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. 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, 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.