At what point did you get off "the path?"

We all know "the path:" 2 years of IB + 2 years of PE + 2 years of MBA + ???? = greatness. But it seems that the more I read about other CU's experiences, the more I see deviations from that formula.

So at what point did you say, "screw this, I'm going to make my own career path?" What prompted you to do that? How did you finally make the move, and was it worth it for you to do so?

Over to you, brotherbear, CRE, Deo et Patriae, APAE, wrapfee, Gray Fox, rufiolove, CompBanker, ShelbyCompanyLimited, dedline, PaulAllenIsInLondon, thebrofessor, NuckFuts, BobTheBaker, Going Concern, Dingdong08, @Troll - Aged 18 Years", AmoryBlaine, TippyTop11, Gogoplata

Best Response

There are obviously multiple paths your career can take. The path to becoming a PM at a hedge fund could start as a trader at a BB, or as an economist or equity analyst. You could conceivably begin in M&A and move into a hedge fund. It all really depends on the fund's strategy. When considering the path to MF PE, you generally now have to start in IB, then do a pre-MBA associate role at a PE fund, then get a top MBA, and hope you screen for a post-MBA position with a modicum of carry. You could also start at MBB, spend some time on the private equity group, then join a fund, get your MBA and continue down that road. For VC, it's more varied. You could start in banking or consulting and then join a start-up, help it grow, and then jump to the buy-side investing in early stage businesses. Alternatively, you could start at a VC fund these days and try to work your way up, though that doesn't seem to produce good investors.

In all of those scenarios I just laid out, it takes less than 10 years to get to the end of that path. In the specific case of the PE track, what do you do once you're out of your MBA and you've got that senior associate position you've been working toward since you first heard of 'the path'. You have to keep setting new goals, and maybe take some risks. The reason 'the path' is so appealing to begin your career is that it sets you up as well as you could hope for the widest range of high-paying positions. It's essentially a hedge against career risk that takes the better part of a decade to come to fruition. But once you've made that trade and realized the gains, what then?

For a lot of people reading this forum, they haven't yet made any meaningful amount of money, and they imagine themselves as some sort of Gordon Gekko-esque character in the screenplay of their own lives. There might be a few future rainmakers here, and to them, I tip my hat. To the preponderance of the rest of you, staying on the path is the safe bet and makes a lot of sense. I never really followed any pre-planned conception of how my career might progress. If you have rare talent, you should be open to rare opportunities as they present themselves.

Such opportunities are initially rare, but become increasingly common as your network grows over time. If you consistently impress people with your knowledge, affability and work ethic, I think you'll find a lot of off-market opportunities comes your way. This is subject, of course, to massive networking effects. If you simply rely upon headhunters to place you in one job after the next, you're going to be making only incremental changes to your career. Over a long enough period of time, that starts to pigeonhole you. It's a bit of a Catch-22 that early in your career, you need to show some focus and some dedication to a particular path only to find that later in your career, those same qualities hamstring your ability to take on new and interesting positions precisely because you've never moved outside your comfort zone. Eventually, this means you're well-lopsided instead of well-rounded.

I would love to see more kids spend a couple years in banking or markets, then a couple years in strategy consulting, then do some form of useful, but non-traditional graduate school. They would have a much more interesting life story. Most 25-28 year olds on 'the path' are boring cunts that no one wants to talk to. Eventually, if you're inclined to do so, you start getting out of the office a bit earlier, having your weekends to yourself and perhaps spending a bit of time at the member's clubs you once thought were rarefied or in the Hamptons or wherever that once seemed out of reach. Disappointingly, you quickly realize the people you meet there are no cleverer than you. They are either older or luckier versions of you in most cases.

I can't overstate how much luck plays into someone's ultimate career success. Everyone on here wants to limit the impact luck has in their career trajectory, but you can't control for it entirely. And a lot of the most successful people I know are willing to admit this explicitly. One of my old bosses used to make a baseball analogy regarding this matter that I felt was a bit labored, but it makes the point. You need enough ability, loads of practice and a little luck to get your first at-bat in the majors. Some guys hit a home run their first at bat and some guys strike out, but the only thing that really helps the team is if you score. While you'd rather hit the home run, a walk, a stolen base, and two wild pitches gets you the same result. You can't bank on that sort of luck, though, so you need to be good enough that you don't get relegated to the minors before you really have a chance to prove yourself.

