Why My Greatest Achievement As A Goldman Sachs VP Was Quitting

geoffblades's picture
Rank: Neanderthal | 2,027

6 AM meant it was time to check voicemails. 11 PM meant it was time to check voicemails again. Every second in between reserved for hustling, fixing the thousand problems guaranteed to crop up that day.

That was my life as a Goldman Sachs VP, and despite what you might assume, I didn't hate it.

I didn't get there by accident. I'd worked that hard since my first job at KFC to get where I thought I should want to be, and by all accounts I was crushing my goals.

Except they weren't my goals. Despite my success, despite the deep friendships I'd made at Goldman, I could never shake the sense that I was living someone else's idea of success.

At a certain point, it was time to leave.

Why It Took Me This Long To Walk Away

A lot of people feel trapped in their jobs for various reasons:

  • They're afraid of losing the money.
  • They've grown too comfortable.
  • They think they don't deserve something more.

But none of those applied to me.

I lived well below my means on Wall Street and had a little money stashed away to feel comfortable taking the risk. I didn't know where it would lead me, but I knew I would figure it out.

I hadn't grown too comfortable in one position--in fact I'd changed my job four times at Goldman already.

And I most certainly did not fall into the third trap. Too many people confuse their unhappiness with ungratefulness, and feel ashamed for wanting something more than what other people think they should want. On a base level, I always knew this shame was self-defeating and rejected it.

What had held me back, however, was the question that had baffled me since I began transforming my career and life, What Do I Want?

After all these years, job changes, moving countries, and cities, reading thousands of books and writing thousands of pages of ideas, I still didn't know what I wanted.

Whereas years earlier I was certain that I wanted to be at Goldman for the rest of my life, I couldn't point at something and say, "I am 100% certain that I want to do this for the rest of my life."

I could, however, do something else. Looking at my current job, I could say, I am 100% certain that I do not want to do this for the rest of my life."

So I quit.

How I Quit A Job People Would Kill For

If it seems like I was jumping out of a plane without a parachute, it's only because I was.

In fact, it had been building up in me for so long, that a week before bonuses were paid (when you should do nothing more than keep your head down), I headed into the corner office and blurted out that I wanted to resign.

Many people have anxiety about this conversation, but if you have honest and compassionate relationships with your bosses, their reaction to you quitting will be honest and compassionate.

No one was angry with me, they just wanted to understand. They wanted me to explain what I was leaving to do, which was difficult for me, as I had no idea.

It was easier to stay. But, after many years of figuring out what I wanted, I simply knew it was time to leave. Still, that was hard to do.

I felt sure it was what I must do, and I put on a good poker face, but I was terrified to leave.

Hoping to find a way to keep me, from the day I quit in January till the end of April, I tried on different hats within Goldman Sachs. The whole time, I knew none of them would fit.

In my final conversation with one of my bosses, he said to me, "I understand why you would leave, but I still don't know why would you leave to do nothing."

I wasn't leaving to do nothing. I was leaving to do everything.

Why Being Unemployed Was My Best Career Move

The day I left Goldman, I pulled out of the parking lot on Century Boulevard, dropped my silver sports car back into 2nd, and sped away.

At the first light, reaching over and picking up my Blackberry, I scrolled to the Goldman Sachs voicemail number I had dialed for many years, and hit delete.

6 AM meant I was still asleep. 11 PM meant I was doing something worth doing. Every second in between was dedicated to exploring what I wanted.

Over the next 18 months I would travel the world, read tons more books, have new adventures (like training MMA non-stop for a year), and make friends who I treasure to this day. All of this in search of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

What I didn't realize is that, not only was I figuring out what I wanted, but through trial and error I was creating and fine-tuning a system for living the life that you truly want.

The Answer Never Ends

Many of us in life are looking for meaning we can state in a sentence. We want to say, "I want to do this for the rest of my life. Full stop."

But in life the only full stop is death, and until then we are in motion. By constantly asking myself the question, "What do I want right now?" and figuring out what moves the needle on that goal, I was journeying to the place I am today.

In leaving Goldman I realized that I wasn't seeking that mythical beach to sit on, but to keep moving towards a career and life of great purpose and meaning. I didn't know what that was, but I knew I had to keep exploring to figure it out.

