Did I underachieve in life?

Things like that could have happened even if you had chosen an engineering career. You have little control over it.

I am 39y old software engineer and I could have written such a paragraph myself. During my studies at the HES, I was easily one of the most talented and promising student. Guess what I got out of this seemingly great potential? Almost nothing… I just spent 10 years working my butt off in a start-up that never really succeeded… Everyone was sure that this company would make us rich in no time, but nobody was expecting the 2008 crisis…
In the meantime, many of my comrades made good progress in their careers. There are people I used to consider like “entertainers” who have PhDs and/or exciting positions, I can assure you that my CV looks pale in comparison.

Fortunately, having children made me less ambitious and happier. It made everything look less important…


Nothing much to add but a +1 to a lot of the positive reinforcement already posted. Above all I think your introspective is incredibly healthy especially for someone considering starting a family since every kid is different and you’ll have to decide for yourself the road you want to take if/when that happens for your family. Kudos to you for this, it’s something that will serve you well.

This rings home for me…. if it’s any consolation this is not necessary the right question. I was extremely lucky not to fail out of first year engineering myself after really hesitating between engineering and law. It’s common to try to reduce the number of students with an extremely exigent first year … a lot of us needed to relearn how to learn since highschool didn’t require the work that uni did.

So I think you could have been an engineer based on what you wrote indépendant of what happened before (thanks for sharing such a personal story)….but don’t forget that this would have changed the trajectory that you’ve known since including lessons you’ve learned - perhaps other very positive aspects of your life may not be the same as a result of that change.

So indeed : grass is greenest when we water/take care of it. The size of the lawn is another question entirely.

Cheers :beers:


Thank you all again for the many replies. It was very helpful, much appreciated!

I know that you can change your profession even in your late 30s, but me for me it would be just too late. I would give up a pretty decent career in banking for it. It would also be a lot of hard work. Early 20s, living at parents home, working 8-16h/week…so much easier. I just couldn’t manage it now. And it would probably put early retirement out of the picture.

I think doing what @whatever said would make more sense. Max out my existing path. After my Bsc starting with CFA or CIIA and then try to get into more challenging jobs in banking. And you are right @rolandinho with “up till now”. I have at least 20 years left to achieve more. @ma0 You’re right that I don’t have a final goal that I didn’t reach yet. It was just because of the comparison with some old friends. And like others rightfully said, Linkedin doesn’t show the full picture.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized: why not make a hobby out of it? Have a room in the basement, try stuff etc. → just for fun, not for earning anything out of it. I really like the concept @MisterB posted. Once I’m FIREd, like @Daniel said, I could even spend more time with it.

Jeff, Di.Pi, nugget, covfefe: I really wasn’t talking about money. I know that my salary is quite good, especially considering that I don’t even have a Bsc yet.

You are right. My interest in finance has grown so much over the last couple of years that it’s motivating me more than science. It’s probably the reason why my performance in my job is excellent and my 2nd try at studying is going much much better than back then with Chemistry/Comp. sciences.

That’s actually my current goal. Leaving retail banking and become a private banking RM, so I could advise more demanding clients.

For the rest, I’m sorry if I didn’t quote you. There is actually a limit (10). In retrospect, trying to reply to all of you made my post less coherent. Hopefully it still makes sense.


Thanks for sharing your story.

The others made wonderful contributions here, I will try to add something hasn’t been said yet:

  1. believe in yourself. You are a very valued and estimated member of this forum. You provide so much valuable info to people here, both experienced and less experienced forum members. See point 3 below.

  2. success isn’t measured by IQ, actually quite the opposite. In life, you need to be both street and book smart. Book smart alone can help you to get a PhD but difficulties in scaling up the career ladder. Street smart means you are not naive and help you to navigate difficult people and get what you want. Combining both and you can go far away. I think you possess both

  3. you need a safe base. Safe base is a place, a person, a thing that you count on unconditionally. You are upbringing caused you difficulties and uncertainties. People need to feel safe before they take risks, so to help people unleash their full potential you must first make them feel secure – even in an uncertain world. Try to find that thing that can help you to unleash your full potential

  1. ask and get what you need. I don’t know how you are at work. Some people hope to advance but never externalize what they want. Go and talk to your bosses, tell them where you want to get, tell them you are ready to do anything (still legal) to get there

In short. You are extremely lucky. Your past can only give you strength! Find a safe base and unleash your full potential!


I revisited the „Share your salary progression“ thread and realized 2 things. My steep salary progress over the last 5 years isn‘t something ordinary. A lot of high-skilled jobs (like engineering) aren‘t paid what one would expect.

So despite me questioning if I underachieved (in terms of qualifications, knowledge etc.), it seems that I still did pretty good salary-wise.


Hard work wouldn’t be an insurmountable issue, since you could reduce your work commitments and (soon) live from savings.

So basically what you’re saying is… you are doing so well career-wise - despite failing academically - in your current career that you would deliberately and prudently decide to keep following down that career path now? Oh, and let‘s not forget you are currently working to redeem yourself academically, too.

Well, that kind of gives an idea of an answer, doesn’t it?

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It’s possible to leave finance and move to another area where you think that you’ll be more fulfilled but end up so much more challenged, that your working evenings and weekends, be careful of what you wish for.

A lot of people define their own identity from their jobs or from their family, don’t do this - the work can come and go but your more important than the job that your paid to perform. It’s so important to have interests, outside of work and friends from a non-work source too.

Find financial freedom with FIRE doing what pays and then find your passion, I read that once and often think back to this, it’s practical, sensible and will leave you with lasting happiness.

Lastly, you have a unique skillset, help others to become financially independent, that will provide fulfillment.


Related to the topic.

