Nicole Lapin: Stop Smiling and Nodding
After I graduated college, I finally snagged the crush I had thoughout high school. He was the chisel-jawed, blue-eyed editor of the newspaper and the only person I knew who scored a perfect 1600 on his SATs. He was the geek-chic guy who quoted Clausewitz, Sartre, and Better Than Ezra all in the same breath. He was brilliant, and I was totally smitten.
We talked about a future together. We talked about the home we would share and the kids we might have. Then, he told me his dream of becoming a hedge fund manager.
I smiled and nodded.
Rewind a bit to the night I thought I was the bees knees of TV, accepting a Hearst Journalism Award. It was a big, fancy shindig with bubbly and bowties—my chance to meet some of the people in broadcast news whom I looked up to and admired.
While there, I spotted Helen Thomas. Helen Thomas! As in, the first woman ever to sit in the front row of the White House press room! I worked up the courage to introduce myself to her in front of the group of people she was chatting with. I proudly said my name, shook her hand, and told her what an honor it was to meet her. And then, the group proceeded to talk about shorting the stock market.
I just smiled and nodded.
Rewind a bit more to the interview for my first-choice college. I studied up on the history of the school, knew the important alums, knew the courses that I wanted to take. I didn't go so far as to wear the school colors, but, trust me, I was thinking about it. The admissions officer asked me what questions I had about the university and I nailed it with well-researched, confident-sounding queries.
Then, she started asking me questions about my love of journalism and media. She asked me what papers I read and I told her that I loved The New York Times, skimmed USA TODAY for good digests, and was a closet politico junkie who read The Washington Post. She said, “Oh, great. And I can't get the morning started without The Journal.”
I just smiled and nodded.
Okay—you get the point. There was a lot of smiling and nodding going on in my teenage years.
Now, let's go back to the guy (because, let's be real, things are often about some guy). He was the only person (I thought at the time) that I could wax poetic with about almost anything—military theory, existential philosophy, alternative music, television history, Washington politics, you name it. The one thing I pretended to know about, but didn't, was finance. I pretended all the way until our break-up, when he (harshly) told me that we couldn't be friends because I wasn't smart enough to get along with his finance buddies.
My younger self thought she knew a lot. But hedge funds, shorting stocks, and The Wall Street Journal were definitely not on the list, and I was too scared of looking dumb to admit it. And instead of asking a question when I didn't know what someone was talking about, or actually looking it up later when asking a question wasn't the best move, I continued to smile and nod.
Getting dumped by Mr. Future Hedge Fund Manager was equally devastating and motivating, and I became determined to be a person who could hang out with those Wall Street guys.
I began by reading The Journal every day. At first it looked like Chinese. Then it started to look like Hindi, and after a few months it morphed into French. I was only speaking broken Wall Street when I got a great and super intimidating job offer to be a business reporter on the floor of the stock exchange in Chicago. I was freaked out, but took it because I knew I could—and would—learn to understand the language. And I did, jumping into the only place where there is neither time or patience for faking it.
Fast forward about five years. I was named the anchor of the only global show on the business network CNBC. (And yes, that means that it covered pretty hard core financial news.) By now, not only did I understand the language, but I spoke it—to the world.
For many years, I spoke to everyone but my younger self, whom I would have told to quit waiting for some guy to motivate her to stop hiding behind a cowardly smile and nod. I would have told her to figure out that The Journal meant The Wall Street Journal right after that interview. I would have told her that Helen Thomas would probably have respected her more if she had just asked what shorting the market was, instead of acting like she knew that it meant betting that the market would go down.
Fast forward some more. Now, I run a production company that focuses primarily on helping young women who resemble my former self (and maybe your former self, too). It produces content that makes financial news accessible to those who nervously smile and nod around money issues. It's the Rosetta Stone of finance—something my former self desperately needed.
And I think you can guess who inspired me to launch initiatives like Decoding the Wall Street Journal and Recessionista. It wasn't those Wall Street guys (that I didn’t end up wanting to hang out with after all). It was me.
For more in this series, check out: Lessons To My Younger Self
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