Are you guys happy with life? Help me please.

JacobWSO's picture
Rank: Monkey | 49

I'm looking for serious answers please because your responses will help me decide my life trajectory.

I'm an undergraduate at an Ivy... I'm honestly drawn to finance almost entirely because it seems like a lucrative career and I'm not interested in medicine or law (if law is even considered lucrative anymore).

However, it seems like no one in this industry is content. Are you living in constant stress? How do you have time to have a meaningful life outside of work if you work such long hours?

Do any of you regret your choice, and would you go back and do something else if you could? I don't want to live a life of regret, or have money be the only thing I have.

I've always been extremely good at math/physics, and I am afraid that pursuing econ and doing IB instead will be a waste of my potential. Excel all day does not sound fulfilling.

At the same time, however, I don't think I'd be content getting some Math PHD and making 100k in academia for the rest of my life.

I'm aware that I probably sound extremely naive, annoying, arrogant, etc. but I am honestly very conflicted about my life choices right now and it's leading me to depression. It would mean a lot if some of you could honestly reflect and try to help me.

Thank you so much.

Comments (48)

Nov 27, 2017

I think the key to this is to talk to alot of people in the industry both in academia and in finance. Having mentors can really help and finding mentors just requires you to reach out to alot of people. During my networking search out of the 100+ people I've reached out to 2-3 have become close mentors to me that have really helped answer my life questions. While it is true that many people in finance are stressed (you are getting paid $$$ to deal with it to a certain extent) many still find it to be fulfilling.

At the end of the day after a certain amount of $$$ it doesn't buy happiness so while it is easy to only look at for career options think try to find something that will really make you happy. There are some miserable MDs out there while there are professors who get paid maybe 1/10th that but really enjoy their lives (and they may be as ambitious as you are).

Also, if you can have a solid GPA majoring in math/physics going for an IB internship junior summer seems like the best option. If you don't like it you can always continue your route to become a PhD. Coming from a target (since its an Ivy I'm assuming target) your major won't matter as long as you show you're a smart person.

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Nov 27, 2017

+1 about the mentor point, definitely, definitely talk to as many people as you can. I would also add a recommendation to consider how long a career is and that 2-4 years in finance or 5 years for a PhD does not preclude a lucrative or satisfying career. For instance, I've listened to speakers who started in finance and were successful, but found happiness in startup roles, as well as PhDs who were recruited by consulting firms

Feb 9, 2018

I've been wanting to ask this question, but how did you manage to get from getting coffee chat to them being your mentor?

I have had quite a few coffee chats as well (over 50), but never knew how to make that transition ...

Best Response
Nov 27, 2017

Here are a couple of things you really ought to understand starting now:

1) There's no industry you enter that won't require you to spend time doing bitch work as you learn the ropes.

2) There isn't a working professional alive making $200K plus who isn't constantly stressed. No one will ever pay you that much (or more) just to sit around.

3) Most jobs are temporary, but jobs in "up or out" industries tend to be more temporary than most. If you end up hating finance, worst case you'll leave after a couple of miserable years w/ a great skillset to go do something less stressful. Best case you love it and thrive.

4) You'll statistically end up switching jobs/careers 5-6 times over the course of your life, so your decision now isn't that big a deal in the long run.

As for what to do now? Enjoy undergrad, get the best grades possible, network, and find some internships to see what you truly enjoy doing (or at least can tolerate and still be reasonably happy)

Nov 29, 2017

I agree with your sentiment and most of what you say, but disagree with #2. Go to a F500 and look at the Directors (not just in finance), you won't see many "constantly stressed".

Do most have stressful times? Sure.
Are some never stressed? Yes.
Are they all constantly stressed? Certainly not.

twitter: @CorpFin_Guy

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Nov 29, 2017

I agree. I do think the scale and spectrum of stress for F500 really varies dependent on the type of role (there are technology/IT directors, internal audit directors, and then your FP&A/Corp Strat and Dev folks). I'd like to think that stress increases as you go from left to right on this list, but not to an untenable degree. I know of two close friends at f500 at the senior manager/director level who generally have comfortable lifestyles while getting paid quite well. There are stress occasions, whether during a forecasting cycle for FP&A or during the latter stages/negotiations for a deal, but otherwise they seem to have time to spend with their family/loved ones and go on vacation without needing to be plugged in.

I don't know if it was you or someone else who spoke about their role as a f100 controller a few years ago (perhaps I'm mistaken). I'd love to see you do an AMA for your role, as I think many would garner value from learning more about what it's like working in F500 finance :)

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Feb 10, 2018

"2) There isn't a working professional alive making $200K plus who isn't constantly stressed. No one will ever pay you that much (or more) just to sit around."

