The Path to Least Resistance: Why IB May Not Be What You Really Want

bill_ackman's picture
Rank: Orangutan | 278

As I am spending some time on my vacation and feel bored to death (please don't judge), I wanted to share something that I think might be important to you guys. Although this thread will cause a lot of controversy, I have nevertheless decided to give in to my temptations and write a counterintuitive approach to thinking about IB. Before digging into more controversial topics, a few facts should be made clear:

  1. IB is arguably the most competitive job out of school (both undegrad & MBA)
  2. It consists of one of the most ambitious, driven and intelligent class of people in the world
  3. It often serves as a sound jumping point to higher-paid positions such as HF, PE, etc.
  4. While possible for everyone in theory, only an extremely small percentage of people gets selected/lucky

Finding your true calling

So far, so good. Now we're going to get into the ugly part and I will take counterarguments and criticism from here. Based on my small yet useful experience, I believe that IB offers little upside when it comes to money, meaningful work & great relationships. This is not to say that there aren't people with some or all three but, generally speaking, this is not something very common in the industry. If I didn't try that hard to be modest, I would basically say that the industry is full of assholes. But today isn't about that - it is rather about finding your true calling. It brings me back to that story of an old fisherman and Harvard MBA - we keep chasing something we already have and often the things we own end up owning us.

We live in a different era

Most of us keep chasing and following the same trend, because of our innate tendency to think short-term (e.g. getting highest paid job out of school), the same way Homo Sapiens use to think what actions would bring him dinner to the table. But nowadays, we live in a different era; it is a world that rewards hard-working, disciplined people with good temperament and ability to think long-term; those are usually the people who are able to think for themselves, go against the crowd and see things below the surface. The same way someone may envy an analyst from a top-tier firm, someone may also neglect the consequences that the job brings (stress, politics, lifestyle, etc.).

Waste of life/time

Having $1M in the bank after the age of 50 without having experienced the things you wanted to experience is a waste of life/time. We tend to compare ourselves to others instead of trying to be the best version of ourselves, and I am saying this not as a cliche but as a reminder that there will always be somebody better than us - it is just the truth and anybody who thinks differently is insane. And this is not to say that IB is useless, boring, humiliating or anything alike, but rather to say that many people here end up living a life they don't want with people they don't like.

Time is precious

In the end, the only thing we really have is our time and, based on the quality of our experiences, we tend to feel this time. Monotony shortens time; novelty extends it. You can workout daily and eat healthy and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle, crunching numbers and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next - and evaporates. This is why it's important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time and lengthens our perception of our lives. For people who really understand the factors that come with IB, I wish the best of luck in finding their true calling, but the truth is that IB is not a thing that most of the people really want.

People really want something that they believe IB will bring to them and, as long as there isn't a clear connection between the two, please don't be living the life you don't want or pursuing the path you don't even know what it's like. Time is a precious thing, make sure you spend it the way you really want.

Comments (53)

May 20, 2019

Great post.

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May 20, 2019

Cool story Hansel.

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Funniest
May 21, 2019

Sorry, but I do grow tired of these continuous rants no one asked for on how "money doesn't matter, seek inner peace, find your true calling" from some novice yogi in SF who had a spiritual renaissance after shrooming at Bonnaroo

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May 22, 2019

Shrooms are cool

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May 22, 2019

Truer words were never spoken.

May 23, 2019

Whatre you talking about. I find my inner peace in ibanking. Nothing is more soothing than having sleep overs with your best friends and while combing through endless excel models.

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May 24, 2019

Dude... I'd highly recommend you to shroom.

May 24, 2019

Amazing.

May 28, 2019
The Real Donnie Azoff:

Cool story Hansel.

Went through arduous, 3 minute login process on my phone browser just to upvote this comment. It was worth it.

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May 20, 2019

Great post, reminds me of what Warren Buffett said in a 1998 lecture at the University of Florida:

I was going to do the same things when I had a little bit of money as when I had a lot of
money. If you think of the difference between me and you, we wear the same clothes
basically (SunTrust gives me mine), we eat similar food--we all go to McDonald's or
better yet, Dairy Queen, and we live in a house that is warm in winter and cool in
summer. We watch the Nebraska (football) game on big screen TV. You see it the same
way I see it. We do everything the same--our lives are not that different. The only thing
we do is we travel differently. What can I do that you can't do?