Today I spend my time working directly with others, in their businesses, in their lives driving more of what they want each day.

I didn't build a system that gets you from point a to point b. I built a system that is point b, that keeps you in constant motion, perpetually discovering and rediscovering what it is you want and helping you develop the process and skills to get it.

I left Goldman Sachs because I had a question I needed to answer. What I built was the system that I wish someone had given me.

Mod Note (Andy): Best of 2016, this post ranks #39 for the past year

Comments (60)

Best Response
Sep 30, 2016

I wish I had enough to money to travel for 18 months too.

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    • 1
Sep 30, 2016
YungMonc:

I wish I had enough to money to travel for 18 months too.

I agree with this. You beat me to it.

Sep 30, 2016

It takes a lot less than you'd think

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

    • 11
Sep 30, 2016
AndyLouis:

It takes a lot less than you'd think

This

    • 2
Sep 30, 2016

Same, it's barely a decision to 'quit' when you have that kind of dough stashed

    • 1
Sep 30, 2016
iBankedUp:

Same, it's barely a decision to 'quit' when you have that kind of dough stashed

If only I was as shrewd as I think I am.

Sep 30, 2016

I guess it depends on what you are comfortable living off of. I saw some Imgur post the other day where someone quit their job, drove their Jeep to Alaska and all the way down to the tip of South America. I believe the guy's blog or whatever was called "The Road Chose Me." He said it took two years and $27,300 for everything. That's not bad at all.

    • 1
Oct 1, 2016

save your bacon. if you have worked for 8 years on WS and you can't do what you want for a while, you've wasted it.

Former banker and investor, advisor to senior Wall Street pros. Learn more at geoffblades.com

    • 6
Oct 5, 2016

Agreed. Click-bait titles.

    • 1
Sep 30, 2016

Were you in IB or Trading at Goldman? Because I would quit GS if I was a trader too

Oct 1, 2016

IBD. corporate finance. Tech banking. The job of Staffer. leveraged finance. Then, after taking that 18 months off, where I only traveled part of the time, I joined the Carlyle Group as a distressed investor.

Former banker and investor, advisor to senior Wall Street pros. Learn more at geoffblades.com

    • 2
Oct 4, 2016

So are you happier with your new position than the former or do you think the happiness origins from the time you took out to do something else? and do you think this new place you found yourself in, is permanent or just another point in your journey?

Sep 30, 2016

I left an engineer role at a giant tech company a long time ago, because I had a similar experience. I did the job, and it was not for the $$ (despite the nice pay increase), but because I was curious as to what they wanted to accomplish.

The company lost its vision, management got in the way, and eventually I lost all interest in engineering altogether. It is not a feeling of burnout, but you realize that it is not something you want to keep doing for 3+, 5+, 10+ years down the line.

Travelling in itself does not cost a lot of money if you live frugally and travel as such, so there a lot of opportunities to go around places on a yearly salary if you saved up correctly.

Point being, is that I do hope you find what you're looking for. I had another friend who turned down an IBD position, and I recommended to him in joining and working for a non-profit organization. I think if we can make an impact in today's world, then at least we know that we are making a difference for our children's future.

    • 2
Sep 30, 2016

this really all depends on what our role was.

prop trader, M&A banker, IT, ops...all very different...

Sep 30, 2016

Greatly enjoyed this post. A coach one time told me stepping out of your comfort zone is the best thing you can do sometimes to yield success. In most cases, it proves to be right. +1.

    • 1
Oct 1, 2016

love this. see, that's part of my point.

people land a great job on ws, and 20 years later they are still there, basically having just graduated to a more senior level.

these are amazing careers that you can strategically navigate to keep getting what you want.

Former banker and investor, advisor to senior Wall Street pros. Learn more at geoffblades.com

Sep 30, 2016

I really enjoyed this post. As someone who is trying to make a career move into IBD from my current role at a BB I appreciate you stating that you had your experience and you were ready to move on.

Several people have asked me " why would you put yourself through that " and my response has been" If I can make the transition I would rather experience myself and leave on my own if it is not for me than simply take your word for it that banking is not worth it."

Thank you for sharing.

Oct 1, 2016

yeah man, you really get this.

these are lots of f'n idiots on WSO, but it's worth showing up for so many of you who get it and really want to keep making your life what you want it to be.

