It’s been a long time since I last clicked that publish button, but in the interim the landscape has shifted revealing many new challenges which have been keeping me occupied. I had written several blog entries, dating back to July/August 2010, but I felt like they weren’t fit for publishing. Not because I have raised my editorial standards, I haven’t, but because I felt like they were all describing a micro part of the puzzle and I wanted to be describing the macro level view.

It’s easy to say that with hindsight, but at the time I didn’t know why I was unable to click publish. I just knew that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. But now, I feel like it’s time to come clean. If you want the abridged version, scroll to the bottom, otherwise get comfortable.

2010 was a big transition year for me. Much changed. I was able to share the passion I had for Fontainebleau with many people thanks to Tyler’s dizzying performance, but I was also left at a loose end after that. I’d like to say I went soul searching, on a dizzying journey of mescal fuelled discovery through a great desert, meeting a shaman who spoke to me without words, and his breath pushed me down a path of unknowable new challenges, but that would be taking whatever artistic license I have a step too far. In reality, what happened was a discussion with self about where I wanted to be going and if I was doing everything I could to get there. The answer was that I didn’t know where I wanted to be going, which made the action plan somewhat intangible. What did I want to do? I knew that I wanted a challenge. I just had to find it.

Climbing is exceptionally special to me. It has provided me with my life for many years now. It has given me the greatest joy and the greatest frustration. It has taught me a hell of a lot and in many ways it was the fire that tempered a range of skills. But it wasn’t everything. It never was. I always said that climbing was replaceable. If some wizard had offered me a swap, so that I could be as good at climbing (in relative terms) but in another sport, I would have considered a swap. I’m not saying I definitely would have taken it, but the fact I would consider it is enough to make my point. It was with this mindset that I took up the search for a new challenge.

I never liked the idea of a job. You have to go to an office everyday where you have to do what is inevitably a small part of a not very interesting problem. I had never spoken to anyone who I thought did a genuinely interesting job. Apart from 1 guy I met briefly many years ago. He (roughly) described his job as “I work with CEO’s to come up with innovative/optimal solutions to real world problems ”. It was only a 5 minute conversation but one which was put on the back burner and has simmered away ever since. Since it was the only job I had ever entertained as remotely interesting I decided to look into it. What did he do you might be wondering? He was a strategy consultant for one of the world’s top firms.

I began my search for such a job. Immediately I hit a wall. A huge wall. It turned out someone who has simply climbed for several years, who graduated with a 2:2 in Maths and Economics from Open University, wasn’t exactly at the top of the pile. In fact, I didn’t even get on to the pile as I didn’t meet the minimum entry requirements. So, I was looking for a challenge and the first step in the search had revealed a pretty massive one. I knew no one in the industry. I had no contacts. I figured the only way to get on the radar to a company like this was to head back to Uni, do my Master’s at a reputable institute, and then try to spot an angle of attack.

Now I began the search for a Uni. I decided an MBA might be quite useful, so went directly to the FT Business School rankings. I was surprised to find an English University at the number 1 spot and was further surprised to see it was one I’d never heard of; London Business School. I clicked through, read a bunch of spiel, and realised I was seriously under qualified. Under qualified to get qualified! Damn it! I looked through more options, some of which were more accessible, but I wanted to go to LBS now. I wanted to go to the best school, not the 19th best. More research revealed another Master’s course at LBS which seemed to fit my particular case quite well. Essentially it was a 1 year MBA, with the modules very similar to an MBA but tailored to people without the business experience; The Masters in Management. Then I saw another wall.

This time I not only had to be a successful application out of an exceptionally competitive pool, but I had to first do a GMAT test, which I’d never heard of. The research began again, followed by a brief stint of revision and a few weeks later I sat the test. My score was very much below what I had aimed for, but 680 was the same as the average of the previous year’s class so it gave me a chance. Then came the application. Many, many questions which forced me to look back at what the hell I’d been doing with my life. It was a bit like a “this is your life” where I was assessing if anything I had done showed any of the ridiculously long list of traits they were looking for. How could I spin it? I had simply chased my passion for climbing over several years. I did what I loved. I tried to put it as plainly as I could, communicating the passion that I have always felt for climbing, and following an interview in July I was offered a place on the course! The first step along a new journey had been taken.