I get to work in a job that I love, but I have always worked at a job that I loved. I loved it
just as much when I thought it was a big deal to make $1,000. I urge you to work in jobs
that you love. I think you are out of your mind if you keep taking jobs that you don't like
because you think it will look good on your resume. I was with a fellow at Harvard the
other day who was taking me over to talk. He was 28 and he was telling me all that he
had done in life, which was terrific. And then I said, "What will you do next?" "Well,"
he said, "Maybe after I get my MBA I will go to work for a consulting firm because it
will look good on my resume." I said, "Look, you are 28 and you have been doing all
these things, you have a resume 10 times than anybody I have ever seen. Isn't that a little
like saving up sex for your old age?

There comes a time when you ought to start doing what you want. Take a job that you
love. You will jump out of bed in the morning. When I first got out of Columbia
Business School, I wanted to go to work for Graham immediately for nothing. He
thought I was over-priced. But I kept pestering him. I sold securities for three years and I
kept writing him and finally I went to work for him for a couple of years. It was a great
experience. But I always worked in a job that I loved doing. You really should take a job
that if you were independently wealthy that would be the job you would take. You will
learn something, you will be excited about, and you will jump out of bed. You can't
miss. You may try something else later on, but you will get way more out of it and I
don't care what the starting salary is.

When you get out of here take a job you love, not a job you think will look good on your
resume. You ought to find something you like. If you think you will be happier getting 2x instead of 1x, you are probably making a mistake.

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May 20, 2019

This is a wonderful sentiment (I mean that sincerely) but it's just not the reality for the vast majority of people today. School and housing are much more expensive and careers are much more competitive today.

Buffet's story about writing graham about stocks isn't far off from the boomer trope about how "I walked into the owner's office with my resume and walked out with a job!".

The difference between doing something you love and doing something for money today isn't 2x-3x in earnings, it's like 5x-10x plus a completely different life for your children and potentially even grandchildren.

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May 21, 2019

He and his generation have destroyed this country by importing in massive amounts of foreigners to dilute the labor pool. Most of the problems in this country share the same root - drastically increasing wealth inequality due to worsening career outcomes for the average man. Imagine trying to achieve a high quality of life as the primary breadwinner for a family of four making the median household income in a major city...

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May 29, 2019

This is what makes WSO awsome.

May 20, 2019

I always wonder about these long, super-organized, borderline spiritual WSO posts. Are they coming from real members or staff?

Anyways, not to bust up the meditation session but a couple of things I didn't agree with:

  1. If you go to a target or even semi-target school, getting into IB isn't much about luck. If you want it, you can do it.
  2. One of the key benefits of analyst programs in IB or MC is that they are tailored for smart, ambitious recent grads who aren't sure what they want to do with the rest of their life. Going to one of these programs is almost like an extension of school or at least a transition period.
  3. Difference between the HBS grad and the fisherman is that the HBS grad can be a fisherman with the option to leave whenever he wants. That makes fishing a lot more fun.
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May 21, 2019

I agree with you and OP - I left banking as a first year analyst and do agree with your points to a certain extent.

  1. Totally true. The kids I was helping on my alum recruiting team were complete idiots and I knew them from school. They got offers and I 100% percent think banking, even at the top BB I was at, are definitely getting weaker and weaker talent each year. Everyone really smart from college my year were going to tech/medicine/law then consulting and then banking.
  2. Yes, but I think times ares slightly changing. Did banking let me feel prestigious in a certain group of people in NYC, of course! Do I think I am better in the long run - way too early to say still, but like to think so. However, I think banking culture still needs to wildly change. Idk what is or the people I hang out with, but all my banking friends from college were on anti-depressants in banking, started to smoke and / or heavily drink to medicate from the stress vs consultants who were disillusioned by not as destructive towards themselves. I chalk that up to the stereotypical personality that goes banking vs consulting from my personal experience. Also, had a lot more friends quit banking early in comparison to consulting.
  3. Yes, but some of the HBS people are the kind of people who are least happy in life. I always want to gun for the best, but some people truly don't live in the moment even a bit. A fisherman with a good family and kids who love him / her vs a HBS person in a "baller" or as baller, but empty apartment as he / she could get in saving up money and also looking at vacations but never booking because no time.
May 21, 2019

95%+ of the content you see is user generated from the community, but I do clean up some posts (added header tags to this one) before promoting on social media

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

May 21, 2019

I think pursuing money is always a bad idea. You'll burn out, fast

Plus it's much easier to make money doing what you love because it never feels like work and you'll accidentally find yourself putting in ridiculous hours just because you enjoy it so much!

