Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The 3 life lessons that investment banking taught me -

  • Lesson 1: Its not about the long hours - Bankers are perennially complaining about how intense and hectic their jobs are and how terrible the lifestyle is. Truth be told - its not just the long hours, a lot of people have terribly long hours - doctors, nurses, media folks- however what they also share is a sense of meaning and purpose, camaraderie and a feeling of belonging. Banking as a profession is deeply isolated, you work in silos and the sense of " each man for himself" is very pervasive.  You tend to perform a lot of repetitive and mind-numbing work, compounded with large amounts of unnecessary stress and fake sense of urgency. So actually, its not just the long hours but the environment and the people you interact with on a daily basis. Your superiors don't really view you as an employee but as a " resource", where the delivery of meaningless sheaf of papers is treated as a life or death situation and the very air that you breathe everyday reeks of deep-seated anger, fatigue, frustration and negativity. 

  • Lesson 2: It makes you the worst version of yourself - One tends to become self-centered, self-absorbed and terribly impatient as you spend more time in this job. It is common to become extremely short and intolerant with people you interact with on a daily basis and your friends, family and partners bear the maximum brunt of it. You and your problems become the center of the universe.You start to expect instant gratification from everything in life whether its the chocolate getting stuck in the vending machine,your taxi arriving late at night or being stuck in traffic. For the extremely agitated and constantly on the edge banker - these are such dire situations that they require solutions with the same speed and agility that these very bankers have to display constantly at work.  Another common trait is the slow loss of empathy. Once when my analyst came up to me and told me his grandmother had died before the deadline of an important client deliverable - my initial reaction was " Oh god!This is so unbelievably inconvenient!!" Of course, I eventually made the right noises and expressed my condolences but the only thought running in the background was the impending negotiation with the staffer on how to get an another analyst as soon as possible. 

  •  Lesson 3:Money does not buy you happiness- Investment banks think that by throwing money at you, they are absolved of all responsibility of treating you like a person. Now there are many people out there who would agree that they wouldn't mind being overpaid slaves and these luxury problems are hardships of the privileged. Agreed - bankers don't need to fight for their food, shelter or safety - but most bankers tend to be stressed, depressed, lonely, sleep deprived with poor health, low self-esteem and look older than their age - white hair, eye bags, dark circles - the works !This was confirmed through careful experiments that I conducted to entertain myself during those many hours of  life that were spent wasted for my MD's, VP's and analysts. I used to think of people that I worked with, then look up their pictures on the intranet and it was with immense pleasure that I perversely observed once healthy, youthful, smiling faces had slowly morphed into the equivalents of aged, wrinkled and dried up raisins. So, yes one may have 100k in the bank account but at the same time - you have no social life, few friends, probably no time for hobbies and oh, you look 45 when you are actually 30. 
I read somewhere about a nurse who counselled the dying in their last days and had recorded the top 5 regrets that they had in their end of days.The top 3 were - I wish I hadn't worked so hard, I wished I had stayed in touch with my friends and finally - I wish I had let myself be happier.