Response to 'PE Associate Jumps to Death' -> Resources and Tips for those who may be struggling

I was unable to post this comment under the original thread ("PE Associate Jumps to Death / Discussion on Mental Health") so I'm posting it here instead:



Thanks for creating a post on a very important topic.

Some resources, tactical tips and concepts to support your mental health

(LONG POST, pls skip if u don't wanna read something long instead of throwing ms at it) 

I've been through the ringer myself over the past few years; these are some lessons and resources gathered through my own own journey. There was a period of time when many things in my life snowballed and I struggling to stay functional. I'm also very interested in positive psychology and self-improvement so I look into this topic even outside of any problems I have. This post will of course reflect any biases and experiences I have, so please feel free to (respectfully) share if you have a different POV. Posting under a throwaway as I'm a fairly private person but I hope these resources will be helpful to as least one person going through a difficult time with their mental health.

FIRSTLY

Some food for thought, in no particular order:

Be mindful of toxic positivity

"Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset." This is not bad in itself, but people can take the concept to an extreme which makes it unhelpful or simply untrue and lead people away from the better path. For example, a common toxic positivity message is 'Never quit'. However, there's many cases where quitting a job, a relationship, or a new city will improve your quality of life right now and in the future.

Scale back before your body forces you to scale back

You can either plan your breaks, or your mental and physical health will force you to take a break unexpectedly.

Protect your identity boundaries

"Identity boundaries are important as it protects your values, thoughts, feelings, and right to decide for yourself." Some people will judge others harshly based on their own identity. However, recognizing this behaviour allows you not to take on their values, thoughts or feelings as your own. For example, someone may look down on you for not taking the typical IB/PE/M7/MF/profit(?) path the way they did. However, remembering that you are a separate individual with your own values / thoughts / feelings which are different than their's will allow you make peace with not living your life under their terms.

Passed economics? Well, apply the theory of diminishing returns to your own life

Many high achieving students / professionals can fall into the trap of trying to maximize their career at the expense of their physical / mental health, free time, hobbies, relationships, travel, and peace. Try to be mindful of when the extra time / energy  spent on career advancement can be better spread to other areas of your life. It can be hard to even know how else you can spend your time when so much of it has been dedicated to work (As tunnel vision usually develops), but having extra time in the first place is a starting point.

You have inherent value

Your value isn't dependent on a job, relationship, physique, house, etc. but because you're a human being. Most people would agree that a newborn baby has value just for existing. Now imagine that baby has grown up. Shouldn't it still retain the same inherent value? Your job is not your value, it's simply a valuable skill-set.

Identify your own cognitive biases

This is a common concept taught in CBT focused therapies. The premise is that you identify thoughts which are untrue or unhelpful so they can consciouly 'counter' the thoughts with something more balanced.

Ex

Should statements: 'If others can handle the banking lifestyle, I should be able to as well' 

Catastrophizing: 'If I don't turn the comments by x,y,z time, I'll fall into bottom bucket'

Black and white thinking: 'I either do FO roles or work in dead-end 9-5 roles'

Let me know if you'd like me to post a doc with common cognitive biases, since I know googling it can return too many results. I'll do it once I can post links.

No amount of workouts, healthy eating, sleep or therapy / medication will counteract the effects of severe and chronic stress

Stress pushes our body into fight or flight mode, which isn't detrimental. However, it becomes detrimental when it's severe and chronic. I noticed that many articles online address poor mental health through the needs listed above, but stress reduction is equally if not more important. IMO, trying to reduce the source of chronic / severe stress is the most helpful things you can do when your mental health feels unmanagable. These factors are definitely important and gives you a higher threshold for stress, but it does not address the root cause if that comes from work.

Collective perfectionism can be sneaky

If you're in an atmosphere where it feels like perfectionism is expected, it can be easy to forget that this level of performance isn't 'average'. You're in a bubble full of high achievers, so your own performance doesn't seem impressive and you won't recognize your own unrealistic standards. However, compared to many other lines of work, the expectations and pressure can be seen as absurd. 

SECONDLY

I noticed many people have a hard time letting go (not just in the case of careers), here are some FAQs

"But I worked so hard to get here, I can't deviate from this path!"

