I have spent so much time… doing useless things.
I have read countless books on the metaphysics of love and melancholia, only to marginally understand this subject better than I had understood it previously. I notice in my conversations that I am only able to articulate marginally more nuance than I could previously. It seems that I am still talk about the same ideas with the same frameworks with the same arguments that have not convinced anyone in the past. And, now, as I am approaching the halfway point of the summer, I ask, what was the point of it all? I am still as unprepared as I am for the next recruiting cycle as I was for the last recruiting cycle. I am still as unimpressive in terms of my resume and ungraceful in terms of behavioral interviews. What was it all for?
I understood so little, for most of my life, of what I wanted to do with my life. Now, it seems that it is too late to understand what I want to do with my life. There are avenues closed, doors shut… this is the source of my latest angst.
I’m not too concerned about my love life anymore. I still am concerned, of course, but not as much as I was before. I understand now that all love is impermanent. All love results in turbulence. All love transforms into resentment. All love devolves into violence. Yada, yada, yada. Whatever. These are just statements that I consider to be truth with no one else considering to be truths. It is just shit I believe at this point. There is so little point in studying these concepts anymore. It doesn’t lead to anything. What’s the point in furthering attempt to articulate myself if all that I will ever hear in my life is disagreement?
But, unlike love, my career is not impermanent.
For so long in my undergraduate career, I’ve had this aversion towards finance because it seemed to me that finance, by nature, was an extractive industry that required the exploitation of others to produce profits. Or more accurately, most private sector applications of economics. While, there are many aspects of that sentiment I still hold now — emphasis on many aspects — I no longer believe that the sole purpose of finance is to exploit others for extracting profit. I still believe that the majority of our current financial industry does not result in a net positive to society (see: 2009 financial crisis), but I have come to realize that there is room in finance to create positive change, and I’m not referring to social impact bonds or other marketing bullshit.
It is human nature to focus more on the negative aspects of anything more than the positive aspects. My attitudes towards finance was no exception. There was no way for me to justify to myself that I was making a positive contribution to society when my entire job consisted of making money from moving capital around from place to another to making money from expanding monopolies and credit markets or making money from compensating executives and laying off thousands of employees. Coming from a school like Penn, where the only forms of finance that people go into are investment banking and trading, I just could not justify to myself that I wanted to do this.
I’ve recently begun to read more contemporary economics books, which tangentially mention topics and individuals in finance. When I see a term or an individual that I do not understand, I look it up. I understand what a bond is now, for the most part. I understand how interest rates affect the economy, for the most part. I understand the point of gold prices, for the most part. It is through countless Google searches of topics that I should’ve learned years ago do I feel like I am beginning to understand the importance of finance in the world as it is now. Because the financial industry is designed to be secretive and obscure, I did not realize the extent in which it has the power to influence politics. It is cool stuff. I really enjoyed doing my Google searches.
But, of course, it is far too late for me to enter finance at this point in my life. Through information diffusion, I tangentially understand the recruiting process for finance. To even enter the field, I would have needed to have secured an internship at a bank this summer. To even have secured an internship at a bank this summer, I would have needed to start preparing during my sophomore year. And, seeing as though I was just being sad throughout the entirety of my sophomore year, I did not ever seriously recruit for any bank, and that path of my life is closed forever.
I ask myself, what have I been doing for the past couple of years? It is not that I did not care about my career; I am certain that I did. But it seems that I cared more about getting a career than preparing to get a career or even understanding why I wanted a career in the first place.
When I started college, I was certain that I wanted to be a doctor, and I really went for that, until first semester, when I realized that I did not enjoy pre-med classes, and I no longer wanted to be a doctor anymore. Then, after my initial fiasco of a career choice, I gravitated towards one idea to another, wanting to commit to something but never actually understanding what I wanted to commit to. I never bothered to understand what I wanted to do. I had goals, of course, but I never even bothered to assess the validity of my motivations for those goals in itself. What am I doing now? I have no idea. Further wandering, seeking to be attached, not committing — the same thing I have been doing all of my life.
In the context of finance, one of my friends phrased it, “It’s just about getting your foot in the door. You can figure out what exactly you want to do later on. But if you’re not in, then you’re just not in.”
Of course, this is the marketing campaign of virtually all banks and consulting firms. Something along the lines of: “Work for us, and then you’ll have the tools to do whatever you want, including social impact.” It is a neat marketing trick. But, to say that it is purely marketing would just be not true. Corporations with a lot of money, like banks and tech giants, have enormous amounts of power in all aspects of our lives. Their team of marketers shape how we conceptualize the world, their team of lobbyists shape legislative policies, their team of investors shape the flow of capital in our economy. It’s so much power, and it’s so misused, and there’s just so much potential to advance some social causes through their influence.
It is ironic that I am having this sentiment after just finishing Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas. I am completely ignoring everything I just read by saying that there is some merit in working in the private sector to achieve meaningful social impact. But even that phrase — “meaningful social impact” — it is so disgusting in the sense that it is thrown around so much without any substance. It is just a phrase, but it is echoed enough in the private sector that some people believe that it is true. And, to an extremely large extent, I would say that banks have created literally no positive change for average people. They have, on the other hand, doubled the income of the top 1%, tripled the income of the top 0.1%, and increased seven-fold the income of the top 0.01%.
But, what I am saying now is that banks aren’t the only financial institutions that exist. There is the public sector finance such as IFC or IMF or private sector groups with a specific empowering goal in mind such as microfinance organizations and certain private equity firms. These would be cool organizations to work for. But, the only way to enter these organizations is to work at an investment bank. Or getting a PhD in economics. But, seeing as though I do not work for a bank at this point and my economics grades would result in almost certain rejection from most PhD programs, these are all doors that have been closed for me.
It seems that it is too late for me to want to make a positive impact on others. And, although I am making marginally more of an impact at my current internship than I would at a bank, my current career track will not allow me the opportunity advance to an organization that truly has the potential to shape policy that would affect populations of individuals. All I am doing is manipulating spreadsheets in Excel, and I’m sure that is the majority of what interns do nowadays, but what is after this? Everyone in my office is also just doing their thing in Excel. My supervisor is doing things in Excel. Is this going to be my entire life? Doing things to spreadsheets in Excel?
Yes, I understand quite a bit about love and sadness. But what was the point of it all? It’s too late. What did I do with my life? What is going to be of my life? I’m 21. It’s late.