I can't answer if PE is the best job in the world but I can offer a little outside perspective that some may be interested in. Having spent the better part of the last decade in SEAL Teams and other specialized units, I found Seabird's initial post slightly amusing. If you'll humor me, I'll provide a bit of a philosophical context to this whole question of what the ideal job may be.
I provide the following background in the spirit of full disclosure and so that you can better judge what follows. My career has been pretty non-traditional. I graduated from a pretty good college and went straight into consulting. I actually had a blast with it and had an awesome lifestyle, but deep down, I had always wanted to serve in an elite military unit. So I gave up the suits, fancy hotels, and nice meals with clients for BDUs, a sleeping bag, and a diet of MREs. Some thought I was foolish to give up the consulting career, and others thought joining the military was a waste of my talent.
There have been many twists and turns in my career... 9 deployments and more than 50 months overseas conducting national priority missions in over 20 countries. I never envisioned it being a career, but I got pretty wrapped up in the post-9/11 world. Now that things are slowing down, I'm plotting my next move. I'll be heading to a top MBA program this year and then likely transitioning back to the business world. Again, many think I'm out of my mind. I'm fairly senior, well on my way to retirement (and all the benefits that come with it), and by some accounts, too old to transition.
So what have I learned from all that?
1. Nothing is quite what you expect it to be
Some parts are better. Some parts are worse. Nothing is perfect all the time. To illustrate... If you think all SEALs are PTing 4 hours a day, diving by day, jumping out of planes by night, and shooting until his hands bleed on the weekends, you are wrong. SEAL officers have to deal with personnel issues, budgets, training plans, gear accountablility, pack outs, and deployment matrices. You also spend a lot of time briefing up your chain of command on various issues. Probably sounds like a lot of other management jobs... Not real sexy 24-7. Things aren't much better on deployment for more senior folks. You'll spend countless hours in video teleconferences coordinating operations, reading email traffic (hundreds of messages a day), and yes... building countless power point briefs and pitching operations. The crazy thing is that the more elite the unit the more of this crap there is. It may seem counter-intuitive, but if you think about it, combat ops are pretty straight forward. If you are going to do a high end operation outside the combat theaters, however, there is far more political risk. Greater political risk means a lot more planning, due diligence, and salesmanship. It's absolutely critical, but nobody decides to go into this line of work so that one day that can build rad power points. My intent is not to bitch here, because God knows, I've loved it and wouldn't trade my experiences for all the money in the world. It's simply to point out that even the coolest jobs have their very uncool moments.
2. Different strokes for different folks
I know people that left Ibanking and dropped out of college to join the SEALs. I one guy who left the SEALs to become a Chaplain, a few that went to B-school, and another that decided he wanted to fly helicopters in the Army. I know guys that left the Agency to sell timeshares, become teachers, and travel the world. Don't feel like you need to take the well beaten path. Of course, it's okay to follow the masses, just don't be the dude that blindly follows. Those that do end up really unhappy. This is blatantly obvious but I'm amazed at how many people lose sight of it. Just determine what is best for you, and if need be, blaze your own trail.
3. Most of you on this forum are bright, motivated and accomplished
You have options. Understand that there's always an opportunity cost, but there is no need to dwell on it. Life is short, and it is precious. Stay focus on the things that matter most. If you do, you won't have time to worry about all the stuff that you can't get to.
4. There's only one thing you should fear more than failing, and that's not trying
Whether it's making a dramatic career change or just taking the next step, don't be afraid to go for it. For the most part, we regret the moments that we didn't have the courage to take a chance. What's the worst that can happen to you if you approach the beautiful girl at the bar? She strafes you. You're blinded by hot oil as smoke pours into the cockpit. Plummeting to earth in fiery death spiral, you manage to eject. Worst case... you have a good story to share with your buddies. Now if you don't go after her, you'll think about it all week and wonder what if. The worst part is every time you succumb to your fears and insecurities, it gets harder to make the move. So in the immortal words of one of my former instructors, next time you see fear walking down the road, run over to it and give it a big ole bear hug. You will feel better for it.
5. Stop talking about doing it and do it
This is a huge pet peeve of mine. With the energy it takes to talk about doing something, you can take the first step.
6. There are three types of pursuits
Those that you "want" to do. Those that you "can" do. And those that you "should" do. Stay away from doing things simply because you can. It's lame. There's no challenge in it, and we grow by being challenged. Focus on the things you want to do, especially while you are young and have few responsibilities. I'm not talking about frivolous pursuits. I'm talking about doing things that will bring a lasting happiness. Maybe it's running a marathon or starting your own business. Maybe it's writing a book or traveling the world. We all know instinctively what these things are. Spend as much time as possible doing those things or working towards them. As you get older, it becomes more difficult. You will get married, have kids, become consumed by your work. Unfortunately, life only becomes more complex. So don't wait. Later in life, you will find that you will spend a lot more time doing what you "should" do. "Should" is ok too. "Should" is about making sacrifices for the betterment of the whole so there is nobility in it... it's just not usually as much fun as "want." In a perfect world, you find a place where can, should, and want intersect.
7. Find yourself
For those you who dig literature (and I don't suppose there are many of you out there), there's a good line about work from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Marlow says, "No, I don't like work. I had rather laze about and think of all the fine things that can be done. I don't like work--no man does--but I like what is in the work--the chance to find yourself. Your own reality--for yourself, not for others--what no other man can ever know." I think this sums things up. Of course we'd all rather be at the beach surfing. And yes... money matters. But the real value of work is not found in your paycheck. It's found in the challenge and the personal growth that results.
So why do I share all this? Most of you have probably figured this out already. Some of you have found a way to actually apply this to your life and are now living the dream. To you, I say congratulations. It's no small feat. But after lurking on this site for a while (your musings have provided good data points for me as I wrestle with my own decisions), it seems to me that as many, if not more, are stuck in limbo. For some this means that you are standing on the outside of the IB, S&T, PE, VC, or consultingand trying to figure out how break, sneak, or bribe your way in. For others, you're stuck inside that and looking for a way to break out. To you all, I say be courageous, stay strong, and keep fighting. It's important to believe that you'll find your way.
Mod note (Andy): This comment by @"M. Blank" is a response to this thread: Is PE the Best Job in the World? and deserves to go on the homepage for those who didn't see it.
Mod Note: Best of WSO, this was originally posted April 2015.