Opinion | Op-eds

Looking beyond finance

Discussions about banking, finance, and the application grind in the industrial engineering department are as commonplace as references to the Core in John Jay Dining Hall. The application process to banks and consulting jobs is one that many Ivy League students understand: It is competitive, clearly structured, and reputable. There is no uncertainty about what needs to be done: Dress professionally; attend an information session; network appropriately; submit an application, resume, and cover letter; prepare for the interview, go through several rounds; and (hopefully) receive an offer soon after. The timeline is clear. There is comfort in having an answer to the question “What are you doing after graduation?” before Christmas. However, most of my peers rarely sound excited about the prospect of spending their lives in a bank.

As a caveat, I say most because I do have some friends who are genuinely interested in financial markets, banking, and the whole lifestyle that comes with it. Kudos to them for investing their life in what they love!

Some people are lucky. They find their passion at a young age. “I’m going to be a doctor and save people’s lives!” “One day, I’m going to become a world-famous violinist.” “Time loses meaning when I’m coding in front of a computer.” 

In the past, college used to be a time of exploration. Now, when I look around at my friends who are economics majors or industrial engineers, I see them settling for the “cubicle life” to drown in the corporate whirlpool from year one. “I don’t really have a passion. Investment banking pays well, though. I’ll do it for a few years, and then I’ll quit and do what I love.” Sometimes, I feel like I’m the only one who hasn’t been able to find life’s meaning stashed away in the filing cabinets of the finance industry.

What is the point of spending all night in the office and making all that money when you don’t have any time to spend with the people you love? Is it only when you realize that the only relationships you’re cultivating are with those who only care about how much revenue you are generating for the company?

Back in high school, my favorite teacher gave a wonderful graduation speech, and his main message was clear: Think. He proposed thinking about joy and about what makes us happy. However, I’m going to go one step further and propose that we also think about fear and the rationale behind it. Is your fear of uncertainty so great that you would willingly give up the wonder of being free?

Our 20s are meant to be the greatest times of our lives. Now is the time to make the mistakes that are most worth making. True, you can always work a couple of years on Wall Street, save up some money, and then leave. However, it’s also true that even when you win the “rat race,” you’re still a rat.

Here we are at the greatest university in the world (no bias!), and we are all seemingly going into finance. There is so much talent entering the community but no innovation leaving it. So I propose some food for thought: What is your purpose in life? Do you feel we have an obligation to leave the world a better place than before we entered it?

I’m not suggesting that I know the answers to all the questions that I am asking or that my thoughts will never change. Heck, I don’t even know yet what my plans are for next year yet! And yes, I am freaking out about it. However, I also believe that we all have the tenacity to become successful when we do what we love if we have the courage to fight for it. So I’m not going to let my fears of the unknown force me to settle down at the age of 21. I am going to struggle, and I’m going to hope that one day I will find that thing that I can do to make the world a better place. Because at the end of it all, my hope is that I can live my life in such a way that when I look back on the path that I am taking now, I will be proud to claim it as mine. 

The author is a School of Engineering and Applied Science senior studying industrial engineering and operations research. She is a teaching assistant for Managing Technological Innovation and Entrepreneurship this semester and the vice president of Columbia Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs.

This article is part of a series reflecting on Columbia’s start-up week, and the relationship between entrepreneurship and students on campus and beyond. 

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.


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Guilt-Free Banker posted on

I have been working hard for more than half a decade now for the opportunity to make a large income upon graduation. I feel no guilt about that, and I don't think there's anything wrong with the brightest minds in the country going into a field which sustains the economy. I don't consider myself a "rat", I consider myself a man who knows what he wants in this world. It's time to move past this holier-than-though attitude of people who look down on lucrative careers.

Anonymous posted on

I feel like you're missing the point of her argument. She's not saying that there's anything wrong with a lucrative career. It sounds more like she's saying everyone should take some time to think about what they really want out of life and then go into something that they're proud of. Personally, I think this article was great-- well said Farsai!

Anonymous posted on

It's a valid point that Farsai is making, but something that I think she's not considering is that rent is due every month and that it takes money to pay the bills and put food on the table. That can be a stressful reality for many people.

Absolutely go after a career that you have a passion to pursue. But also remember that when it comes to REAL LIFE outside college, there is a necessary balance. That is, of course, unless your parents are willing to float you for another few years while you exclusively pursue your passions without consideration for real life obligations. That's a privilege that may be available to some graduates, but probably not most. In life outside college, there's no structured meal plan or guaranteed four years of housing once you graduate. You miss a payment, you're SOL...

Moreover, most college graduates have some form of student debt to pay off, and while a career in finance may not be THE career for the rest of your life, it guarantees a number of valuable skills in training and preparation for the rest of your professional life, and can also help pay off some of those student loans.

I'm a recent graduate of CU and while I like that these issues are being raised, without real life experience to judge your peers on wanting a little bit of safety when graduation time comes, I don't think Faisal is giving fair consideration to how tough it is in the real world and she may be living in an ideal mindset. Also, don't call people rats...though I commend her for raising these questions and for asking people to give it a thought.

As a caveat, I graduated from CU, spent a few years at an investment bank, and then left to pursue a different career outside of finance. I don't regret the decision I made to start working at an investment bank, and I'm happy with my decision to leave and work in a different industry at a much smaller company...and I'm still in my 20's, so I'm very much in the process of "figuring it all out."

Anonymous posted on

I respect your argument in defense of what might be termed the "real world reaction," but to be absolutely honest, I'm not totally convinced. Yes, it's hard in the real world, and yes you do need to pay your rent, but there are so many other careers out there where you make enough to get by (comfortably I might add) and still do something that you love.

Once again, just like Farsai, I'm not saying that investment banking=evil. I'm just saying that there is space for people to really consider what they want to do with their lives while also balancing that with something practical without necessarily going into banking (which, let's face it, a lot of Columbia kids try to do this by default). It's Socrates--an unexamined life isn't worth living, and I think that Farsai is just bringing this to the forefront. Don't hide behind the "real world" as an excuse for not doing this; there's definitely a way to balance both.

Paul posted on

Yay Farsai! You should write something about alternate career paths like ones in start-ups!