Leaving the buyside
Mod Note (Andy): Each day we'll be posting the top WSO forum posts of 2014. This one was originally posted on 2/23/14 and ranks #26 for the year by total silver banana count. You can see all our top ranked content here.
So everything comes full circle. I've been coming on this website for 7 years now. It was a huge source of information when I was first learning about the industry. I was super eager and literally read every single post from a few of the contributors that I respected (big shout out to Bondarb). Over time, I became more of a contributor, under a few different screen names, and eventually my participation faded out. There seems to be a pretty high correlation between my level of WSO usage and the passion I felt for what I was doing.
More and more, I have been thinking about leaving the buyside. I say the buyside (and the industry) as a whole, because I don't think any of this would get fixed by hopping to another firm. I have had fairly broad exposure with hedge funds so I know the pros and cons of various kinds of gigs. I can objectively say that my current seat is pretty damn good - tons of responsibility, see a path towards becoming a PM, covering a space that I like, PM is a nice guy. So what's the problem?
To start, my lifestyle is awful. I am basically working 7 days a week and I feel like I am always falling behind. I have zero time to myself, even when I am not working, I am thinking about my book. My coverage is broad, and marrying that with an investment style that is very labor intensive, basically makes it impossible to keep up. To make it clear, I know pretty conclusively that this will never change. So there's no light at the end of the tunnel.
Even worse is the constant emotional strain. Call me a pussy, but I think this job makes me feel like shit 90% of the time, because it's "why the fuck did I buy/short that" when I'm losing money, or "why the fuck wasn't I more aggressive" when I'm making money. And I'm constantly beating myself up for missing opportunities that are obvious in hindsight. I don't think this will change - this is how I'm wired. To me, this is perhaps the most compelling justification to leave, because I feel that others are better suited to handle the mental strain, and also because maintaining a positive psychological state is very important to me. I was not some coddled rich kid, I have gone through many struggles in my life, but I just wonder whether all of this is worth it to make a bunch of money.
My seat is good enough that I can make 7 figures going forward assuming solid performance. The thing is, I just don't know if that matters. I have been doing a lot of introspection over the last year, and always feel a little empty because I know I am not contributing anything to society. I don't really care about money - I have some nice things but don't need more of them, my lifestyle overall is fairly frugal, and the only thing that I would really need money for is traveling, which I cannot do right now anyways. I suppose the only thing I need the money for, is to make me feel good about myself. I will be really honest - it is just a way of keeping score. I don't have much of an intrinsic need for money. I also don't really have a need to win just for the sake of winning. I think this is why most hedge funds like to hire athletes, and they are probably right in doing so. I would think of myself as more of the intellectual type, and I enjoy the challenge of finding the answer, but that's about it. It just feels like such a sisyphean grind where I am never building anything. Every day, month, year - I am starting from scratch. Ever since I was young, I wanted to build something, and keeping improving it.
Finally, there are certain aspects of the job that I know I am great at, and others that I know I am not. I won't be too specific here, but the things that I am great at, they could be pretty valuable as an entrepreneur. The things that I am not great at, is likely the reason I feel so much strain, as I am using sheer force of will to keep myself in line.
There are a few things trying to talk me off the ledge. I have a voice in my head that says "don't be a quitter". Indeed I have persevered through a lot in my life, so this would really be the first time I have truly backed away from something that was difficult. I have put so much into this already, and not too long ago, I was so obsessed with the idea of becoming a PM and crushing it. I am afraid of regret - I am basically on the verge of becoming pretty rich in a few years if I just stick it out. I know I have a job that most people would kill for, and so I don't want to give up something of value. Being well seasoned in the hedge fund mindset, I also wonder whether leaving finance to start a company is "the consensus trade" or whether I am "puking a position on its lows".
There have certainly been times when I felt a lot of passion for this job and found it to be exhilarating. But more and more, I find it to be completely exhausting. I haven't seen my friends in months, my health is deteriorating, I now exclusively dream about my positions and sometimes wake up panicked. At the end of the day, my goal is to have an interesting life, not necessarily a wealthy and accomplished one. I have some money saved up so I can live comfortably for a few years and figure things out. So I'd love to get some feedback from you guys (people actually on the buyside or ex-buyside) - am I fucking crazy?