Thanks for sharing, brotherbear. I love reading your posts, and this one was no exception.

You mentioned that having an interesting life story -- how much does that help or hinder you early on in your career? From what I've seen, it seems like big firms would prefer to shut out interesting people for entry level roles on in favor of yes-men who won't ask questions and be perfect little cogs. Do you think interesting people are more likely to avoid "the path" or to try it out, become dissatisfied, and then do their own thing?

What was your own path, if you don't mind my asking?

My background isn't easily replicated, and saying too much about it would reveal who I am. I wouldn't mind that, except I occasionally get rather inebriated and write mean shit on here for reasons that surpass understanding. I think it helps me concentrate so I don't get 'the spins'. Still, I don't want the worst of my drunken ramblings and taunts immortalized and attributed to me through internet posts that will likely live on long after my death. I'm sure we've all said or done things while drunk that we regret, and I don't really want to face any repercussions for participating in this forum and voicing opinions less tactfully than I would ideally like. Unfortunately, we now live in a world where your worst moment can define you for a lifetime because the internet doesn't forget your indiscretions.

For those reasons, I won't be any more specific than this: I have worked as a journalist for a major international publication, as an investment banker for an elite boutique, a trader for a major global bank, a strategy consultant for one of the top firms, a venture capitalist and in corporate development for a major international company. I have lived and worked across many countries. I speak several languages only by virtue of living in the countries where those languages are spoken (I find little value in the Tower of Babel world we live in, so I don't care to study languages other than wanting to converse with people at work and hit on women). I have a couple of graduate degrees from top targets as well.

As I said, you can't easily replicate my background. I wouldn't advise people to try unless they have an almost unlimited risk tolerance for career risks. Taking those risks paid off for me, but it could easily have gone the other way. And as I have said before, I can't overstate the enormous role luck played in the path I walked.

This is probably more than you were looking for, but I got off "The Path" when I was 12. Seriously though. 12 years old. This might be a long one.

My parents got divorced right as I was hitting my teenage rebel without a cause phase. I was a little shit who was smart enough to get all A's on tests and top percentile on standardized tests so I just flat out stopped doing homework all throughout middle school and high school. Since homework was mandatory and something like 40% of your grade, I would get a ton of C's, but I didn't care. I was smart and I didn't need to prove that - plus my dad wasn't that involved and my mom went back to work full time. I was class Vice President and lettered in multiple sports, but I ended up going to a shit university you've never heard of because of a shit GPA as a result.

At college, I continued my dumbass ways unchecked. Classes were outrageously boring, so I threw myself into part time jobs, my fraternity, working out, and running through girls. I got really sick one semester and didn't bother to tell anyone, including my professors, so I ended up with a 0.0 GPA and got thrown out for a year. Apparently you can't just wander back into class two weeks before finals, announce who you are, announce that you've been out for a month, and ask for all of your back work. Who knew?

Around this time I got depressed. I love my family, but they were no help at all. My mom came from abject poverty and was the only one in her family to go to college, much less graduate school. My dad petitioned his university to let him into more credits than was allowed because he wanted the extra course load. He still maintained a 4.0 taking 18 or 21 credits a semester. My cousin got into college in 10th grade and is published many times over on snake venom research. My uncle led the team that invented the radar system for the stealth bomber and a few other planes. My great uncle was an Army vet who played minor league ball and then became one of the innovators on limb reattachment surgery. I was a complete failure.

As a college dropout, I became even dumber. My friends at college didn't abandon me, which was good for my sense of self worth but terrible for my attachment to the school. I decided that instead of transferring to another school and starting anew, I would grind it out, work for a year, and then come back full force. Around this time I got a girlfriend, which reinforced my "need" to stick around, and a DUI off of one beer, which was both ridiculously unfortunate and ridiculously expensive to get off my record. As part of that, I lost my license for a year.

Ultimately, I came back to class and got a 3.8 in the spring and a 4.0 in the fall, with some 4.0 summer classes as well. But instead of being a turning point, the dumbassness continued. After all, I clearly proved I could conquer college, so class became boring. I threw myself into university involvement instead, running my fraternity and the university senate, winning an election for president of student government, sitting on the board of directors of the student union, being the student rep on the university budget council, etc. There's an inspirational video out there on me that my university used which essentially says "I failed out of school, now I'm student government president." In reality though, my GPA had slipped and I was growing less and less convinced that law school was my ultimate destination.

