Once upon a time there lived a diligent, thirty year old investment banker who was known to do little other than work. He divided his time working between London and New York. More than handsomely rewarded by the investment bank for his contributions, he was never short of money and had a penchant for luxurious living. In fact, he demanded the very best of all things. The finest French wine, Savile Row tailored suits and watches only the very best Swiss watchmakers could concoct. It was commonplace to believe that he was living the life.
The investment banker was in Mumbai on business.
It’s Friday night and, having spent the last three days working from before sunrise until well past sunset, he decides to abandon the luxurious Taj Mahal Palace hotel and go out for a drink. The polished concierge enthusiastically recommends a well-known Mumbai institution only steps away from the hotel called Leopold Cafe. “The restaurant serves delectable dishes and popular drinks and is frequented by writers, artists, travellers, business people and even Bollywood actors,” says the concierge ending the statement with a magical head bobble. Wearing his Navy Blue jacket, khakis and burgundy loafers, the investment banker sets out to enjoy a drink or two and unwind a bit.
Arriving at the entrance, he discovers a vibrant atmosphere inside Leopold Cafe. The unusually mixed crowd of customers appear to be having a great time. This is precisely the kind of place to get one’s mind off of work, the investment banker thinks to himself with a smile. Unfortunately, and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t spot a free table anywhere.
“Won’t take long. A table will be free soon,” shouts the restaurant host from across the floor.
“How long, roughly?” inquires the investment banker.
The host is too busy surveying the restaurant to respond right away. “Just chill out where you are. Wont be long.”
A few minutes pass. The investment banker grows impatient. His eyes dart around the restaurant until he finally notices a couple whose table is being cleared. He catches the host’s attention, points to the table and cries out “what about that table? They’re done eating.”
The host purposely ignores the investment banker.
A few moment pass and the host returns. “A table is ready. But you have to share it with someone. Ok?”
The investment banker is taken aback. He isn’t particularly excited about having to share a table with a complete stranger. He looks down at his watch. It’s nearly 10pm. This will be a nuisance, he thinks. But he’s too tired to scout another venue.
“We’re very busy. Look around. It’s Friday night and I gotta fill all the seats I can,” explains the host. He points right over the investment banker’s left shoulder. “You can sit with him.”
The investment banker turns around to find an unassuming young man, probably in his late twenties, sporting a scruffy beard and wearing baggy blue jeans, a white t-shirt and a pair of old white Converse shoes. His potential table partner is holding what appears to be a worn-out, brown leather journal in his right hand. He notices a picture of an elephant on the cover. Great, I’m going to have drinks with a backpacker I’ve got absolutely nothing in common with, the investment bankers thinks to himself.
The investment banker turns back around to face the host and nods reluctantly in agreement. The host, in turn, looks over at the second man who offers an approving smile.
“Okay. Follow me,” asserts the host as he rapidly moves toward the free table.
The two young men follow the host and take their seats amidst the restaurant’s exhilarating ambiance. The investment banker immediately takes out his Blackberry. A waiter comes round and places two menus on the table. The second man picks up a menu and kindly offers it to the investment banker.
“Thank you,” utters the investment banker as he grabs the menu yet is too busy staring at his smartphone to look up.
The same waiter comes round again but before he has a chance to ask what each of them would like to drink the investment banker, still staring at his blackberry, orders a gin and tonic, with Bombay Sapphire. The second man asks for a Kingfisher beer.
A few minutes later the waiter returns with the drinks. He asks both men what they’d like to eat but they’ll both just be having drinks tonight.
The investment banker finally puts away his blackberry – though not far from reach – and picks up his glass. The man across the table follows suit. They smile politely at one another and both take sips from their glass.
“So what brings you to Mumbai,” asks the investment banker attempting to break the ice.
“I’m just here to enjoy the city. I love the buzz in Mumbai” replies the second man with glowing eyes.
The investment banker smiles. He’s delighted with himself for having rightly identified a travel bum.
Returning the question, the second man asks the investment banker what brings him to Mumbai.
“Business. One of my clients is about to take over one of India’s largest media companies. I’m…well, to make a long story short…here to ensure the execution is flawless.”
