How did I end up in a banking career?
I did not have a burning desire to be on Wall Street from a young age. I wasn’t trading stocks at 12 years old, and I didn’t have a banking career path mapped out when I started college. I was always a good student and consistently performed well in all subjects, and happened to perform especially well on standardized tests. However, unlike friends and family members, I didn’t always know I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher or a veterinarian. So I studied business in college with the thought that at least I’d get a job doing something. During my senior year, I developed an interest in social work, but by then it was too late to change majors. So I continued on and graduated with a degree in business, and worked for a couple of years and then applied to MBA programs.
At no point did I ever consider going into a banking career. I even visited a friend from my undergraduate studies who had ended up on Wall Street and encouraged me to apply for banking jobs, and I still had no particular interest. I applied for an MBA because I felt I should get an advanced degree for professional success, though I had no plans or ideas about what that success would entail. But surrounded by friends also pursuing graduate school, law school, medical school, it seemed to be the appropriate thing to do. I graduated from business school in the post-9/11 slump. Enron had failed, and consulting was nearly dead. Even at top business schools, many companies declined to recruit that year, and I knew of several extremely bright classmates who had their consulting offers rescinded as the economy spiraled downward. There were so many people competing for few spots. I hadn’t even considered a banking career when I started the MBA, or even after my first year. But with so few opportunities available, I applied anyway.
When I received an offer, I did not stop to think about whether it was the right move for me. I had just spent 6 figures on a top MBA program and I wanted to pay off my student loans. And after living on a student’s budget for so long, I didn’t consider whether the salary they offered was a fair trade. It was an eye-watering amount of money to me, and I took it without considering the toll it would take on my personal life, my social life, my health. I was young and healthy and eager to prove myself. So I jumped in. I had no idea what I was getting into.
I began traveling into work, surrounded by everyone in suits, rushing and walking with a purpose. I took my job very seriously, because I had always been a hard worker. Soon I was one of them, rushing everywhere, constantly on my Blackberry, getting into the office early and staying late. It was easy to get sucked into thinking that what I was doing had meaning and purpose. It was easy to believe that it was crucial that I stay in the office at 9pm on a Friday night, that I should tolerate or ignore the inappropriate sexual comments from colleagues and managers and clients, that I should eat every meal at my desk unless I was with a client, that I should sacrifice working out or eating healthfully, and instead always give more, more, more to the bank. It took me years to realize the bank would never tell me to rest or take care of myself, would never tell me to speak up if I was being harassed at work, and that they would never stop taking more, more, more from me.
What about you, Recovering IB Readers? Did you always know you wanted to work on Wall Street? Or like me, did you find yourself there absent any plans to pursue a different career? Please share in the comments!