Bonus hit and feeling... nothing?

Hey all -- have posted a few times here but staying anonymous for this one. I hit the one-year mark at my UMM shop about a month ago and subsequently had my review / bonus discussion. Overall, the discussion itself was fine (certainly some areas to work on, but I got the bonus number I was hoping for and overall was above target).

The only issue is, I didn't feel anything after earning this. Frankly, I felt better about lasting a year at my firm than finding out about my bonus. This past year was probably the hardest year of my life between health issues (some stress induced, including an ER trip), depression / anxiety (started seeing a therapist and taking SSRIs), getting dumped because of the job, and overall unfulfillment with my career path so far.

I talked to my parents and some friends about why I felt this odd today; it should have been the best day of my year, but instead it's one of my lower days this summer. I think I am a bit upset because during my review they mentioned they thought I might quit 6-months in and because of that I needed to improve my attitude, but after reflecting on that, if the firm noticed they thought I was going to quit, why would no one check in with me / try to make changes to make it more enjoyable? I ultimately decided to stay because I wanted to do a year for my resume and get a deal done (closed a platform last week) to really make sure I knew what I wanted. I've actually been feeling better about the job for the second 6-months (which was also mentioned in my review) and my attitude has improved a bit as I do think some parts of the job are exciting / interesting. With that said, being told that the firm I work at is a place where "sometimes you have to shut up and take it with a smile on your face" or that "the associate job here is one of the hardest jobs out there" and they don't really care to improve it or get to know you... really made me wonder if the past year was worth the bonus I stayed for.

Not sure if any of that made cohesive sense but was helpful to get the thoughts on paper. Would be great to hear from anyone if they've felt similarly but my main takeaway is perhaps my days in PE / Finance are numbered if the bonus doesn't get me excited anymore. I remember finding out about my 2nd-year banking analyst bonus and being excited for weeks on end, but now I just feel uncertain. I have been feeling better about the job so my current plan is to stick it out until I feel as bad as I did 6-months ago (and quit), find something I'd like to do more (not super sure what that would be given the required pay cut), or finish my second year and maybe take some time off. I've never been too excited about B-School and don't want to go down that path because I can't figure out what else to do.

Comments (37)

Most Helpful
  • Intern in IB-M&A
Aug 3, 2022 - 1:57am

Thanks for sharing. I can't relate at all on the PE side because I'm still in college but I worked a door to door sales job in New York for about 4 months. The ended up making about 60k in a summer as a college kid. My boss offered me to be a manager the next summer. I would probably have cleared the 100k mark while going to school.

I chose not to do that because I despised my job. I was told to F off multiple times, had angry people yelling at me, got bit by a pitbull and went through financial abuse from my boss (making comments about not paying my sales commission). I also was working 70 hours a week knocking doors drenched in sweat.

What I learned from that experience is it does not really matter how much you make if you are miserable. I also think you can find a way to make 150-250k where you are at right now based on your work experience while cutting back to working 40-50 hours a week in a lower cost of living place.

It seems lots of finance people have so much of their self esteem tied to just financial gain. Might be something to look into to see where you find your self esteem centered. Hope that's helpful.

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Aug 3, 2022 - 11:11am

Thanks for the helpful post -- think I agree that I put so much weight into lasting a year and getting the bonus that now I realize I'm just still not happy at this job and the money is nice but not enough. 

It's a two-and-out shop so going to start looking elsewhere. Just not sure if it is in investing or not quite yet.

Aug 4, 2022 - 8:28am
rickle, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Great reply and quite intuitive for a kid. As an older member late in his career, I can assure you the money will lose it's allure as a motivator over time. You'll need something else to get you going which typically needs to come from the actual job / career. No you don't need to love everything about your work. That rarely happens. I think of it as both macro and micro. You need to be interested / excited about the macro (the big picture, career path, industry, purpose, etc.) and enjoy a good amount of your micro (day to day tasks). Without that, you'll run out of steam.

