Did I underachieve in life?

Lately I was wondering if I underachieved greatly in life. I’ll share a very personal story, just as a warning in advance.

Current situation: 32 years old, together with my girlfriend since 7 years. We own an apartment since a couple of months, our savings rate is good, might start a family soon. Very good relationships with both of our families. I like my job as a private client advisor and the salary is decent (120k total comp this year). I’ll make further progress within the industry once I finish my Bachelors (Banking & Finance) degree next year. So all in all everything seems to be good.

Still I believe that I could have done so much more and do a much more meaningful and intelligence-demanding job than I’m doing now. I have a huge interest in chemistry, physics, engineering, space, tech…just everything what’s making our life better and further progresses our knowledge of the world. I watch a lot of videos from YT channels like ColdFusion, Cool Worlds, Everyday Astronaut, PBS Space Time, Practical Engineering, Primal Space, Real Engineering, RealLifeLore, Tom Scott, Veritasium, Vsauce and many more. I get everything from it, even the more complicated and confusing videos from PBS Space Time for example. So how did I end up in banking?

My early life wasn’t easy. Abusive father with alcohol addiction, very bad neighbourhood…just a lot of violence as a kid. I developed behavioural disorders very soon and had to go to the psychiatrist for many years. I was kicked out of 2 public schools before finishing the 7th grade. My brother (with even more problems than me) left home when he was 17. My future looked very dim at that point. I already lost a total of 3 years (due to repeating the same grade in different schools). I had to make an IQ test (where I scored 129) and got sent to a private school (paid by the state) to finish the mandatory school. Things started to get better from here on. No more bad friends, my father got his shit together (stopped drinking altogether) and my grades got better.

I managed to get into the Gymnasium after I finished the mandatory school. I ended up with very good final grades (6.0 in math, physics and chemistry). I chose advanced physics as supplementary subject (where I learned a lot about relativity and quantum physics). To be honest, getting those grades wasn’t even that hard, I barely had to study for it. Everything just made so much sense for me. I helped out others a lot too, some of them even visited me at home for private lessons. I had the luxury of spending most of my free time with playing games (usually with real-life friends online). Then I went to university and studied computational sciences and chemistry. I failed at both. I don’t know why, but my motivation just wasn’t high enough. I spent most of the time playing games instead of actually studying. I was probably so used to not really study for things and being good (from Gymnasium), that I just couldn’t manage to change that. At that point I basically lost 6 years (3 years in the mandatory school and 3 years going to university without getting a degree).

Looking for alternatives I got an internship in a Swiss bank, finished it and started working there. I developed a high interest in financials and got very good at my job. I progressed fast and doubled my total comp in those 5 years after the internship. In the meantime I started studying again and will finish my bachelors degree next year (live-stream university, nothing fancy). I got into the FIRE-movement 3.5 years ago and learned a lot about investing. My annual performance reviews got better year by year and I got the maximum evaluation for 2022 (roughly 5% of the employees). I was promoted too. My line manager and his line manager are thinking highly of me. So my future in this company looks very promising.

I try to look at it in a positive way. Life was far from easy for me, especially as a kid. I could have ended up in a very bad place today. So in the end I probably made the best out of it. But I’m still wondering: if I had grown up in a different family and a different place, would my path have looked completely different? Would I be an engineer today? Working for a aero space company or something like the ITER project? Did I waste my potential? Did I underachieve in life?

The reason I’m thinking about all that is because I checked out the Linkedin profile of a couple of people that went to the Gymnasium with me back then. Some of them have a really great career and finished with a Masters degree from universities like HSG or ETH in Zurich. The very people that I helped out back then.

Sorry for the long post. Looking forward to get some feedback.


Edit: I realise that this is a very personal thread. So let me preface this by saying that I never did and don’t intend to cheekily or lazily throw just a random counterquestion at you. I actually wrote much more and deleted most of the answer I was writing. Including this “there’s little point in comparing you to others that went other ways” bit. And I can more than just empathise with failing academically and unfavourably comparing myself to my peers in career development. But…

What’s stopping you from becoming an engineer now?
You’re only 32 and have (had) a great savings rate.
You could get back to university and earn a degree in 3 years or so, with your talent and intelligence.


There is a major difference between intelligence and education.
A master’s degree from the most prestigious university does not mean that the person is intelligent.

Some people are cut out for academic careers, others are not. And that’s good! It doesn’t mean failing, it means that there is a place for everyone somewhere. I think it’s more important to find your place and be happy with what you’re doing than to have a comfortable but unfulfilling situation. Comfort is the greatest drug of all! You get used to it quickly and once you fall into it, it’s hard to take risks and consider other paths.

I think that, like me, you have the tendency to compare yourself too much to others. The question of “do I earn enough?”, “did I follow the right path?”, "am I happy in my job? I think these are important questions to ask yourself and it’s totally OK!