Don't just make blanket statements like this because you're 100% wrong. Know multiple people in WM making well over $300k in low COL cities that work 30-40 hours a week now and their meetings consist of asking how the kids are doing. Did they work more when they were younger? Probably... but likely only 5-7 years and not "constantly stressed"

Also, my dad's friend is a Director in IT at a large F500 making well over $250k+ and he's definitely not "constantly stressed".

Pick and chose your career wisely... and avoid IB at all costs lmao

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Nov 27, 2017

If you're a happy analyst, you need another staffing..

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Nov 29, 2017

You should add people who work in consulting and quant hedge funds to your list of alums to reach out to. People often find these jobs more intellectually stimulating than IB, and quantitative investors love math/science type folks as the background is very relevant to their work.

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Nov 29, 2017

I agree! The other great thing about working in quantitative investing is that the exit opps (if you ever want to leave finance) are great! Plenty of quant researchers can get jobs doing analytics/data science at big tech companies, f500, startups, etc. Unlike working at a fundamental hedge fund, the skills you develop in quant finance are often highly transferable.

Nov 29, 2017

If it's an interview, the answer is always yes ;P

Joking aside, I would say that I'm personally content with how things have worked out over the last few years. I've gotten some terrific experiences, learned meaningful skills around the transaction process, and had the chance to learn a bit about very different industries while interacting with folks that few other junior level roles would have given me the opportunity to do so. The compensation was also a plus, but that as a standalone will not satisfy if you are miserable working 80+ hours weekly on end.

All this said, I would be fibbing if I didn't say that some days weren't difficult. I had a few weeks after the end of my first year where I was working every day of the week for several weeks. It was certainly a bit grueling, but it helped to be in a group with a good culture. Our seniors helped to keep things manageable and ensure that the busy work was kept to a minimum, and everyone was in when the transaction necessitated the same. This helped morale and also made for some interesting stories I would say :)

If I could do it over again I likely would have done it the same way. Coming from a non-target school, It was a very humbling and gratifying experience getting to this point 1.5 years from when I graduated (it also made me realize that this process in its entirety really is a crapshoot), and I'm thankful for the opportunities that have presented themselves.

For your case, I think you are in an enviable position. You are at an Ivy League School and will have strong OCR that will lead to a lower barrier entry for any role that you would like. I wouldn't necessarily fret about the first few years out of school, as I think most junior roles are fairly homogeneous with respect to responsibilities (e.g., grunt work, analysis, tertiary tasks). I think your goal really should be to target a role(s) where you will build meaningful experiences and built reputable skills for the next steps in your career in a field you think you'll enjoy. If it works out, you'll find utility over the duration of those 2-3 years out of college. If you find you didn't like the role, you will still have built a great CV after the period is over.

Perhaps I'll have a different opinion one year from today, but this is my perspective today :)

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Nov 29, 2017

I feel fulfilled and I like math, but not that much. I like math enough to enjoy finance. The above are probably right. You sound like you could get enjoyment out of some quant based research.

Nov 29, 2017

Is it just me or is the word "depression" being thrown around too much these day on this forum?

Reflection is something you have to do yourself. Everyone here, including me, will give answers based on our own belief system which may differ greatly from your.

You are in UG and most people in UG are attracted to lucrative jobs. You wont know what you like unless you try it.

Furthermore there are multiple versions of this thread on this forum for you to go through and decide what you want to do in life. Your post makes me feel you have not gone through them and just posted here.

Also "your responses will help me decide my life trajectory" is BS. Make your own decisions. If its right you will be happy and if its wrong you will be wise.

"The markets are always changing , and they are always the same."

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Nov 29, 2017

If you like maths/physics and are motivated by $$ why dont you look into trading?

Nov 29, 2017

very smart guys with strong quant backgrounds wouldn't do well in I-banking long term. If you are good at physics, math, etc and enjoy quantitative analysis, look into quant finance. Quant driven hedge funds (DE Shaw, AQR, two sigma come to mind) would be perfect fit for those brainy, quant types that are looking to ball out. Quant research, Quant trading, or Quant developer are some positions to consider. You could also look into prop trading firms. Or maybe get into data science?? Working at a top tech company like FB or Google in their analytics division would be a sweet gig.

