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Leaving banking was the hardest thing I’ve ever done

Mark Romeo

All I thought about were words. It would start on my morning commute: stance wide like a surfer on the shaky train, balancing fresh coffee in one hand, a book in the other. Whether I got through a paragraph or page—I was grateful. I’d envy those writers who could put so much truth into one simple sentence. Reading a great phrase repeatedly, I’d mutter to myself like a maniac—my fellow passengers turning away.

I had to write a novel.

But when? In 2008, I’d moved from New York to London, working for a major investment bank with some amazingly talented people. But then cuts came, and pressures mounted. Higher sales; deeper dives. Longer hours. We achieved incredible things. But leaving the office, my mind was mush. Forget about coming home to another computer screen—let alone crafting something profound!

Instead, I’d pour down pints, laughing with friends. But then this thing kept clawing at me—a self-loathing everyday I didn’t write. Neglecting your known passion is more torturous than having never discovered it.

I finally reasoned that everything was an experience; that I wouldn’t be abroad forever. Better to taste life first. After all, what good was a writer who’d not yet lived?

I started booking solo trips—weekend jaunts with my notebook. That first trip to Venice sealed my fate: sipping the sunshine, and bitter beauty of a Campari spritz. The distinct pleasure of having nowhere else to be.

I’d wander through European cities, smiling at every passerby. Raw material piled up, as kind strangers offered beers and stories to this strange, barstool poet scribbling like a madman in their candlelit tavern. I didn’t feel like a writer or a banker—just a vessel of visions I wanted to share.

But then the doubt. I took a writing course, thinking I’d show off my brilliance. Wrong. My story got stepped on, spit at—my creative world crashing down. I spent the following months deflated; my notebook shelved.

Pouring my energy back into banking, I got promoted, and started managing a team. I loved it: bringing the best out of people without simply taking it. But sure enough, that thing. I recalled those writing critiques—realizing just how much I’d needed to hear them. That I had so much still to learn. And how beautiful it was having a big fat goal staring me down! But to get there, meant fighting with everything I had.

So I saved up a war chest. I set a goalpost (attaining UK citizenship), resigning once I got it. One of the hardest moments of my life was cutting that safety net, telling my manager (whom I highly respected) that I was leaving. But I’ll never forget his parting words of encouragement.

So please, if a passion’s building inside you, don’t torture yourself. If you’re not yet positioned to pounce, control what you can—enriching every minute of your life while planning for that next step.

You’ll know when to take it.

Mark Romeo is a former prime brokerage professional who’s worked in New York and London. 


Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com


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