Once again, if you passed economics, please apply the theory of sunk cost to your own life. Yes, the blood sweat and tears you poured in have led you here (Wherever 'here' is) and you don't want to 'give it up'. However, that's all history and you need to make the best decision for your future based on the present. There were factors which weren't possible to consider when you committed to this path, but you have the hindsight now. This is like forcing yourself to watch a movie which isn't worth your time just because you paid for the tickets.

'If I can stick it out for x more time, it'll be worth it!'

I'm really letting economics do the heavy lifting here, but please also apply the theory of opportunity cost to your life. Sometimes, the benefit you can get from having other life experience, gaining happiness and confidence will also lead to exponential returns in these areas of life. Sometimes, it is worth sticking it out for awhile longer while the other areas are touch-and-go. It's hard to know the right answer, but you can only use the data points from your life which you do have. Don't let the uncertainty keep you in a path which isn't working out, because you'll never have 100% certainty and that's ok.

'But it's embarrassing to deviate from this path! What will others think?'

Maybe someone will wonder why your Linkedin is updating to a BO / more junior / different industry role all of a sudden. It may feel embarrassing in the moment but your ego will learn to handle it. On the flip side, if someone is judgement of this fact (Ex. "Oh he's a loser for switching"), do you really value their opinion? Like many others have said before, I echo the sentiment that you can still be successful with a non-linear career.

'So are you saying it's wrong to seek external validation?'

Not at all, humans are wired to be social creatures who seek connection and approval from others. However, I am saying it's wrong to put external validation on a pedestal. Instead, it's helpful to have a balanced view, and take external input into consideration while keeping your identity boundaries in mind.

'But … I like to achieve … I don't like being 'average''

Even if you deviate from your career path, you'll still have the drive and ambition to achieve great things. You're just less likely to hit diminishing returns.

THIRDLY

Awhile back, I stumbled upon this article by Victor Cheng when I was prepping for case interviews. Victor is well known in the industry for working and succeeding at McKinsey, before opening up his successful business coaching students to do the same. However, he struggled with his mental health despite his career success and opened up about his story of recovery which some of you may find insightful. It's interesting hearing from the perspective of someone who is so established in their career. Yes he's in consulting, but try to put aside the whole IB vs. MBB away for now and take from this what is helpful. I highly recommend you at least skim the the article, as he has linked many great resources as well.

FOURTH

Ok what are some actionable steps I can take right now? In no particular order:

Finding a therapist

Find a psychologist who is trained in CBT is a great place to start for most anxiety and depression challenges which are preventing you from being functional. Once you're more functional, re-visiting past traumas, understanding your life schemas, or working on relationships (an IP therapist may be more helpful for this) will bring you from functional to thriving.

As well, there are many guided therapy groups lead by a nurse and psychologist. They're usually focused around a specific issue such as depression, generalized anxiety disoder, panic disorder etc. so you'll be placed in a group which addresses your most pressing concern to really delve into one area. The groups usually have 8 - 12 other participants and it's nice to meet others on the same journey. Most people I spoke to aren't aware of this service, so please let me know if you'd like me to go into more detail on this.

Phone lines are also helpful. You don't have to be in crisis to access some of them. The ones I've used are free and simply provides a trained counselor who will chat with you when you call in (V helpful when you feel like you need someone to talk to at an odd time such as when everyone is asleep).

Making lifestyle changes

I can't place enough emphasis on building / maintaining connections. I know many of your careers limit the amount of time / energy you have for this but it's my friends who have caught me during tough times, and allowed me to succeed in the long term. Next, I'd prioritize sleep, diet, and exercise in that order.

Consider Medication

Your GP can help you pick the right medication, just remember it takes time to work and you may feel worse before you feel better. SSRIs are the first line treatment for many issues but there's so many options such as SNRIs, atypical anti-depressants, tricyclic, etc. This isn't appropriate for everyone, but there is robust research showing it's positive effects when given to the right patients.

Reduce pressure in your life

For most of you, this comes from reducing career stressors. Don't aim for perfection. This article explains how you can get the most for the least stress:

Link: 'M&I being a STARR not a TWAT'

Give that a go, and remember switching careers is always an option even though many of you feel it isn't.