GS was the greatest opportunity I could have had, and set me up for everything else I wanted to do.

These are very hard jobs, and they push you to the limit, but they bring out the best in you. growth, learning, skills, dealing with stress, etc.

Too many people are like that gs elevator joker and see ws as being about bottles and models. but, if you see it as a career than you can utilize to drive your life, its an incredible vehicle.

Former banker and investor, advisor to senior Wall Street pros. Learn more at geoffblades.com

    • 1
Sep 30, 2016

what was your job at KFC?

    • 6
Sep 30, 2016

Asking the real hard hitting questions I see...

    • 4
Sep 30, 2016

are you going to go back to KFC? What exactly went wrong there...?

    • 5
Oct 1, 2016

kfc-fdlp

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

Oct 1, 2016

best job, man. cooking chicken. just leave me alot. let me cook chicken.

and, seriously, taught me a very potent idea: don't sell your time by the hour. even lawyers still do that.

Former banker and investor, advisor to senior Wall Street pros. Learn more at geoffblades.com

    • 2
Oct 2, 2016

Could you expand on this idea of not selling your time for money by the hour? Any employee sells his time for a fixed dollar amount. But if you're getting paid by the hour, isn't it the similar to working in a revenue generation role? Unless what you're saying is that the lawyer's actual salary is a fraction of his/her chargeout rate. I'm very interested to hearing your thoughts on this. Thanks!

Sep 30, 2016

Wait s second. Bonuses get paid out in January?

Sep 30, 2016

For senior bankers they do. Some banks also now pay analyst bonuses in January.

    • 1
Sep 30, 2016

Figured that was probably the case, thanks!

Oct 1, 2016

that was associate.

Former banker and investor, advisor to senior Wall Street pros. Learn more at geoffblades.com

Oct 1, 2016

I'm confused. So what do you do now, write self help?

    • 1
Oct 1, 2016

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Oct 1, 2016

come see me in 15 years.

Former banker and investor, advisor to senior Wall Street pros. Learn more at geoffblades.com

    • 2
Oct 1, 2016

yep, this is what I do.

I've taken enough crap from monkeys on WSO that I'm here marketing my stuff.

Seriously, selling books is hardly a business, and I'm here on a Saturday dedicating my time because I want you guys to benefit from the ideas that I wish someone had shared with me.

The part of my journey I shared in this article was what led me to leave GS.

After that 18 months off, where I did basically whatever I wanted and only traveled for some of it, I joined the Carlyle Group as a distressed investor during the last credit crisis.

but, the whole time. Since 2000, this has been my principle focus. When I stepped back from my career at GS, after half the office was laid off, I wanted to know:

What do I really want? How do I get it?

I became so obsessed with these topics that 10 years after I started this work, I left WS to share what I learned.

Today I'm an advisor to senior Wall Street pros and other leaders. I write books on getting what you want.

Yes, I get plenty of crap from people who will never understand what I do. But they are the ones slaving away every day in jobs they mostly hate, while I am doing what I want.

Former banker and investor, advisor to senior Wall Street pros. Learn more at geoffblades.com

    • 7
Oct 7, 2016

What's your book called? I wanna buy that book.

Oct 1, 2016

Thanks for the interesting take on your journey. For many of us who are still fighting to get there, give us more details please. What were you doing at GS? What really went wrong? except you just did not want to stay there but did not know exactly what you wanted to do? Overworking either at GS or anywhere else can make anyone unhappy. But GS is like the optimal point for many who want to be miserable but self important.... I just want to know why?

Oct 1, 2016

I love it, man. My first two years I was a total lifer.

I started in Australia, working for the now Prime Minister of Australia. I moved to Menlo Park in 2000, joining the hottest business, Technology. (I was lucky to be an early two year direct promote to associate)

And, then, the Internet bubble burst.

Half the office got fired. Comp was cut by two thirds. The career just looked crap.

I started to ask: What do I want?

I read hundreds and then thousands of books, made some moves in my career, ultimately left WS.

Former banker and investor, advisor to senior Wall Street pros. Learn more at geoffblades.com

    • 1
Oct 3, 2016

Cool stuff, man. I just looked up current Aussie PM - ex GS guy :)

Thanks again for sharing. I am slaving myself to get to where you left. But at times, I also wonder once I get there, if it will be worth it. I will find out, i guess.