Banking / Consulting, IMO, is for people who are decently smart, decently polished, have decent salesmanship, with strong ambition and workhorse work ethic. It's not for those looking for 'meaning in life' through intellectual stimulation coming from daily routines of the job. Just know yourself and find a career that suits your gifts the best.

Nov 30, 2017

I feel like a lot of ambitious people would be most happy, by far, working as an entrepreneur and bringing in six figures per year. If only it were that easy. And I think usually the happiest people in finance are probably the ones that actually do intellectual tasks and are rewarded for their skill set, and not just for churning out presentations and models.

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Nov 30, 2017

The cake is a lie.

Nov 30, 2017

I graduated pre-Med and spent a few years applying while doing an EMT program and working various jobs. Look, there are tons of people who are stressed in there jobs no matter the pay. It doesn't matter whether you're a doctor, an EMT making $11 an hour or a fast food worker. So I wouldn't let that worry you because it is inevitable IMO. Apply for some jobs, maybe apply to some grad schools and at worse, weigh your options on the table while you make your mind up.

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Nov 30, 2017

"Once you reach happiness in life, is the point at which you begin dying."

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Dec 1, 2017

Based on your post, and your "depression ", you should not be an analyst. The experience is great, but the work is hard and at times can be very unfulfilling.

The job / role can make you easily depressed if you let it get to you.

One of my biggest regrets is not specializing while I was in college...I got a finance degree, however the most successful individuals I know have a b.s (or better) in science, and an MBA from top school.

...Just my thoughts. Good luck

Dec 3, 2017

If you're good at maths and physics why go for IB? A solid grounding in maths/physics (Masters/PHD) can lend itself to a career in academia or within quantitive trading/analytics.

You have the beginnings of the right educational background to start with, the work is challenging and varied and makes use of some core concepts within maths and physics - it plays to what you say are your strong points, without the boredom factor.

As people have mentioned here there are plenty of big funds that we all know of, but some smaller guys are doing really interesting work (eg. Cantab) and/or working on really unusual & niche markets.

To answer your question on a personal note, I studied Engineering and now trade physical commodities - I really enjoy it and have no plans to do anything else right now (apart from my own side projects).

The one thing that would tempt me out would be to study for a masters in either physics/statistics/computing.

Dec 3, 2017

Great question, and one that every single person on this board has asked (or will ask) at one point or the other. Don't be depressed because you don't have all the answers- you're not supposed to.

Personally, I am very happy with my current role in finance (I pivoted from PE to HF). What's my criteria for this happiness? Primarily my intellectual curiosity, and the fact that I feel fulfilled in working towards my career goals. It's important to note that many people share different definitions of their versions of happiness and fulfillment (both of the aforementioned concepts are completely subjective). I've had jobs where I was making six figures a year, and I left them because I absolutely hated it. I remember thinking "if this is what wall street is really like, I'm done with this shit". I have 0 regrets about leaving the jobs I did, because I personally don't think money is a substitute for peace of mind, and ultimately, happiness. Also, without those terrible jobs, my career trajectory would not have landed me where I am now.

I don't live in constant stress in spite of pretty long days, but that's because I make a conscious choice not to. I live my life very simply; Mondays through Fridays I focus on work, and Friday evenings through Sunday I dedicate to spending time with friends and family. From a mental perspective, I meditate, focus on what I can control in my life, stay positive, and do my best to always make others feel good about themselves. From a physical standpoint, I lift/box 6-7 days a week and eat healthy on a regular basis. I've found that doing your best to stay in optimal physical and mental shape really helps you to stay positive.

I actually pivoted in finance from pre-med when I realized that my heart wasn't in becoming a doctor. My biggest regret is that I didn't start/finish my undergrad in finance, as I would (hypothetically) be a lot further along in my career than I am now. That being said, I'm very content with where I am in life right now, and I have an optimistic outlook for the future.

My experience is one of many, so be sure to talk to other people before making your decision. What I'll leave you with is this--when deciding what you want to do career wise, try to make your goal in pursuing that career something bigger than yourself. I understand that everyone on WSO wants to make tons of money (myself included), but what's bigger than the money? For me, I want to be able to write a check for my parents and tell them that they never have to work again. Being a first generation American, I want to eventually help lower income kids make it to college and beyond. I want to do my best to help deal with homelessness and also take steps to address the lack of awareness surrounding mental health issues in our society. Those are a few of the things I'm passionate about, and I always think about them when I think about an end goal. I genuinely believe that you should really try to think on the impact that you want to leave on this world.

I wish you best of luck, and I'm confident that you'll find the answers you're looking for. Feel free to PM.

