Doctor: “Hello ___ .”
Investment banker: “Hi.”
Doctor: “I understand that you’ve been having stomach problems, correct?”
Investment banker: “Something has happened. Yes. Whenever I drink water or…any liquid for that matter…I feel a strange sensation when the liquid reaches the point before it enters the stomach.
Doctor: “How long has this been going on?”
Investment banker: “Three months. Ever since I started working at the bank.”
Doctor: “Any other issues affecting you?”
Investment banker: “Parts of my scalp are red and scaly. Look…”
[Moves closer to the doctor and reveals redness of scalp above temples. Also, dry eyelids.]
Doctor: “I wouldn’t worry. This is very common for people in your line of work. Bankers are under a lot of stress. From what you’ve told me, you’re not sleeping much, you haven’t been to the gym or done any cardiovascular exercise since you started working and you’re under a lot of pressure from the moment you get to work. To top it all off, you consume 4 cups of coffee each day.”
[Doctor pauses, stares patient dead in the eye for a very long second. Resumes]
Doctor: “Look, you’re dealing with abnormal working conditions. Therefore, you have to counteract this by getting regular exercising, eating healthy foods and avoiding excessive caffeine. Personally, I have no idea why people like you do this to yourself but then again that’s not what I’m here to tell you.”
Investment banker: “Trust me, I know this. I’m doing it to get the experience, save a bit of money and then I’m out.”
Doctor: “That’s what they all say.”
Doing what the doctor ordered
I did as my doctor suggested. I changed my eating habits. More salmon; less ketchup. More fruit; less pizza. Less coffee; more water. I started going to the gym. I made time to go even though it (i.e. time) was something that no longer really belonged to me –my time belonged to the bank.
Result: I felt a little better. But not much.
The antidote: perspective + priorities
Over time, the stress I felt when I first joined the bank subsided.
However, the stress never leaves, as people in the business will tell you. I could not eliminate ALL of the stress. The job was far too demanding, the stakes too large (e.g. multi-billion dollar deals and multi-million dollar bonuses) and the need to be highly efficient 24/7 while multi-tasking invariable.
Fortunately, I could eliminate a good part of that monster (stress) and limit some of the negative effects.
Two elements were pivotal in that respect. Some people are fortunate to be in possession of both almost naturally. Others, myself included, need a shake to see the light:
1) Put everything into perspective and confront the fear: THIS IS JUST A JOB! That’s all. Irrespective of the glamour, the deals, the pay, the life, the image you give off in front of others, etc., it is just a job. And if it were suddenly taken away from me, then life would still go on.
It was difficult to appreciate this initially because most of my time each day was spent in the office, frequently including weekends. And most of that time was highly focused on the job. It was a HUGE part of my life. Accordingly, I gave it all the importance in the world. So like anything which feels like a big part of you, the risk of losing it becomes a source of great fear.
Fear. That was an additional element I needed to tackle. What did I fear exactly? What is the root of this fear? And so I asked myself a few important questions which soon highlighted the absurd nature of it all and helped me come to grips with the fact that the job was not a matter of life and death. Sounds like a truism that even a carrot would comprehend, right? But it’s not always so simple when you’re in the lion’s den.
Further questions to myself:
Question (Q): What is the worst that can happen if this job is taken away from me?
Answer (A): I will find another. It may take time but I will find something. I may not have money for a short while. So what? I’ll even fall behind on expenses and loans. I’ll eat pasta and baked beans every day straight for a month. I’ll eat at my friend’s house, move in with my parents, etc.
Q: Will I die?
A: No you silly idiot.
Q: Will I lose my family?
Q: Will I lose my friends?
A: No. At least not my real ones. As for the others, then I’m better off without them anyway.
Happiness, health and my family/friends (relationships) are what matter most. Simple, right? Well, it’s easy to forget when you’re living a hectic banker’s life, up at 6am every morning and rarely home before 10pm. When work landed on my desk after 7pm and required completion by the following morning), I’d remind myself of the priorities. When my line manager would, for no apparent reason but to give off the impression that he was a Big Swinging Dick tell me that I did not work hard enough and risked losing my job, I’d remind myself of the priorities. Doing this not only enabled me to shift away unreasonable importance I assigned to the bank but also helped me cope with difficult situations which, I am telling you, occurred on a daily basis.
Different people keep sight of priorities differently. Could be photos of your parents, siblings, children, family, friends, etc. May be a poem or some religious scripture. Whatever it is, one must keep sight of life’s priorities in this business.
Know your reasons
In dealing with the stress of the job I also had to define the reasoning for my actions, especially the motivation which led me to the bank. Though I knew why I joined, I defined the ultimate aim very clearly for myself.
Why was I working in the bank? Why did it warrant unusual levels of sacrifice and distress?
My motivation: learn as much as possible about finance and leverage on those skills to help me become a successful entrepreneur.
For others, it may be to become a managing director within X years, to move into private equity, or to save up enough money to launch a fashion brand. Whatever the reasons, make sure you know them.
Lastly, if you aim to stay in a bulge bracket investment bank your whole career, pray you have got good genes. It will affect your looks.
About the author: The ibanker is a former bulge bracket investment banker who founded a family office-backed investment firm which provides specialised services to sovereign wealth funds and family offices across the globe.
The ibanker has co-founded several Internet startups and undergoes regular actor training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts for fun. A copy of this article first appeared on his blog, here.