Thanks Cortana for having sparked this very interesting discussion. The purpose of all the rumination here have more to do with the meaning we give to our lives than how much is necessary to live a comfortable life.
My 5 cents are: 1) given your starting point, so far you have achieved way more than the “average successful person” so you can be happy for that; 2) you have at least 20 years in front of you to opt for a career change and still be comfortable to seek a safe employment, if you want. Switzerland is great for that: I have been able to change 5 jobs in 14 years, all different one from another - I am 56 :slight_smile: ; 3) the people I personally value the most are the so called Polimath, that is people who are able to put to work their multiple skills at the highest level. Check for example Dave Rowntree of Blur or Daniel Harding, brilliant conductor of a few great symphonic orchestras in Europe and commercial pilot for Air France. It looks like you have a good set of skills you can use in different contexts to your best satisfaction.

Anyway, at the very bottom end, just stick to this list to understand if you’re doing well in life:

  1. You have a roof over your head.
  2. You ate today.
  3. you have a good heart.
  4. You wish good for others.
  5. You have clean water.
  6. Someone cares for you.
  7. You strive to be better.
  8. you have clean clothes.
  9. you have a dream.
  10. you’re breathing.

Be thankful for the little things, for they are the most important. Cheesy but true.


At the end we all go back to dear old Maslow :slight_smile:


source of the image: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Explained

Basically it seems that you (we all?) are at the top or tring to get to the top.


Thanks for sharing this personal topic.

I cannot add much more to what has already been said, there were many great comments. I can relate in some way to your “struggle”.
In fact why are we pursuing FIRE? Is some sort of an escape plan B or is it the plan A ? I’m sure work could give us purpose not only money.
I want to share this reflection from Lawrence of More to That.


What do you guys think about the name of the university? Is it crucial? It seems that very sucessful people went to pretty good universities. For example:

  • Simone Westerfeld, head of Personal Banking CH UBS, went to HSG.
  • Andre Helfenstein, CEO of Credit Suisse Schweiz AG, went to HSG.
  • Christa Emminger, head of Personal Banking UBS Zürich, has a PhD from University Bern.
  • Daniel Hunziner, head of institutional clients Credit Suisse, has a PhD from University Bern.

My BSc won‘t be from a fancy uni like HSG. I will probably not have a MSc as I‘ll go for a CIIA after my BSc.

How much will that matter?

I’m quite confident that it’s not the university name that led them do their positions.


haha look how successful his career is. Yes, he’s a Bank CEO. However, he’s a CEO of a totally failed bank and even if he could right the ship by his own merit, the Board will probably not let him do it and other CEO’s of the same respectable brand will easily destroy his track record…

ETH, HSG and EPFL are all very good names careerwise. But that won’t get you your CEO role. They might bring you to the first mid-management job, but from then on it’s track record, achievements, picking good managers and a bit of luck to progress.


thanks for sharing this thread :heart:

Two additions to all the good advice/input to what others already said:
TLDR: Grit is what makes people successful

Just sharing a story I came up across in engineering management lately.
Superstar Number 1 was a 20yo guy who was disappointed with his life, dropped out of college and went to work on 5* cruise ships and then later in 5* hotels - and then “suddenly” almost 10 years go by.

He learned a perfect English and a close-to-native German, he learned having a great customer focus and anticipate anyone’s needs from a few words and was trained to be super service oriented. He was made team lead in the hotels after a short while. He also picked up a wife and 3 kids along the way somehow…

Then at 29yo, he decided that this career in hospitality is not something he wants and he wants to be an engineer instead - so he registers for our IT junior programme and 3 very intensive months later he’s a Certified Kubernetes Administrator out of DevOps Academy. Paid super poorly (junior salary with a training baggage) with 3 kids, barely enough to go by in day-to-day, but ready to learn anything I give him and never says no for a challenge. Long story short, in 18 months he’s made 2 promotions into Senior engineer, almost tripled his salary and got to lead 5 people locally… and not because he was an intrinsicly talented DevOps (those don’t exist), but because of the experience he gathered in his previous life and the application of those skills to his new profession.

Superstar Nr2 was a lawyer for 6 years and later found his calling being a Java dev instead. Similar story, similar ending.

If you’re 32 and want to be a (software or devops) Engineer, it’s just about a year’s impact in terms of salary and humble learning, and then you’re back on your feet. A degree adds little to these career paths. If you want to be in space engineering, that might be a different story, though.



But I‘m quite confident that graduating from a no-name instead of a well-known university would have prevented (most of) them from going to their positions.


Probably true most everywhere, but not in Switzerland.
Check out this article: Some of Switzerland's top CEOs did apprenticeships instead of high school

I agree, it is easy recruiting. If you are HSG, you are more likely to hire a HSG person because you know what you get and they are in your personal network

This article is giving examples of 2 former CEOs, not really a representative study. They are probably more the exception than the rule and would rather feed some confirmation bias.

I have seen a study that the guys in top positions of banks etc. are mostly groomed since their earliest carrier (meaning hired from a top university and then pushed through the ranks - as longthey produce the results needed of course).

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In my opinion, a paper from a recognized school is useful for showing off in society. It’s a bit of a “who’s got the biggest” contest.

The network is much more important than any paper. In that sense, joining a local Rotary or Lions Club would be much more helpful.


Thanks for sharing your story. I feel like studies and life achievements do not necessarily correlate.

Do you think your friends are happier than you? You have your own place, a girlfriend, and a stable job.

I also work at a bank and often wonder if I could be doing more, just like you. And the answer is YES. I could be doing more, doing better. My dad always says life is a marathon. If you want a job, a mission that adds value to the world, there are many ways to create that position for yourself. You still have time to go back to school, or build a resume that will help you achieve what you have always dreamt of (in engineering or not). There are many ways to help people, at a small or large scale.

Congrats for what you have built so far.