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Dec 3, 2017

Yes. Stressed most of the time. And when I'm not stressed, I get stressed that I'm not super busy and that it could be a problem. That's the nature of the job.

The truth about investment banking, or any professional services job, is that it is a very low-risk route to the upper middle class. If you grind it out, play the game, and generally remain on top of your shit, you can make it far enough at a bank to where you can achieve financial security (rich, not wealthy - at least for most).

The grinding it out part is the key, though. The work doesn't stop. A good portion of the time, it sucks. From a 10,000' view, the deals are interesting. The majority of the actual execution of a deal is not. If you're going to make it in this industry, you need to find enjoyment in the work; you won't enjoy all of it (or even most of it), but you need to be genuinely interested in deals and your coverage sector if you are going to make it to the top. I guarantee that if you look at the rainmakers in each group at each bank, those are the guys that love this shit the most.

A lot of kids on this forum think that they're going to do two years as an analyst and then work at a megafund and make so much money that they never have to worry. This will not be the case for most. Don't be the guy who joins just because you want to get filthy probably won't happen and if it does, it will happen over decades, with many sacrifices made along the way. Join the industry because you believe you can find some enjoyment in the work, intellectual stimulation, and understand the benefit that the grind can yield for you and your family.

"Anything less than the best is a felony"

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Dec 3, 2017

I think pitching and selling deals to people sounds a lot of fun. The stress, anxiety, and everything else added to that makes it all worth it when the buyer "agrees" and you make a deal happen. That is exciting for me.

In life, given I am in my 30's, I took the backseat and I hated every single second of it. I went into many, multiple industries because I was young and foolish, so the jobs I held in the past were not meaningful and I did feel miserable. It took some soul searching to want-to go into sales, simply because I love talking to people and making connections. This is the reality of how things are.

@JacobWSO - enjoy undergraduate years at your university. Many people are not able to have access to college or continue to finish it.

I do not see the point of regret or falling into depression simply because life is too short.

Figure out what you want to do, make a game plan, and kick some a**. You got this.

No pain no game.

Dec 4, 2017

Read the book Man's Search For Meaning.

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Dec 6, 2017

The only time anyone has no regrets could, maybe, be if they are born with a multi billion dollar trust fund and never have to work a day in their life and spend their days chasing models around the Mediterranean with DiCaprio. Even then, I bet that the wrong person of weak character would find something to bitch about: "Dude, those bastards at Monte Carlo say my Yacht is too big and I have to park it out in the water!" Regrets, for lack of a better word, are good. They build character. Whenever you make a mistake, go left when you should have gone right, zig when you should have zagged, a lesson is born. Those lessons helps us the next time we are in a cross roads and we get a little better at making a decision each time. All that to say this: don't worry so much about everyone else just focus on the options that are available you and your circumstances and put your best foot forward and do what you can to make the best of them. Good luck.

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Dec 6, 2017

There have been a lot of good points about how you can start in a lot of places (mgmt consulting, IB, Trading, ER, etc) and still end up doing something completely different as you get a feel for what you REALLY enjoy doing. On the other side of the coin though, if you don't actively manage your career path, your starting point is very important as many people end up going down a path that they don't actively control. (i.e. if you are in a river and don't have a destination point on the other side of the river in mind that you focus on, you'll end being at the mercy of flow of the current and end up where ever the river takes you).

many people, including myself, can get less ambitious over time, more risk adverse, complacent, comfortable, what ever you want to call it, and you wake up and 15 years has passed and you're still in the same career path, just more senior. your priorities change as you get married, buy a house, have kids and find at some point, maybe it's too late to start over.

so, do i regret anything? yes and no... part of me feels like i cheated myself and didn't push myself to reach my potential. on the other hand, i'm in a job that isn't personally fulfilling but i'm able to support a comfy lifestyle and have the luxury of supporting my extended family financially. there's a lot of value in having such a level of financial security that you're able to work hard, save a ton, enjoy life and retire in your mid 40's-mid 50's and still be young enough to do something much more personally fulfilling.

i wished i found something i was truly passionate about AND made a ton of money doing that, but not everyone can find this. life is about give and takes.

Dec 7, 2017

Life could be better, but it could be a whole lot worse.

In the end, if you hate getting out of bed in the morning every day and find yourself miserable because of or at work, then you should get out - end of story. Do something else with your life, become a Professor, if you have 3 years of work experience become an FBI Special Agent, join the State Department's Foreign Service Officer program, get a PhD, found a company, etc;

Life advice: don't ever confine yourself to a box, there's a whole lot out there.

