Last week I was attending another student conference on the financial crisis—these are exciting times for economics students and you have to pardon us for having so many conferences on it! It was certainly very informative and enjoyable.
In my discussions with my fellow attendees, I could see that the discussions inevitably led to investment banking and it even dominated all the seminars and debates of the conference. I was tempted to do a small survey, and it revealed that almost all of the students present there want to take up investment banking as a career! This was very surprising for me. Never before in any conference, group or gathering, have I seen such a unity in the choice of a career, among the diversity of the backgrounds present there.
Of course, this is a conference on the financial crisis and I do expect to find students interested in pursuing finance. However, most of the students there were not just from economics or finance backgrounds. There was a diverse group, from mathematics, engineering, marketing and even environmental studies (like me), and the selection procedure for the conference was on the basis of one’s knowledge about the crisis and not one’s inclination towards finance. Moreover, finance includes various fields like insurance, asset management, accounting and several others, but it was their obsession with just investment banking that surprised me.
I don’t want anyone to get me wrong, I have nothing against investment banking (also I don’t feel they are responsible for the current financial crisis!) or any other branch of finance. I would have dismissed this issue as a mere coincidence had my curiosity not led me to discuss this matter with a few of my friends studying in American universities. From those discussions, I saw a general trend, and not one limited to my conference, and this is the reason I am writing this blog. It seems that peer pressure and societal aspirations lead most of the “well-performing” students to follow the “herd” and turn to investment banking.
I do not wish this blog to be reduced to criticizing a profession. That is certainly not the intention. The broader question that I want to raise is how many of us choose our professions and end up doing what we really want to do. Do we very often succumb to external aspirations? I have met so many people who left their mid-level well-paying career to convert their hobby into a profession. According to them, it is the job satisfaction that matters most if you want a happy and successful career, and they regret realizing it much later.
What are you passionate about? What do you want to be in life? How do you find out?
Earlier this year, I picked up a conversation with a student in a local pub in Köln, and was stunned to hear him answer back in Hindi! He told me that after he finished school he wanted to understand himself –his desires and ambitions—so that he could choose his profession. The investment of one year (he spent in Rishikesh, India) saved several, and currently he is pursuing Biology in one of the finest institutions in Germany. This, according to him, is the secret of working happily ever after!