MORRIS: Young money, and its limits

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Photo by Annelisa Leinbach .

Should I think about working in investment banking?

Even as tech outpaces finance as the hottest postgrad job for the Ivy League-educated, that’s still a question most Yale students ask themselves at some point during their junior year. It’s as if Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe flip a switch triggering a magnetic field to attract us, or at least get us to consider, embarking on the path from Woolsey to Wall Street, well trodden by so many creative and ambitious Yalies before us.

The comfort of a structured internship program, an early recruiting cycle and a secure salary seems like a potential antidote to the malaise that accompanies the jarring realization that being a junior means we’ll soon be leaving our castles and entering The Real World.

If you, like me, felt this strange pull toward the mystical title of “financial analyst” or found yourself amidst a pack of suit-clad bulldogs sniffing each other out and sizing each other up at a Goldman Sachs recruiting session without any idea how you got there, Kevin Roose’s new book is a must-read.

In “Young Money: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street’s Post-Crash Recruits,” Roose, a 26-year-old former reporter for The New York Times, shadows eight young college graduates who are starting jobs at major investment banking firms. Roose follows their paths from recruiting events to internships to the first two years working on Wall Street.

“Young Money” isn’t a judgmental book about the evils of working in finance. On the contrary, it’s a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of what life is like for young bankers (read: what our own lives could be like if we end up there on purpose or by default). Roose dedicated the book to the memory of Marina Keegan ’12, who provided him with a glimpse into Yale’s campus recruiting culture after Occupy Wall Street.

Roose describes his subjects’ trajectory from the first glamorous recruiting events, to the personal impacts of living with cutthroat competition, to games of “misery poker” as first-year analysts try to one-up their peers with tales of working to complete exhaustion, missing family events, ruining relationships and damaging their health. “They make pitch-books for clients who will never read them, and get yelled at for improperly aligning cells in Excel, all in hopes of a year-end bonus number,” Roose writes.

There’s no way to say this gently. Life as a young investment banker on Wall Street, as portrayed by Roose’s subjects, is hell. By every measure, if the experiences Roose portrays are fair, working as a young banker on Wall Street is a very unhappy way to spend your early 20s.

This is really sad. As Keegan so eloquently wrote, we’re only early-20-somethings once. These are the years when we need to figure out who we will become, not only professionally, but also personally. What values will we live by? What problems will we try to solve? What will we create? Who and what will we commit to? The young analysts that Roose follows are bright, deeply human, scared of failing and filled to varying degrees with twinges of existential dread. But while working what one recruit calls the “i-banker’s 9-to-5” (9 a.m. until 5 a.m. the next day) in a culture that many find odious, they don’t have time to ponder these questions. When asked about morality or ethics, they say they’re just doing their best not to screw up.

What is most useful about “Young Money” is its ability to weaken the magnetic pull of Wall Street and to provide at least a temporary force shield that allows Yale students to think — before we jump on to the hedonic treadmill of achievement — about what we want in our careers.

“Young Money” makes the case that we need to spend the time — purposefully, thoughtfully — to define wealth for ourselves. The philosopher Alain de Botton suggests that “wealth is having what we long for.” “We should focus in on our ideas and make sure that we own them, that we are truly the authors of our own ambitions,” he writes. “Because it’s bad enough, not getting what you want, but it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want and find out at the end of a journey, that it isn’t, in fact, what you wanted all along.”

By revealing how insecure and dispirited some graduates who won among the highest-paying jobs in the nation feel, Young Money may help the rest of us feel less anxious about our own futures. If the most coveted path to riches brings so much misery, then that’s all the more motivation to be courageous and to go after what will make our lives truly rich.

Perhaps it is knowing that most important kind of veritas — the truth about what matters to us — that is the key to becoming a true Master of the Universe.

Viveca Morris is a junior in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at viveca.morris@yale.edu .

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