On his way to Fordham University one day in the 1970s, a college student named John Brennan spotted an advertisement in The New York Times for a position in the CIA.
More than three decades later, Brennan became the director of that organization, working under President Barack Obama. But he might not ever have started a career there had his wife not pushed him to apply when he was in his 20s.
On an episode of Business Insider’s podcast, “Success! How I Did It,” recorded at an Intersport leadership summit in April, Brennan told Business Insider US editor-in-chief Alyson Shontell why he considered working for the CIA.
“I was in the doctoral program at the University of Texas at Austin, went to undergraduate school up at Fordham University, in New York. So I was down in Texas getting a doctorate in government, concentration in Middle Eastern studies. And I was married when I was 22, and my wife, she was a physical-education teacher down there. She was the one who was earning the money to keep us afloat.
“I had previously sent in an application to the CIA because of a New York Times ad I saw one time on the way to Fordham, and I had some overseas experience. My wife knew that I had that application, so she prodded me and said, ‘Send that application in so you can get a real job and help pay the bills,’ which I did, and it was a great, great opportunity.”
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Not everyone who takes a job to pay the bills will wind up finding a career they’re passionate about and staying for life. But Brennan’s decision to submit an application to the CIA and see what came of it recalls something Melanie Whelan, the CEO of SoulCycle, told The New York Times.
Wheelan said her best advice to new college grads is “get a job and work hard. You are going to learn a ton in whatever that job is, so don’t stress too much about what it is or where it is. Just take a job and put your head down, work hard, raise your hand for anything anybody asks you to do.”
Brennan told Shontell he started off in operations at the CIA, but switched to analysis pretty quickly, which gave him the chance to travel to the Middle East and elsewhere.
He shared one more memory from his early days in the CIA.
“I had to take an intensive six-month Arabic class before going out there,” he said. “My instructor, who at the end of the six months, he hated me and I hated him because it was just so intense. But I was pretty good in Arabic.”