In 2014, I was fed up with finance. I’d worked in the industry for nine years – seven of them in client-facing roles, and I was exhausted. I was completely burned out and demotivated. As far as I was concerned, I wanted to leave the industry and never to come back.
The problem was that finance had changed. I’m not averse to working hard, but it had got to the stage where I was expected to work late every night and was given no support from my manager. I’m a marathon runner and I need to run to stay sane, but I had no time to exercise. I was getting in at 7.30am and leaving at 7.30pm and when I mentioned the hours to my manager, he simply said, “Don’t work so late.” There was no real effort to reduce my workload, which increased exponentially after the financial crisis as the bank tried to do more with less. We were under-staffed and were having to deal with pressing regulatory issues. Every day was pressured, and I could see no potential for promotion.
So I quit. I followed my passion and I qualified to become a personal trainer.
And I can now say that the grass is decidedly not greener on the other side.
When you don’t have a full time job, you don’t have the security of a regular income. This might sound obvious, but the benefits of that security only become apparent when it’s gone. Suddenly, your income is erratic. Sometimes you have a lot of clients; sometimes you have none.
When you’re self-employed, you’re also on your own, a lot. Instead of interacting with colleagues and clients daily, you’re at home, waiting for client appointments. You don’t even have the interaction with other humans that comes during a daily commute.
And while you might get plenty of physical exercise as a personal trainer, you don’t use your brain. I missed the technical and problem-solving aspects of my finance job.
After two years out of the market, I’m therefore back in again. I was headhunted by a former colleague and I’ve gone back into a job that’s extremely similar to my old one. Despite being away for 24 months, I’ve stepped back in and remembered everything straight away.
In some ways, nothing has changed. There’s still a lot of regulation. There’s still a lot of work to do. It’s as if I’ve never been gone.
My time away from finance has taught me about myself though. I’m not about to burn out again. These days, I have a rule that I won’t leave any later than 6pm and that I won’t eat lunch at my desk. I always have at least 30 minutes out at lunchtime and I see my banking job in a more relaxed way. I know there’s no point in getting stressed: at the end of the day, it’s only work.
James Lee is a pseudonym of a client relations professional at a European bank.