I vividly remember getting excited about a big paycheck when I was just starting. Worked my tail off to get it. Got it. Then that became pretty normal and was no longer a big deal. Needed something else to keep me going which ultimately led to bigger checks which then got normal. Rinse and Repeat. You always need something to shoot for, hopefully with money to follow. The money itself won't keep your interest long term as you're making way more then you need right now.

  • Associate 3 in PE - LBOs
Aug 3, 2022 - 5:20am

Hi mate, 

I'm in a very similar position. Have been in PE for c. 1.5 years now and received my first PE bonus 2-3 months ago.

I like what I'm doing (analysing companies, sitting on the board of portfolio companies etc.) and like most of the people I work with but somehow I am not so sure this is what I wanna do with my life. The constant deal making, trying to squeeze returns, the hours etc. are just not really what I wanna do for the rest of my life. The bonus and salary bump was nice but I was just thinking "is this really worth it"?

Similar to you I am going to do another year and then see what else I wanna do

  • Works at Goldman Sachs
Aug 3, 2022 - 7:53am

It shouldn't be the best day bc the rational agent smoothes spending / earnings expectations through the year given general clarity around earnings expectations. So you've been earning utility through the year that's why there's no bump today

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  • Associate 3 in PE - LBOs
Aug 3, 2022 - 9:51am

Sounds like you've had a rough go of it - while everyone likes to hype up bonus day, it's generally pretty underwhelming especially after you've had a few of them.  It's not some gift from the higher ups - you earned every last dollar that you were paid (and in some cases, may have gotten shafted out of some money).

Would try to identify what you do / don't like about the job and see if it can be remedied by leaving your specific firm or the industry entirely.  If you're miserable, have a conversation with a VP/Principal you're close to and let them know you're feeling burnt out.  You just came off a platform investment so they may be willing to cut you some slack / give you a much needed vacation.     

I was in a similar boat and quit without anything lined up - took a couple weeks to really decompress and think things through before jumping back into it.  Some things (like your health) are just not worth any amount of money. 

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Aug 3, 2022 - 11:15am

Thanks for the post -- struggled a ton with burnout during my first period here but as I worked with new teams / deals it subsided a bit as I got more comfortable with the job.

Just a bit surprised that it is back now but frankly I think the worst things about my current role is the fact that associates are still treated like banking analysts (lack of real control over schedule, getting a lot of bitch work, and expected to kiss ass even though we are getting shit on all the time), but I don't know if that is different at other firms (at least of this size). Vacation is a good idea -- I took a couple days off for my brother's wedding earlier this summer and it was incredibly helpful. Maybe I'll ask for a longer Labor Day weekend.

Aug 3, 2022 - 11:24am
Friedmaneconomics, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I think moral of the story is eventually the balance shifts between one's ability to fulfill themselves with money alone versus ability for fulfillment through the work that excites one's soul - the passion.

I'm not that old yet but I believe the more passionate one becomes about their work the easier it becomes to work longer hours.

This is evident in many big entrepreneurs. Musk, Bezos, Gates, Jobs, you name it. They all report having been passionately obsessed with their work and working all the time and anytime they could to move the needle on their business. Many, and if not most successful entrepreneurs, also report this mission like motivator that their work is part of some larger story to play out. These are common behavior patterns for any very successful person, either independently as an entrepreneur or as somebody within an existing organization. High achieving athletes are a good example of this. The C-suite at any major company is often good example of this. Famous mathematicians, artists, philosophers, of long ago are great example of this. Doctors then and now are also a great example of this.

In your case you "enjoy" certain activities while the job overall seems to be damaging to your health and state of mind. Ask yourself how passionate you are about the few activities that excite you (analyzing companies, being a board member, etc.) and the "mission" you seem to be on for the progression in this space.

The more demanding the work in degree of attention, time, the more deep rooted passion there needs to be there in the day to day for the larger story to play out successfully.

