Challenges and Failures

Have you ever thought about the metrics that we, as smart, frequently "target-educated" (I vomited a little in my mouth as I wrote that), set for ourselves? And more importantly, how absurd they are?

Having read WSO for a long time, lots of people, myself included, dish out advice to prospective monkeys that follows the following format: "If you are willing to give up, you clearly don't want 'X' badly enough". Usually, this advice is laden with gut shots and less-than-desirable language, but the basic gist of it is that giving up indicates one of two things: that you aren't that dedicated to IB/PE/Consulting, or that you're too insecure to ever succeed in the field evidenced by constant second-guessing and a general lack of self-confidence.

But I've never really thought about giving up as being a true indicator of failure, until recently.

Those of you who read my article from Monday (check out the link in my signature to all of my blog posts) are familiar with my take on the struggle that is breaking into IBD. One comment by IlliniPride really struck me, for a few reasons that I'll discuss shortly:

illiniPride:

You are nothing more than free labor to these boutiques.
They offer unpaid SA positions but don't hire for FT? That means the Partner / MD left a larger firm and is trying to run his shop with minimal expenses. He gets a free worker that he can dump all his bitch work on, and if the intern complains who cares? A fresh, eager face is coming in next summer. Or winter. Or semester. In many cases, they are preying on your desperation.

As I mentioned this to someone, my friend questioned whether I was "running away from the challenge" by even suggesting something like that.

Wow.

Here's what I think of when I think of a challenge:

  • Being either an officer or an enlisted member of the military
  • Working unpaid on a campaign for a candidate whom you're truly passionate about
  • Going all-in on your dream to become a singer/songwriter/producer
  • Grinding your way into professional sports the hard way (known people who have succeeded and Jesus H. Christ was it hard)

But no, investment banking is the challenge for kids like us. IB/PE/Consulting is the acceptable, challenging career path that we're _supposed_ to have. Many would say that anything else is failure.

As I read more and more threads where freshmen at good schools proclaim that for them it is "BB or death", I can't help but wonder what we, as a bunch of 18 to 22-year-old white kids, have created. BB or death, my friends, BB or death.

What do you guys make of all this? Are people just covering up their discomfort at going into a field solely to make a lot of money by proclaiming that IB/PE/Consulting represents this huge challenge which in itself is some normative good? It's been a rough few days so I'm venting, but I think it's really easy to get tunnel vision...

Comments (24)

May 23, 2012

Challenge and failure are two incredibly ambiguous words. They are unique to each life, and the magnitude of a challenge or a failure is tremendously subjective.

May 23, 2012

I think the "challenge" might be part of the reason people go into IB/PE/Consulting but the I think the other strong factors are interest in the field and of course pay and prestige factor in as well. Kids who want to do IB because "they just want to be challenged" alone won't get very far. All those fields are challenging to break in and perform at a high level, but if someone is looking solely to "challenged" there are hundreds of avenues and jobs for that.

Typical high finance/consulting gigs are popular because of the the factors listed above and because they are a pretty risk averse choice - which appeals to many competitive, logical students. In my opinion, one of the most challenging paths is to start and grow your own business, or join a young startup. But you don't see many people do this because it doesn't present the financial security of other options and it can be considerably more risky.

Sorry to hear about you not doing your SA anymore, but I wouldn't completely turn your back on all business/finance gigs yet. There's are plenty of opportunities outside IB/PE/Consulting that can be interesting and lucrative career paths. You just have to find what else interests you.

May 23, 2012

Depends on your motivation. If you are trying to be "part of the club", i.e. the end for you is the social status and basking in the glow of how others perceive you, then if you don't make it you've failed because your goal requires more than money. You want girls to cream themselves when you tell them your a banker at Goldman.

On the other hand, if you're practical like me, meaning you chase the money but not the status, then you haven't necessarily failed. There are a lot of ways to make a lot of money. I plan to stop working before I'm 50 and disappear to some random island with my wife, never to be seen or heard from again by people in this fucked up country. So you'll never see me wearing an Armani suit, driving a Maserati, paying $2M for a 2b apartment on the upper east side. I hate the idea of living that kind of life, yet I still work my ass off to make more and more and more money. But the end game for me is different than what most people chasing IB as a career aspire to.

