The Red Carpet Syndrome

Einat Wilf, a young up and coming Israeli politician and intellectual, wrote an interesting article a few years ago on the sense of entitlement that easily becomes engrained in smart and talented people – a “disease” she called “The Red Carpet Syndrome.”

As she puts it: “Commencement ceremonies were about to begin, but the call hadn’t come in yet. Hours later I was back in my dorm room, diploma in hand, but had still received no message. What was keeping the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office? Didn’t they know I was finally graduating from Harvard? They must have forgotten. Otherwise, they would have called to say, “Hello, Ms. Wilf, we are thrilled that you are finally graduating from Harvard. There’s been a terrible vacuum here for the past four years. How soon can you be here?”

But the call never came. I suppose we all believe that if we do good work people at the top will notice, but it takes much more to really make it to the top – grit, tenacity, passion, willingness to put it all on the line – which are traits which are actually less likely to be found in the privileged ivy covered settings of our top universities. Few of the people who make it to the very top went to Ivy League schools. They were not given their positions. They worked for them and usually got there through the path less traveled.

In a way, I suppose Einat and I are exceptions. We went to Ivy League schools, were at the top of our classes, and worked at McKinsey before heading out to riskier endeavors in entrepreneurship and politics. However, for us, school never really ingrained a sense of entitlement. It was a place to let our intellectual curiosity run wild. To learn everything and anything surrounded by brilliant and fascinating people. At Princeton, I studied everything – molecular biology, the Roman Empire, Slavic literature, multivariable calculus, European politics, the Peloponnesian War, psychology, sociology and much more. It was brilliant and I learned to learn, but that was all it was.

As for McKinsey, it is an amazing place with the smartest people I have ever met where we solve interesting problems and meet Fortune 50 CEOs from an amazingly young age. However, we never saw it for more than it was: a place to learn oral and written presentation skills, teamwork and strategic and analytical thinking. It was essentially business school, except they pay you 🙂 It was a stepping stone on the way to realizing our ambitions and dreams.

For full disclosure, Einat is one of my best friends and my former officemate at McKinsey where we probably spent more hours remaking the world than working for the Firm 🙂