Ever since I could remember, I've wanted to become a dental surgeon. Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Statistics, and Calculus were all my strongest subjects. I was one of those kids who studied half as much as others, but still got one of the highest grades in the class. For as long as I could remember I've had an incredible memory that borders pictographic memory. I read a long time ago that supposedly no one has complete pictographic memory, which I agree with. Regardless, I've been blessed with an above average memory which has saved me throughout my school years.
Fast forward to senior year, and I've received admissions offers from the 9 colleges I've applied to. I rather keep my identity a secret, but I went to a target school, which was subsequently my number one choice. During my college years, my mind was set on dentistry. Looking back, I have no idea why. I think I eliminated being a medical doctor because I didn't want to get a random phone call at 2:00am for an emergency operation, and I didn't want to be a pharmacist because most of my female friends were doing that and I wanted to one up them. Optometrist? Hell no. Male nurse? Good one. Dentistry fit the mold because it allowed me to 1.) Set up my own hours, 2.) Take vacations as needed without guilt, and 3.) Make bank sitting in a chair and basically chill all day. We're talking about the most relaxing health occupation with a respectable pay, upwards of $100K per year, easily.
I went through it all. I took all the science classes, which were a pain in the ass, and attended 7pm labs. While my friends were out partying, I was stuck studying for multiple exams that just happened to be one after another, almost every week. Being a science major was no joke, and seriously required some depressing sacrifices and late night suicidal thoughts.
Then I took the DAT (official dental exam). I studied intensively for 3 months. My goal wasn't just to get a good score, no...I wanted to fucking destroy that test. I got a 29AA, which translates to the top 0.1% of test takers (30AA = perfect score). I was on top of the world. I received offers from basically everywhere, including full rides to some of the best dental universities in the world.
Then something incredible happened. I did not want to go. I've never seen my parents so mad in my entire life. They called me an idiot and basically every other blasphemous word you can think of. Even my friends were confused. "Why aren't you going to dental school?!"..."Are you dumb??" were the most popular responses I got.
What happened? I just wasted my entire college career and threw 4 years out the drain. Why did I change my mind, when I had a 99.9% guaranteed, secure future set in stone?
These are the 5 reasons why:
1. Security = Predictability = ?
Security represented a predictable path, which I absolutely loathed. I don't know about you, but completely understanding my future and knowing what would happen drained the adventurous vibe from it. I'm a risk taker and I thrive off the unknown. After dental school, I would undergo residency, then open up my own practice, then continue until I retire. Sure, I'd be secure and never have to worry about money, but when I weighed the pros and cons - I chose happiness and excitement, rather than the boredom from security.
2. Alpha dogs must have competition!
Dentistry is not competitive! In fact, dentistry looks like child's game compared with banking. You can open up or even share an office space with another joint dental practice and you're essentially set. Health is recession proof and very stable. But deep inside, I want competition. I live off of competition. If I'm competing against others to be the best then something is missing. In dentistry the only bragging rights you can have are a better office, regular clientele, and the ability to fix teeth better. What the hell? Just thinking about that made me feel very depressed. I wanted to be the best deal maker; fight for more clients based on my personality, skills, and connections; and most of all, be part of an industry that's going for the championship. Dentistry symbolized Little League....I wanted to be part of the World Series.
3. All eyes on you
Have you ever heard of a big time dentist? That's what I thought. I'm not saying that I want to appear on the front page of the Wall Street Journal or be interviewed on CNN or MSNBC, but the prospect that you could be recognized for what you are doing had something to do with it. I like performing on the big stage and being clutch. Michael Jordan always did better in important playoff games when it mattered because he had the clutch gene and had something to prove...that he was the best. I wanted to feel big. Not like Jay-Z big, but I wanted to feel like a prominent person and feel that I deserved it because of the hard work that it took to get there.
4. Money makes the world go round.
If you got paid $30K a year to be in investment banking, would you still do it? Probably not. Most dentists reach their salary peak at around $200-250K, depending on how good you actually are. This is also assuming that you specialize...so most won't ever reach that type of figure. I love the fact that banking, and finance in general, truly has an unlimited potential. It's a twisted mixture of luck, skill, and timing. It's almost like a professional poker player who enters the World Series of Poker. Chances are he won't win, but he'll be at the final table 9 times out of 10. I like the thrill of gambling with deals and being part of a market that not only welcomes skilled players, but also ruthlessly smashes you if you had a bad day. All dentists make around the same type of money based on years in practice, but bankers are truly defined by their ability to win. Bring it on.
5. The Managing Director I met changed my life.
I can't state this enough. After college, I realized that I had no investment banking, let alone any financial at all. No would take me in. I didn't even bother submitting my application to , , and all the other big dogs because they would just laugh and wipe their asses with it. I chose a different route. I completely hustled by connecting with my alumni database and asking around. I got in touch with one of them and we connected. He was very hesitant because he didn't understand why I would leave dentistry and randomly go into investment banking at such a late-stage in my life.
Well, I gave him a deal that he couldn't refuse. I offered to work for free for one month and then he could either kick me out or keep me, no questions asked. Let me tell you, this month of unpaid internship, or slavery, was brutal. He really tested me to see how badly I wanted it. At one point, I almost broke down and called it quits. But I had to make it through, because my pride was way too inflated to beat down. After the month, he called me into his office.
He handed me a yellow sticky note.
"What's this?" I asked.
"Stop eating McDonald's and also go buy yourself some new dress shirts," he said.
Turns out, it was the payment for my month of working roughly 80 hour weeks, for one month, unpaid. Well now, it was paid!
"Oh and one more thing...welcome to the team. Keep doing what you're doing."
I shook his hand, said "thanks" and walked out. The type of bliss you feel from achieving true success from painstaking hard work is very hard to describe. Once you reach that plateau, you'll understand what I'm talking about. It's a natural high that makes everything seem perfect, for a brief amount...maybe minutes, maybe hours. Simply put, I was happy beyond all measure.
Today, I'm still working harder than ever in a middle market investment firm and learning as much as I can from the MD and the rest of the firm, who gave me a chance.
I hope those of you on the borderline of a career change are as sure as I was when I made the 180 degree turn from dentistry to banking. My advice is to weigh the pros and cons...imagine who you want to be, but more importantly what type of person you want to be 10 years down the road. That should help make your decision a little easier. It'll be the toughest decision of your life, but as one saying goes, "the hardest part is the beginning."