“Are you an investment banker?” ask the second man.
“Yeah” replies the investment banker with a proud grin. “M&A banker, to be precise. We work on the most strategic issues a company faces. Selling an asset, acquiring one, so on and so forth. So I speak to big guys like CEOs and CFOs, you know.”
“Sounds exciting” responds the second man.
“It can be. But I work very long hours and, I tell you, it takes a toll.” The banker lets out a long exhale and quickly checks his Blackberry to make sure he hasn’t received any new e-mails.
“I know what you mean. I’ve got a few friends who also have demanding jobs with very long hours. They work in advertising and fashion. It’s remarkable the number of hours they put in and the constant pressure they deal with. It’s no life at –.”
“Listen,” interrupts the investment banker, sounding as if he’s just heard someone try to refute the law of gravity. “I’m not trying to play the comparison game but, ummm, I’m pretty sure that if you look at my schedule and if you knew my responsibilities, day to day, you’ll think your buddies are working at Club Med. It’s a completely different game. Different rules. Different world.”
The second man acknowledges that the investment banking industry is very much cutthroat and that the man sitting across from him indeed has a very difficult job. “Must be very stressful.” He notices that the investment banker’s nails are all badly chewed. Not even the Rolex he is wearing could take attention away from his nails – or what’s left of them.
“Stress comes with the job. But you learn to handle it. And of course you’re compensated for it. Very nicely, too. Not everyone can do it, to be honest with you.” The investment banker takes another sip.” So, tell me, what do you do?”
“I’m a blogger,” responds the second man.
The investment bankers remains silent for a second. Another blogger making fifteen dollars a post, he thinks to himself. “Huh…wow. That’s cool. So what do you…blog about?” He feels proud to have used the verb ‘to blog’ in a sentence for the very first time.
“Social media news and information mainly. But I’m planning to broaden the scope of the blog a bit,” replies the blogger.
“That’s great. At the end of the day at least you don’t have to deal with all the stress I go through. Cheers.” The investment banker raises his glass.
The blogger raises his glass as well, says “Cheers” and take a sip. “So, doesn’t the stress get to you? I mean, do you ever think about doing something different? Maybe less stressful and more fun? Something you’re passionate about?”
The investment banker hesitates briefly. “Sure I do. Less stress would be fantastic.” He smiles and points to his scalp. “I used to have a full set of hair.” He then takes a long sip from his glass. “Look, I’d love to launch an Internet company. I think I’d be good at it. But the kind of money I make now is very difficult to walk away from. I’m sacrificing passion for wealth. Later, when I’ve got all the money I need I’ll pursue all my passions. I just think it’s tough to make a decent living online unless you’re on to something real big, no offense.”
None taken, assures the blogger. “Actually, you can make decent money online nowadays.”
Feeling a little embarrassed the investment banker explains to the blogger that he’s accustomed to a certain lifestyle. “Decent money is relative. I’m sure for some a few thousand dollars a month is enough but that doesn’t do much for me. I like nice cars. I enjoy living where I do. I’m very ambitious.”
A waiter comes round and both men order another round.
“So how long do you think it will take before you get to where you want?” asks the blogger.
The investment banker moves a little closer to the blogger. “First, I have to become a Managing Director. That’s top priority. Then, the second step is to become Head of Investment Banking for my sector. The next move is to get promoted to Global Head of Investment Banking. Now that won’t be easy at all but it’s possible. I reckon I could get there by my mid forties. The step after that is even more important. I’ll take my team, leave the bank and establish a boutique investment bank. Then I’ll spend the next five years building it up into a respectable financial institution. Finally, I’ll sell the firm for millions and start living the good life.”
The blogger is curious. “The good life? What does that mean?”
The investment banker takes a few seconds to think it over. “First of all, whatever I do afterwards I’ll make sure to represent me, myself and I.”
“Represent yourself?” the blogger asks.
“That’s right.” The investment banker goes on to explain how everything he does and says is done in order to represent the investment bank he works for. He projects the investment bank’s views, ethos and culture but never his own.
“So you want to represent your own beliefs and ideas that you’re passionate about,” confirms the blogger.