Don't sell yourself short

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Aug 3, 2022 - 11:41am

Totally agree on the 'passion' point -- this is why I've noticed my VPs / Partners be willing to work weekends when there is nothing urgent: they love what they do or at least love the chase of making money.

This certainly isn't my endgame, I know that now, but hard to pick out of a hat what you are 'passionate' about.

I also think you can re-invent yourself / passions to suit a good environment (i.e., take a job with a good culture, feel part of a team, and really want to see that company grow) -- but as I've laid out, I don't think I'm in a good environment.

Aug 3, 2022 - 4:26pm
Username_TBU, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Yes. This is the problem with achievement-based fulfillment. Once you get there, you're left with more questions than answers, especially since the goal isn't necessarily doing what you want, it's just a number, or succeeding in getting a certain job

Aug 3, 2022 - 1:55pm
Deal Team Six, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Sounds like you gave your all and sacrificed everything for your work only to be left feeling unfulfilled. Had a not so different experience and it changed how I lived my life. I deprioritized my career 2-3x but still found a role I loved more than I thought possible. I just wasnt going to do give up everything for a job. Instead of pursuing PE I chose Corp Dev and have a much better WLB. Yes, there are still plenty of 12-15 hour days on live deals, but it is leagues better than IB / Consulting, as you get breaks in between deals typically. Also the sprints are typically much shorter (usually only a few weeks of DD are brutal). Sorry, bit of a rant, but what I am trying to say is explore other roles and find something you're passionate about, that makes you think, but doesn't consume you. 

Next, find out what will bring you joy in life. I can only speak to my personal experience, but for me it was seeing my friends 1-2x a week, spending time with my gf / family every weekend, and working out regularly. I tried a million different things, but this was only possible once I freed up my life by taking a less demanding role. I tried meditation, journaling, regularly working out, reading solely autobiographies about the people I idolized, playing different sports, chasing different types of girls, going out with a bunch of new co-workers, some not so healthy habits (Ill leave those out), and a myriad of other things. I treated it like I was a 12 year old kid during summer break trying to figure out what cured my boredom. Long story short, it led to a much more fulfilling life and one that I am proud of. 

For me, giving up on chasing IB / PE for the prestige / salary was a good first start. I realized that no one around me cared anyway, and every time I meet up with my IB friends it is a frequent reminder that I made the right choice, for me. Maybe I am wrong about you, but I feel from reading your post that a similar approach would be extremely therapeutic. Another point I want to harp on was it took a long time before things got better, and happiness didnt hit me immediately, it took months. 

Sorry for the random stream of consciousness, only had a few minutes of down time but wanted to share my perspective. Hope it gets better and you find the happiness you're looking for. With your work ethic I have no doubt you will, it is just a matter of trying to figure out your own happiness equation. 

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Aug 3, 2022 - 2:46pm

You've commented on a few of my posts before and have had similarly helpful notes on all of them - so much appreciated.

I agree, need a bit more free time and to find a job that allows me to have a schedule I like (similar to how you laid out above), but just hard to do that when you are working a job that is so demanding. Just want a bit more stability before I quit or hope to last long enough to find a role that excites me with better WLB.

I also agree that while I like my IB / PE friends, I can tell I am a bit different in what my interests are and what really drives me.

Aug 3, 2022 - 3:54pm
mrharveyspecter, what's your opinion? Comment below:

You've hit the magical point in life where you've likely done most things accordingly to "plan" for the first ~25 years of your life and now you're realizing that 1. What is conventionally accepted as being successful might not be what you want 2. You don't really know what you want to do and that opportunity is both exciting and frightening. 

