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As in years past, Christmas has found a way to sneak up on me. And, unless you're way younger than WSO's target demographic, you probably feel the same way I do.

The older you get, the more it seems that Christmas appears out of nowhere. I once found myself counting down the days until I could unwrap presents from under the tree, hoping I got some of the things I asked for. Now, I find myself wanting less and less, to the point where I only really care about the holidays because it's a time to see family and reminisce on years' gone by and plan for days to come. What gifts I do get tend to be incredibly utilitarian, and I'd have it no other way.

As I was thinking about this over the last day or so, I started remembering how drastically my desires have changed over the last five years or so. And in talking to friends, I know I'm not alone. Let's take a look at how one's desires shift over time. And since it's the holiday season and this is WSO, let's look at it in the form of a Christmas Wish List from various points in the career of a finance professional.

Essentially, I'm going to take a snapshot of what one's professional wish list looks like at various points in one's life. I'll start with Junior year of college and go from there. Since I've been down this path, I'll try and do this from my perspective, with some notes on friends and classmates mixed in.

I'm curious to hear how my snapshots match up with everyone else's.

Alright, let's have a look:

Christmas Break, Junior Year: While I was happy to have a full month off between semesters at school, I was laser focused on preparing for upcoming Summer Analyst interviews in the spring. I was aware of how important getting an SA position would be for my career and spent a decent chunk of an otherwise stress free month cranking away.

I read and re-read my resume, memorized the Vault Guides like my life depended on it, and cajoled otherwise uninterested friends into helping me with some mock interviews. At the time, virtually nothing took precedence over the dream of the Summer Analyst position. Now, it just seems sort of silly. How could I ever have made something like that into the main driver of my life?

Christmas Break, Senior Year: Just one year later, I've got a Summer Analyst gig under my belt and a full time spot locked up at a reputable bank. For the first time in years, I can truly relax. I spend the break with friends and family doing as little as possible. I find myself thinking ahead with excitement on what ought to be a fun final semester of college and the beginnings of a promising career.

I can't help myself but to think that this feeling of freedom won't last. Knowing that there is much work ahead of me, I try to stay focused on the moment and enjoy myself. At the same time, my recent success is driving my ambition. I know the road ahead will be filled with long hours and plenty of weekend work, but I'm ready for it (or so I thought.) Moreso, I find myself excited by it. I've worked for so long to lock up a job in banking, I almost can't wait to get started.

Christmas, Year One as a Banking Analyst: Wow. A year ago I was lounging around and partying with friends. Now, I'm knee deep in drafts of offering memorandums and drowning in pitch book edits. My summer Analyst gig didn't quite prepare me for this. I hope I make it to my bonus...

I find myself looking back to college. It's not that I miss going to class, but I miss the freedom. There is no winter break anymore. Hell, I'm lucky if I get a full day off on the weekend. Dreams of a buyside gig start to fill my mind. I don't know how much better a job in PE would be, but it seems like the next logical step.

Christmas, Year Two as a Banking Analyst: By now, I'm incredibly proficient at my job. The hours are still rough, but I manage well. And those dreams of going to PE are growing closer to reality.

Just as I did a few years back when I was gunning for a summer job in banking, I start using my free time to prep for PE interviews. I've got some good deals under my belt and am looking for a shift in lifestyle. Just a little longer, I tell myself, and you'll say goodbye to banking and move onto the next track in The Path.

Christmas, Year One on the Buyside: After my first six months in private equity, I find myself conflicted. My hours are better, for sure, but the role seems unsatisfying on some level. This is a time when many of my colleagues are thinking about business school. "It's a break, a two year vacation," is what they tell me. A very expensive break. The payoff might be worth it for some people, but I find that I'm not one of them.

I think back to how I felt during Christmas break of my Senior year. The freedom I felt back then, the sense of accomplishment combined with the complete lack of any real responsibility was truly unbelievable. When people tell me about their b-school dreams, all I can think is that they're trying to chase that feeling.

Christmas, Year Two on the Buyside: Four to five years out of school is when some major changes start taking place. Looking at friends and classmates of mine that graduated with me and entered finance, I see a wave of change. Some people continue down The Path, either bouncing around the buyside or heading off to business school. Others are radically shifting their careers.

I see people getting ready to join Fortune 500s, people tinkering with startups, some teachers, and some non-profiteers. At this point, I look back and find myself chuckling a bit at my old dreams and desires. Why was I so singularly focused when I was 20. How did I not understand that I would never have that kind of freedom again?

At this point, I realize following a path doesn't lead anywhere. Sure, you might find good jobs and make decent money, but I don't think that's what we are all really searching for.

No, we are searching for the feeling of freedom we had when we were in college. That we had when we were younger. Knowing that this sort of freedom is slowly lost to the inexorable flow of time, we look to other outlets to replace it. Our viewpoints change. As a 20 year old with an interest in finance, you dream about The Path - banking-->PE/HF-->Business School-->Greatness.

