Dealing with Uncertainty / Burnout as a First Year Associate

I'm ~5 months into my 1st year as an associate at a UMM PE. Coming out of 2 years of BB banking at a relatively sweaty shop, I'm finding it difficult to settle in to my new role. It doesn't help that <50% of associates at my shop last the full two-years and I find a lot of the seniors at my firm to be only fixated on how much money they make rather than firm culture and associate well-being. I recruited on-cycle in my first few months of hitting the desk in IB, so wasn't able to diligence the culture fit at all and went the prestige route because I really didn't know what else there was. I only a few weeks or so in between by IB role ending and the PE job beginning and felt it wasn't enough time to get a mental break, and because of that, am already starting to feel burnout for a few different reasons.

After seeing the two associates I was closest with already quit in my short stint, I'm really finding it difficult to focus and motivate myself. The job is much more stressful than IB (though I find the work more meaningful / interesting) and I'm struggling with living a lifestyle where I'm always on-call, even when things are slow (I find it hard to enjoy when things are lighter since I know others are working and at some point that'll be me). What's really worrying me is that for the past month or so, things have really slowed down (working ~60 / week on average without major weekend work), and I'm still not feeling great about the role. I figured the job would have some certain bad weeks, but the pay and random lighter weeks would make it manageable.

I was always a hard worker in school and in banking (earned top bucket both years), but I haven't been able to get that killer drive back. I've been getting staffed on deals or PortCo's that were all abandoned when people left the firm and finding it hard to get motivated. We're also back in the office, which stings a bit as I'm missing out on the added flexibility WFH allows (e.g., weekend trips, working from a different city, etc.) Because of all this, it's felt more like banking 2.0 than actually investing, and I'm really starting to think I'll leave the firm after bonus season in Summer 2022.

My main question now is what to do next? It's clear my life at this new firm is unsustainable (mental and physical health declining, taking a tole on my relationship because I'm always complaining to my SO (they keep telling me to go to therapy and they can't take it too much longer), not seeing my family or friends as much as I want to), but I now find myself stressing about whatever it is I'll do next. I've considered trying to move to a smaller fund, but frankly, given what I've worked on so far, I don't even know if I like doing deals (haven't gotten past an IOI on any deal I was staffed on that launched after my start date; have been doing all PortCo management and add-ons, which seem worse than platforms) and would be worried I'd still have the resting anxiety and stress that I have now. One of my friends went the CorpDev / CorpStrat route and seems much happier, but I'm wary of giving up that much comp / upside potential and optionality. The start-up route seems attractive in general but it's hard to know you will actually land at the right firm. Consulting even has seemed enticing, given you have a bit more control of your schedule (weekend / vacation-wise), but going back to client services worries me. Business School seems like a logical route, but I'll need time to prep for the GMAT and I'm not sure when I could fit that in. If I end up doing B-school, it might make sense to just grind out two years at my current firm, but not sure I have that in me. I've even thought about going back to banking -- I still have good relationships with my old shop and could likely go back as an ASO2 after a year, but not sure that would solve anything.

Associates the class above me insist that the culture at this firm is worse than others and that's adding to my lack of direction--so I'm currently thinking of moving to a smaller fund / family office where maybe a better culture will lead to better insight into whether I actually like investing. Worst case, if I can last a year at my current shop I'm sure I could last a year at a smaller place, and I'd think I could get out and do B-school after two years as an associate (albeit, at two different firms). Has anyone else felt this anxiety early into their first year or have any tips on how to deal with the added stress / anxiety of not knowing the next step? I've always been the type of person to have a plan, and now that I'm at the end goal of my plan (making it into PE) and not loving it, I'm feeling considerably uncertain about what's next.

Comments (18)

Nov 28, 2021 - 11:19am

Thanks for the feedback. I'm somewhat hanging on to the idea that I could still like the deal process if it was at shop with better culture fit, but I think I'm leaning towards the start-up route if I had to pick today. Easier said than done, though.

