It appears that everyone in business school is taking courses in portfolio management and derivatives, reading career guides for Goldman Sachs, circulating anecdotes of “who gets into McKinsey” and rehearsing their own stories to impress the recruiters. Investment banks and consulting firms are of course the Mecca for those driven by prestige and money.
Educated in Mainland China, I know that the one and only motivation for school students is to get into Tsinghua or Peking University because they are the best in China. We apply to business schools because we think they teach us how money can be made fast. We choose to major in finance because it’s a popular option. We then work on consulting case studies, and prepare for sales and trading interviews because they are the most lucrative entry-level jobs.
Please the parents
We are adept at doing the things that impress our parents and friends the most – those which guarantee the highest and quickest paybacks. We believe that getting into the “best” firms justifies our choices and endows our life with purpose.
In the meantime, we unceasingly narrow our focus and refuse to be seduced off the “right” track by fabulous experiences like shooting an independent film, the work-and-travel programme in Yellowstone National Park, or a stimulating internship at an NGO.
I clearly remember the “best career path” suggested by advisors at university. It goes like this: run a student society in year one; join a corporate project on the first summer break; do an exchange and find an high-profile internship in year two (which will most likely lead to a return offer).
Universities seem to only encourage innovation in science and technology instead of morality and rationality. They have become more utilitarian in their curriculum designs, resulting in a ridiculously homogeneous landscape of ambitions among students.
Get some moral courage
I have a close friend with an inborn talent and insatiable interest in music composition who has ended up in a CFA exam. Another friend with straight A’s in humanity courses landed a financial analyst job after beating off 300 other applicants. Similar examples must be more common than I dare to imagine.
I have no intention to downplay the validity of becoming a financial analyst, economist or business consultant. They are all value-adding and relevant occupations. But as graduating students, we ought to have the moral courage to shape our own destinies instead of following the formula.
Morally courageous individuals don’t fit in with prevailing ideas about the way life should be lived. Some think of this as a cliché and even fewer have the fortitude to embrace their own moral liberty and shield themselves from the cowardly values cherished so highly by society. After all, the world is too large to let the bankers and consultants dominate.