After spending some time on The Path, you realize that it's not necessarily all it's cracked up to be. You appreciate the money you've made and the lessons you've learned, for sure, but you're ready to do something different. To make your own path, whatever that may be. And while there is inherent uncertainty in this sort of thing, there is potential for serious excitement in the unknown.

_______________________________________________________

I'd love to hear what other junior finance professionals think. Are you somewhere on this track? If you're still in college, how do you think you'll feel when you get out?

I'm also hoping there are some more senior folks on here that might want to chime in. How have your desires changed over time? How have your goals shifted? More importantly, what made them shift?

On a lighter note, is anyone really excited for anything this Christmas? Getting anything fun? Would love to hear that as well.

Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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Comments (38)

  • Underground's picture

    Good timing King, I was just thinking this morning about how I need to focus more on freedom rather than pursuing "greatness". Freedom is the most important thing IMO.

    You described the stages well. I'm at that stage now where I've had a taste of working life and (along with my recently graduated friends) am shocked at how much of a grind adult life is. I have a new found respect for my parents that's for sure, they've been doing this for years.

  • IlliniProgrammer's picture

    Good post. SB'd.

    -Grad school is good for the soul, but just as tough for the brain- at least in a research or quantitative degree.

    -I do a little less drinking in grad school than I did when I worked on the trading floor. MFEs drink on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, not all week long.

    -For a lot of people, it's worth the money and lost income if you can comfortably pay cash for it. If you conserve money like I do and can still afford to buy a Ducati Monster, you should really think about it if you don't really love your job.

    -The leave-of-absence policy at most programs makes it very easy to both study and go for a startup. An MBA program is the lowest-risk time to take a semester off and go for a startup.

  • SirTradesaLot's picture

    Great post. I need time to think about this one. I can't really even remember what I really desired back in the day. I get the feeling I am only remembering my memories of what I desired at the time, which is most likely not the same thing as what I really wanted back then. Kind of makes me wish I kept a journal of my thoughts.

    adapt or die:
    What would P.T. Barnum say about you?

    MY BLOG

  • yeahright's picture

    Amazing post that really pressures someone to reflect on the decisions they have made and will make in the future. +1

    Frank Sinatra - "Alcohol may be man's worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy."

  • Asatar's picture

    I'm depressed now :(

  • Ben Shalom Bernanke's picture

    Great post. It shows how important it is to live for the moment and the day rather than always looking around the corner for the next bonus, job, etc.

    Happy holidays everyone!

  • mikesswimn's picture

    I remember when I was 7 that I really wanted a Nintendo. I would've done any number of mob hits to get my hands on some Zelda. I don't think I've ever wanted something so much. For some perspective, this is the conversation I had with my wife regarding my Christmas present this year:

    Wife: What would you like for Christmas?
    Me: I don't know, I need a new white shirt for work, just get me one of those.
    Wife: No, I'm not going to get you a shirt, it can't be something you need.
    Me: Okay, get me a white shirt with french cuffs, nobody needs french cuffs.

    I'm not exactly sure if this is a positive development or not.

    "My caddie's chauffeur informs me that a bank is a place where people put money that isn't properly invested."

  • George87's picture

    To: TheKing, with

  • ricky212's picture

    I am a junior and have been pretty much entirely focused on landing an SA trading position. Since I really really want to be a trader. But this definitely made me think a lot farther down the road. Great post.

    Because when you're in a room full of smart people, smart suddenly doesn't matter—interesting is what matters.

  • In reply to mikesswimn
    SirTradesaLot's picture

    mikesswimn:
    I remember when I was 7 that I really wanted a Nintendo. I would've done any number of mob hits to get my hands on some Zelda. I don't think I've ever wanted something so much. For some perspective, this is the conversation I had with my wife regarding my Christmas present this year:

    Wife: What would you like for Christmas?
    Me: I don't know, I need a new white shirt for work, just get me one of those.
    Wife: No, I'm not going to get you a shirt, it can't be something you need.
    Me: Okay, get me a white shirt with french cuffs, nobody needs french cuffs.

    I'm not exactly sure if this is a positive development or not.


    I'm with you. When I was a kid, I thought getting any type of clothing was about the worst possible present. Today, socks/underwear actually seems pretty good, since you can never really have enough.

    This year, I bought myself a t-shirt and let my wife gift wrap it. It will be the only gift.

    adapt or die:
    What would P.T. Barnum say about you?

    MY BLOG

  • petergibbons's picture

    I think LCD Soundsystem said it the best "You spend the first 5 years trying to get with the plan, and the next 5 years trying to be with your friends again"

    Life, liberty and the pursuit of Starwood Points

  • In reply to petergibbons
    TheKing's picture

    petergibbons:
    I think LCD Soundsystem said it the best "You spend the first 5 years trying to get with the plan, and the next 5 years trying to be with your friends again"

    Good stuff. I think I might have to rethink my view of LCD Soundsystem. Always thought they were good, but overrated. Maybe I was off-base!

