If someone you care about suddenly starts to talk about how they are planning to “go into business,” your initial reaction will probably be shock, accompanied by an overwhelming fear of the risks involved. Such was the case when I announced to everyone I knew that I was going to pursue a major in Finance. Almost instantly, I was bombarded with warnings, objections, and even counter-offers: “money isn’t everything,” “the competition for jobs will be too large,” “try learning something practical- become a doctor,” etc. Sometimes, I too start to doubt whether or not I had made the right choice. After all, even professional finance majors with more than twenty years of field experience might lose everything in a matter of minutes and end up penniless business owners- assuming that they even managed to accomplish anything in the first place. This is exactly what happened to my own father during the financial crisis of 2008- it only took one month for his firm’s stock value to plummet so low, that he had no choice but to file for bankruptcy. And yet, I know deep down that there is nothing that interests me more than what I am studying now.
I wouldn’t say that choosing finance was some sort of childhood dream of mine- although, most likely, many of us do fantasize about growing up to be rich and powerful. Since I come from a lower middle-class family, I knew that I would have to start earning money for college as soon as possible. I am currently 25 years old, and yet I have already worked at 17 different jobs- including ‘lumberjack’, ‘door-to-door salesman’, ‘hospital assistant’, and ‘crab fisherman’. During these various episodes of my life, I did more than just what was required of me- I studied each respective sector as much as possible in an attempt to understand what responsibilities I would be faced with should I choose to stay and climb up the career ladder. Sadly, none of the prospects piqued my interest in the slightest.
Regardless, on a cloudy morning in 2016, while I was spending the summer in my friend’s backyard (perfect for low living expenses), I found what I wanted to become- a director in a financial firm. However, I would never have expected my source of inspiration for choosing a profession to be a homeless man sorting through a trash bin next to the house. And yet, there he was- Malcolm Sanderson, an unemployed philosophy professor, who, despite his deplorable condition, gave me a cheerful smile and a wave as he stepped aside so I could throw my garbage bag away. I can’t recall exactly who spoke first, but, before I knew it, we were discussing politics and joking about the weathermen- I suppose we looked quite silly, chatting out there in the open as if we were good neighbors. Nonetheless, this became a weekly ritual for both of us.
We discussed a great many topics during these “chance” meetings: Shakespearean plays, Aristotelian ethics, morality, and alcohol were just a few of the more popular ones. However, the conversation that still haunts me to this day was the one we had about the nature of money. I had been planning on giving Malcolm a little cash as a friendly gesture, but the moment he saw those bills, he became so furious that feelings of shame immediately struck me like lightning bolts. Mr. Sanderson had always been a proud man. One wrong decision (to entrust the majority of his life savings to an amateur “businessman”) had cost him his house, his wife, and his job- yet he, apparently, never accepted charity from anyone, choosing instead to wander the streets in search of trash bins.
When Malcolm finally calmed down, he proceeded to lecture me about the concept of money: how it originated in the first place, how it was a physical representation of a person’s life, how every form of creativity and innovation exists today only because someone found the funds to make the dreams of others a reality. “Why not pursue a career with money managing? There is nothing wrong or shameful about it, just make sure you aren’t as bad at it as I was”- this is how Mr. Sanderson chose to conclude his speech that day. We talked for nearly a year after that, before Malcolm stopped coming over for good, much to my disappointment. To this day, I still feel really sorry for him- his entire tragedy could have been avoided, had he simply entrusted his money to a more capable person.
Money truly defines a great deal in our lives. The potential it offers exceeds that of just satisfying our basic wants or our carnal desires. To some, a million dollars represents cars, houses, jewelry, vacations, security- however, very few see the blood, sweat, and lifetimes needed to earn that amount. My dream is to make sure that each sacrifice like that is put to good use. And that is what good finance can accomplish- proper investments, optimizations of expenses, and gains from mistakes made by competitors can all be used to bring about great change and progress, if used effectively.
And that is just what I plan to do.