I graduated with a 2.7 (rounding up...) and no real prospects. I took the LSAT but didn't want to do law school, so I became a GameStop assistant manager instead. That was predictably awful and the cycle of depression continued. Started dating my brother's old girlfriend - real scumbag moves. Around this time, most likely hung over, I luckily starting thinking about what I actually liked to do and my thoughts often came back to when I was on the student coop board of directors. We had partnered with a local developer to build a new gymnasium and fitness center with student housing above and it was interesting to say the least. I reached out to people in my fraternity who worked in commercial real estate, not even fully knowing what commercial real estate is, and then networked my way into interviews.

My interview with Colliers was fantastic, especially the part where they asked me if I had any experience at all and I smiled and said "No," but I got the job - Research Analyst. I did that for a couple months before I got my license and transitioned to Office Leasing. As an office broker, I worked for one of the worst bosses I've ever witnessed, which I've written about on this board numerous times back in the day. One of the things he loved to do was, in all seriousness, tell me how much more money he made than me. I would hope so, given that his splits were bigger and he was 25 years into his career... Still, I pushed through. As the bottom of the totem pole guy, I sourced what would have been the largest deal in our branch's history - personally getting in touch with the head honchos at 3G Capital as a nobody, hosting them for lunch, and getting my office into a bakeoff that we weren't invited to. Of course, my office, being full of cunts, didn't put me on the pitch team and cut me out of the project entirely. I objected and got fired as a result of that and my boss generally hating me. They didn't win the pitch.

Hating 3rd party brokerage and in a fairly new long-distance relationship, I moved South to be closer to her and to get a new start. I interviewed at Highwoods for an in-house leasing position at least 5 times, only for them to hire someone at $25k instead of paying me $50k. Hell, at that point, I would have taken the pay cut for a job. Instead I took an acquisitions position with a family shop based in another city. Their building wasn't student housing, but it effectively was 95% graduate students and was way behind its historical lease up. They asked me, because of my leasing experience, if I would be ok with leasing apartments for the first couple months so their entire year wouldn't be a failure. I leased that place up like a champ and got a nice bonus for doing so. Unfortunately, around that time, valuations skyrocketed and there was nothing to buy. So, instead of acquisitions, I became a full time property manager. I'm not sure how much everyone here knows about residential property management, but it is a terrible industry full of terrible, dumb, spiteful people.

I needed a way out. By then, I had left the dumbass mentality that had haunted me for years behind, but my life hadn't caught up. My fraternity brother who originally helped me get into the industry had went to Georgetown's master of real estate program and came out with a big time NYC gig, so this immediately came to mind. I applied to programs, got into almost every one I applied to somehow (Go to hell, Maryland. I got into much better schools than you), and let my boss know I would be leaving so I didn't put them in the same "rush to lease up" situation again. As a thank you, I got fired within a week. Cool.

Scrambling, I got an acquisitions internship with some local big wigs and learned more in those 4 months than I had up to that point about the industry. I learned how to model a deal, what to look for in due diligence walks, what went into buying land, etc. By the time I got to my MRED program, I was ahead.

At graduate school, I also threw myself into various extracurriculars, winning elections for class president and business school chairman, making the finals in national real estate competitions, winning my program's real estate competition, etc. but this time I did it with a GPA over 3.8. I got a great summer associate gig with a top MF developer and turned that the development management job I have now.

A lot of times, it's worth remembering that "screw this, I'm going to make my own career path" is less a choice and more of something that is thrust upon you. My path flat out sucked and I was all I could do to pull myself out of bed so I could keep wobbling down it. Was it worth it for me to be a slacker, get awful grades, and fumble around between terrible jobs? Do I regret having an almost hilarious lack of guidance, either from parents or literally anyone, that could have prevented a lot of bumps along the road?

