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Career Conversations - Matthew Scharpf

Humility and Kindness in the Workplace

Gen Z has an opportunity to bridge the technical knowledge gap and here’s how

Matthew Scharpf

By Matthew Scharpf, Deputy Director of Americas: Fixed Income Funding & Finance at Eurex

When talk of reaching the American “middle class” was discussed in the twentieth century, for us “old” people it was like the Mandalorian says, “This is the way”:

  1. High school: learn, grow, make friends, achieve
  2. College: continue learning, growing, making friends, achieving
  3. Summer internship/trip: learn more, grow more, make more friends, achieve
  4. First job: learn so much more, grow so much more, make so many more friends, travel more, achieve more, and finally earn more!

Year after year, as sure as the sunrise, despite tech revolutions and financial crises, through booms and busts, for better or worse, this process worked. And by being physically present with each other, these stages allowed classmates and colleagues to become the closest of friends, even wedding party members and spouses. Through hard work, merit, and accomplishments, networks and institutions were built which fostered trust and interdependency. Out of these grew trade and camaraderie, yielding communities serving others around them and bringing the world myriad innovations, nurturing a healthy, educated, broad, and classically liberal middle class.

Now, as we all know, so much has changed through a painful and isolating pandemic response.

And while there is so much to address, for young people entering the post-pandemic-response workforce, their past and present resemble little that came before.

  • Be in an office five days a week? No
  • Recall and lean on a truly full and positive post-high-school maturation period via a traditional university experience? No
  • Be physically surrounded at work by experts and adults of all ages with whom I can interact, collaborate, and learn from constantly face-to-face? No
  • Have the opportunity to grow relationships with associates from being at work with the team? No
  • Post-work drinks and bonding with teammates? No
  • Stare at a screen at home by myself and electronically submit my work, just like college? Yes
  • Know more about software, platforms, and coding than most, if not all, of my older colleagues? Yes
  • Schedule meetings and talk through a monitor instead of merely stopping by someone’s desk? Yes
  • Have no colleagues to confide in who might understand how to approach certain problems and situations? Yes
  • Post-work drinks? Yes, just alone and possibly self-destructively

Now what? With all these unmet expectations, how does one now find joy in solitary labor while being expected to simultaneously innovate, team-build, and grow their vital community—which is fundamental to a person’s contentment and existence—in a post-Covid, disconnected electronic age?

Not surprisingly, this particular situation is unique in the annals of workplace history. For the first time, technology has allowed work to be done without ever being physically together. So fundamental is this change that it may likely and understandably have created in many recent grads any combination of negative feelings, including but not limited to resentment, arrogance, fear, disillusionment, bitterness, sadness, and anger.

In short, relative to the old model, today’s new work paradigm can often be interpreted by many as off-putting and depressing, becoming an insurmountable headwind to one’s full self-realization.

But let’s for a moment turn it inside out. To be fair, it is times like these that often allow for a rethink and a core redesign opportunity.

A perfect example happened near the Board of Trade. The 1871 Chicago Fire burned the entire city off the map. Thousands died and tens of thousands lost everything. Yet, at that very time, the technology for turning common iron into light-but-strong steel on a mass scale in the United States was being perfected. This intersection of tragedy and technology was awkwardly serendipitous, for while it took time to rebuild and realize a few things, the moment became a springboard for the city and its people.

What was a deep and painful tragedy, in time allowed a reimagining of what buildings and cities could be, and Chicago became the blank lakefront canvas which architects and dreamers from around the world filled to create a new age of vertical, concentrated, and urban living. The world’s first skyscraper was in Chicago. No longer were people relegated to buildings of brick and wood only a few floors high, and the city—and its opportunities—grew.

While not without its warts and hiccups, recovery from the tragedy created chances for those who took them to see and enjoy these changes, regardless of the losses, and it fundamentally also reaffirmed humanity’s resiliency and their desire to be near each other.

Just like the Chicago Fire, the post-pandemic-response age we are in can become, if we choose it to be, a moment of rebirth where what matters most becomes even more emphasized and cherished.

In the current paradigm shift, young people have needlessly suffered enormously. But, with the combination of twenty-first century, ground-breaking technology and the right spirit, there is also a grand opportunity in front of them, one that so many before them have dreamed of for centuries.

Consider a new way to learn, grow, make friends, and achieve in this unprecedented shift that is so critical to human contentment:

  • Balance your life and work. No longer must one be chained to the office desk 250 days/2,000 hours a year. There is now a workplace flexibility that may remain permanent, should it be respected; ensure that you find and optimize that balance which required a deadly pandemic to be so reluctantly granted by employers.
  • Remain optimistic, enthusiastic, and humble. Positivity, humility, and kindness are cornerstones to leadership and happiness; give “x” and you will be served “x.”
  • Go to the office as much as you can. In your colleagues is where the education resides and the valuable relationships lie; no one but you is stopping you from going as often as possible. You’ll be amazed at the attention you receive and the accelerated likelihood of promotion.
  • Cultivate your curiosity. Constantly hunger for education and training. Ask for training and take classes (they are often free); it can only improve your value.
  • Eschew critics. Negative people are a ball-and-chain to your career and your soul; “show me your friends and I will show you who you are.”
  • Teach your colleagues. For the first time in history, young people may possibly know more than many of their older colleagues on a number of critical technology fronts. Leverage that into value, friendships, and responsibility.

In the end, I read somewhere that life is 10 percent what happens and 90 percent how we react to it. That sentiment is easy to say. Talk is cheap. But this moment is one where frustrations will burn opportunities. Anger about the past is a trap. Young people have everything they need to leverage this moment. I am excited to see how they optimize it.


Deputy Director of Americas: Fixed Income Funding & Finance Matthew Scharpf is currently responsible for promoting Eurex derivatives as well as repurchase agreement clearing services in North America out of the Chicago office. Prior to Eurex, Matt sold trading software at CQG, traded fixed income and commodity futures at a Chicago prop shop, taught high school math, and performed, wrote, and recorded his original music. While his passion is writing, recording, and performing songs on his guitar, in his spare time these days he is a high school soccer coach and an avid Cubs, Bears, and Manchester City soccer (football) fan. He also serves as a member of the Career Management Center Advisory Board at Illinois Institute of Technology’s Stuart School of Business.

Posted December 13, 2022

Career Conversations is presented by the Stuart School of Business Career Management Center.

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