In September I moved to London and began life as a graduate student. The course began, and the very first week was spent writing my CV. This was a pretty hilarious moment for me. I was next to my peers, who had graduated from top universities across the world, who had internships every summer with the top firms, and all I had was my name, email address, and a few lines about climbing. I’m probably quite lucky as I don’t get bogged down by such things, I just find it rather funny. With the help of career services, the assistance of several MBA students, and more hindsight I ended up with a CV that put my story into a neat framework. It was at this point that I realised there was another wall which I hadn’t accounted for.

The milkround began, with many companies coming to campus or inviting us to their offices. But it seemed like about 70% of the 141 people on the course wanted to be doing the same job as me! For every place that was offered I was competing with 80 people from my own course, not to mention the hundreds, nay, thousands from all of the other top universities! At one event a recruiter told me that they receive 15000 applicants for about 45 jobs. I might play a bit of poker, but I’m not a gambler, and those odds weren’t exactly stacked in my favour.

It was at this point that I began to assess things a little differently, and hoped that someone else might buy into my new perspective. I wasn’t the smartest, the most international, the most experienced, but I was the most individual. No one had a story like mine, and for some reason I thought this might work for me. The recruitment process was a sycophantic process of CV and cover letter pushing. I didn’t really like the way it went, but that’s a totally different story which I’ll spin later, and I soon found myself trying not to sell myself in any way, but simply trying to tell people about who I am. Either they were interested in me or they weren’t. I didn’t want to trick them or put some spin on it that would make them like me. I wanted to work for a company that could genuinely see value in who I was and what I’d done. Unfortunately this hope led to many rejections. I put in about 15 applications to nearly all of the top firms. I received rejection after rejection. But my hopes were really pinned on 2+1 of the firms (2 serious hopes, 1 hope). I had met people from those firms and spoken to them not as a student desperate for a job, but as another human being who was interested in what they had to say and they turned out to be intrigued by my peculiar story. I didn’t take the whole thing as seriously as many of my colleagues. I approached it in my own way, which I knew was a big gamble. It would either work as a huge advantage or a similarly huge free-fall. Of my 3 real hopes for a job, 2 showed an interest and 1 showed me the door. I have no doubt that the reason the 2 who offered me an interview were also the 2 companies who had spent the most time with me, who had heard my story from start to finish. I also don’t think it’s any surprise that the bulk of my rejections came from companies who I’d never met. On paper there is no colour to who I am. In person I’m able to convey the passion I’ve had for what I’ve done and for what I love to do. It just goes to show the ridiculousness of recruiting and I don’t envy the people who have to go through thousands of CV’s trying to determine a person’s value from a 1 page synopsis of their life. Once again, another story entirely…

Then came another test, followed by a first round of interviews. The two companies who had offered me interviews were McKinsey and Bain, surprisingly the number 1 and 2 strategy consulting firms in the world. The interviews were billed as being super serious, super hard, and without months of preparation you didn’t stand a chance. I had never been to a formal job interview before, so I definitely felt like I was in at the deep end. I did some research, found of what was going to happen, and even did a handful of practice business cases, which form the bulk of interviews at these firms. I did start off quite badly, because I wasn’t able to get my ideas across in a logical enough order. I could get to the answer, but I didn’t get there by a path that was obviously logical to someone outside of my brain (inside of which everything is always logical! – ha ha). I did get better in the course of this practice, that’s for sure, but I wasn’t getting smarter. Perhaps it was just a case of getting more savvy. The day before my first interview I was getting a bit apprehensive – I just didn’t want to screw this quite big opportunity up. It was then that Emily gave me some sage advice; “Just be yourself. Show them your true colours and you’ll be fine”. This seemingly obvious advice really put me at ease. It lightened my load by reminding me that I have nothing to prove, only myself to share.

