My first job out of college ended up being a huge mistake. But, I recovered and took with me some lessons learned.
Back in the Roaring 1980s, the hottest investment bank was Wasserstein Perella. The founders started a new M&A firm and proceeded to cherry pick very successful partners from other firms. A roster of super-stars.
For me, I took an analyst position because of one reason: It paid the most money. You see, back then, I thought all jobs were the same. I had a sense that the cultural fit wasn’t great, but, I figured, I could deal.
Our first week in, the Gulf War started. That meant that all M&A activity ground to a halt. Unfortunately, we were expected still to work long hours.
I worked every day. I showed up at 9 am and left after 11 pm on nights when I was not pulling an all-nighter. I worked every Saturday and Sunday, too.
Periodically, a staffing officer would walk the halls at 11 pm. After a date or a night out, he would return to the office and take attendance. If you were not at your desk, he gave you an additional project the next day. This was face time before there was FaceTime.
The analysts were clever. They would arrive at the office at 9 am, turn on their computers and desk lights, leave suit jackets on their chairs…and, then, many went out shopping or did personal errands. Some would go to the movies, on occasion.
They did this because most assignments were given in the late-afternoon, when the partners got out of their meetings and decided what they wanted done by the next morning. (I didn’t do all that because my supervisor sat near me, and she watched us like a hawk.)
My apartment roommate also worked in investment banking, but at a different firm. He arrived home most nights by 7 pm or 8 pm. Overall, he was happy. I, on the other hand, was sleep-deprived and stressed-out. I gained about 20 lbs. in just a few months.
I’m not sure how it happened, but in the spring of my first year, I was asked to consider staying for a third year and not just a second. I honestly didn’t know what to do. That’s when I started going to St. Patrick’s Our Lady of Guadalupe altar to sort out my thoughts. I had not been to Church in quite a few years.
I was very lucky: I was a deferred admit to HBS and had that escape clause. But, my whole life had been about pleasing teachers/coaches/bosses, grit, and loyalty. I knew the firm would be pissed, and I was torn.
But, my life felt completely dis-ordered. I was making a lot of money for someone my age, but my after-tax pay per hour was abysmal.
I also definitely was not a cultural fit. All of the people at the firm were super-stars. It made for an interesting amalgamation of extremely driven and strong personalities. To watch the partners in action reminded me of a pack of wolves, except that each one was an alpha used to getting his/her own way. Their behavior definitely affected the analysts. One person had a nervous breakdown while at the office and subsequently disappeared for a few weeks.
I decided to quit and re-boot my life.
I wanted to give the firm time to recruit someone else, and so, I told them that spring. And, yes, the firm was pissed. They declined to give me my first-year bonus. But, I felt OK taking the high road and walked away with a clean conscience. I really needed that bonus, but it felt like a small price to pay for my freedom and honor.
I moved to Boston to work at Bain & Co. That job also was very intense and involved a great deal of travel. But, the hours weren’t as horrendous, most of the people were great, and you learned to avoid the bosses who were unhappy people. And, most important for me, the firm emphasized collaboration and team play. The cultural fit felt awesome.
One thing I set up front with every new project leader was this: I told him/her that I didn’t work on Sundays. I told folks I would be happy to work all day and all night Saturday to make that happen. And, everyone understood. I did this at every job thereafter.
I’m thinking of this because I feel I really need today as a rest day. Work has been very busy, and it is great to have time to chill out and re-group. So, the agenda today is simple: exercise, Mass, grocery shopping, laundry, tidying up the kitchen, reading, hanging out with my family, and cooking a birthday dinner for one of our children.
My day today may strike you as boring. I can see that. But, for me, not checking email or thinking about work topics is a great mental break. And, doing things for and with the family is a source of fulfillment for me.
When the kids were younger, games and practices would often be on the docket, too. Sunday almost never was a rest day; it instead was a family day. But, I viewed being a present and engaged father as a key part of my life. So, that was fulfilling for me.
Whether you’re spiritual or not, I’d encourage you to find a rest/family day, a Sabbath, for yourself and structure your job around it. It has been a lifeline for me and wanted to share that.