We Are All Here to Feel a Little Stress

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Quick story from the associate training class, Lehman Brothers, 2001.

The businesses would come in and give presentations to the MBAs. Some of them were good, some were bad, some were boring, some were funny. We got about 25 of them, and they all started to sound the same after a while.

I don't know why this sticks out in my head, but one day we were hearing from the FX research guys. This very European fellow had finished the boring presentation and had moved on to the Q&A. I had mostly tuned out because this wasn't about trading, and all I wanted to do was trade. Some noob in the back asks the FX research job if his job is stressful.

I'm like, what the hell kind of question is that? Plus, he's a research guy, so how stressful can that be?

European guy takes it in stride, thinks for a moment, and says, "You know-we are all here to feel a little stress, no?"

To this day, that is one of the most profound things I've ever heard.

I think this is where you have to ask yourself, what are you trying to do here? You know that a career in banking or the capital markets is stressful, right? Do you know how stressful? Sure, there are scary stories, like about the banker kid at BofA that actually died, but if you're like a lot of people, there's a good chance that you haven't been mentally or emotionally tested even once in your life, not remotely. Even competitive sports doesn't really count in a lot of cases-just because it's physically demanding, doesn't mean it's stressful.

So in all sincerity-and I'm not trying to sound like a jackass-my job was pretty stressful. I had grossly underestimated how stressful it was going to be. The average day got my heart pounding like it was going to burst out of my chest at least a couple of times a day, or pounding the desk, or absolutely losing my shit at one of the sales traders. It wasn't good. I really wanted to drink an abnormal amount of alcohol when I got out of work.

You know, my very first day on Wall Street, sometime back in 1999, when I arrived in the office of the trading firm I was working for, there was an older guy who was packing his shit. "Where are you going?" I asked him. He was quitting, he told me. He had various complaints about how the market was getting more efficient, but I learned later from the others that Ben had just "burned out." That was how it goes, I was told. If you were a trader, you either blew up or burned out. You didn't last long. Not many guys over 40 in this business.

So in 2008, when I quit, yes, I wanted to start my newsletter, but if I am being honest, I will say that I burned out. I did seven years at Lehman and I couldn't work another day. I was done.

I suppose there is some kind of shame associated with burning out, but so what. Today, I couldn't be happier, or healthier.

So I think you need to be realistic about what you want out of this career and I think you need to understand that the lifespan of a front-office person tends to be very short. You could be one of the rare ones who works until his or her 50s, but that is exceedingly rare.

All in all, I had just short of a ten year career. Was it stressful? It was harder than anything I've ever done. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

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