You have two options available to you:

  • Keep it at the questioning level and do nothing
  • Take action

Why not consider a second bachelor’s degree, for example, or on-the-job studies in one of your fields of interest? Decreasing the work rate and trying your hand at these fields could be an interesting and low-risk path, what do you think?


A very open, personal text :+1:

Don’t you want to add “up till now” to that title though?
I mean at 32 yo, geez. :blush:
Sorry that I’m so strict, it’s just that I missed any hint of that “up till now” in the text too.

I think under the circumstances you achieved well, at least until that short stint at Uni. Pity that uni didn’t work out. Maybe it wasn’t clear to you that you can’t just repeat a year, get a second or even a third chance, like you did at school. Or even if it was clear, the previous experience was still engrained.
Nature and nurture, both are needed. At school nature was enough (when you finally used it), but for uni nurture probably hadn’t prepared you enough yet mentality-wise.
This would probably have been hard to overcome for anybody, under the same circumstances.
I’m pretty sure those old school friends on Linkedin had a better preparation for studying, through their respective families?

Can’t/ don’t want to judge your career, as I’m not in that field.
But I did want to say, as a technical engineer type from uni, you may be romanticising this career a bit too much. (from those youtube channels). Watching that “interesting stuff” is in no way showing what those people do from day to day.

For example, I’ve had a few relatively bad-paying (much less than you) but technically interesting engineering jobs, which satisfied me. But a few years ago, I finally found a good-paying job in a big famous company, and unfortunately kind of surprisingly to me, it has been technically the least challenging and interesting time in my life, but instead I’ve had my life sucked out of me by endless meetings and corporate regulatory BS.

And similarly, maybe those Linkedin profiles of your old school friends are doing what social media does so well, show some theoretical rosey side of life and not the pain.


I think you have achieved a lot already.

It’s never too late, but it takes some big balls, changing an existing path I imagine. As posted above, Uni is all about effort put in (often). Would you be ready for this? It means going out of your comfort zone in many aspects, but it is possible and I’d argue not too late.

Other idea to optimize and max out on the existing path: why not go for a CFA as a masters and do a more challenging job inside the bank? E.g. portfolio management, CIO, WM, IB…


Thanks for sharing this very personal story. Others have already posted very useful commentary, especially regarding the fact that you’re only 32, and that you have already achieved a lot as well, and I certainly agree.

In particular, any notion of under- or over-achievement is bound to be relative, and to some extent arbitrary. Of course one could choose some kind of average to compare with, but there is an infinite amount of criteria you could choose from (salary? number of children? advanced university degree? from which uni? etc.), so you have to define what’s meaningful and worthwhile for yourself. For instance, you could also be concerned about personal growth, becoming a better person, how to live a meaningful life, etc., and those are certainly things one could not easily assess from LinkedIn profiles only…

Our stories are certainly different, but I see a common thread. School was relatively easy for me as well, so I made extremely pragmatic choices for my career. So for the longest time I have tortured myself with what-might-have-beens, and “what if I had followed my true interests?”. I have certainly made attempts at fixing all that, with varying degrees of success, but over time I also realized that one should not necessarily obsess with blending the pragmatic need to earn a living with their own personal interests or passion (oftentimes the former can actually ruin the later). There is a lot to say about that, but I personally find no better conversation-starter on that topic than the Japanese concept of Ikigai:

Now, given where this conversation is happening, it seems appropriate to bring the concept of FIRE in! Indeed, if you do things right (as you have already), the values behind the FIRE concept can eventually help you create the necessary space either to move around on that chart above, or to pursue these personal interests with much more freedom (and no pressure to turn them into a wage-earning career). In my case for instance, after having partially reached FI, I have finally moved to a more meaningful job (as a consultant for an international organization, which pays much less than the private sector!), and are pursuing a Masters degree (part-time and online) in a field that I have always been passionate about.

Ultimately, as you strive to learn more about yourself and the world around you, it’s up to you to decide what’s meaningful and valuable, and what you want to “achieve”, thus being the sole judge of whether you are under or over-achieving.

Hope this makes sense and perhaps helps a little.


For what it’s worth, I can share the other side of the story. I grinded for years and got one of those ETH Msc degrees you’re probably talking about and now work a career that probably looks fancy on paper when someone sees my Linkedin profile. But guess what: From my point of view I am jealous of people like you who are working in finance making a lot of money and get steady pay increases and promotions. I don’t have a lot of options for career progression in my current company, no bonus or fancy benefits and the pay is stagnant with uncertain job security. So I guess in conclusion the grass is always greener :smile:.

Do you know people who work in one of the fields your interested in? Or do you know someone who knows someone? Try to reach out and invite them for a coffee to chat about their work, people love to talk about themselves. Then you can have a more accurate picture of what they do and can assess if it’s actually interesting.


