Chelsea Clinton Was Career Confused In Her 20s

The first daughter didn't want to follow her parents' lead.

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Chelsea Clinton speaks onstage at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit on Oct. 17, 2013, in Washington, DC.
Chelsea Clinton did not begin her career with a clear goal in mind and instead chose to dabble in a variety of fields, she told attendees at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit on Thursday.

 Let's get this out of the way first, there was no "year of the baby" talk when Chelsea Clinton descended on Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington Thursday. But she did talk about her years of being a career confused 20-something. "I think you give me too much credit for having had a clear crystal ball in my early 20s," she told Fortune's Pattie Sellers after Sellers rattled off Clinton's resume. "No," Clinton answered when asked if she had had a career plan. "I wish that I had had one galvanizing ambition that I could reverse engineer my life toward," Clinton confessed.

Instead, the Clintons' only daughter dabbled. She worked at the consulting firm McKinsey and the hedge fund Avenue Capital Group. She racked up degrees, working her way ("hopefully, I'll finish this year," she said) toward a doctorate.

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"I tried very hard to care about things that were different than what my parents cared about," Clinton explained. "Because who wants to grow up and feel like it was all just so predestined?"

But then the former first daughter realized, while still working at the hedge fund, that money wasn't a motivator. "I didn't fundamentally care about money as a measure of success in my life," Clinton told the crowd. "And by that point I was living with my now-husband, his name is Marc, I feel like I should name him...he loved what he did and the fund he was working at and I thought, 'wow, I need to figure out what I'm going to love as much,'" Clinton continued.

And she finally found her way to the Clinton Foundation, where she's the vice chair today. "I hope my parents live forever, I am deeply biased toward both of them, I love them completely, but I'm not impervious to the fact that my father had a very serious heart surgery almost nine years ago now," Clinton said, explaining that she wanted to ensure that her parents work passed on to the next generation.

She's also playing the role of No. 1 daughter while her mother contemplates another presidential run. "I'm very strongly exercising my prerogative as a daughter and just making sure my mom has this year to rest and reflect and write her memoirs as secretary of state and engage as she wants to engage," Clinton said.

As for her own political future, she's not saying no. "I don't know, is the honest answer, which I realize is not necessarily a satisfactory one," Clinton said. She recalled one of her earliest memories of a woman at a campaign stop asking her if she would grow up and become the governor of Arkansas. "And I remember saying, 'I'm 3,' and I think for a long time that was just my instinctual response albeit with different variants as I got older," she said.

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Now, the door's cracked open a bit more. "I love living in Mayor Bloomberg's New York City most of the time, I really support my governor, I really like my representative and my senators, I really like and support my president," Clinton said. "And so, if at any point in time that stops being true or I had a question about their ethics or their competencies and I thought I could make a disproportionately positive contribution in the political arena...I'd have to ask and answer that."

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