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Dec 8, 2017

So I know lots of ppl here are FO oriented. But you mentioned about you are good at Math. Have you thought about quant/algo trader? A master is going to be helpful. I dont know how much IBer earn but I can tell you Quant position at BB base start at 120k. If you are going to funds, quant base is like 130 to start. 2 years in Bank as quant base will be 140, in fund will be 160. Bonus in bank will be minor like 15k to 45k from y1 to y3. Funds, however, will be 20% ~ 30%. But if the quant position link to trading, your bonus is non-cap. 50% ~ 100% I heard if you are good. People are smart and humble. Again I dont know much about IB. Just my opinion from my experiece. I am now at top prop(like DRW/sig/HRT). But ppl links to trading is under huge pressure, I got pimple breakout periodically linked to my PnL ;)

Dec 8, 2017

Want to add: If you are good, you will be happy. If you are not good. you will be wiped out soon. Survivors are generally happy from my company and the company I used to stay.

Dec 10, 2017

All jobs suck - get used to it.

Feb 9, 2018

Are you studying math? I was a math major that wanted to do a PhD, but it didn't work out. My first job at a startup in data analytics was really boring and I hated it, but what I discovered was that showing up to work in the morning and having someone tell me what to do was really nice in that I felt productive. It also didn't hurt that I could afford to eat out and have savings at the same time. If I were in school, I don't think I would have the motivation to read papers everyday by myself, and I would feel horrible spending everyday sitting there doing nothing.

Eventually I got a little more acquainted with programming and did more of a software engineer job, and I actually found that really fun. Of course, there is still basically no math there, but software development is interesting in its own way. In particular, I find that designing systems for reliability and maintainability is really fascinating.

Nowadays, I get super excited if I get to think about eigenvectors, which I thought of as trivial in school. Heck, I got really excited solving a system of 3 linear equations. If you go into industry, chances are that your first job will break you down, and then later if you try to progress into a role that most people think is "math heavy", you'll still be able to appreciate the opportunity to do just that little bit more math. In this case, finance is actually really nice, because there is actually quite a bit of math to think about compared to a lot of "tech" jobs, and I am personally trying to switch to finance because just that little bit more math would make me feel like my brain is rotting much slower.

Another thing to keep in mind is that even if you have the right personality to do a PhD,
the majority of people burn out from their PhD, or during their postdoc, or can't find a good academic job after all that. Chances are you're not going to be an academic making 100k, you're going to be an assistant professor making 60k or a postdoc making less, and wondering about the switch to finance anyways.

I would say that given you already have doubts at this point, a PhD is not for you. Even some of my most enthusiastic friends doing PhDs are burning out and thinking about getting a programming job after a few years. Since this is the path you're most likely going to end up on, I would strongly suggest you go study a bunch of CS right now (IMO that's the easiest path to money, given that Google and Facebook pay their L5 engineers >300k easily, and being a quant also pays well and is easily one of the most interesting jobs you can do as a math major) so that you're best prepared to get that money and lifestyle that you want. I would really stay away from IB or consulting. Even though I have a friend or two who are really good at math who ended up there, most people really really hate it. By contrast, I think most quants love their job.

Feb 9, 2018

Speaking as the son of a career banker (think MD, Elite Boutique):

I have never met one of my dad's close friends who did not advise against going into banking. They didn't say they regretted it, but they told me that if they were in my shoes they'd do something else...

When everyone tells you that, I think it's very clear.

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Feb 12, 2018

Most people I know in IB are miserable.

Feb 12, 2018

Especially at a HF, you're not going to do well and rise up the ranks if you don't like work and especially if you don't agree with your fund's strategy. Also, the longer you stay at your said hedgefund, the more locked in with that strategy you are and harder it will be for another value-driven fund to pick you up. I know people would agree that jumping into another fund with a different strategy later in the game is much more difficult.

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Feb 12, 2018

I can tell you I'm at a concentrated long/short long-term fund and I love it. Definitely take the pay cut and start looking. Diligence the hell out of the new fund's strategy and make sure it matches up to yours.

The strategy you describe is definitely not what I would enjoy either, but trust me there are better pastures out there. If you want you can PM me and I'll go into detail what our fund's thesis/focus is and whether or not you'd think you would enjoy working at a similar fund.

Feb 12, 2018

Did you consider money managers or other long only asset management firms? With your experience you might not be a PM right away but they still pay well. Do you only consider hedge funds? Pay cut might be worth taking if you will feel better at the job.

Feb 12, 2018
Feb 12, 2018