Cheers,

Oct 5, 2016
geoffblades:

I read hundreds and then thousands of books, made some moves in my career, ultimately left WS.

Geoff, this is something I'd love to know more about -- after reading thousands of books, did you find that you had diminishing returns (in terms of knowledge, etc) with each additional book read? I was following a discussion about the topic recently, so I'd love to hear your thoughts.

On an unrelated topic, did reading such a large number of books make you reconsider books you thought were inspiring/well-written in the past (and if so, what books from your past were downgraded/upgraded in your view and by what new books)?

    • 1
Oct 1, 2016

Ok so did you figure out anything ?
Im my 4 years of work i saved enough to travel for 4 other years. So theoretically i can quit and figure out stuff.
Except that i may as well not figure out anything after 1 year of "exploring". I am afraid the only thing i'll figure out is that my bank account stopped increasing each month.

Oct 1, 2016

see, that's part of the type of thing you need to get over if you are going to make bold decisions.

bank account stopping increasing each month might feel nice, but how much do you value it.

see, what I valued was my life.

I didn't love banking. So, I didn't know why I would "sell" the best years of my life, when if I found what I loved, I would want to do it every day anyways.

Money is easy to make up. Time is impossible.

Former banker and investor, advisor to senior Wall Street pros. Learn more at geoffblades.com

    • 2
Oct 1, 2016
geoffblades:

see, that's part of the type of thing you need to get over if you are going to make bold decisions.

bank account stopping increasing each month might feel nice, but how much do you value it.

see, what I valued was my life.

I didn't love banking. So, I didn't know why I would "sell" the best years of my life, when if I found what I loved, I would want to do it every day anyways.

Money is easy to make up. Time is impossible.

This is all very nice and i agree with you, this feeling of wasting your best years is very daunting. Doesn't help to fill the fridge i am afraid.

    • 1
Oct 1, 2016

What do the economics of the self help / motivational speaker business look like?

Array

Oct 1, 2016

better than the economics of a hedge fund today

Former banker and investor, advisor to senior Wall Street pros. Learn more at geoffblades.com

    • 2
Oct 2, 2016

This dude was at GS from late 90's to 2006 ... those 8 years he would have made more money than 10-12 years of banking today.

Oct 2, 2016

So you quit GS and then Wall Street to write about quitting GS and then Wall Street? Did you learn that your passion is quitting a job to find your passion? Unless I'm missing something, this post is very vague and clickbait-ish and if I had to guess this is promotional for a book you want us to buy.

Gimme the loot

    • 5
Oct 3, 2016

Too many people with a conscience all of a sudden. Your job isn't meant to be meaningful, it's your life. But then again, nothing in life has meaning and things just are.

Absolute truths don't exist... celebrated opinions do.

Oct 4, 2016

Goldman VP? Didn't get any PE placements? Also sounds like poor planning on your part. It's not a virtue to have a capricious/impulsive personality.

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Oct 4, 2016

Thanks very much for your post. It was very enlightening. I feel inspired by your story.

    • 1
Oct 5, 2016

great post. refreshing

Oct 6, 2016

Great post. Which bank did you work for?

    • 2
Oct 6, 2016

Great post, and an inspiring story. Im glad to hear everything worked out for you - And traveling for 18 months sounds amazing.

    • 1
Oct 7, 2016

Hey Geoff, not trying to discredit your story...but your LinkedIn says that after you quit Goldman, you were a partner at an airline advisory shop (a position that you started a month after you quit Goldman) for about a year, and then started your VP stint at Carlyle four months after you left that position. So when did you have time to travel for 18 months?

    • 4
Oct 7, 2016

stupid article

    • 3
Oct 7, 2016

You're kidding, right?

First, one has to have enough $ in order to take 18 months off and travel around the world ... and you earned that $ by working at Goldman Sachs, the place you are now so happy that you have left.

Second, this entire post by you is just a marketing ploy. Yes, you may have left GS, and yes, you may have traveled around and loved it. AND yes, you probably started a new 'consulting' or 'therapy' or 'career guidance' type of business, which you are indirectly marketing through this post.

Good job.

    • 1
Oct 11, 2016
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Oct 12, 2016
Oct 1, 2017