LASTLY

If you're going through a tough time right now, I'm sorry that the case and hope you'll get back on your feet soon. It may feel lonely but you're not alone in your journey. Since you're browsing this site right now, you're likely ambitious and have the drive to do well in life. You're resourceful and open to self-improvement. These are all terrific qualities which will carry you through. Remember there is hope even when you subjectively feel that things are hopeless. Life doesn't end when you don't make it into GS TMT. There have been times when I've felt like I was on the edge myself but things eventually got better. All the best. 

I just threw a lot of information at you. If decision paralysis is settling in, simply pick ONE actionable item to focus on for the next month.

If you need any clarification, I'll try to re-visit this thread and reply to any questions. 



**ADDITIONAL RESOURCES**

Life Schemas

If you're having trouble shifting your perspective on certain topics, core beliefs may be at play. Trying to work on items such as cognitive biases will only cut the top off certain issues. In order to pull the roots out, you need to have new life experiences which show you otherwise. I believe a core belief which many who frequent this site may emphasize with is:

"UNRELENTING STANDARDS / HYPERCRITICALNESS 

The underlying belief that one must strive to meet very high internalized standards of behavior and performance, usually to avoid criticism. Typically results in feelings of pressure or difficulty slowing down; and in hypercriticalness toward oneself and others. Must involve significant impairment in: pleasure, relaxation, health, self-esteem, sense of accomplishment, or satisfying relationships.  Unrelenting standards typically present as: 

(a) perfectionism, inordinate attention to detail, or an underestimate of how good one's own performance is relative to the norm; 

(b) rigid rules and "shoulds" in many areas of life, including unrealistically high moral, ethical, cultural, or religious precepts; or 

(c) preoccupation with time and efficiency, so that more can be accomplished."

^Note that none of these are bad in itself, if there is balance. This trait may have helped people achieve their success; it's detrimental when the cons start to outweigh the pros.

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Edit:

- Expanded upon some points

- As well, I came back to answer a question and noticed MS was thrown at the thread and a couple comments back-to-back so I assume it's from one disgruntled user. Like I mentioned, I understand people will have different life experiences and I'm open to a thoughtful discussion if you disagree (Feel free to post anonymously too) but throwing MS at this thread when we're trying to help those who are struggling isn't it. So I ask anyone else who disagree to voice their opinions below; your POV could be more helpful to someone in a similar situation to you vs. what I shared above. If you still want to go down the MS route, it is what it is tbh. Thanks.

Comments (22)

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Dec 4, 2021 - 3:51pm

Great post.
 

Our industry is notorious for indifference to the mental health of employees. It is also an industry that has resisted cultural change. What actionable steps would you propose in order to make respect and support for the mental health of employees endemic to our industry?

Most Helpful
Dec 4, 2021 - 10:47pm

Thank you.

 

It sounds like this is a topic you've thought about (and maybe experienced) even prior to reading this post. It also sounds like you're supportive of creating change for both yourself and future professionals.

 

You've made a great point. The industry is both notorious for indifference to the mental health of employees AND it is also an industry that has resisted cultural change. So, the current state is not functional and there's barriers to change. 

Although that is the general consensus, this isn't the experience everyone has. The industry will always be demanding, but some have it much better than others. Even the culture between say, ECM can differ vastly from M&A at the same bank. So what gives? Studying what some people / groups / firms do right can give us a blueprint to emulate.

I'm not sure that I have great insights on what will create change within the industry (My knowledge is more so based on how you can take care of yourself and navigate the industry in its current state). But here are potential action steps based on my observations.

 

Hire and retain people who are reasonable about mental health

I know, I know. This sounds so obvious but hear me out.

What maintains the culture of the industry are its current members. So change can only happen when the industry prioritizes members who do respect and support the mental health of employees endemic to our industry like you mentioned. 

This is evident just by browsing WSO. If you look through a user's post / comment history, you can start to piece together their values and personality based on what they post consistently. Do they shit on others for asking a reasonable question? Do they respond respectfully and make useful contribution? Do they offer support and advice when someone is struggling? Do they think they're better than someone who got into a 'worse' bank? I want to clarify it's not about having one questionable comments, but what they comment consistently. Their POV and interactions with others will provide data points on how they might respect / support the mental health of others.