Personally, I found focusing on my strengths and figuring out how to distill them into tangible value adds to be a good way to live. Unfortunately it seems like the education system tries to force kids into neat little spaces when in reality that doesn't work for most people...

May 21, 2019

If you only have $1 million in the bank at age 50 after working in finance for 25+ years, then you actually were definitely spending your money experiencing things you wanted to do in life...

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May 21, 2019
Excelling:

If you only have $1 million in the bank at age 50 after working in finance for 25+ years, then you actually were definitely spending your money experiencing things you wanted to do in life...

I was about to say.... if you were in IB from age 22 to 50, then you should have enough money saved up to retire 10 years ago.

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May 21, 2019

I feel like all these types of posts are entirely premised on the fact that these students heading into college know exactly what they want in life. Nearly everyone I've met targeting IB is in there because it has the highest probability of offering a wide range of options and earning potential down the road. I feel like the old saying of "money doesn't buy happiness" rarely applies to anyone anymore. In our current society, that threshold (beyond which money doesn't buy you much more happiness) has been raised so fucking high that most people seek the path to earn as much as possible. Housing and college expenses (for those who want kids down the road) alone are enough of a financial burden weighing down many people.

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May 21, 2019

Well said, this is the point I was making above. In America's gateway cities it seems a family now needs to make $250k+ (depending on children) to have sure access to a high quality of life. Even in Dallas/Houston/Atlanta $150k is about the minimum needed.

May 21, 2019

What are these jobs that people "love"? Genuinely curious about that.

In my experience whatever I've done so long as I've had bosses and office politics "love" was out of the question. Ask yourself why bosses exist? To monitor you, rate you, and to crack the whip on you. This makes most of us no different from racehorses. Some times you luck out and find one willing to mentor/develop you, but that's more the exception than the rule. Sometimes you find one who simply isn't an a-hole and gets out of your way since you're viewed as "consistent". Be thankful for small favors.

I take jobs that I don't mind or don't passionately hate, and then take all my vacations. That prevents burnout.

Prestige chasing is a fool's errand anyway. I remember thinking I was hot shyt when I finally hit 6 figures, only to run into folks making 6 figures MONTHLY, and so on. If happiness is relative, then you'll never have it.

If your job pays well and you're not an emotional wreck over it, then that might be enough even if it ain't nirvana. I don't know any bankers who've been in the game long term without a decent perspective about what they do and why. Sometimes it's a means to an end, sometimes it's the end when the golden handcuffs are applied.

Might not be "happy" but at least you're not some low wage schmuck one child support order away from a halfway house.

tl;dr Work is work for a reason. Get what you can out of it, whether it's financial rewards (sweet) or something greater (even better).

May 26, 2019

People should all read your comment

May 28, 2019

I think they are rare but having a job you love can be done. For example - my boxing coach, an ex-national champion from the 80's, loves his job. He gets to wake up every day and teach people his favorite skill and watch as individuals make unbelievable progress towards their health goals. Multiple of his clients came in after doctors said they needed stints and potential heart surgery who now have normal baseline vitals. Another friend of mine started a handmade furniture company (he does the work) based on traditional Japanese woodworking techniques. He launched this as a side hustle and now works full-time and has a wait-list.

Taking money over passion upfront can be a strategic move provided you live like a monk and save enough money to do what you want to do later. The problem with people in finance is that they scale their lifestyle with earnings and are locked into the industry via their car payment, rent/mortgage, etc...

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May 28, 2019

exactly, if you love what you do and people are willing to pay you money for it then that's all that matters

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

May 29, 2019

You know what both those jobs have in common? No bosses. You only deal w/ clients-and if any are a pain, you can tell them to fuck off. Yes, entrepreneurship is probably the dream for most.

From all of my travels I keep running into people who basically own property-started w/ a house, rented some rooms, turned it into a group of properties. Bring on a property manager, and just travel non-stop. They've had all types of careers-traders, lawyers, office managers, teachers-didn't get "happy" until they were on their own. That's my next goal.

May 21, 2019

You don't have your own family/kids/wife do you? That is the #1 reward; not the job. Sure you highly prefer a rewarding career and no one would turn that down. But, you can have a fairly dull one and still have a very fulfilling life with friends, family and experiences. Raising kids is the most rewarding.