The investment banker’s eyes open wide. “Exactly!”
The blogger is keen to learn more. “What else?”
“I’d like to travel properly” exclaims the investment banker.
“Isn’t travel a big part of your job” asks the blogger.
The investment banker shakes his head. “Not proper travel. I do travel but I don’t decide when and where. I’m told where to go. Often a day or two beforehand. And I never get to see the places I visit. I go from airport to hotel room to meeting places then back to the hotel room and then off to the airport. I want to experience the places I visit. I don’t want to have to return on a set date. And no more one-week vacations. I want a month off, or better yet three.”
“Don’t you get two weeks normally,” asks the blogger.
The investment banker lets out a laugh. “That’s rarely the case. Even when it happens its not always a real holiday. Come on. I’m included in all emails, a hundred a day will come in at times. And, you can’t help but read them all. You’re expected to. I’m also called regularly. Look, even if I’m not emailed or called it takes over a week to switch off properly. By the time I get into the holiday mood it’s time to return or think about the crap waiting for me in the office. Listen, I can tell you everything about Mumbai from a traveler’s standpoint. Everything. But that’s because I’ve read it on inflight magazines so many times. But I’ve never seen any of the city. And I’ve been here nearly a dozen times in the last nine months alone.
“That’s no good.” The blogger can’t quite understand why someone would delay enjoying life for so long with little guarantee that things will be just right that far into the future.
The investment banker’s phone rings. It’s his boss in London. He becomes agitated, excuses himself and steps out of the restaurant. “Yes, the presentation went well. The client is very happy. We’ll have the documents signed on Monday. Sure. Bye.” His heart is pounding so he stays outside a minute longer before stepping back inside. As he makes his way in, his phone goes off again and he comes to a sudden halt. He feels the tension rising and prays he won’t have to stay up again and work through the night. Luckily it’s his friend calling from Paris. He breathes a sigh of relief and then quickly answers and chats on the phone for a short while and tells his friend about Mumbai and how he’s just been seated at a restaurant with a pleasant “hippie blogger”. “I wish I could have a carefree life like this guy. Just cruising without a worry in the world.” He finishes off his conversation and returns to the table.
“So when do you return home to work, wherever that is?” asks the investment banker.
The blogger smiles. “I am working. But I’m also on holiday at the same time. I can work from anywhere. And if I need to use an office then I can do so.”
The investment banker is confused. “You’re actually earning money?”
The blogger smiles again. “Yes, the blog earns money. Again, I’m location independent. Sure, I wasn’t earning much when I started writing posts from my bedroom in the UK a few years ago but things have picked up now. I’m in a good place. And I’m passionate about what I do so it’s cool.”
“I admire that. You’re doing what you love.” The investment banker reaches into his jacket pocket and takes out his wallet. “Need to be more like you.” He takes out a couple of notes and places them on a the table. “I need to head back and do a bit of work. Drinks are on me.”
“No, let’s split it,” suggests the blogger.
“It’s fine. This place is pricey. Save the money for breakfast.” The investment banker stands up. “It was a pleasure.”
“Likewise,” replies the blogger.
Both men shake hands. The investment banker returns to his hotel.
San Francisco (four years later)
The investment banker has just been transferred to the bank’s San Francisco office and his first assignment is to pitch to work on a deal which is the talk of town. America’s largest media recently expressed an interest to acquire a social media news site for over $200 million and the bank is hoping to advise the seller and his team. He knows little about the company apart that they have a staff of 23 people in two offices: New York and San Francisco.
The investment banker joins the rest of the team to sit in on the meeting with the social media company’s executives. They walk into the conference room to find, seated around an impressive oval mahogany table, a middle-age man who introduces himself as a lawyer and an attractive woman whose business card reads Chief Operating Officer. Everyone takes their seats. Something catches the investment banker’s attention. On the table in front of the empty seat directly across from him he notices a distinct leather journal.
The door opens and a man enters the room. “Apologies, I had to pop out and use the bathroom.” The man takes his seat directly across from the investment banker. “Hello, everyone. I’m the founder and CEO of the company.”
The investment banker instantaneously recognizes him. It’s the blogger he met in Mumbai. His jaw drops.