In my experience, having reasonable people is much more important than any special programs rolled out in banks. Ex. Protected Saturdays which aren't followed sometimes, monthly wellness workshops, etc.

I'm not sure what the exact logistics would be around making sure these people are hired and retained though. The interview process is already extensive, but perhaps the hiring managers can keep this trait in mind instead of tacking on another interview or test.

 

Those who hold the purse strings need to demand change

 

There is a greater cultural change where society is more conscious of the triple bottom line, and not just profits.

 

Capital is a huge motivator for change. Client demand dictates how companies operate. This is evident even in our daily life. There were barely any organic produce 10 years ago, but now you can hardly go to a large grocery store which doesn't carry it as consumers are actively seeking out and willing to pay more or organic produce. Thus, retailers have responded to this change by purchasing from more organic producers. There's also items which are fairtrade, rainforest alliance certified, etc. which are produced because there is consumer demand for more socially / environmentally conscious products. This same principle can also be applied to the finance industry. If clients (portfolio companies, acquisition target, etc.) start prioritizing companies that are known to respect / support employee mental health, then it would be a bigger priority internally as well. 

 

Once again, I'm not sure what the exact actionable step is here. Maybe awareness is the first step? This is more so a lofty end goal to work towards.

 

----------------------------------------------------------------

There was also a great thread on it awhile back with plenty of thoughtful discussion titled 'How can we do better' (I'm unable to link it but you'll find it easily). A few requests stood out to me from that thread:

 

  • Small pocket of predictability from such as a protected hour for dinner
  • MDs being more strategic about taking on pitches, mandates, etc. Focusing energy on those with a higher probability of success rather than quantity
  • Appreciation from seniors will create a connection, but there's the sentiment that they feel transactional
  • Hiring employees with better leadership skills, not just technical know-how. The ability to push back, encourage the team when the going gets tough and play on each team member's strength, etc.
  • Bureaucracy from turning comments from each layer of the hierarchy
  • Manage fake urgency

 

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What are your thoughts on these suggestions? I'd love to hear about aspects you've found challenging / some actionable steps you'd propose yourself.

Dec 6, 2021 - 1:11pm

Thanks for sharing your resource - this is definitely better than what I had as it was simply a photo I had saved.

As well, I've heard many great things about the book you mentioned, so I will be adding it to my own reading list.

Dec 6, 2021 - 6:42am

Thank you for posting this. It's so easy to get lost in the prestige rut and posts like these are good reminders. Really appreciate the time you took to write this out

Array

Dec 6, 2021 - 1:30pm

No problem at all - I'm happy to take the time and share what I've learned as I'm in a period where I have more capacity.  The amount of time it took to gather these resources into one place doesn't take long now that I'm familiar with it but I understand that trying to figure it out when you're already struggling can feel like a lot. 

  • Associate 3 in PE - LBOs
Dec 6, 2021 - 1:11pm

Going anon but I have done many adderall and modafinil nights to meet the extreme work.

I always am negative after doing so. I really hope this industry becomes more WLB friendly.

I imagine I'm not the only one.

Please take care of yourselves. 300,400 or 500k is nothing if you're sick or fucked up.

Dec 7, 2021 - 3:27pm

It sounds like you relate very much to some of the themes covered here. 

 

You're definitely not the only one, as I have known peers (both within and outside of this industry) who have turned to similar coping mechanisms (As well as drinking, smoking, vaping, etc.). You're having a hard time and it happens to the best of us.

 

I'm not sure of your exact situation but your desire for more WLB is understandable. Some unsolicited suggestions if I may: 

  1. Try to utilize some of the tips / concepts listed above to improve your situation in the short term
  2. If you're still yearning for more balance, switching to another team / firm could be a good medium term strategy. You've already proven your skill-set as you're an associate in PE and any potential incremental cuts in pay / experience will be off-set by free-time and reduction in pressure. Your ambitious energy will be well spent in other areas of life.

 

Totally agree that 500k doesn't mean much if you're unable to enjoy the fruits of your labour.