A couple of thoughts on your post, first off, sorry to hear you had a rough year. As you get older you realize some years are great and some are challenging. Be persistent and try to keep a good perspective around short term difficulties. With that said, prioritize your health over nearly everything else. It's one thing to be working harder than usual or to have some minor health issues that arise with age. It's completely different to be breaking down, going to the ER, significant mental health issues, etc. Good on your for starting therapy, that should help, but I'd reflect on some of the other challenges and think about what changes you need to make in order to be a little more balanced. I'm not advocating for a 40 hour work week, but if you're literally dying because of a job, it's time to quit, period. 

Beyond that, sounds like your PE firm is fairly typical. I've written a little bit about this before but, PE at the end of the day is about making money. Finding deals, doing deals, and extracting value. Frankly, no one gives a shit if the Associates/Senior Associates are happy. Principals and Partners will do whatever it takes to get a good return so they can raise more money from LPs, it's their job. If an LP was given a choice between a 3x returning fund with terrible culture or a 2.4x returning fund where everyone was happy and loved their lives, guess who they're going to allocate capital to? The problem becomes that good culture will never be incentivized. That is why no one cared that you were unmotivated or depressed. They figure they pay you well enough to do what they ask and if you don't like it, they'll just find someone else to do the job. Something to think about as you consider a longer term career in PE, culture and people just don't really matter at the end of the day. It's not like a company where CEOs and execs are judged more on that type of thing (and even then, you could probably make an argument that value to shareholder is still the most important).

Another point, you likely need to take some time to reflect and figure out what drives you and what you want out of life. Do you want a relationship and a family? Do you want to make a lot of money? Do you like flexibility in your schedule and/or autonomy? Do you like the analytical work of deals? You've worked hard enough and been successful enough that going back to PE is likely an option for you, even if you do B-School take some time off. Your career is already fairly de risked in that you'll always be able to find a pretty decent job. You should take some comfort in that. You've done enough banking/PE to understand how to do the job, and assuming your bonus was good, you can probably not work for a bit if you wanted. so take some comfort in that as well.

There's nothing wrong with quitting if your heart isn't in it. Too many people continue to suffer because they think it's what they need to do. There's a whole world of jobs outside of big shop PE. To the extent you can, take a couple of days off, clear your head and reflect of what you enjoy doing, what you want to do/try, both professionally and personally, and start charting a course towards that. Doesn't mean you have to quit tomorrow, but maybe start putting together a B-School app as a backup. Make sure you take a little less shit from your PE job and push back to make time for stuff like therapy or exercise. Take back your life on the margins and see if that gives you enough headspace to think about a change. You only live life once and while I don't think every moment needs to be the best time of your life, don't set yourself up for long term misery.

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Aug 3, 2022 - 4:05pm

Thanks man -- really helpful post.

Agreed that a good culture is simply not incentivized, something I've garnered through talking to my friends at other firms, which makes me realize I likely don't want to be in this industry long-term.

Now that I'm a second year I'm a bit more comfortable pushing back and enjoying my slower periods. Hoping to coast a bit and what not while I look for something else, as you mention. I've done a lot this year in the ways of reflecting / critically thinking about what I want out of my life and I know it isn't long-term PE. Again, not saying I want a 4-hour a week job, but something that gives a bit more freedom and doesn't make me feel like I'm walking on eggshells all day. I guess on the bright side I have built up a decent reputation at the firm and should get a bit of a break after closing this deal where maybe I can take a long weekend to really think about these important things.

Thanks again for the post.

Aug 3, 2022 - 9:21pm
tanto_goldberg, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Sorry to hear you're having a hard time. Have you been seeing a therapist while on the ssri? If not, I really would recommend giving it a shot. It's helped me a lot with outside issues that I was carrying into my job. I've learned that it's similar to a relationship; if you're not happy with yourself how can you be happy with a partner?

Here's an idea. If your shop is two and out, why not take a month, half a year, a year etc and travel to some place you would never go. Go stay with a host family in Asia and learn about a new culture. Climb a badass mountain. Go work on some sort of a mission trip in Africa and help people who need it. Giving up a short amount of time to something more important than finance will not only provide perspective, but it may also open the door to finding something you are truly passionate about. If only I could take my own advice…

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Aug 4, 2022 - 2:12pm

Thanks man -- yes on SSRIs and still seeing my therapist.

