Doctor: “Hello ibanker.”
The ibanker: “Hi doctor.”
Doctor: “I understand that you’ve been having stomach problems, correct?”
The ibanker: “Something has happened. Yes. Whenever I drink water or…any liquid for that matter…I feel a sensation when the liquid reaches the point before it enters the stomach.
I carefully point to the affected area.
The ibanker: “It’s not painful at all. I just feel the water when it passes this precise area. It’s very sensitive. It’s weird. I’ve never felt that before.”
Doctor: “How long has this been going on?”
The ibanker: “Three weeks. Ever since I started working at the bank.”
Doctor: “Any other issues affecting you?”
The ibanker: “Yes. I noticed a bit of dandruff. Also, parts of my scalp are red and scaly. Look…”
I move closer to the doctor and reveal the redness on my scalp above my temples.
The ibanker: “Even my eyelids are red. Look. They’re also very dry. See this patch?”
I turn my head to give the doctor a direct view of the affected area directly above my left eyelid.
The doctor goes on to ask me several more questions and once comfortable with the information provided, sits back and, in a very perfunctory manner, goes on to say:
Doctor: “I wouldn’t worry much. This is very common for people in your line of work. Bankers undergo 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 until you leave…real late. To top it all off, you consume 4 cups of coffee each day.”
The doctor pauses, stares at me dead in the eye for a very long second and 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.”
The ibanker: “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. I consumed less coffee and drank more water – at least 1 liter per day. I also 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, the sole proprietor!
Result: I felt a little better. But it was a minimal.
Time heals some wounds
The more time I spent on the desk, the more stress levels fell.
The symptoms which resulted from initial exposure to the role subsided.
However, the stress never leaves, as people in the business know and will tell you. It can be very bad ten years on. Many a times, sitting at my desk, I’d suddenly look up to see men and women 40 years+, in senior positions no less, having probably worked over 15 years in the business and given and sacrificed so much for the bank, run across the floor with terrified looks after being called into management meetings. Grown men and women scared like babies! How sad…
The antidote: perspective + priorities
There was no doubt that 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 – lucky individuals. Yet 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. You won’t die. In fact, life would probably improve a hell of a lot. (This book by Seneca will help you put it all into perspective)
The reason it was initially difficult for this to sink in was that 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 --> meaning I took next to no breaks, ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at the desk (rarely finished a meal uninterrupted), and worked under constant deadlines. 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 do 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. When you live and breathe it to the core.
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 loose my family?
Q: Will I loose my friends?
A: No. At least not my real ones. As for the others, then I’m better off without them anyway.
2) Priorities: 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 shit happened (for example, 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.
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 dealmaker and 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 got good genes. It will affect your looks…
Interested to learn about survival in banking? Then read The ibanker and the Golden Cage.