I imagine that many finance professionals find themselves waking up many days in their career and doubting that they’ve picked the right professional path. In my experience, I’ve certainly had moments when I questioned whether finance was for me. Sometimes it’s after a long night, but sometimes it can hit you suddenly or when you are least expecting it. Some people complain about finance not being intellectually stimulating, but I actually find it to be the opposite. In this piece, I take you through my experience of questioning whether I should be in finance, and the road to where I am now. Hopefully, my experience is helpful to those of you also struggling with determining if this path is right for you.
When I started college, I didn’t know what finance was. My idea of working in “finance” was being a bank teller because that was the only interaction I’d ever had with a financial institution. I didn’t have any family members in finance, so I didn’t really know what was out there. When I took my first finance class in my sophomore year of college, I finally learned that “finance” was a much, much bigger field that I could have ever imagined. I didn’t yet have an understanding of the types of jobs available to me in finance, but I knew I liked math and working with people, so that seemed to be enough to pursue this field. I switched my major out of engineering and became a finance major, and I feel fortunate my family and friends were very supportive.
My first foray into working in the financial services industry was working at my college’s endowment. I was first attracted to it given its great mission and impact on the lives of me and my fellow students. As I started my internship, I enjoyed a lot of aspects like meeting with investment managers and evaluating investment potential. At the same time, I realized investing wasn’t glamorous every hour of every day. Sometimes it meant sitting through really long meetings, tinkering in Excel just for it to send you a million error messages, and people using a bunch of finance jargon that I didn’t understand. I felt some real imposter syndrome that summer, and it was discouraging. I questioned, could I really get up to speed on the financial jargon my peers seemed to already understand? Would I ever learn all the Excel shortcuts? What even makes a good investment anyway? It seemed daunting.
My first investment banking internship was the summer after that, and by that time I had gained a lot more confidence that finance was the right path for me. I was really enjoying my coursework and had a better understanding of accounting, financial statements, and basic investment knowledge. While my internship threw me a lot of curveballs, I was much better equipped to handle the challenges this time around. At the end of it, I didn’t question whether finance as a whole was for me, but I did question whether investment banking was for me given that some of the work wasn’t that interesting and the hours were long. I still took the return offer because I wanted to give it a chance, and moved to NYC to start my job after graduation.
As a full-time investment banker, I realized I really liked helping on transactions and seeing the real-world impact of my contributions. I didn’t love the lifestyle I was leading though, and that again made me question whether finance was for me. I saw my friends working in consulting, tech, or other fields making about the same amount of money, or more, and they were happier. Why were they happier? Was it because they worked fewer hours or because they loved what they worked on? I couldn’t yet distill what exactly about my job was making me unhappy.
I went through a period of self-reflection during the winter of my first year where I thought deeply about my professional trajectory and my priorities in life. I didn’t love my job in banking, but I didn’t know if making a move was the best course of action. I started asking my friends who worked in private equity, corporate development, and consulting what they liked and disliked about their jobs. I reached out to headhunters who started getting me interviews at various buyside gigs. I even interviewed at a hedge fund and realized that was completely not for me. All of this is to say that I went on a rollercoaster of a journey trying to figure out if finance was for me and specifically, what area of finance might be a good fit.
At the end of it all, I went back to why I chose finance in the first place. I love math, I love people, and I love combining my technical skills with the ability to work with colleagues and other companies to impact change on a large scale. I realized that deep down, I really do like finance. The things holding me back like my imposter syndrome, my dislike for certain aspects of the jobs I had done, or feeling like I was “less happy” than my peers in other fields didn’t mean I didn’t like finance. It just meant that I hadn’t found my perfect fit in the industry yet.
Now I work at a private equity firm, and I can honestly say (and hopefully I’m not jinxing it) that I feel like finance is for me, and I’ve found a perfect fit with the firm I’m at. Not only do I think making private investments is fascinating, but I also think every aspect of conducting due diligence is purposeful and necessary. I don’t feel like I’m given busy work or not included in important investment decisions and conversations. I get to meet management teams across the country, work on deals in a variety of sectors, and learn more and more every day about the world around me. So, if you think finance isn’t for you, take some time to reflect. The answer might be that it really isn’t for you, and that is perfectly valid! But if it’s for you, don’t let yourself settle somewhere that isn’t the right fit; keep searching for that firm or investment strategy that you genuinely enjoy.
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