As a 22-year-old recent college grad, James Lomax was on the career ladder to a bright career in finance. After an internship at a pension benefits firm during college at Pace University—where he majored in economics and finance—Lomax soon secured a job as a supply analyst for a major airline.
He says that he generally enjoyed the work and was thriving in his role when the economic downturn struck.
“The airlines got hit pretty hard at that point in our economy,” Lomax says.
Lomax, 28, along with a number of his co-workers, soon found himself out of work, not knowing exactly what his next move would be. He and many of his airline colleagues had unexpectedly found themselves among an ominously growing number of Americans: the 8.8 million people who lost their jobs during the “Great Recession.”
Like many Americans, Lomax may not have foreseen his sudden unemployment, but while figuring out how to get back on his feet, he discovered what he now characterizes as his genuine passion: talking to people.
Prior to being let go from the airline the Westchester County native had already started working part-time as a bartender “to make a little extra cash on the side.”
“Bartending was just a side thing,” Lomax admits. But he soon found himself picking up more shifts out of financial necessity.
Still, it was while bartending at a high-end Manhattan bar that Lomax says he had the equivalent of a professional “change of heart.”
“I’m generally a social person. Even before bartending, I knew I had that social side of me,” says Lomax. He says that he liked that “you can build a unique rapport with people as a bartender.”
Indeed, after a while, Lomax says many of his customers began coming to the bar chiefly to speak to him about “their days, their relationships, what was going on in their lives.”
Lomax, who describes the bartending experience as “intimate,” acknowledges he was initially taken aback at how much his customers came to “trust my judgement.”
Lomax says he likes to “build a profile” of his customers. “You have to build a profile,” he says, adding that he knows most of his customers’ names, what most of them do for a living and drink on a regular basis.
“Because I’m social, I like networking, I like connecting people—that’s what I feel I’m really good at,” he says. “I always try to bridge a connection if I see it.” In fact, Lomax says one of the things he enjoys doing most is bridging a connection between his customers.
Still, while he continued to bartend, he remained convinced that he would eventually continue his previous career trajectory into finance. Between bartending shifts and deejaying gigs—another of his side gigs he describes as a long-time passion—Lomax said he started studying for the GMAT, the entrance exam for business school.
Of taking the GMAT, he says “I felt that that was just the natural progression of someone who studied business.”
But something had changed. While meeting people and learning about their problems, Lomax says that the prospect of a career in finance began to loose some of its luster.
“I kind of realized that I didn’t have the same zeal I used to have,” Lomax says. People soon started to ask him if he really wanted to go to business school, and he found it increasingly difficult to give them a straight answer.
He says it wasn’t a particular moment that made him come to the conclusion to abandon the idea of a career on Wall Street. It was a slow and gradual process, he says. “I realized that I probably shouldn’t be studying for my GMAT, maybe I should study for my GRE—which is the test you need to take if you want to pursue graduate studies in psychology or social work.”
Indeed, he finally acknowledged to himself what had, up until that point, been more of a nagging suspicion: He was more interested in working with people than numbers.
“I’m already in the process of signing up for classes,” Lomax says. And while he says he’s “still researching the field” and doesn’t yet know what specialty in psychology he plans to pursue, he says he has a strong interest in studying the family.
“I actually want to deal with people,” he says. “I want to potentially have my own practice where people come to my office and talk to me about their issues.”
Lomax says that while he felt there was a “ceiling of interest” he saw in finance, he sees the field of psychology and working with people as being boundless. “I love people issues. I have a vested interest in people and helping them solve their problems,” he says.