Out on the ocean blue, I stare into the glistening rolling waves rocking my raft back and forth. My reflection smirks, mocking me, daring me to make a decision. It’s just me here, here on my raft at the mercy of the wind and water, here on my raft with little to distract me, here on my raft wondering where the fates have drawn my string to or whether the string is my own to draw.
Across the horizon, I glimpse the outlines of 3 islands. So far away, they look the same to me, undistinguishable from where I stand. I lie at the crossroads, but I can’t see what lies beyond each path. Time can wait for me; I plan the start and finish of my own journey, so I close my eyes and listen to my surroundings, letting my imagination run wild within the confines of my darkened prison of insecurity and doubt.
To my left lay a trail of glowing pairs of dice leading to a casino of massive proportions, covered in flickering neon lights. At the top of the building was a swaying sign that read: “Actuarial Science”. I ambled past a line of board games: Life, Risk, Take a Chance. On top of the wall, I spotted an advertisement with tiny words of description that I leaned in to read:
Learn to calculate real-life probability! One example is how much interest you might make from a bank with a changing interest rate. By the end of this course, you’ll be able to calculate and estimate the probability of a multitude of things, including death and injury! Financial theory is included, and statistical and calculus lessons will be incorporated to bolster your abilities to recognize trends for analysis and prediction (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
As I stepped away from the sign, I noticed my summer math teacher walking my way with embracing arms-he was the one who suggested I should be an actuary 2 years ago, the one who sparked my interest in the world of business. After we had chatted for a while and he had left, I noticed a giant table of rowdy gamblers, dressed professionally in suits and slamming cards down on the table. Each of them boasted a different business card: insurance, healthcare, banking, and even airline industry. When the gamblers noticed my presence, they immediately started boasting of how many actuarial exams they had passed; while I wasn’t exactly impressed by their arrogance, I noticed one of the gamblers was especially quiet.
I asked him how many actuarial exams he had passed, and he whispered, “2” into my ear. He may not have been the brightest of the bunch, but I felt myself attracted to his humility (There is no real requirement for being an actuary besides passing actuarial exams administered by various actuarial institutes, but most actuaries have Bachelor degrees). Again, I walked away, away from the intriguing things inside the casino, until I came to a small table near the exit with 3 teenage girls occupying the chairs around the pile of poker chips drowning the table. Each of them sported college attire. They beckoned me with their slender fingers and twinkling eyes.
The girl with the most chips, wearing a University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) vest, clearly the most beautiful, spoke to me with a voice like the harmonic chords of a harp, drowning out all other sounds. She told me of her high school feats, her excellence in mathematics, which her school sought for. She didn’t have to do what she did, but taking a multitude of statistics classes (like STATS 101 and 102) and calculus (MATH 104) and finance (FNCE 100 and 101) allowed her to reach her full potential at UPenn (Undergrad-Inside.Wharton).
Leaning in to me, she whispered that UPenn students needed 2 SAT subject tests (with one preferably being Math II) and that though there were no real requirements, UPenn only accepted the best of the best. Her face was smooth and her features refreshing, like the fresh-cut grass during the start of spring. Her breath smelled of freedom and food truck vendors. Her eyes were a blend of multiple colors, diverse and inviting.
Next, I turned towards the girl with a moderate amount of chips from the University of California-Los Angelos (UCLA). What she told me was more technical. She told me about the classes in store for undergraduates—a multitude of math and economics classes like Differential Equations and Microeconomics and Macroeconomics (UCLA Undergraduate Requirements). To be honest, I was quite overwhelmed by the Math 31s and the Economics 100s, but I listened intently for my own benefit. While her academic splendor stood out to me, it was one of the only things that caught my eye. When I finally turned to the girl from Arizona State University (ASU) with the least amount of chips, she had little to say.
Her school wasn’t exactly selective, accepting those who had scored as low as 1134 on their SAT with a 3.0 GPA. Simply a high school class rank within the top 8% or a combined reading and math score higher than 1160 on the SAT would guarantee admission to the school (ASU TAG Business). She came off as dry and common, nothing special. Contrary to the girl from UPenn, I felt a sense of confinement and uneasiness. What she had to say had been quite disappointing, and I tried to dig out some unique quality, some specialized academic merit from within her. I failed. Lips pursed, she looked glum as I strolled past her out the door-she was the type of girl I had grown indifferent to, a girl I had no real business with, and I didn’t regret my choice with the other two girls in mind.
