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The sicknesses that strike investment bankers. And how to cure them

Banker sicknesses

If you work in investment banking you might get sick. Worse: you might get sick and not even know it. I was a managing director at a leading global U.S, investment bank and I saw plenty of sickness. I’m not talking about the kinds of viral illnesses that lead to endless days off in other industries. I’m talking about mental sickness. Low level mental illnesses that your doctor cannot cure. They’re insidious in banking.

There are three big illnesses that afflict most bankers. They can be overcome, but you need to identify them first.

1. The sickness of face time

Face time is a deadly disease. Worse, it starts attacking its victims early: sometimes as early as the first year.  You’ll know if you have it. Typical symptoms include being stuck at the desk at 11pm and being at the desk on Saturday & Sunday.

Face time is difficult to cure. The personal persona gets entangled with the work ego; extrication is almost impossible.

There are cures, but they might be painful. Take the weekend off. Turn off your phone at the weekend. Leave work by 7pm.

Remind what Seneca said on the bareness of a busy life and the sickness of acquiring by great toil what you can only keep by even greater toil.

2. The sickness of group think

This takes hold in older bankers. It’s dangerous and has been known to destroy entire departments if not entire banks. The symptoms include just doing things that everyone else does them, or doing things in the way that they’ve always been done.

Cure yourself: question what you’re doing. Also question whether there’s a better way.

Remind yourself what Thomas Watson (the founder of IBM) said: “Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the danger of controversy.”

3. The exhaustion of the hedonic treadmill

Lastly, the most insidious of all the banking sicknesses is exhausting attachment to the hedonic treadmill. 

If you’re not careful, you’ll climb on the treadmill and you’ll never get off. You’ll know you’re on it when you’ve been in banking for a decade but you have less than year’s living expenses saved up. You’ll know you’re on it when you’ve hated your job for a full decade but you’re doing it anyway because you need the money. Most of all you’ll know you’re on it when you love spending money, but you can’t stand the process of earning it.

Cure yourself. Cut your burn rate. Sell your 2nd car. Sell your second house. Stick with your first wife.

What I Learnt on Wall Street is an education focused business founded by an ex-Goldman MD and Family Office allocator. His firm has just launched: The 5 keys to unlocking a successful career in Finance, with the 1st class being held on November 23rd


Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com
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