A word of encouragement and a bit of perspective

I apologize if the following is a bit unstructured. I was lured back onto WSO by a user who sent me a private message asking for advice. WSO was very useful for me to break into the industry at a bad time, around the 2008 crisis. Back then the memes were great.

By all accounts, I've made it. I started out as a liberal arts major (before switching to STEM, smart in hindsight), at a non-target school outside the US. But with some elbow grease and top grades, I landed a very prestigious internship - my big break. Oh and did I mention I had a ton of luck? That internship was the only application I made that year, because I didn't know at the time that it's all a numbers game (and, in the case of investment banks, one of familiarity with psychometric tests). 

One internship led to another and meanwhile I managed to transfer to a target school, which made a huge difference. I didn't get return offers, because I was a poor fit and had lackluster attention to detail. Attention to detail is the most important skill for a junior, so figure out a method if you're not a natural.

In a final reversal of fortune, I landed a full-time trading job at one of the top investment banks. As a trader, I was really fucking good. The job was perfect for me. The Hail Mary worked out.

A few years later, the industry was in turmoil. I made a fateful but irrational decision: I quit to start my own fund. That endeavor was extremely successful and I have now retired, 12 years older than I was in 2008 but rich as fuck.

My word of encouragement is this. Breaking into prestigious jobs is mostly luck. You have to create your own luck, of course, by getting good grades, good schools, applying to internships liberally and rolling the dice continuously. But if you don't succeed, it doesn't mean that you are less worthy. When I reviewed resumes on the IB desk, I had minutes to review hundreds and pick a handful. The slightest detail could land yours into the bin, perhaps I even misread something and another person would have granted you that interview. Life is unfair like that, don't put all your eggs in the same basket. Just prudent risk management. Same applies to targeting prestigious jobs in the first place.

Now I would also like you to consider whether you really want to do this. Years ago there was a thread about levels of wealth on reddit that I found quite instructive. It depicted lived experience at different degrees of net worth and a conclusion was that business stress exists at all levels. 

Great sacrifices are required to become a VIP. I cannot emphasize this enough. Mammon will demand that you sacrifice something, be it your relationships, your health or your morals. Then you will find that becoming a VIP won't fix your rat race mentality. I became a trader because I wanted to get paid a million a year (as a wage slave!). When I struck out on my own, my "number" was 10 million dollars, the realistic net worth to spend the rest of your life without working. My expectations quickly reset upon hitting that level: "Why not 100 million? Might as well, I make too much to stop now." Thankfully, I had the sense to get out before my expectations adjusted upwards to a billion.

One gets used very quickly to greater means. I could never fly coach again, yet I was perfectly happy to do so as a younger man. Last week I paid a hundred grand for a painting and that felt as mundane as buying the latest hot video game. Don't think that you're different in that regard. You're not, and if anything I was better prepared than most of you thanks to a regular meditation practice.

Don't get me wrong, I'm quite happy in my situation. But that contentment comes from a feeling of achievement, not from my level of material wealth. I am confident that having become a respected academic, a dependable local politician or a beloved father instead would have given me a similar level of life satisfaction. And for the love of God, don't get into a high-powered job because of your parents. Your folks have no clue what starting out as a young adult is like in 2020. Forge your own path.

I'm not telling you to do what you love (you can't get paid to eat and sleep all day), but to do something that is consistent with how your brain is wired rather than to follow the default option of being a prestige whore. And if your brain is in fact wired towards prestige, well, the devil you know...

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Dec 29, 2020 - 4:36am

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