The Tale of Finance, Consulting, Golden Handcuffs and The Pursuit of Optionality

Ikigai Network
3 min readOct 5, 2020


How choosing a career for the money or because it was available can change you and your ability to pursue your dreams

Mihir Desai is a professor at Harvard Business School, where amongst other things he teaches MBA students the art of finance and how to extract a narrative from a company’s money numbers. Desai does an amazing thing in that he makes the outwardly dry world of finance relatable and in it finds analogies for our human experience, as he recently pulled together in his book The Wisdom of Finance: Discovering Humanity in the World of Risk and Return. In much shorter form he also imparted his ideas to the graduates of 2017 in an article on “optionality”. This should be a must read for anyone who is going into consulting, finance or any other career with the goal of “just making some money first” or “filling my resume before I do what I really want”.

A mindful approach to career selection is what Ikigai Network is all about. It’s safe to say this is not a common approach on university campuses or recruiting. You’re most likely to hear from a large finance or consulting company on a university campus today and once you are in those careers you will largely hear from finance and consulting recruiters. There are obviously any number of exceptions but it is safe to say that you are rolling down the middle of the fairway if you find yourself doing a case interview with a consulting firm 6 months before graduation.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Some people are passionate about business and generalist problem solving, others are maximizing for money (obviously valid if done consciously) but it is the last group who should take pause. Desai addresses these people in his article, those individuals who have specific dreams but by pursuing a prestigious, high paying job believe they can de-risk the subsequent pursuit of their dreams. This makes a lot of sense at face value. But there should be a warning on the label. Working in a job like this changes you, your lifestyle adapts to a certain salary, you may decide to pursue an MBA as that is broadly accepted path and before you know it you may be wrestling with “Golden Handcuffs”, the idea that you are trapped by structured cycles of pay raises, promotions and perks designed to keep you in place.

The shortest distance between two points is reliably a straight line. If your dreams are apparent to you, pursue them. Creating optionality and buying lottery tickets are not way stations on the road to pursuing your dreamy outcomes. They are dangerous diversions that will change you.”

Before taking out Case in Point and preparing for a case interview or sitting down with Wall Street Prep make sure you are doing so consciously. You can pick up valuable skills and come out in a great position (see our interview with Monica) but be careful you don’t lose sight of your ultimate goal. Check out to get an inside look as to what various