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May 22, 2019
whatstheplan:

You don't have your own family/kids/wife do you? That is the #1 reward; not the job. Sure you highly prefer a rewarding career and no one would turn that down. But, you can have a fairly dull one and still have a very fulfilling life with friends, family and experiences. Raising kids is the most rewarding.

As a married man who hopes to one day raise a family of his own, I must wholeheartedly disagree.

Raising kids/family isn't for everyone, and I firmly believe that there are people out there that should never have kids of their own.

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May 22, 2019

I went to a non target and worked for several years in back office-y jobs and had to bust my ass to lateral into ib. If you think banking or finance jobs suck, try working in 90% of your typical 9-5s.

Compensation - not even the same zip code. I make multiples of what my bosses made. What a n experienced analyst or associate makes is aspirational for 90% of most Americans.

Optionality - IB opens up doors that most jobs frankly, can't. As you progress in your career your professional relationships and work experiences become more and more important and are what will drive your earning ability . It's really hard to do that if your office drone job has given you zero exposure to meaningful transactions and companies or the ability to form professional relationships with influential people via working on said transactions. In offers that and by extension allows one to choosr what they want to do. Almost all of the people I worked with early on in my life are still stuck in the same types of jobs with little hope of ever breaking out. They are condemned to a life of unfulfilling professional experiences and a struggle to provide a decent quality of life for their family.

Time/ relationships/ quality of life - in today's day and age the amount of income needed to provide a decent quality of life for your family has gotten so ridiculously high. On a personal note, it's a much more efficient division of time and labor for me to work a high paying/ demanding job for 60-70 hours a week and my wife to stay at home with our son than for both of us to work. That's also before we factor in the sky rocketing cost of school and child care. I am not advocating neglecting one's health or relationships for ones job. But you're kidding yourself if you don't think income has a direct impact on your family's quality of life. It affords you better healthcare, diet, fitness options, outsources household chores, and pays for things like housing and education. I grew up poor, the sayings that money doesn't buy happiness and do what you love and the money will follow are lies. Sorry it's the truth.

If you know exactly what you want to do straight out of school then by all means do that. But if your like the vast majority of people who don't know, then I would pick the job that is going to give you the ability to call the shots in your career down the road not relegate you to having to make do with a few unattractive options.

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May 22, 2019

Crucial point about the wife staying home. This is just not possible anymore with dual earner households necessary to provide an adequate standard of living for the average American. This is a large reason why the divorce rate is so high and America has a rapidly growing replacement rate crisis. It's nice to see some others like you aren't completely consumed by hedonism and personal vanity and carry the right priorities. So many of these kids in college on this site or first year analysts have a ridiculously skewed version of what is important in life.

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May 31, 2019

Kids in college/first year analysts don't give a shit what childcare costs were in 1997. Why are you posting these weird charts here

May 22, 2019

"It's not a memo, it's a mission statement."

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May 22, 2019

Finding your calling... All jobs are boring that's why you get paid to be there my dude. I don't think anyone except maybe an immigration lawyer or athlete wakes up in the morning and thinks gee lets hit it!! Business exists to generate wealth for shareholders so they don't have to go to work. If you want to live in a van for 20 years and maybe see profit off your passion then great, go free climb Yellowstone. Those like myself who are lucky enough to generate high wealth in a short period of time with minimum investment in school will continue to push buttons, maximize time and life spent outside the office and retire at the ripe age of 35. Hope you find what you're looking for but teaching hot yoga only pays $20 a class.

May 22, 2019

Truly inspirational post, great stuff, thank you. Brb, gonna go quit my job to work as a fisherman.

May 23, 2019

Great post but I will have to disagree. The consulting recruiting process is much more difficult than invstment banking recruiting in my opinion.

Cant speak for PE but casing and networking is very rigorous. Then if youre participating in MBA recruiting there are plenty more students recruiting for consulting than IB.

May 23, 2019

"Having money isn't everything, not having it is" - Kanye West

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May 25, 2019

Beautiful.

May 25, 2019

OP, what else am I going to do with my finance degree from a non-target? What are better alternatives? It seems to me like any finance job not in PE is pretty trash and it's way too late to go try to be scientist or something.

How do we "find our true calling" if we're already graduated and don't think anything else in finance sounds interesting?

May 26, 2019
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May 28, 2019
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