I have a great job, with a great girl, in a great city, and literally everything has "worked out" for me. To everyone who bothered to read this post this far, I would not worry at all about "2 years sell side, 2 years buy side, 2 years Ivy MBA"...but at the same time, I wouldn't recommend failing out of school, getting arrested, graduating with a sub 3.0 GPA, working in some hilariously awful jobs, and having six figures of student debt. The path isn't clear or easy for everyone, but there's no reason to go out of your way to hit every pothole.

Commercial Real Estate Developer

Thanks for sharing, CRE. Sounds like you've had a hell of a journey that led you to a place where you're really happy, which I think everyone strives for.

What do you think got your the Colliers offer despite a lack of experience? What kept you going in the industry after having such a terrible boss, being passed over for the Highwoods role, and being a property manager? Would you have done anything differently, knowing what you know now?

Thanks for sharing, CRE. Sounds like you've had a hell of a journey that led you to a place where you're really happy, which I think everyone strives for.

What do you think got your the Colliers offer despite a lack of experience? What kept you going in the industry after having such a terrible boss, being passed over for the Highwoods role, and being a property manager? Would you have done anything differently, knowing what you know now?

Hah, I love that someone gave me monkey shit. Not doing homework must have really triggered someone on here.

I can never be sure why I got the Colliers offer, but I imagine it was a combination of me interviewing well and general ineptitude on their part. The four principals in the office were good at being brokers but terrible at running a business. In hindsight, I was a terrible broker. Loads of dysfunction from both sides.

What kept me in after all that you mentioned is knowing that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I knew developers and owners. I knew what was out there. I knew when I was at Colliers that I wanted to get on the ownership side. I knew I was smart enough and passionate enough to succeed once I got to it. The destination wasn't the problem - I just couldn't figure out how to get there. One of the reason I post so much on this website and mentor people in real life is because figuring out the "path" when you're as far into the woods as I was is incredibly difficult.

Doing it all again depends on how far back I'm allowed to go. I wish somehow had gotten through to me the importance of playing the game - that it doesn't matter if you know all the material, you still have to do the homework because that C will make your life harder. There are a lot of little things involving universities that could have made my life easier along the way. Transferring undergrad schools, either after I failed out or after I had a few semesters of good grades, would have been a better play than sticking it out. Going to graduate school earlier than what I did would have been ideal too. I thought graduate school in general needed 3-4 years of solid experience, but now I know the "sweet spot" for MRED/MSRE programs is about 1 year of experience, and many of my classmates had none.

Ultimately, I wish I would have had a mentor in middle school, high school, college, etc. Most of my problems I contribute to a complete lack of guidance. Every decision was completely off the cuff and a lot of them were based on laziness or not seeing the big picture. Even now, while I mentor others, I have my own stable of professional mentors that I rely on heavily because I realize the value in not having to make everything up as I go along. I run major professional decisions by a handful of really impressive real estate executives, not looking for the answers as much as looking for perspective. It's almost as if I have a board of directors for my career, which I've found incredibly helpful. I would recommend this to anyone.

Commercial Real Estate Developer

I’m contemplating getting off the track sat this point. I’m now 4 years out of a masters and was strategy analyst -> MM pub fin associate-> Corp Banking Associate at a very large bank. I’m contemplating heading for the exits. I look at the senior bankers and I don’t think I want their lives. The pay would be nice, but I’d rather go entrepreneurial or into PWM or a search fund and be the master of my own fate.

I had a conversation with a senior guy last week. He was in industry with a top 10 MBA and 2+ decades of experience, he had been axed and hasn’t had a job in 2+, that’s terrifying. I’m less convinced that any path that’s well trodden is particularly safe, lucrative or fulfilling.

Never been on any path - but know plenty of people who started off on it only to abruptly change their minds once the payoff didn't match their aspirations, starting a family came into the picture (particularly w/ women but plenty of dudes as well), or bad luck hit (layoffs, MBA business schools">M7 rejections, illness/burnout etc.)

The cookie cutter path as we know it is actually quite dangerous if one is only gunning to make it to the very top of the pyramid. Most of us will take note of the off ramps w/ comfy exits along the way.

