BUSINESS COLUMN | Hill: Risk is a Yalie’s luxury

It’s time to start taking risks.

No, I’m not talking about the reckless sorts of risks that treated the world’s credit markets like a glorified slot machine. No, I don’t have any stock picks. No, I won’t tell you what funds to invest in. For that, I’ll leave you in Jim Cramer’s eminently capable hands.

I’m talking about other kinds of risks — specifically the risks that you, an 18 to 22-year-old Yale undergraduate, should be taking. You should take a chance on yourself and invest in your dreams and passions.

It’s true; with things as they are, taking risks seems like the last thing you should be doing. Every day, you hear stories of carnage, poverty and woe from the banks, funds and consulting firms you expected to give you a job or an internship. Your impulses tell you to save more, spend less and stick to the most conservative plan possible. But maybe, just maybe, this is your big chance.

Consider this: Your chance of landing a lucrative job (or any job at all) has fallen like Wall Street’s dignity. That means the opportunity cost of going out on a limb and taking a chance is much lower. And since conventional wisdom is pushing everyone else in the other direction, the potential payoff is higher. You are also particularly well-positioned to succeed in your risk taking. You are creative, motivated and educated and, perhaps most importantly, very young. Success could considerably alter the trajectory of your life, while failure would almost certainly be mitigated by the prospects in your future. Your short-term solvency and career prospects will probably have only a small impact on your life and happiness. But the experiences you gain have the potential to change you forever. At age 60, you certainly won’t be worrying about the debt you accrued to follow your passion after college. You will, though, have the memories and, perhaps, an altered life to show for it.

You might be asking what exactly I mean by “risk.” As I hope you have figured out, I’m not hawking collateralized debt obligations. I’m telling you to take a risk on yourself. I’m telling you to pursue a passion that a year ago might have seemed outlandish or impractical. Try working for a nonprofit over the summer. Start that company you’ve been thinking about. Apply to grad school to study ichthyology — not because you think you’ll get rich doing it, but because fish really get you excited.

I have a confession to make: I didn’t come up with this advice all on my own. As a senior moments from graduation, I have been amazed by the resourcefulness and positive attitudes of many of my classmates. Some have taken their inability to get a job as an excuse to spend time doing something they really want to do. I’m excited at the prospect of having friends who are artists, poets, organic farmers and teachers. I recently decided to study philosophy in graduate school — something I scarcely would have fathomed even a year ago.

As one of the Rothschild barons of the 19th century is famously reported to have said in the wake of the economic disaster that befell Britain during the Battle of Waterloo, the best time to buy stock is “when there is blood in the streets.” To be sure, Rothschild wasn’t talking about the life decisions of college students, but his maxim can be generalized. It’s high time you bought stock in your dreams.

Tyler Hill is a senior in Pierson College and a former news editor for the News.


  • Yale 08

    This is a very relevant and worthwhile topic, Tyler; thanks for fleshing it out into an article for today's YDN. The concept of how the financial landscape alters what Yalies in particular should consider following graduation is indeed something students should consider; to quote Sharon Oster (SOM Dean) the day Lehman filed for bankruptcy and the markets fell to the depths of hell, "The opportunity costs of following your dreams just went down" (said, appropriately, at the beginning of an SOM econ course).

  • Yale 08

    Right, because a realistic and praiseworthy dream is entering an interminable philosphy graduate program, toiling away in obscurity, writing articles for journals that 5 people read, getting your first real job at age 31…

    Academia is for fools.

    Like philosophy? Read it after work and on the weekends.

    I prefer reality.