My eyes closed again, but this time I found myself in a primitive village that appeared isolated from the reach of urbanization and the influence of innovation. On the ground, the words “Village of Accounting-money runs everything around here” were scraped into the dirt. Something was peculiar about this village, so I wandered around until I had discovered in the jungle nearby what seemed to be a waterfall of dollar bills that left me wide-eyed and open- mouthed in awe. For hours I stood there, watching the flutter of bills pile into a sea of George Washingtons. It didn’t feel like just a cash waterfall though, it felt like something more.
Looking around, I noticed the waterfall seemed to be the center of all life in the jungle and the village. Animals quenched their greed in the pale green pool. The inhabitants of the village came and went with bucketfuls of money, and after a while I decide to return to the village and observe the people. Back in the village, there were 3 men in black suits going to houses, demanding money from the people—an act that both perplexed me and interested me in the men in black. When I asked what they were doing, they explained they were collecting taxes from the people to return to the waterfall. When I questioned why they would do such a thing, they told me the waterfall needs more money to continue supporting the life and land on which the people reside in a system of give-and-take. It turns out they were in charge of the taxes in the village, storing away financial records and always looking for ways to promote efficiency.
The more people took, the more they had to give back. It was all a logical system that the men in black and their superiors had calculated out; I found all this quite interesting, so I asked about their backgrounds. As a general statement, they told me they all worked as accountants at different levels like public, management, and government. Although they could get by with Associates degrees, 2 of the 3 men chose to get a Bachelor’s Degree for a greater chance of obtaining their dream job. Individually, the men began to tell me about their colleges. Two of the men had gone to colleges I had already been informed of-ASU and UCLA. The business schools were the same, and the only difference was the application of the mathematics and economics and finance.
Though I tried to sound interested, I was quite bored listening to the same information twice, and it was all I could do to stifle my yawns. However, the third man was clearly out of their league; he had gone to prestigious Columbia University to study accounting. He explained that students needed to have had classes in statistics (STAT W1001, W1111, W1211), economics (ECON V3265), and psychology (PSYC W1001, 1010) in order to succeed, and even then the college was still extremely selective and difficult, taking only the best SAT scores and most innovative individuals (Colombia Business School Course Requirements). While he didn’t relay much of the non-academic qualities that Colombia University boasted, he did emphasize the high-quality of business school.
After his “comforting” words, I was quite fazed and the smidgeon of hope I had hid in the corner of my heart was now quashed, like a fly beat down by a flyswatter. Attempting to console myself I closed my eyes, but when I opened then the village was no longer there.
It felt like an endless cycle, yet I couldn’t tell when I was dreaming. My eyes opened to a series of endless lines, extending beyond my line of sight and changing directions with every jerk and dent in what would have been straight lines. It was here where I felt the most uneasy, trapped in a world I could neither make sense of nor experience in the right state of mind. A series of lines spelled out the word “finance”, but I turned away in fear I would go mad from being surrounded by the endless jumble of lines.
Over my confusion, I heard the lines talking to one another. Surely this must have been sign of my insanity, but I decided to cave in to my curiosity and listen. These lines talked about a multitude of topics-stocks rising up and down and how to benefit from trends, balancing risks, making investments. Of course, my mind jumped to Wall Street and the stock market and the curiosity I had toying around with various stocks. After a while, I turned away to listen to other lines; I figured I might as well learn in my state of madness rather than stay dazed.
Other lines were arguing about whose job was best. Out of all the conflict, I managed to decipher words like: insurance, banking, money management, investment advisors, and a variety of other words, but they all had similar traits of analyzing stock for personal or industrial benefit, and it was impossible to figure out which line had won the argument. One similarity between all the lines was their Bachelor degrees, and it was amazing how these pugnacious lines could ever share something in common.
Right after the lines finished their argument about jobs, they started another on college. Fortunately I had heard of all the colleges that these lines were discussing: Upenn, UCLA, and ASU, for I felt that I wouldn’t be able to bear this crazed world a minute more. My discomfort was internal, as it is for all blooming investors. I closed my eyes, praying to God for something to happen, for me to escape this confinement of confusion and conflict.
And there I was, back on the raft where I had so easily fallen to sleep. But after blinking my eyes, I noticed I could distinguish the islands much clearer now, and each of the 3 islands seemed to mimic the ones in my dream. But I lay back down on the raft, mentally exhausted by my barrage of dreams. After all, I was in no hurry-time would wait for me, not the other way around, with no one to tell me otherwise.