Please let me add my 2c. After your open and personal message, I’m a bit scared to sound banal… but:


Underachieve means that you have a desired objective that you didn’t reach (yet).
Do you have it or is it a “gut feeling” because you compare yourself with the images shined at you by Linkedin? If you are lucky that you know your objective, then maybe you can answer yourself and see if you can achieve your goal.
About potential wasted: that’s hard to answer. I can answer with the typical answer I read online from time to time about how we (as world) use our brightest minds on useless tasks like optimising the positions of Ads or calculating how to make people feel bad enough but not too much.

If you need a short list of actionable I think you should/could:

  • find out your goal/objective
  • take some vitamin D (shitty zurich weather is affecting everyone I think)
  • stop comparing yourself to others.

…now I wonder if I wrote this for you or for myself… :slight_smile: ( you are not alone in the “struggle” )


I think everyone goes through these sorts of questions, or at least should do, its just part of living. I think you have kicked ass, overcome lots of hurdles. Think of the hundreds of millions of people in the world who have absolutely nothing, and probably wont- / cant change their outcome. I used to look at life a bit like you have but then I changed my mindset and look at everything I have (and I dont mean material things). Take care and have a great weekend!!


I would dare say that the modern obsession with achieving/progress is unhealthy for society and the planet, but that’s just my opinion. The point of FIRE is to (ideally) escape from these abstract social pressures and do what you really enjoy (even if that is sitting under a tree making daisy crowns for the rest of your life). Are you enjoying your life and reaching your personal goals? Potential and achieving are abstract concepts until you define clear thresholds.


You provided me with solid guidance and advice 3 years ago. For me, you are the very opposite of an underachiever. :clap:

p.s. you are 32! What would I give to be that age again and do things differently!

p.p.s. all solid advice in this thread so won’t add anything beyond that if you really want to do a Masters, you can also do it part-time or online or an executive MBA.


“I never lose. I either win or I learn.”
Nelson Mandela

What are your learnings from that? It sounds like you might be more motivated by your current job than computational sciences and chemistry(?)

Why do you think your job is not meaningful? You get the opportunity to help people improve their finances and improve the lives of their families. A soccer team doesn’t work with 11 strikers and I think it is similar with society. We can’t all be rocket scientists


MSc and PhD here, envying a guy with this kind of salary at the age of 32 and prospectives for a steep growth and thinking if I am a loser.

Yeah, grass is always greener on the other side and you don’t have the whole picture about other people.


+1, exactly as written

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Thank you all for the replies. I‘ll be able to make a post tomorrow.

The diploma does not make the salary, I see it in my branch where despite having a PhD for some years I earned a lot less than some freelance consultants who went through apprenticeship. Coming to the harsch realization that I would never make that kind of money I decided to quit my permanent position and to become a freelance myself. At the end having a diploma certainly makes it easier to find a job at the beginning but that’s not what’s going to define your career and how your compensation evolves over the years.

The other question is whether you want to start a career in engineering which indeed you won’t be able to do without going back to school, because some credentials are required. However, salary wise a career in banking will surely pay more, so in my opinion not worth the effort if the salary is the deciding factor for your…


Add a +1 from my side too.

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We all realize at some point that life is short and that we won’t be able to have all the exciting (professional or else) lives we could have had. But you still have time for a second one…

A personal experience: I was a long time in finance and always wondered what it would be like to be in the real industry that makes real products, not in a business that misuses the term “industry” and labels services as “products”. After a series of unexpected events, I am now on the other side (in the real industry).

So, why not doing something different?
You also will meet people who are frustrated not having done something else, especially in finance :wink: .

As a side note, I can only recommend a novel by Tonino Benacquista. It is called “Quelqu’un d’autre” in French and is probably translated in many languages (at least two: “Someone else” in English, “Die Melancholie der Männer” in German, …).


Thank you for sharing! I sometimes compare life to an act on the tightrope. You want to get out there and be challenged but when you have an unsecured fall, all could be lost in a heart beat. It could be a health issue, it could be a mental issue, it could be a simple stupid accident. I would focus on what is and be grateful for every single thing you have instead of pondering what else could be.

@MisterB pointed out the Ikigai concept, which I think is very helpful. It helps to have a focus or a passion. But also remember that not everyone is blessed with finding their own purpose in life. Raising kids is the next best thing, cause it really puts everything in perspective and helps you grow further.

Also, careers do not need to be linear anymore. Just as you are studying on the side for now, you could be doing a side job in the future that balances your manifold interests. Want to blog about science, become a part time teacher, translate complex things into bites everyone can understand? Work from home or part-time work could free some time for any activitiy that could add to your happiness.

Lastly, being a relationship manager is a lot about personal relationships. Maybe you deeply enjoy that? I have learned that customers and RMs are often matched based on their personalities. What if you were to advise more customers with science backgrounds? You would be in a fantastic position to understand their businesses and bring much more to the table than the average banker. (edited to fix typo)


For bankers, it’s nice to know that one of the previous CEO of UBS started with an apprenticeship.