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  • As a high school senior, getting into college early is a feat that all your classmates envy. The freedom to slack off without consequence throughout the second semester. The ability to boast to nervous classmates awaiting the ultimate judgment from admissions offices. Achieving early admittance was like getting a bye in the first round of the knock-out stage. Unfortunately, as much as I desired to be the guy on the bicycle next to my friends racing for their lives around the track, I was one of the last of my peers to get into college.

    I was resolved not to make this mistake again when the next opportunity arose in senior year of college. I majored in Economics and I only had to compare myself to liberal arts students with degrees in disciplines the job market considered “heady”. After a slew of interviews and networking meetings over Spring Break, I had landed an office job. Coming nearly two months before graduation date, I had earned the right to two months of smugness and academic indifference. And I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    In hindsight, what I took to be a victory was actually a tragic defeat. For one, I lost two full months of invaluable education (not to mention the years that followed, which were devoid of personal academic achievements). With yearly tuition at my school, Kenyon College, nearly $35k excluding room and board, two months surrendered meant about $5k of educational value was wasted. Even worse, I fell for one of the biggest lies ruining the futures of countless talented Americans, and participated in the propagation of that lie. The lie: A career in finance will make your life happy and meaningful because you will earn more money than your peers.
    It was my first encounter with the influence of the corporate world, armed with above-average salaries and an aura of undeserved respect. Finance is soul-sucking in a lot of ways, but the companies have miraculously made the industry coveted by college students. Men in suits showing up to recruit on campus; front-page articles talking about sophisticated investment instruments; gigantic houses with pools and maids; airplanes and yachts; 401ks and business cards, etc. The investment consulting company for whom I worked was not special in any way, as most financial firms are not seeking to elevate humanity. And woe be to the employee who aspired for something above the quotidian mediocrity that reliably produced adequate profit margins.

    Had I dug a little deeper into my liberal arts education, or had I ignored the corporate-stained aspirations of my classmates, perhaps I could have seen through the lie. Perhaps I could have examined other options that would sooner arm me with tools I could use to one day change the world. Rather than hunt for wild game on the frontier, I was duped into chasing rabbits at home. It would be several years before my intellectual abilities were challenged by the company that paid me.
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