I’ve spent 18 years in banking. I’ve been a managing director at Goldman Sachs and I’ve changed jobs a lot. In a fifteen year period, I switched jobs six times. My friends dropped away from finance and, hey, I’m still here!
Why did they go? Well, I started in banking in 1999. A bunch of them quit right after 9/11. They didn’t like what New York was like then. Then again in 2002 I had some more friends leave at the bottom of the recession. And again in 2008, and in 2011, and in 2016. Some left voluntarily. Some didn’t. Every time, I stayed on.
Don’t get me wrong: there have been many times I’ve thought of quitting banking. I’ve stood on the ledge. I’ve been knocked back by difficult markets, bad bosses, and being (metaphorically) punched in the face and stabbed in the back by colleagues. Every time, I talked myself down.
I’ve always told myself that it’s not me: it’s the game. That the banking game is a harsh one and that there’s nothing wrong with my skills, my abilities, my professionalism. That success is about perseverance and not letting the environment get you down.
Too many people think that succeeding in banking is about being loud and political and kissing up to your boss. Too many others think it’s about being technically proficient.
It’s neither: succeeding and surviving in banking is about being resilient, adaptable, curious, and above all, thick-skinned.
Resilience comes from watching your energy and your self-confidence – and is therefore related to how thick-skinned you are. If you’re in banking, you’re probably very competitive, but you don’t always need to win. Sometimes you just need to stay in the game. Don’t always operate at peak performance. Conserve yourself. Make time for family, friends, exercise and meditation. Share your problems with other people.
And then, because banking changes quickly, you can’t assume you have a job for life. That job you’re doing now might not exist in 10 years time. I know no one who started with me in 1999 who’s doing the job they had then. In fact, most of them were unaware that the job they’re doing now even existed 18 years ago. If you want to survive you need to watch the trends and ride the opportunities. Adaption means switching from buy-side to sell-side, from investment banking to sales and trading, from sales to trading, from research to technology.
This is where it pays to be curious. You’re not going to learn what’s outside your bubble if you don’t keep looking. You need to eep reading. Keep talking to colleagues at the bank who are not in your area – ask them what they do, how it’s changing, what they think about the future.
If you want to excel you need to be humble. You may be working hard. You may be making good money, but there’s a sea of things you don’t know. If you want to stay in banking while everyone else leaves, you need to learn this pretty fast.
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