Max Salk Photography

I have often considered the transformative power of following a personally curated career trajectory; one sparked by initial interests/intrigue, later turned into fully developed goals, and ultimately, professional realities. Throughout my own career path, I have tried my best to trust my personal instincts, interests, and professional passions to guide me along the right path. When combined with hard work, dedication, and conviction, I believe someone can turn an initial interest into professional goals, and ultimately make those goals a reality. Looking back on my own career path, I’ve considered the ways in which early interest and planning can be turned into an actionable career path.

From The Beginning

Born in the suburbs of Chicago, I can recall always being curious, having an interest in gaining new insight, figuring out the ways in which things worked, and leveraging logic to solve problems. Even beginning in high school, I tried my best to follow my interests to an actionable career path. Though I wasn’t certain where these interests would take me professionally, I thought it was important to explore and pursue them. Upon finishing high school, I enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I majored in finance and minored in history. During my time in college, I became interested in the financial markets, and would often read the Wall Street Journal or watch CNBC’s daily market coverage. I would also trade and manage a paper portfolio of stocks to challenge myself and see what worked and what didn’t, and why.

Next Steps

After graduating, my first job out of college was with Morningstar, a Chicago-based provider of investment services and data, where I stayed for just under a year. Thereafter, I formally began my career in investment management at PPM America. It was here where I was first able to explore my interests directly in investing, investment research, and capital markets in a professional setting. I remained with the company for just over three years, and gained many of the skills necessary to take the next step.

After three years with PPM America, I accepted a position with The Blackstone Group and moved to New York City. While it wasn’t an easy decision to leave the familiarity of Chicago, it represented a great opportunity that I knew I would regret passing up. Here, I again listened to my instincts, and allowed that to guide me moving forward.

Follow Your Bliss

In addition to exploring and developing my professional interests, I also had personal interests and passion projects that I wished to explore. My interest in landscape photography was borne during a semester abroad in the Netherlands, and has grown and evolved ever since. During my time in the Netherlands, I would occasionally take morning walks along the harbors, and on a particularly inspiring and foggy morning, I decided to bring my camera to capture the fog and stillness. Thereafter, I became increasingly interested in capturing inspiring and dramatic landscapes.From there, I began to take my camera with me wherever I traveled. From local travel around the city, to upstate New York, to Thailand and Laos, I am able to combine my love of travel, exploration, and learning new cultures with my artistic interests in capturing scenic photography. By exploring the streak of curiosity that I initially felt on the foggy docks of the Netherlands, I was able to successfully pursue an activity that brought me enjoyment and creative expression.

Throughout my professional career and my personal endeavors, I’ve recognized the importance and power of pursuing one’s interests for the sake of professional development and self-improvement. While some young people can find difficulty in creating a clear career trajectory for themselves, the right direction can become easily visible through the exploration of talents, interests, and skills. By honing in on some of these motivations, young people can successfully figure out meaningful paths that will guide them to fulfilling careers. In my own case, turning interest into profession was the result of building upon naturally occurring interests, pursuing the education necessary to support those interests, and developing skill sets and experiences to prepare for long-term success in those fields.