Do not do as I did, but rather, do as I say, because what I did burned my career to the ground, while what I say is from the mouth of the proverbial Phoenix risen from the ashes.
Now, the smell of ash that follows me around is not from my career as a corporate banker. That, indeed, was rather successful. It’s what I did after my banking career that qualifies me to offer advice to those in an industry I once cherished.
Landing that first job – or the next promotion – in the financial services industry means that you have arrived…only at the beginning, or at a new beginning. Thinking otherwise causes burned flesh.
Before sharing the four principles, bear with me through this condensed recount of where it went wrong for me, because in that is advice on how it may go right for you.
In 1989, I resigned my position as a corporate banker in the City of London with National Westminster Bank, which, at the time, was the biggest bank in the world. I left behind this financially rewarding, upwardly mobile career with the yuppie lifestyle to pursue a childhood dream of owning my own business before the age of thirty. With my thirtieth birthday looming the following year, it was simply time.
I started a consulting business with high hopes, and it seemed as if my professional dreams were coming true. Not so fast. Eventually, despite my best efforts, the business failed. It was the first thing I had failed at so miserably. My ability to fully convey just how deeply I felt the grip of despair, losing everything, with nowhere to turn, is, quite frankly, lacking. Suffice it to say, one must choose to go on or give up. My choice was to go on.
And, so, here I am. Having turned failure into success, I’m occasionally asked to share how to avoid the inevitable landmines that everyone pursuing success must face.
Thus, we have the four principles:
Know your values
If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. I was invited out to lunch during my first week as a banker. “What a kindly gesture,” I thought. The guy inviting me to lunch scarcely noticed my existence thereafter. On inquiring of another colleague what I may have done wrong, I was told: “Oh, nothing. He always takes newbies out to lunch to assess the threat to his ladder-climbing. You were obviously regarded as anything but!”
It may have been tempting to play the same game had I not clearly understood who I was and what I stood for.
Come to play the game with a plan in place
At the very least, your plan must include:
- The end game. Do you have to end up as SFO SVP or CEO – or haven’t you given it consideration? Financial services careers can be stressful. Those with a clarity of purpose suffer it best, regardless of whether they achieve their ultimate objective.
- What’s your timeframe? Don’t be too hard and fast with this. Use it as a guide for measurement of whether you’re on track.
- Your family. Usually one might ask, “How are you going to integrate your career into your family life?” A successful financial services career often demands that you integrate your family life into your career. Know how you intend to achieve this, or if you even want to try. It is not an easy balancing act.
- Do a lot of due diligence before embarking on a particular career path, taking a promotion or switching firms. Is it really the best fit for you (and your family)?
Keep the vision of your desired career path
There will be ups and downs. Treat every failure as a:
When things veer off-course, remember that the Apollo moon rockets were off-course 97% of the time. Use your vision and your plan as your guidance system. Pick yourself up, brush yourself off and continue the fight.
Remember, givers gain
“Givers gain” is the motto of Business Networking International (BNI). It is founded upon Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Law of Compensation, which states that each person is compensated in like manner to that which he or she has contributed. This, of course, is itself a restatement of the Law of Sowing and Reaping.
Within our context here, a giver is someone that puts the customers’ and organization’s needs before his or her own; goes the extra mile without the need of recognition for doing so; and does the right thing, because it’s the right thing to do.
Needless to say, these aren’t the only principles that will serve you in your pursuit of a great career, but they will provide a platform for achieving sweet dreams, as well as an avenue for avoiding your worst nightmares.
Lennox Cornwall is a former City of London banker at National Westminster (NatWest) Bank and the author of the book Embracing Failure: Your Key to Success.
Photo credit: Michael Blann_GettyImages