The first interview of my life rolled around and I turned up at the McKinsey office in central London, not feeling overly nervous but definitely a little excited. I just wanted to give it my best shot. You only have one opportunity in an interview, one shot, kind of like trying to solo a route to be honest. I just wanted to effectively show who I was and what I was good at. If that didn’t cut the mustard then so be it, but I didn’t want to be judged on a sub par performance. That would have hurt a lot more than getting rejected after showing my best.

The interview was a cool experience. I talked a lot about climbing. In fact, every time they asked me a question I told them a climbing story. When it came to the business case I thought I’d done alright. I hadn’t done exceptionally, but I’d reached an answer and done it with a decent level of structure. Most importantly though, I never became flustered. When I didn’t know or understand something I said that. I vocalised my thoughts. The interviews that day both went well, although I felt like the second interviewer was much more stern in his approach, but perhaps that is part of the process. I left feeling pretty good. It wasn’t anywhere near as heavy or as serious as I’d been led to believe. This was quite a weight off my shoulders, and it certainly left me feeling a bit lighter for the following day’s interview at Bain. Once again, 2 interviews, back to back. The first was generally fine, with me once again talking a lot about climbing. The second interview continued the climbing theme, with me actually explaining to the interviewer how a small adjustment in the angle of your wrist can result in a drastic difference in the movement of your body. Ridiculous, I know. But I was just going with the flow. Then came the business case. It was way, way, way out of left field. It was pretty much unlike anything I’d seen before, and this put a big smile on my face. I spent the next 30 minutes confused, smiling, laughing, enquiring, closing my eyes to imagine scenario’s, and eventually reached an answer. The interviewer was really nice, and when I finally spat out of the answer he seemed to be really chuffed. Like we’d sort of got there together, which was cool. I left feeling great, having had a lot of fun, but not so sure whether fun was a good measure of success in a serious job interview.

This brings me up to now. Congratulations reader, you have managed to read 6 months of my life in one sitting! I went into the Christmas holidays psyched for a return to climbing. I even went truly mental and went out on the grit for a wonderful day. It felt so good to be back in the peak, to look out of the gently rolling snow covered hills, and I’m not afraid to say that it felt like home. I didn’t climb very well at all, but it felt so good to be out that it almost didn’t matter. ALMOST. I left determined to be more effective with my time management so I can squeeze in some more climbing sessions a week in order to try and regain some shape and perhaps finish off some long lost goals.

I did hear back regarding my interviews at McKinsey and Bain, and somewhat unbelievably they both offered me final round interviews. Perhaps spending your life climbing and doing what you love isn’t such a bad entry point after all. I’ve got my final round interviews in the next couple of weeks and the story could come to a Disney-like ending or it could come crashing down like the Berlin wall. I don’t know which way it will go, and that’s kind of why I wanted to get this post out now. I didn’t want to write this in a couple of weeks when I had either succeeded or failed. I wanted to write it before the conclusion, with the hope that it more accurately reflects the true colours of what I’ve been through. Whatever happens, it’s been a very interesting journey that has given me many new challenges and I’ve enjoyed them all.

The silence on the blog has been a bit of a sad thing for me and my intention was to start a separate blog about my whole business school experience. I am who I am, which was one of the reasons I didn’t start a separate blog. I am a climber. But I am also many other things. Do I need my blog to be solely about climbing as I have written before, or do I want it to be reflect me? I don’t know. I guess we’ll wait and see. For now, this blog is definitely alive.

Abridged version; I needed a new challenge. I tried to find an interesting job. It turned out to be more complicated than I thought. I went back to Uni. Now I’m close to a job. It’s been fun. I still love climbing.