Dec 6, 2021 - 8:05pm

Interestingly enough PE has less of a chance of improving WLB than banking does.  The problem PE has is that company owners will kick your ass to the curb if you don't close in a reasonable time.  I have seen it happen to 3 different PE firms at a previous job I was at.  

Dec 9, 2021 - 1:23am

You're absolutely right that trying to improve the WLB whether it be in IB, PE etc. is challenging at best. You've seen the effects firsthand when performance doesn't meet expectations. To a certain degree, a lack of WLB is also simply the nature of the work itself and to be expected. At the end of the day, the high expectations for these roles attract people who are very achievement oriented and seeking to maximize their career at the cost of their personal life so people are constantly pushing to be more competitive.

 

I'd say my post is more so geared towards people who work in a team that don't give a reasonable timeframe, or those who do but are still struggling due to various other reasons. I admit I don't think I have great insights on improving WLB in the industry as a whole, it's more so focused on improving your own situation instead. So techniques and mindsets which will make the work more manageable. And the solution may not even be better WLB for some. It may be in other areas such as improving self-esteem, efficiency, social anxiety, switching firms etc. Then encouraging those who are hitting diminishing returns to leave the industry despite bruising their egos and giving up some compensation. 

 

The thing about WLB is that I noticed everyone has a different capacity. Even the same person can have a very different capacity based on their phase of life. So their desire for WLB will change. Everyone has a different capacity based on their experience, abilities, and opportunities. Some may also had factors which supported their journey or given them a head start (Ex. A therapist paid for by their parents, tutors, stable home life, good school district …). It's not always fair but it is what it is and I believe accepting that and making the most of your unique situation sets you up your best life. If they can't handle the work in their current capacity, that's ok and taking a breather while they improve their skill-set or choosing a different lifestyle altogether is great.

 

So if they're one of these people who can't close in a reasonable time consistently, then it may be time to consider which area can be improved, or leaving the industry if it's not worth it.

 

Thanks for sharing, and if you have additional thoughts I'd love to hear it.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Cov
Dec 12, 2021 - 1:26am

Thank you so much for this. I'm a 2nd year IB analyst & I agree with all you said.

Id especially encourage first year analysts to really read this / use this post as a resource! Please remember to prioritize your mental health above all else.

It's just a job :)

Dec 15, 2021 - 12:53pm

Agree with everything OP wrote. Surprised this wasn't on here though: if you're not sure where to start and you live in New York City, you can call 1-888-NYC-WELL or text WELL to 65713. They can provide recs for therapy clinics. Won't be the private practices we all could afford, but it's a starting place. I'm not ashamed to admit I've called several times, including once in the middle of the night when mental stress was pushing me over the edge. I'm currently in therapy for my anxiety and not ashamed of it at all.

Dec 17, 2021 - 11:29pm

Thanks for sharing how you've personally benefited from these hotlines, odd times like the middle of the night is definitely when it's the most valuable. Tackling your anxiety head-on is a terrific investment in yourself.

The specific hotline will help many take the first step, great call-out.

I'll add in the hotlines I used for Canadian folks; I accessed these back when I lived in Ontario. Crisis doesn't mean you need to be in a high level of distress, you can also call in to seek support or deal with painful emotions.

Kids Help Phone

This free, 24/7 Canada wide service is for kids, teens and young adults. 

Text 'CONNECT' to 686868 from anywhere in Canada.

Call 1-800-668-6868

Good to Talk

This free, 24/7 service specifically aimed at post-secondary students in Ontario and Nova Scotia. 

Ontario

Call 1-866-925-5454

Text 'GOOD2TALKON' to 686868

Nova Scotia

Call 1-833-292-3693

Text 'GOOD2TALKNS' to 686868

Crisis Text Line

I wish I had a personal recommendation for the more senior crowd, but this seems like a good place to start and it has some kind of affiliation with Kids Help Phone. 

Text 'HOME' to 686868

Others

I also found this hotline list from Victor Cheng's site. In addition to U.S. lines, it has extensive international resources. 

https://www.caseinterview.com/crisis-help

Dec 18, 2021 - 7:12pm

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