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By Lou Lou Taylor

"Welcome aboard Class of 2000. You are all here because you have exemplified a strong sense of logic, intelligence and adroitness that exceeds the norm of the 'average' college graduate. We are confident here at LouZachary & Sons, that these next two years will reap a plethora of opportunities for all of your future aspirations. You're part of the family now. And if you're loyal to us, you can be assured that everyone here at LouZachary & Sons will be right by your side, supporting your endeavors. You are not venturing down an easy path, but we feel that all of you here today can handle the rough terrain. We didn't hire you to play it safe. We want risk takers. We want people who will make strong choices and of course work their asses off! You'll work hard and play hard. All right… on that note… let's start shaping Wall Street. Make us proud!"

With my adrenalin pumping, I looked at my ivy-league peers surrounding me in the large auditorium. Suddenly, I began to doubt that my Midwest public schooling would ever be able to compete in this financial arena of blue bloods. After all, I had never even heard of the word, "adroitness". I quickly buried those grating insecurities, and embraced my new position in the firm wholeheartedly. Being one of the select few female financial analysts in the Mergers and Acquisitions Department of a major investment banking firm was a medal to wear with pride, not bury with the fear of failure. I was all set to be the next Mary Tyler Moore with an I.Q. of 200.

Coming from a middle class family that was habitually reminded of its financial shortcomings amongst its yuppie neighbors, this was a huge outbreak from my existing economic status. The average mean salary for a financial analyst was $34,000 plus a hefty bonus at the end of the year ranging anywhere from ten to twenty thousand dollars. I eagerly calculated that within two years, I could actually be making more money than my father ever brought home. Not bad for a twenty-two-year-old. Of course, it goes without saying that my father also wore my medal of achievements in his blue-collar commune. The financial success of his children gave birth to his dreams for a life of autonomy and elevated him amongst his working class peers.

Having grown up with purchases from The Hadassah House, and Garage Sales of the Affluent in Suburbia, I became insanely intoxicated with the fine threads of Ann Taylor and the Sex in the City favorite, Bebe. (Real clothing stores!) I no longer dashed to my car discreetly holding my non-descript plastic bags with the handle tearing in half. Now I paraded out of 5th Avenue stores like a proud poodle displaying my three-ply fancy shopping bag bearing a high-end label. And, of course, it had a proper handle created perfectly for a woman's delicate hand to grasp. My entire line of Maybelline and Cover Girl cosmetics were disposed and upgraded to Clinique and Lancôme, a prerequisite for being a polished female executive. Yet the novelty and wonderment of these riches quickly wore off. Working 100 hours a week in a small cubicle left me with no public notoriety. While I appreciated that secretaries on my floor were the largest fans of my fashionable trends, I desired more. My colleagues, all of whom were men, were married to their numbers, and sought affairs with ditzy blondes, not intelligent brunettes. When I did manage to escape the confines of my analytical prison, the spotlight of my success lasted for a mere three minutes in a dimly lit bar. Good-looking twenty-something guys pretended to be interested in my I.Q. as I elaborately explained what I did for a living in my drunken stupor.

During those first six months as a financial analyst, my boss and mentor instilled some "tricks of the trade" in order to become a successful high-powered executive.

1) Never bring emotion into the job (I thought that was reasonable).

2) Work your ass off (I firmly agreed that discipline is the key to success).

3) Dot your I's and Cross your T's (Crosscheck all my colleagues and especially those lazy secretaries!).

4) And never, ever take "NO" for an answer. EVER! (Although that statement could be politically debatable amongst feminists, contextually it meant that there is always a solution).

Sure enough my boss's advice came to successful fruition. Although the odds of survival in the M&A department were 10-1 against me, according to a discreet insider, I made my one supporter some extra incidental cash. No longer was I the sunny All-American Midwest girl with that sweet enveloping smile. I trashed that image and resurrected myself as the "Barracuda" . . . with a capital B. Being "nice" got me nowhere but no man's land. Being a bitch resulted in a speedy progression of my work. Intimidating those with some strategically placed higher octave notes in my speaking voice and some glaring eyes became my oasis of power. On days when that behavior didn't resonate with my support staff, I threw in a little profanity to shake things up and jumpstart their motivation. No longer was I the gal who finished last.

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