Don’t Follow Your Passion: The Bigs author Ben Carpenter shares unique advice for job seekers

3nuD7WdqX3I64HS83yg1jE0WO3qOWPi3H_gOpylte8gInterview by Lauren Douglass

In his new book The Bigs, Wall Street veteran and successful entrepreneur Ben Carpenter gives job seekers clear-cut advice on how to get a job and do a great job. Here, Carpenter shares his unique take on how to be happy and successful. Hint: It’s not by following your passion.

Tell me a little about your new book. 

The book began as a list of advice for my eldest daughter, Avery. I’d never expected to write a book. When Avery got her first job, she wanted to start the job a week later than they wanted her to start. I realized she didn’t understand what the real world was going to demand from her, so I sat down and typed out a list of advice – kind of in a panic – that I thought she needed to know. From there, I just kept writing.

Tell me a little about your background. 

I’ve worked on Wall Street for almost my entire career. I was a salesman and a trader. I also managed a company called Greenwich Capital and eventually became the CEO. It’s one of the most well-regarded and profitable firms on Wall Street; we were very successful. 

Can you tell me a bit about some of the advice you share in the book?

The book is pretty broad. I talk about how to choose a career, get a job, do a great job, be a leader, start a business, manage your money, stay out of trouble and live a happy life. There are many books written on all of these subjects, but most people aren’t going to go and read eight different books on each one, so I used my personal experiences to summarize all of these ideas in a single book.

What’s a piece of bad advice that’s given to job seekers?

When you tell someone to follow their passion, you’re only telling part of the story. Some people’s passion isn’t necessarily what they’re good at; that was true for me. When I started working on Wall Street, I really wanted to be a trader but ended up learning that I wasn’t a good trader. I lost money as a trader. However, I was a very good salesman. That’s true for many people; their passion isn’t what they’re best at. What I’ve found is that people are happiest when they do what they’re good at. Sometimes, you should save your passion as a hobby on the side and stick to what you’re good at.

How can you figure out what career is a good fit for you?

It’s very personal. First, figure out what you’re good at and then look for a job that will utilize your skills. Also, be practical. Think about your lifestyle. If you can be happy with a modest lifestyle, your career choices can be quite broad. On the other hand, if you aspire to a more expensive lifestyle, then your range of careers will be more narrow.

What does it take to lead a happy life?

I think the most underappreciated aspect is that happiness is a choice. It’s something I talk about in my book. Growing up, it seemed as though happiness was something that happened to you and you didn’t have much to do with it. I was at a dinner where a famous basketball coach was giving a speech and he talked about a problematic situation in his life, and he realized that no one was making him be upset and it was his choice to not be upset. When he said that, it was a slap in the face. I realized I can choose to be happy. It’s an idea that’s been important to me since that time. 

What’s the single most important advice you can give to a graduate?

Be excited about your next step in the real world. Most graduates either enter the real world with a sense of fear or trepidation and they aren’t excited. Generally, most graduates think that their working life will be less fun than college life. That’s not true. Working careers can be a lot of fun. It’s particularly important when you’re thinking about getting a job, because if you don’t show excitement during an interview there’s no chance that the interviewer will be excited about hiring you.

If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?

To be impatient. Don’t wait for things to happen. If you aren’t in the right job, you need to proactively go out there and make a change. However, you also need to do your research and figure out if the change makes sense. In my book, I talk about how I changed jobs but my new job really wasn’t a good fit for me. It’s something I would have realized if only I had done some more research and put a little more thought into it. Always be impatient but do your homework. 

About the Author:

Ben Carpenter is author of The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Start a Business, and Live a Happy Life (Wiley, April 2014, ISBN: 978-1-118-91702-2, $25.00). He began his career as a commercial lending officer at the Bankers Trust Company. Two years later he joined Bankers Trust’s Primary Dealer selling U.S. Treasury bonds. After a brief stop at Morgan Stanley, Ben joined Greenwich Capital, which, during his 22-year career there, became one of the most respected and profitable firms on Wall Street. At Greenwich Capital, Ben was a salesman, trader, sales manager, co-chief operating officer, and co-CEO.

Currently Ben is the vice chairman of CRT Capital Group, a 300-person institutional broker-dealer located in Stamford, CT. He resides with his wife, Leigh, and three daughters in Greenwich, CT.

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About the Book:

The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Start a Business, and Live a Happy Life (Wiley, April 2014, ISBN: 978-1-118-91702-2, $25.00) is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and direct from the publisher by calling 800-225-5945. In Canada, call 800-567-4797. For more information, please visit the book’s page on

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