On the 'hiatus', currently looking at opportunistic job postings in case something really catches my eye, but if I run out the clock on my two years, definitely going to take some extended time off. I'm lucky my parents run a charity so could help them there in exchange for them letting me golf and live for free with them!

  • VP in PE - Other
Aug 4, 2022 - 12:48am

Been there. I didn't read the comments above so maybe it's repetitive -work out, meditate, get mental health help if needed. Also, sounds like you don't have a cultural fit - would you take a hit in comp to work with a more fun group. They exist often more on west coast and tier 2 cities. May consider move to credit, growth equity or a place with slower pace. Life is a marathon. Would you enjoy the work if you did it with nicer people? Most shops have dicks but just think and honestly assess - is it you, the work, or the colleagues?

Aug 4, 2022 - 12:52am
Incoming-PE-Intern-2023, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Getting dumped probably was the reason that you felt depressed. You need to find genuine fulfillment and happiness outside any relationship that can dump you. Hope you are doing much better now.

Aug 4, 2022 - 12:16pm
Dear Extent, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Highly recommend listing to Dr. Andrew Huberman about the neuroscience of motivation / working toward & achieving goals. It's very common for a scenario like a bonus to leave you feeling nothing, since you had lots of the motivation coming from the thought of reaching that bonus while you worked.

"Capturing the reward is wonderful but attaching dopamine to the reward is actually a little bit dangerous. Celebrating the win more than the pursuit-it actually sets you up for failure in the future." - Andrew Huberman

"Anytime you have a bunch of dopamine and you're in pursuit, pursuit, pursuit [of a goal], after you achieve a win [meaning you accomplish the goal], now this could be a business win, a relationship win, a win of any kind, but inevitably there's going to be a tipping back of the scale on the pain side. And that pain side is always gonna go a little bit higher than the dopamine [pleasure] side." - Andrew Huberman

Aug 4, 2022 - 2:15pm
SafariJoe, what's your opinion? Comment below:

As the old adage, do what you love and you never have to work again.

SafariJoe, wins again!
Aug 5, 2022 - 12:30pm
GrandJury, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I definitely see where you're coming from, and I hope you know that your feelings are valid, and there's a myriad of potential reasons why you're feeling so unfulfilled.

My personal experience: I spent my first 2 years at an IB where I created meaningful relationships and had built the trust of most of the people in my office. I loved the comradery, the late night banter, and being involved in non-deal work such as recruiting. Then I left and joined a MM PE fund thinking that's what the natural progression was. My first year there was hard. It's a completely different job than IB, and I quickly realized that I wasn't too fond of the overall culture, especially a couple higher-ups that I just didn't quite respect. This made my first year in PE extremely tough. 

I then transitioned to another MM fund and have been working here since, and honestly, it's been night and day. Sure there is still "personality management" I need to do, but I feel way more connected with my work and ever since I was promoted to VP this year, I've loved it. I've really enjoyed the autonomy of being able to lead my workstreams, be the "execution person" for partners I'm directly working with (and seeing the fruits of my labor translate directly into results), and also just building relationships with my portcos and learning more intimate details about incredibly interesting industries. Sure the money is great, but I actually feel more fulfilled by my work, the people I work with, and being in more of a "leadership" position. And with the autonomy comes more freedom in my personal life. Sometimes I'll go to concerts at small intimate venues on weeknights, I'll plan more dates with the gf, I can scope out personal development goals...the list goes on.

So from my perspective, it definitely could be that PE is not the right fit for you. That's fine. Or maybe you just need a change of scenery and find the right fit for you within PE. It makes a world of difference. 

Aug 6, 2022 - 5:37pm
AndiBoom, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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  • Works at Goldman Sachs
Aug 7, 2022 - 7:27am

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