I started off in sales, veered into corp fin, top MBA, and then did some project management and strategy work-which all led to my current PE Ops role. That combined experience along with my willingness to move anywhere on a whim has kept doors open. I just worked w/ a resume expert and we were able to tailor a few versions that match pretty much anything I found interesting, as I'd been contemplating my next move. I may not have the "path" prestige, but (knock on wood) I've survived downturns, recessions, reorganizations, etc. where my friends with gold plated resumes have not. I believe it was Bankarella who wrote on here "F prestige, get money". I could not agree more with that sentiment. If you stay multi-faceted and geographically flexible, you'll find rewarding and lucrative opportunities independent of whatever narrow path you've been told is the end-all be all.

Wow, that's a very interesting backstory. How did you parlay your sales role into corp fin (I imagine a lot of self-studying was involved)?

You got it. Entry - level corp fin roles don't require too much expertise honestly; most companies are going to teach you their own way of doing things, provided you get the basics of Accounting. If anything, my sales background had some quantitative aspects like putting together sales reports and calculating closing % on initial contact vs follow-ups, using statistical methods for managing leads, etc. That and the impact it had on my interviewing abilities got me in. I was just fortunate that it was a Fortune 50 company looking to fill a need in a niche dept. so I didn't have too much competition (and it would ultimately give me a name firm on the resume going into B-school apps). I was a finalist the first time I interviewed and got called in 4 months later when they fired the guy they'd picked ahead of me. So LUCK also played a big role.

We all know "the path:" 2 years of IB + 2 years of PE + 2 years of MBA + ???? = greatness.

The thing is, it doesn't equal greatness. Does it put you on a platform from which you can achieve greatness? Sure it does. But there's a lot of career that happens after you turn 30 and "the path" ends, and people continue to filter up and down depending on their talent, work ethic, and luck.

Think of it like this: 2IB + 2PE + 2MBA is like being 6'9", going to a high school basketball factory, getting a scholarship to Kentucky/Duke/UNC, and then getting drafted. Congrats! You've followed the path!

So now what happens? Do we just award HOF inductions at this point? Of course not, now the games get played. Some guys become all stars and get shoe deals, some guys wash out and play in Europe, some guys just flat can't hack it at all. Meanwhile, some guys without the pedigree, undrafted, go through the G-League and end up signing deals. Making it along "the path" does not ensure success.

My point is that "the path" is the path for a reason - it's well-worn and there's some alignment among making it through all those selection filters and receiving useful training along the way and ending up successful throughout your career. But it's not automatic! And there's other ways to skin the cat.

To answer your original question, I've said "screw this, I'm going to make my own career path" often. Several times, I've wanted to make a transition in my career that everyone said I wouldn't be able to make, since the "powers-that-be" were so selective and my resume wouldn't get through their filters -- and then once I succeeded, I spent about 6 months just happy to be there in the rarefied air of wherever I was, and then it gradually dawned on me that we weren't that special after all. After that, competing was easier and before long it was time for another transition.

To TheGrind 's point about the "F prestige, get money" sentiment, it turns out that it's easier to monetize capabilities than names. It's nice to have good names, of course, but only to the extent that they help you develop capabilities that you can then monetize. To those who have developed strong capabilities, the Path has less and less to offer them.

"Son, life is hard. But it's harder if you're stupid." - my dad

Thanks for posting; I really enjoyed reading that.

I liked the last sentence you wrote, "To those who have developed strong capabilities, the Path has less and less to offer them."

What would you define as a strong capability, and are there optimal times to develop certain capabilities over others? Why does the Path seem less appealing to those with "strong capabilities" (does it tie into my "big firms would prefer to shut out interesting people for entry level roles on in favor of yes-men who won't ask questions and be perfect little cogs" hypothesis earlier in this thread, or is it something else)?

Similar to some other responses in this thread, I never really was on a path. Maybe a path to working at a grocery store or driving a dump truck (can actually be a great gig).

Lets see, I barely graduated from highschool, then went to some weird state school in Vermont for a semester before I left. I then went to Community College for a couple years then transferred to my flagship state school. The fact that I ended up at a school with some of the top kids of my class from having a 2.3 gpa in highschool is still something that I'm proud of. I found about WSO sometime after CC and thought I'd try to get into banking, but was honest with myself that It was too intense for me. Ended up taking a back office job and hating every second of it, and quit just after year with nothing lined up. I was then unemployed for about 6 months before I moved over into a software sales job which has been great so far. I'm paid OK right now, but it's a pretty lucrative career so I'm happy to see where it takes me.

