okay to be honest about my professional weaknesses and strengths — it’s vitally important. Equally important is figuring out which are down to personal deficiencies and which are character traits. Personal deficiencies should be immediately tackled head-on; traits are typically better obeyed. The fact that I still can’t correctly pronounce all the European bourses or operate the teleprompter foot-pedal at a consistent speed simply means I have a lot more work to do. The fact that I still can’t zip through bond math? That is more likely a character trait.
Kelly Evans joined CNBC in February 2012 as an on-air correspondent, reporting across CNBC’s business day programming as well as presenting Squawk Box in the US. Previously, Evans was a reporter and columnist for The Wall Street Journal, penning the influential “Ahead of the Tape” column and writing for “Heard on the Street." She also hosted the daily “News Hub” program on WSJ.com and was a frequent guest on television and radio networks, including CNBC. Evans joined the Journal in 2007 as a reporter covering real estate and economics. Evans graduated magna cum laude ('07) and was a George Washington Honor Scholar, a four-time scholar-athlete and inducted into national leadership society Omicron Delta Kappa. Follow Kelly on Twitter @Kelly_Evans
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