May 23, 2012
djfiii:

You want girls to cream themselves when you tell them your a banker at Goldman.

Sorry but I have to throw this one out.
"I work for Goldman Sachs"
Me:

Him:

http://wheninfinance.tumblr.com/post/23549406906/i...

May 23, 2012

"Doing what you want exactly" is what everyone should strive for. Not what your mom, your dad, you partner, your friends, your mentors want for you. It is all about what you want.

My grandparents bought me a small parcel of land in the country side at a very poor Asian country. And yes, I am also a proud owner of two cows. But will I move back home to become a farmer? No way.

Breaking into banking is hard. Staying in is harder. Doing well even harder. Moving up the food chain as fast as you can is probably the hardest. There are a lot of challenges.

In the end, I think in every man's life, we all have a mountain to climb over. But no one can tell you which mountain to climb or how many to climb. You have to make that judgement call by yourself based on your core values and what you want for your life. And it is okay if you don't know what you want in the future. Just do what you enjoy doing at the present moment. As times goes by, with more life experience, you will realize what you want.

And to truly know whether you want something for yourself, you need to ask yourself these questions:

Am I Willing To Put The Work In?
Why Do I Want This?
How Far Would I Go?
Am I Trying To Impress Someone?

http://www.pluginid.com/how-badly-do-you-want-it/

    • 2
May 23, 2012
Human:

"Doing what you want exactly" is what everyone should strive for. Not what your mom, your dad, you partner, your friends, your mentors want for you. It is all about what you want.

My grandparents bought me a small parcel of land in the country side at a very poor Asian country. And yes, I am also a proud owner of two cows. But will I move back home to become a farmer? No way.

Breaking into banking is hard. Staying in is harder. Doing well even harder. Moving up the food chain as fast as you can is probably the hardest. There are a lot of challenges.

In the end, I think in every man's life, we all have a mountain to climb over. But no one can tell you which mountain to climb or how many to climb. You have to make that judgement call by yourself based on your core values and what you want for your life. And it is okay if you don't know what you want in the future. Just do what you enjoy doing at the present moment. As times goes by, with more life experience, you will realize what you want.

And to truly know whether you want something for yourself, you need to ask yourself these questions:

Am I Willing To Put The Work In?
Why Do I Want This?
How Far Would I Go?
Am I Trying To Impress Someone?

http://www.pluginid.com/how-badly-do-you-want-it/

+1

May 23, 2012

"Going all-in on your dream to become a singer/songwriter/producer" is the same thing as going all-in on your dream to get into BB IB or ST or whatever it is you want to do. Both processes take dedication and are not guaranteed to yield the results you are hoping for. People perceive challenges differently based on what they are hoping to accomplish, so while you may not see breaking into IB and the taxing work which will be required of you when you do break in as a challenge, other people may.

Merriam Webster's Dictionary defines a challenge as follows: "to arouse or stimulate especially by presenting with difficulties" and for many people the possibility of breaking into IB and reaping the rewards of an IB career arouses a desire within them to break into it, in order to do this people must endure difficulties such as working harder than their peers and devoting more time to their goals than to leisure activity in order to ensure the fact that they will attain them and stay competitive in the hiring process.

So no, people are not covering up their intention to make a lot of money in IB by calling it a challenge. Rather they are referring to the process of breaking into IB as a challenge and as a step on the path to financial success. They refer to it as a challenge solely because of the difficulty of the task of attaining a BB front office position, and the arduous nature of the work they will be preforming after they have received their jobs in their desired field. The fact that they will make a substantial amount of money after the fact is a given and is the reason people are willing to undergo the challenging process of devoting part of their lives to making themselves attractive candidates for their desired career. In the end, it is no different from an athlete working his ass off to break into professional sports, or an officer in the military stepping up his performance in order to get promoted. Yes, the means to achieve all of these goals are vastly different, but the mindset remains the same. Which is why breaking into BB IB is indeed a challenge.

May 23, 2012

Great post once again.