  • Associate 3 in IB-M&A
Nov 29, 2021 - 11:50am

I'd disagree with the advice to stick it out the full 2 years. You're clearly very unhappy and you don't want to become so burnt out it takes months to want to do good work again. 

I'd mentally shorten your timeline to Summer 2022, and open up your search now. Obviously 5 months is too soon to leave, but hop on recruiter calls, take time to diligence opportunities and culture, and look to start immediately post bonus, or sooner if anyone wants to buy you out. As for what role, I'd hear any HH out on interesting opportunities, but given the context of your firm I'd at least give PE a chance at a smaller and friendlier place, and start thinking about the GMAT so you have an MBA application in your back pocket.

What do you see yourself doing long term?

  • Associate 2 in PE - Other
Nov 29, 2021 - 12:01pm

I was in similar boat as you. Left after a year at my MF to growth equity with sourcing component. Way happier now and better hours with interesting tech deals. However I worked at a start up in between moves because I needed time to regain my sanity and figure out next steps. 

Most Helpful
Nov 29, 2021 - 12:28pm

It seems like one of the core issues is you have no idea what you want to do. While your current situation clearly isn't the best fit the options you laid out are basically the who's who of what a prestige orientated person without at a real plan would list - corpdev, consulting, another fund, mba, startup, etc. Those are all so wildly different paths. 

What you really need to do - before you start recruiting, studying for the gmat, etc. - is figure out what it is you enjoy doing and what motivates you. Do you like working more independently or in teams. Do you like getting in the weeds or more big picture. Do you like being in the flow of all major decisions or could you also do a smaller niche role. Do you like a more structured envt or one where you must be a jack of all trades. Would you be ok with more limited resources where you have to be scrappy. Are you motivated by money, workplace satisfaction, free time, etc. Do you have specific sectors that you prefer. 

Once you take some time really reflecting and thinking about these things, and many more, you should get a better sense of what you want to target. Until then, don't just throw mud at the "what I'm supposed to do wall" because you might end up in just as unhappy place. 

Nov 29, 2021 - 1:18pm

Thanks for the thoughts here -- I certainly agree that I don't really have a handle on what the next move is. My plan was to do IB to PE but now realizing I don't want to be at my firm long-term is creating all of the anxiety about what's next (i.e., now I have to form a new plan).

I'm planning on using the next few months to try and see what I like / don't like about investing and hope that will inform my decision more. I have some friends in these other fields and am going to start connecting with them to see what they like about their jobs and what they don't like and how that aligns with my views. Hopefully that can provide some additional context and guidance on the answers to the questions you laid out.

Nov 29, 2021 - 3:18pm

I ran into the same issues as you before. What people don't realize is that a large portion of your time in PE is in management of the port co's; it's not always doing deals as some might expect. The management part is tedious, boring and frankly de-motivating IMO because I simply don't care. 

Nov 29, 2021 - 2:26pm

The two associates you were close to that quit, what did they end up doing? Maybe you can follow suit.

It just sounds like you landed at a terrible culture and of you were to simply move to a shop where they are normal, things would be okay.

This time around make sure you diligence the culture when accepting a new role.

Nov 29, 2021 - 4:29pm

One went to another fund (actually bigger in size) but thinks the culture is better. I'm not sure he'll get a better work / life but also not sure that was a priority for him.

Another went to CorpDev, seems like he is happy with that decision.

FWIW, we also had another associate leave recently who went to a family office, but was less close with him so haven't checked in with him recently.

I agree that another fund seems enticing, but want to avoid a grass is greener situation so trying to diligence if I want to stay on the buyside in the next few months.

Dec 18, 2021 - 7:11am

How exactly does he seem happy with his decision? Have you caught up with him? Do you have him on social media and are just assuming that he's doing fine based on what you see there?

Array

  • Managing Director in IB-M&A
Dec 18, 2021 - 8:48am

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