One time my superior told me that getting the flu had been 'reckless'. But the real lessons were personal: I was permanently stressed, and this carried over to the rest of my life: You have to be fast and on the edge and alert all the time in your work, and you begin to expect the same instant gratification from the rest of the world. There are people out there with far greater problems than bankers, who are so much worse off. It helps if you can see that, but somehow people in investment banks lose touch with reality.
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The thing is, the life of an investment banker is such that you become entirely self-absorbed and self-centred. You forget there's a world out there with real problems.
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You find more and more commonalities with your peers at work, which feeds into this sense of living in a bubble. The only 'senior management exposure' you realistically get is your own VP or MD line manager , and the only jet-setting you do is from work to home and back. So investment banks hire the very best people, then make them do really basic and routine tasks, despite putting them through an incredibly stressful hiring process.
Mergers and acquisitions is about trying to convince business clients to do a deal and then executing those deals. To gain the initial business — there is a lot of pitching and marketing. And these pitch books are put together by … junior bankers. So what I found myself doing all day was reviewing work of my analysts, formatting presentations, making mind-numbing iterations provided by seniors, doing some Excel wizardry, fixing footnotes on pages … A managing director doesn't like the mustard yellow you used in the presentation and now you have to spend a full night replacing it with light yellow.
Or a few hours before the deadline, a director insists that we remove the gridlines behind all the graphs I realised, I have a brain and it's not being used. This combination makes it really tough; not only are you dead-tired, you cannot plan your schedule, and hence you cannot work towards a moment when you know you'll be able to relax. This sinking feeling when you see the little red light flash on your BlackBerry. From that moment on, you have to check it, you have to know if something important has come up.
It was all too common to go for dinner with my investment banker friends on a weekday and there would be a moment when all of us would be checking in with our BlackBerrys. Many look much older than they are because they age so much faster.
I used to think of people that I worked with and look up their pictures on the intranet. All these once healthy, youthful, smiling faces had slowly morphed into raisins. What got to me was the artificial stress. We were constantly put under fake deadlines, creating unnecessary stress.
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I'd be told to have something ready by 10pm on Tuesday, although my superior wouldn't look at until midday on Thursday. Yet, the 10pm Tuesday deadline causes incredible grief. What they may not see is what that pay means to the bank: Your superiors don't care if you haven't slept in four days, or that your weekend is ruined. Years of service don't matter. How much money you brought in doesn't matter. If you are seen as no longer performing ,you are chucked out without the bank batting an eyelid.
Then, from one moment to the next, you're fired and marched out of the building five minutes later. So how can the bank cope with your sudden disappearance if earlier your presence was absolutely necessary at all times? My superiors seemed to think: Are they filtering out people for maximum endurance? The tipping point was when my parents were over from the other side of the globe, and I hardly saw them.
All those hours, yet everyone kept such a distance. He dedicates every bit of free time from work to me instead of himself and I accept that his work is not his fault and to not take it out on him. No matter how awful it may be for me, it's ten times worse for him.
What advice would I offer other women and men who have banking partners? Never take out your frustration on them! It's not their fault. You're a team, not fighting against each other! Let go of the small things and focus on the big ones.
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