By the time we were in elementary school, my older sister Adjua and I had become regulars at our parents’ black-tie dinners, where we mingled with presidential Cabinet members and executives of Fortune 500 companies. We were invited to listen in on our parents’ conference calls over breakfast and then encouraged to unpack what we heard with our dad on the drive to school. Even our academic lives seemed to suggest corporate futures: In the 7th grade, while most of my classmates interviewed grandparents or neighbors for our big end-of-year project, I sat down with the CEO of a $25 billion food distribution company. We began by examining the racial divide in the U.S. compared to Canada, and we ended by evaluating the new rubber band colors I’d chosen for my braces.
After entering Harvard in 2016, I continued to feel enormous internal pressure to achieve, as my peers seemed to already be heading into wildly impressive careers — Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman is a case in point. Having not yet identified my own calling, I decided to pursue the one thing I knew: Corporate America. I frequented information sessions hosted by the investment banks and consulting firms that perpetually lurked around campus. I had zero work experience in the financial or consulting worlds, but I banked on my preprofessional upbringing (both my parents are lawyers), hoping it would give me a leg-up over my competition. It did. I instinctively understood how to show the interviewers exactly what I knew they wanted to see: I smiled often, listened intently, and used my ‘straight guy’ voice if anyone seemed even remotely conservative. I feigned sincere interest in the stock market and casually dropped white America buzzwords whenever I felt I was being typecast for being Black or gay. I figured I might get lucky and score an interview with one of the respected mid-tier institutions, like Credit Suisse or Deloitte, but never did I imagine that in a matter of weeks I’d find myself on the 30th floor of Goldman Sachs’ New York headquarters competing with 15 other eager applicants in a series of back-to-back interviews. Ten days later, I learned the position was mine.
For some, Goldman Sachs is the “great vampire squid” that uses dubious government connections to suck massive amounts of capital from global markets. Amongst my classmates at Harvard, however, the bank is an occupational Mecca; it is one of the most prestigious and sought-after and feared places to work after college.
Having no background trading stocks, I didn’t think I’d make it past even the first round of interviews. Once I had the offer, though, I wasn’t too worried about how I’d do in the internship — I knew that this job was exactly what my parents had groomed me for. The only thing I hadn’t prepared for was not liking it.
The Offer from Grindr:
I quickly realized I had no interest in watching stock markets or obsessing over company performance metrics, but I’d never heard of anyone walking away from Goldman. Two summer internships, one college graduation, and six months of full-time work later, and I’ve still never chosen to start my day with the Wall Street Journal. Above all, I struggle with my own complicity in perpetuating the inequalities of global capitalism. The simplest and most compelling reason I have for not wanting to work at Goldman Sachs, however, is that I feel no sense of passion for finance, which is why, as I write this, I considered a markedly different kind of employment offer. It came in the form of a message from a 50-something on Grindr whom I’ve never met: “Hi Wade. Ken here — great pic. I’m looking for a boyfriend to spoil with a weekly allowance…Let me know if you’re interested xx.”
Ken was but the latest in a seemingly endless string of older men to contact me in hopes of exchanging money for romantic attention. While I’ve never engaged in sex work, I don’t imagine it being too huge a departure from working in finance — both would demand the shelving of my genuine passions in order to exchange large amounts of emotional, mental, and physical labor for capital. Though sex work is often disparaged (and investment banking somehow seen as dignified), a quick glance at my music library or Twitter feed will reveal I share no such predisposition. I celebrate sex workers, but I never imagined becoming one myself because I don’t know if I have the courage to face such baseless harassment and stigmatization or violence. Given my family’s privilege, I also can’t justify taking up space in an industry often relied upon by those with fewer resources. I’ve been on Grindr since I was 17 years old, and I always feel a mix of smugness and slight indignation when a man mistakes me for a sex worker after seeing my 6’3 frame, brown skin and wide smile. I enjoy sharing the more outlandish of these employment offers with my parents — hoping that the knowledge of competing benefactors might spur greater generosity around the gift-giving seasons — but I’ve never actually responded to any. At well over triple my current salary, however, Ken’s offer made me at least think about it.
My first summer at Goldman was incredibly challenging. Immediately, I knew I didn’t like the work, but that mattered less than the fact that I was good at it. One of nearly 3,000 student interns, my task was to stand out and somehow make myself indispensable. As the youngest in my division — and the only one wearing skin-tight Theory suits and backless Gucci mules — I had little difficulty attracting attention, but I struggled to find ways of proving my value. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for an opportunity to arise: When my team received a long-awaited project description from a client in Italy just 12 hours before a major meeting, the task of translating the document fell squarely to me, as the only person on the floor who spoke Italian. I stayed up until 7 AM translating 40 pages of text and recreating the document’s many charts and tables.
