Don't Be Afraid to Have Conviction and Trust in Your Own Ability
This discussion was originally going to be a reply to the following WSO post: "A Must Read For Current Undergrads And Interns (Your First Job Doesn't Matter)" but it ended up being much longer than I had anticipated and I felt it deserved a separate discussion. (I tried linking this post but WSO didn't allow)
As a junior in college who has spent a considerable amount of time on this site but never actually contributed, I decided to make an account last week. I know since I have never posted before most of you will think I'm trolling or bullshitting but given my experience reading toxic WSO posts over the past year or so and falling into the trap of overworking myself to the point of near-breakdown trying to position myself as a strong candidate for a job I am not sure I truly want (sleeping 5-6 hrs on average if that, for the sake of doing "work" I didn't actually need to do), I came across the most valuable post I have found on WSO (the one linked above) and have decided to share my perspective hoping it will prevent others from falling into this same trap that takes a serious toll on your health. Here is the part of the post I felt I needed to respond to:
Look at the founders of the firms that many on the platform idealize--, , MS. None of them listened to people on the internet or group think--they all thought independently. There are deeply held opinions on this website that if you listen to, you will become like everyone on this website.
The truth of this statement cannot be understated. Look at the most "successful" (by WSO's monetary standards) people in the world. None of them got to where they are with the primary purpose of making money, but all of them realized great financial success because they dedicated themselves to providing an innovative solution to a problem which they truly believed in and that brought real value to the world. Case in point:(arguably the greatest investor of all time) still lives in the same 300K house in Omaha that he bought back in '58 - hell all of these guys really look no different than they did when they first started (except maybe jacked Bezos vs nerdy Bezos).
The biggest role model for me throughout my life has been my uncle. He is the founder of a MF and my respect for him is the reason I have wanted to go into business, specifically finance, since I was about 8 years old. I always knew he was very well-off but never realized the magnitude of his financial status until I started reading WSO posts idolizing these MFs because money and prestige are far from his core values and the way he holds himself reflects that. That being said, during high school I became disillusioned with the idea of becoming a billionaire (literally idolized Bobby Axelrod from Billions). When I entered college and expressed my interest in business and finance, immediately I was told that I had to go into IB to achieve my goal. This is when I began pouring myself into academics and career-related work to the detriment of my health and happiness. I even began to question my own ability and sense of self-worth seeking external and superficial validation by means of obtaining an IB SA position.
Lessons from 2021 and the pandemic
In 2021, the pandemic forced me to step back from this tunnel-vision worldview that I think many college students with high aspirations such as myself get stuck in. Not only that, but I was also heavily exposed to the kind of money-obsessed, ruthless albeit successful, hedge fund manager I had thought I wanted to become for the longest time and realized how unhappy I would be looking back upon my life and decisions if I were in his place at age 50 or 60. Seeing this contrast between monetary success and genuine fulfillment was eye-opening for me and after a lengthy discussion with my uncle about his life and career this summer, I began to question the core reason why I respected him so much and realized the following:
It wasn't his success in the finance industry that made me respect him, it was the fact that he never sacrificed his core values, has always been one of the most genuinely kind-hearted people I know, and was willing to take an enormous risk on himself. With a good bit of luck and a lot of hard work, that risk paid off as he helped define a new frontier in finance.would not exist if it weren't for people like him aiming well beyond their resources and not giving themselves a plan B. With this realization, I began to question why I was trying to set myself on the traditional track of IB -> PE and whether that was really what I wanted to do with my life. If I am never willing to take a similar chance on myself at some point in my life, I feel I will ultimately end up with a deep feeling of regret on what could have been.
This is not to say that I don't recognize the importance of well-defined and well-paying career paths like IB (and now PE) as I understand the incredible value and financial stability they can bring to the lives of recent college grads. However, I urge people to question what the real reason is they are pursuing this career out of undergrad and ensure that it is for the right reasons-whatever that means to YOU.
Don't let anyone else tell you what is best for you (although you should always be learning from the perspectives of others) or what you can or cannot do. So many posts on WSO deride anyone considering pursuing entrepreneurship and I honestly find it ridiculous. Yes, the vast majority of startups fail but none of the largest companies in the world would exist if someone wasn't willing to take that risk so if you truly believe in your idea and ability, don't be afraid to pursue it out of fear of failure. If you are a motivated individual (like most people considering a career in banking are), a failed venture does not mean that you yourself are a failure-most successful entrepreneurs don't get it right on the first try, but the beauty lies in the improvements and adjustments you make throughout that process. Also, for those of you bashing entrepreneurship, just because you may be risk-averse doesn't mean you should actively discourage people from innovation.
I myself am still uncertain as to whether I am going to pursue entrepreneurship or finance out of undergrad, but with a renewed confidence in my own ability, I am comfortable with wherever my career/life journey takes me. However, I do know that at some point in my life I would like to start my own venture and there is arguably no better time for entrepreneurship than when you are young (there really never is a "good" time to start a company).
All this being said, my biggest takeaway from 2021 is that I have become comfortable with being uncomfortable and uncertain. I still recognize that I don't actually know jack shit at my age but I'm willing to admit that and use that naivety to my advantage.
TLDR: The truly great and successful people in the world did not have traditional career paths. They all lived by their own principles and aimed to provide the world with real value even if that meant risking everything. Advice learned from the perspective of a MF founder: don't be afraid to bet on yourself and aim beyond your resources. Someone is going to lead the next stage of massive innovation in finance (and elsewhere), someone is going to create the industry's next frontier, the next PE, why can't it be you?