Yesterday I had a chat with a Sr. VP at a BB, and that same topic came up. Giving up and finding an alternative. I believe sometimes you have to wonder, if everything you're doing is what you want. Your mind will change numerous time. Especially while in college. Sometime you have to look to see if what you're doing is worth it in the end, or is it ultimately something you're trying to force into your head into believing "it is what i want" but in reality it is because of the pressure around you. If IB is not what you initially thought the process would be or this hard, it is okay to diverge into another path. Just ask yourself "is IB what I want, or something else."

It's not always call giving up, often times, it's finding an alternative.

Quote from him directly
"it is okay, to have a change of heart because the way you thought before you began may change once you start in your career field. You have to understand sometimes, your plans have to alternate because you input on life alters as you progress."

Best Response
May 23, 2012

"Giving up" is when you stop pursuing something that IS important to you. "Moving on" is when you stop pursuing something because it is NO LONGER important to you. Only you can know which is which.....giving up is one thing, but i see no shame in moving on.

GBS

    • 3
May 26, 2012
GoldmanBallSachs:

"Giving up" is when you stop pursuing something that IS important to you. "Moving on" is when you stop pursuing something because it is NO LONGER important to you. Only you can know which is which.....giving up is one thing, but i see no shame in moving on.

A silver banana for each one of you. Enjoy!

Human,GoldmanBallSachs,illiniPride

Power and Money do not change men; they only unmask them

May 23, 2012

Reading Fooled by Randomness helped me redefine success in this business and in life in general..."The uncertain future has yet to come, with all variety of future; and him only to whom the divinity has guaranteed continued happiness until the end we may call happy."

May 23, 2012

@OP: Sorry to hear about the SA but I'm glad you are doing some soul searching. Everyone needs to do that from time to time.

I have this philosophy that I never want to plan much more than 2 years ahead. Sure you may have some basic long-term goals (get married, financial security, etc.), but saying something like "I must go 2 years IB + 2 years PE + MBA = Super Awesome BSD" is just foolish. You will spend so much time trying to control the future that you will forget to enjoy today.

There is no set path. There is just today and the decisions immediately in front of you. If you can continue to make good decisions in the moment, I am convinced that life will work out just fine. And the only way to make decisions that are correct for you is to look inward.

The approval of others is fleeting and unsatisfying. The approval of yourself is inner-peace. And that is true success.

    • 3
May 23, 2012
illiniPride:

I have this philosophy that I never want to plan much more than 2 years ahead. Sure you may have some basic long-term goals (get married, financial security, etc.), but saying something like "I must go 2 years IB + 2 years PE + MBA = Super Awesome BSD" is just foolish. You will spend so much time trying to control the future that you will forget to enjoy today.

There is no set path. There is just today and the decisions immediately in front of you. If you can continue to make good decisions in the moment, I am convinced that life will work out just fine. And the only way to make decisions that are correct for you is to look inward.

The approval of others is fleeting and unsatisfying. The approval of yourself is inner-peace. And that is true success.

+1 SB, I learned this the hard way. At least I am glad that I figured this out sooner than later.

May 23, 2012
Human:

+1 SB, I learned this the hard way. At least I am glad that I figured this out sooner than later.

I think the hard way is the only way to learn this lesson.

May 23, 2012
Vontropnats:

How does sitting in a cubicle for 100 hours a week using the CapIQ Excel macro represent a challenge? Sure, it's physically exhausting. Yes, breaking in is a challenge, but if we're referring to simply breaking in as the big challenge, that's a very sad reality in and of itself. But what's truly challenging about it?

There we go. This has been said 100x before, but finance is not rocket science. Like getting into HYP, the challenge is the admission process...you are basically guaranteed to graduate. (STEM majors are exempt from this criticism)

Banking is hard only in the sense that it demands so much from you. I mean, probably 20% of your time is spent on "real" work...the rest is menial shit, waiting for your associate to turn something, or facetime.

May 23, 2012

challenge implies that you are still in the 'battle' while failure implies that you're looking at it in retrospect, and its over. you can decide which one you're facing by deciding what you're going to do moving forward.

Failure is okay when the juice just isnt worth the squeeze; in fact it takes courage to admit that to yourself (because of all of the time and effort you've already spent). If it is however (worth the squeeze) you'll never forgive yourself for walking away.