That being said there are days when it sucks and I question whether going to college was even the right decision in the first place. Days when I question whether I suck ass at sales or that it is just extremely difficult. Then there are days when I'd like to be in real estate (always been an interest). Guess I'm just winging it for now.

So I'm currently sitting in an airport waiting for a flight that departs in roughly 45 minutes, I'm headed to a corporate banking analyst interview, my second corp. banking final interview in as many months. Here is what I can unequivocally state in response to this thread: I don't think that I have ever been on "the path". I guess you would have to define what "the path" is. I rejected a chance to go to a college summer talent program during the summer before 8th grade, which I was invited to because I was asked to take the SAT in 7th grade and scored pretty well. I was asked to take the test because I had close to perfect/ perfect state test scores since 3rd grade.

I was never really interested in school as a kid and that trait got worse in high school. I was far more interested in playing sports and trying to get laid. Luckily I had a dad on my ass (who forced me to take pre-AP/ AP classes) and was smart enough to have no trouble geting through HS and being admitted to a not-shit college. Of course, I partied through not-shit college and found myself jobless afterwords.

After an MSF and a job in PWM, I work in Valuations now. Money isn't bad, hours are nice, but I am hungry for more. I know I don't want to do investment banking hours but I also know that becoming "satisfied" in life is a dangerous proposition. One has to have the balance between ambition and being relaxed, too much of either is dangerous. Extreme ambition puts one in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction, extreme relaxation puts one in a state of constant satisfaction that can lead to mediocrity.

Do I regret the decisions I made? Sometimes I do, moderately, but I know those decisions have helped shape who I am. I'm not concerned with being anyone else.

p.s.: started posting this yesterday then my flight started boarding


I've seen snippets of your progression on here, and I think your career history is incredibly interesting.

Why did you leave PWM and what sort of work were you doing there (I hope it wasn't PWM of the cold-calling variety!)? How did you use your background to switch into valuation, and how did you become interested in corporate banking?

PWM wasn't for me, if you don't want to be a financial advisor there is no reason to stay in PWM, I don't want to be a financial advisor. The valuation opportunity just appealed to me from a cultural and experiential standpoint. Interested in corp. banking b/c I would like to go buy-side one day and I think it's a natural transition into a buy-side debt role. I prefer equities but active equity management seems to be in structural decline.


I never really got on it. Because the path is mostly a high stress, high paying safety net for those who imply pedigree to value. In the past year and a half, I had an activist investor call me after I showed my recommendations to his portfolio could have passively beaten his by 5x+. I convinced an AM with about 17 billion in CRE to hedge his retail exposure through sale-leasebacks in q3/q4 of 2016 and I’ve worked a few MM P/E deals.

I have multiple advanced degrees from decent but not target schools with decent but not ideal grades and I’ve worked my network to include a CIO from a major mutual fund company, a few HF/ PE notables and a couple directors from family offices and a elite boutiques IBs (not to mention an professor of AI, a CEO of a 500, a poker pro and a NASA scientist) I fell into the industry with intention, but ass first.

The current company I am working for and projects I am on may be some of the most challenging and rewarding of my career in one of the wealthiest places on earth. They may also end up sucking hardcore. I’m ok with taking the risk as long as it’s asymmetric.

This is not all to gloat, or boast (I’m sure others have had more success than I), but to illustrate there are many paths to the ???? point referenced above. Mine was not the easiest, or the most certain, and I definitely would not recommend it. But while you do need a little luck, you need even more balls. And a willingness to spit at convention if you found a better way.

It’s cool that you all want to learn how to build a better DCF than another kid fresh out of school and high on red bull and adderall. But AI will have those skills handled in 3-5 years. Learn the art, focus on the network, and only use the path outlined above if you want the paycheck. But for f****sake, don’t marry it.

Was completely burned out from my conventional consulting job and ended up working at a much smaller boutique that filled a rather obscure niche. The work was not "sexy" but the partners were all millionaires and everyone in the firm generally had a decent work life balance. It really opened my eyes and made me realize that there are a lot of ways out there to make good money and do interesting work. I started to ask myself "what is my unique skillset and how can I find the best opportunities to use it" rather than "what path/track can I squeeze myself into."

There were other things too, but that was the biggest.

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