Langer: Different paths, similar ends

On the phone with my dad last week, I found myself defending investment banking by comparing it to Teach for America. This may seem a strange comparison to many, but I think they can be different means to the same end, just catering to different value systems and preferences.

I-banking, you may think, is what you do when you have no soul, when you want to drink only good alcohol in Manhattan but don’t want to live on the Lower East Side. TFA is what you do when you are a good person, you realize that “Yale is a bubble,” and you actually want to step off the Metro-North tracks to share your trove of Yalie advantage with those who don’t have any advantages.

Maybe, though, these seemingly disparate choices for how to spend the 23rd and 24th years of life are not so different after all. There are certainly people out there who love quantitative reasoning and Bloomberg terminals, and others who have a passion for saving high school students from potentially dismal futures.

It seems to me, however, that there are more people who just don’t know what they want to do for more than two years. The only thing they know for sure is that “finding themselves” or getting “real life experience” as a blackjack dealer in Vegas is probably not a good choice if they want to get back on their pre-Yale tracks sometime down the road.

Many of us have been bustling along these tracks since we were 3, but we won’t be able to for much longer, for they end at graduation. The last thing we want to do is take a job that is not prestigious, does not facilitate a bright future, does not let us live comfortably or build a nest egg to use later, and is not even work we really enjoy.

It’s all cost, but there aren’t many other obvious ways to delay committing to a new track. Jumping into a Ph.D. program that will spit you out when you’re close to 30 after paying you minimally to compete in a terrifying job market doesn’t sound great either. So if you haven’t discovered your calling by senior spring, what kind of job should you look for?

It seems that looking for a two-year commitment that will only help you later is a smart choice, and also one that probably won’t make you tear your hair out. Aside from not requiring you to sign away more than two years of your life, neither I-banking nor TFA and other public service jobs require taking expensive, labor intensive test-prep courses. These jobs are not long-term commitments; instead they feel — and are — transitional. You (probably) aren’t worrying that this might be permanent, that you might really want to spend the rest of your life in the Mississippi Delta.

I have not yet had to make a decision like this myself, but I can at least say that these choices do not feel permanent to me as I hear about them. They buy people time to figure out what they really want to do.

Young graduates need to figure out whether they love teaching so much that they do not mind quieter lives than those that some of their friends are pursuing. Or does stimulating others’ minds not cut it? Do they need their own minds stimulated, thus forcing them to scurry back to academia? Do they actually find finance fascinating, not minding that the nightly movement in their beds belongs to a BlackBerry?

The paths people choose are influenced by their talents and values, but maybe we shouldn’t use the particular means of delay to brand people as much as we do, especially if we’re branding them as saints or sinners.

It is much more likely that all these choices brand people the same way: willing to try something that interests them even though it’s hard, not wanting to waste time paying their dues for something they’re not sure they want, not quite ready to leap off the tracks of the guaranteed-to-help-you-get-to-the-next-prestigious-step path.

You know, people who are 22 and went to an Ivy League school.

Melanie Langer is a junior in Davenport College.

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