The first time I ever heard about investment banking was when, while in high school, I read I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe. I found the novel's portrayal of college life shocking and terrifying and swore I would never go to college. I could not believe the way people acted and was even more bewildered that success after college was some crazy job called investment banking where young, ambitious graduates work incredibly long hours in return for a ridiculous sum of money. The whole novel seemed absurd.
However, within the first weeks of my freshmen year, I had already been "sexiled" just like Charlotte Simmons and heard about seniors going through corporate recruiting for fancy investment banking and consulting jobs. Tom Wolfe's novel became my reality.
I entered college as a bright-eyed eighteen year-old ready to save the world. I made some attempts to save the world, but mostly learned how naïve I had been. Every student in my class was supposed to read Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder before freshmen year. The book about Paul Farmer, a physician and anthropologist from Harvard with dreams to save the world, instilled a sense of idealism in all of us that was promptly crushed upon our arrival at the idyllic New England campus. We were not attending an Ivy League college to save the world, but merely to become pawns of corporate America - more accurately, wealthy pawns controlling other people. By the end of sophomore year, almost everyone had traded Mountains Beyond Mountains for Case in Point, the infamous guide for preparing for job interviews where you are expected to analyze a particular business case.
I never fully bought into this investment banking scene, but I was hyperaware of it. I decided to drop my minor in economics after becoming so frustrated that the professor assumed we would all end up on Wall Street. I stood by as my boyfriend at the time accepted an investment banking job, only to hate his life, blog about it, and finally accept a huge pay cut so he could take the job of his dreams.
It is the American dream to make a rush toward fortune. In 1849, people swarmed to California for gold. In the late 1920s, people rushed to the stock markets when margins were as low as 10%. And for the past couple of decades, the smartest, most ambitious young people were rushing to the investment banks on Wall Street. Now that banks have crashed and gone through reform, i-bankers will find it harder to gamble other people's money - and will have to accept risks of bad performance.
The no-brainer fortune is no longer found on Wall Street and graduates from top colleges can no longer bank on big bucks right out of school. Some of my classmates are freaking out, some still managed to squeeze fancy consulting jobs, and some are being forced to consider their true interests and dreams.
Is the Class of 2009 going to be graduating at the worst time in recent history and facing a bleak world? Or is this class going to be the first class of graduates in many years to be forced to create a new American Dream -- one based on integrity, passion, and justice? The jury is still out and I am still very jobless, but I firmly believe that this recession will lead to a new values-based economy and might actually be a blessing in disguise. Just think of the possibilities for change and progress if the smartest young people in the country are forced to be creative, use their minds, and do good -- instead of just creating money for themselves and others.
Investment banking is so yesterday. As a trend spotter, I should be able to figure out what the next "gold rush" will be. It is still hard to tell, but maybe this economic downturn will adjust the definition of success for Ivy Leaguers and other top college graduates. Right now we are all scrambling and cursing the fact that the economy has crashed just as we are graduating and entering the job market, but maybe this struggle will bring us better results in the end.