  • neilol's picture

    Heading into Christmas 2 as an analyst, this is pretty spot on for me so far.

    To put it in perspective for prospective monkeys: Just got off a call where a client said "lets throw out some ideas to maximize productivity over the holidays as to not lose any time".../suicide

    I see some friends who went to tech startups. Yeah they make less (not by THAT much) but its hard not think the grass is a little greener when they talk about having fun at work and get out at 5-6pm.

  • In The Flesh's picture

    Wow, great stuff King. A great way to get into the Christmas spirit. It really does sneak up on you, doesn't it?

    Metal. Music. Life. www.headofmetal.com

  • huanleshalemei's picture

    Great article! I am pretty sure my freedom will come next year when I'm back to b-school and gradually realize the radical changes.

    The Auto Show

  • fiveam's picture

    My 2c on this. I'm a sophomore in college right now, and I'm loving every minute of it. I think the main reason why we "desire" internships and a career is for a secure future. But what we should really be desiring is the company of friends and good conversation, those are the memories that we'll always keep, no matter where we are in life.

    “Our biggest regrets are not for the things we have done but for the things we haven't done”

  • In reply to petergibbons
    TO_banker's picture

    petergibbons:
    I think LCD Soundsystem said it the best "You spend the first 5 years trying to get with the plan, and the next 5 years trying to be with your friends again"

    +1
    clutch post OP

  • marcellusgreen's picture

    +1 great post !

    Let thine own self be true

  • firestormllp's picture

    Freshman in college. Heard of the Path only a couple days ago, even though I've been obsessed with finance for the past 8 months. Everyone in the industry i talk to specifically tells me to have fun while studying, but i just thought that they weren't that focused on the subject, but obvi OP is a real success and can be trusted to give hard truth advice. Started thinking about the big picture as opposed to the glory and the fun and THE FUN OF finance.

    Achiever in college from freshman year: Rainmaker.
    Hustler in college from junior year: More than you initially hoped for.
    Dreamer in college from senior year: Top closer for 4 man boutique in Idaho in toilet lid M&A
    Everyone else: Dunkin Donuts.

  • marcellus_wallace's picture

    We are basically the same age, could totally agree with everything you wrote.

    Find myself stuck daily on is it time to stick the course or jump off the path for good. Trade desks have gone through some tough times in the last 2 years and at times I do think that getting laid off would be pretty awesome, since it would finally force me to go seek and experience that freedom of 3rd/4th year you speak of.

  • moneymogul's picture

    Alternatively, you could be fresh out of an SA and coming to the same conclusion as a 2nd yr buysider 4 years early.

    Existential crisis aside for 24 hours: Merry Christmas!

    “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected.” - Jobs

  • karypto's picture

    Right when you think you can leave the path, they suck you back in.

  • kyleyboy's picture

    TheKing:

    The older you get, the more it seems that Christmas appears out of nowhere. I once found myself counting down the days until I could unwrap presents from under the tree, hoping I got some of the things I asked for. Now, I find myself wanting less and less, to the point where I only really care about the holidays because it's a time to see family and reminisce on years' gone by and plan for days to come. What gifts I do get tend to be incredibly utilitarian, and I'd have it no other way.

    This is how my christmas was this year, and I loved it. Crazy

  • Powa23's picture

    Right now on that senior year with no cares and freedom with the offer. I am not looking forward to it... dreading it actually, any other seniors feeling the same?

  • Edmundo Braverman's picture

    +1

    There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more important in life than freedom. I'm on the other side of all this, and I can tell you that thoughts of my lost freedom occupy more of my time than they should, but I can't seem to help it.

    If you value your freedom even a little bit, don't ever have kids. I know that sounds awful, but it's the truth.

  • In reply to Edmundo Braverman
    TheKing's picture

    Edmundo Braverman:
    +1

    There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more important in life than freedom. I'm on the other side of all this, and I can tell you that thoughts of my lost freedom occupy more of my time than they should, but I can't seem to help it.

    If you value your freedom even a little bit, don't ever have kids. I know that sounds awful, but it's the truth.

    I find myself thinking about the whole kids thing more and more. At the very least, I can't imagine having any for at least 5 - 8 years. The idea of taking that leap is pretty frightening, to be honest. I just don't understand people who start popping out kids a year out of college. It just seems so insane.

  • Quaneaser's picture

    Current senior with full time offer lined up here. Just realized I need to keep crushing netflix before life sets in

  • In reply to Edmundo Braverman
    IlliniProgrammer's picture

    Edmundo Braverman:

    If you value your freedom even a little bit, don't ever have kids. I know that sounds awful, but it's the truth.

    You say that now. Kids are tough for the first ten years. But the impact on utility is similar to that of an investment. It sucks at first, but it gets better over time.

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  • In reply to labanker
    EtherBinge's picture
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