Three weeks before entering my junior year, I received word that I’d been invited back for a second internship the following summer. I knew if that went well — and I had no reason to believe it wouldn’t — I could expect to then be offered a full-time position with the firm after graduation. Having completed just two years of college, I was on a trusted path to securing employment at the most prestigious investment bank in the world.
My offer came with few restrictions; there was neither a GPA requirement nor any mandatory coursework. Essentially, the firm told me that so long as I graduated on time, I was free to pursue whatever academic or extracurricular interests I desired — and I’d still have a job on the other side. The assurance of employment significantly impacted my two remaining years of college: No longer concerned with being hirable, I immediately abandoned my economics concentration and focused strictly on learning, choosing to study Italian and sociology instead. I enrolled in courses ranging from sexual ethics, to celestial navigation, to Dante’s Divine Comedy, and I poured myself into school projects like an overeager 4th grader preparing for the science fair. Rather than joining one of Harvard’s many preprofessional groups, I designed magazine covers and features layouts for an art and literary magazine and organized speaking events for the college’s Scholars at Risk foundation. While most of my friends were busy with jobs recruiting, I spent my evenings perfecting pirouettes in an intro Ballet class. I studied hard and of course took school seriously, but I never did so for the purpose of a grade.
The irony of this situation is not lost on me — I recognize that the same academic freedom granted to me by the firm has ultimately become the leading cause behind my increasing desire to resign. In truth, one of the reasons it’s taken so long for me to bring myself to quit is that I felt hugely indebted to Goldman. I think a part of me wanted to pay the firm back, somehow, for the absolute joy that was my college experience. I know now that that freedom should’ve been mine all along. Goldman didn’t have to give me permission.
The intensity of my new job picked up rapidly once training ended. Stuck in the U.S. and in my parent’s basement in Martha’s Vineyard because of Covid, but working for Goldman’s London office, I was required to observe both North American and European business hours. I fantasized often about finding alternative means of employment, but my 19-hour workdays left little time for reflection. I spent whatever morsels of free time I had watching Netflix previews and calling friends. I think might’ve downloaded, deleted, and redownloaded Grindr a hundred times during that period, and it wasn’t long before Ken’s offer had crept its way back to the forefront of my mind: “Interested? xx”
I tried to imagine my life as a ‘kept’ person, providing the boyfriend experience to a man older than either of my parents. Then, I tried comparing this imagined existence to the one demanded of me by the firm. I thought about my 4 AM conference calls; I thought about the fact that I hadn’t showered in days or eaten a proper meal in well over a week; I thought about a then-recent conversation with my therapist in which he expressed serious concern for my well-being based solely on the tone of my voice ‘desolate, exhausted, unsettling.’
I began to wonder why wouldn’t I consider Ken’s offer? From a purely economic point of view, turning him down would be illogical: Goldman demands far more of my time and energy than I imagine Ken would (for context, I worked over 110 hours the week he messaged me), yet in return they offer only fractions of his proposed weekly allowance. Goldman may provide opportunities for career advancement that being a sugar baby likely wouldn’t, but I might be able to mitigate that concern by taking on multiple Kens and saving for the future. If I’m going to exploit myself for capital, then why wouldn’t I do so in a way that maximizes my return and is least in conflict with my values? Having identified no moral qualms with sex work, I began to wonder: Why the fuck would I not be a gold digger?
Upon further review, I recognize that being a sugar baby isn’t what I really want. While I’m flattered by Ken’s offer, I know I’m fortunate to have the option of choosing a profession based solely on how passionate I am about the work, and it would be foolish to let money or status or external validation prevent me taking advantage of that. After my brief six-month stint in finance, I now spend my days as an architecture apprentice at a family-run studio in Genoa, working under two architects I really admire. I traded-in spreadsheets and all-nighters for construction site visits and terrazzo samples. And though my time as an investment banker has thankfully come to an end, I’m grateful for the wake-up call it demanded of me. Without it, I might’ve been typing this from some middle-aged man’s hotel room, or, far worse…from the 30th floor of Goldman Sachs.
Pryor just turned 24. He is studying sustainable architecture in Milan.