It does take courage to be honest with yourself about what you want and why. If this time of thinking and questioning makes you embark on an entirely different path -that really does make you happy- you are ultimately much more fortunate than those who got their FT offers but would have chosen 'the road less travelled' (and enjoyed it) given the situation you're faced with.

Keep your chin up; the darkest hour is often before dawn!

"Dont compromise yourself; you're all you've got" - Janis Joplin

May 23, 2012
illiniPride:

saying something like "I must go 2 years IB + 2 years PE + MBA = Super Awesome BSD" is just foolish. You will spend so much time trying to control the future that you will forget to enjoy today.

There is no set path. There is just today and the decisions immediately in front of you. If you can continue to make good decisions in the moment, I am convinced that life will work out just fine. And the only way to make decisions that are correct for you is to look inward.

The approval of others is fleeting and unsatisfying. The approval of yourself is inner-peace. And that is true success.

+1, this took me years to figure out. There is no "right" path. There are definitely bad choices out there. But if you are debating between IB and S&T, you can only screw up by doing something wrong for you. The right choice for your friend might be banking, for you it might be consulting. It depends what you want out of life.

May 23, 2012

You only fail in the eyes of others, because they don't know what you know! They don't know that deep inside you, you just want to be a farmer. So who cares? You do. When you stop caring, you'll stop failing and you'll start planning a successful life.

Also, most looooong term goals fail. Mainly because we ALWAYS assume that when we start doing something, we have to continue doing that thing and see it through all the way to the goal we set up for ourselves.

I am not saying don't have goals, I am just saying that your goals should reflect what you want. You want to be an IB, well fine -I am going to break into this - This should be the goal, not: I am going to break in, work 2 years as an analyst, get my MBA, land a job with XYZ, make a jizzilion dollars, retire at 45 and die at 70 of a heart attack.

You will never know where your heart/head sit in a year, or 2, or what might inspire you to be a runway model, or a cowboy.

We don't fail, we simply change.

    • 1
May 23, 2012
Vontropnats:

As I mentioned this to someone, my friend questioned whether I was "running away from the challenge" by even suggesting something like that.

My friends & family have asked me this question many times as well. Depending on who's asking, I think you can tell whether they are trying to judge you or are concerned for you. Most of the time, I think they just want to make sure you're not giving up on something important to you before giving it your best all the way.

But you're not giving up if your interests change. It's normal to change your mind or career path many times since your priorities change & you learn more about yourself as well. If you are happy with who you are and with the direction you're taking, then it doesn't matter what others think. We all define success & challenges differently so it makes no sense to even compare yourself to others. And if others keep judging you, let them talk - just go build a fulfilling life for yourself.

May 23, 2012

What happened to your job man?

Sorry to hear that.

Good luck on your job search!

May 23, 2012

Great post. I hate the adage "Winners never quit". Stupidest thing ever said. To me it comes down to reality, and perhaps acknowledging when it is time to move on. Sometimes the smartest people are those to know when to quit or move on. I have no doubt that you'll find something fulfilling OP. For me personally, I do sometimes get caught up in the stereotypical reasons for pursuing IB. But in the long run, I just want to be immersed in a culture (not solely IB), that immerses itself in knowledge and intelligence. Perhaps when I have time and money, I will be able to branch out and pursue other academia, but finance/economics professions seem to me to be the most overall encompassing knowledge that everyone should know about.

Many of my friends are very smart, older kids from Sweden that will be working jobs perhaps considered by bankers as "shitty/ dead ends", but they are content to be working in something they like and in finance. Sometimes knowing that people can be happy and successful in the long run without working at an IB is very humbling and a good thing to think about.

Regards

May 24, 2012
streetwannabe:

Perhaps when I have time and money, I will be able to branch out and pursue other academia, but finance/economics professions seem to me to be the most overall encompassing knowledge that everyone should know about.

Dude, come on. If you want to work with really bright people, finance / econ should not be at the top of your list of professions, let alone the only thing on your list. How about engineers? Computer scientists? Chemists? I would say there are far more "ultra intelligent" people in those fields than there are in Finance. The rigor of Finance programs outside of the top handful of elite programs (i.e. Wharton) drops off a cliff, while the rigor of Engineering / CS programs is generally high even at state schools.

May 24, 2012
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May 24, 2012
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"It's not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." - Charles Darwin

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