Oh how the mighty have fallen
Yeah, I was that guy. Black car home every night because I worked Past 10pm every night. Dinners paid for from almost anywhere I wanted; An office that overlooked the Statue of Liberty, long stints in exotic places like Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the UK to fix business units that were determined to need fixing, etc. I was that guy. When I walked into your office, it wasn’t to tell you that you were doing a good job. I was the perpetual hammer in search of a nail. If I found you, it wasn’t pleasant. I fully admit that I wasn’t a nice guy. I made people miserable, but that was my job. There was no margin for error in my old business. One small mistake could literally turn into millions of dollars diverted into incorrect risk pools. A domino effect would ripple through many areas of the firm. Inaccuracies were unacceptable. After years of this, I lost myself and became this character, devoid of any compassion or empathy. I was a one man wrecking machine. That was the way it had to be in investment banking. It was the nature of the beast. I remember getting a blackberry message from my colleague Steve on that fateful September Sunday evening; “Turn on MSNBC”, it read, and I did. Our stock price had plummeted from $92 to $2 a share over the course of a few months. We had been sold to a bank, a real bank that takes depositors money. In that sale, it made my entire line of work and thousands of people’s jobs, in direct violation of the SEC Bank Holding Company act. We would have to go. After about an hour of absorbing this, my wife broke out her emergency pack of stale Parliament cigarettes, and we sat on our stoop at 11:30pm, inflicting torment on our lungs. “What are we going to do?” she asked. “I don’t know” was my reply. And that was the truth. I didn’t.
Dylan had it right “For the times, they are a ‘changin…”
I spent the next eight months trying to reconcile the loss of most of my life savings and career, sleeping until noon, staying up until 2am scouring job boards and applying for positions that I was grossly overqualified for, or just watching YouTube videos on anything from car engine repair to doctors removing infected pus filled boils. The meltdown of 2008, and the related pain, was not just reserved to “Main Street” as the politicians spewed. It hit many ex-Wall Street’ers just as hard. I eventually held several high level positions at smaller firms, and was absolutely miserable. At my lowest point, I lost my desire to eat, lost a ton of weight, and frequently vomited up blood before leaving for work. The negativity of my work environment was literally eating me alive. One day in a brief moment of clarity, I realized that none of this really mattered. I calmly typed an eight paragraph resignation letter to my CEO, left my ID card, Amex card, and office keys on my desk, pushed my chair back, stood up and left. And that was it. I got into my car and hit the NJ Turnpike with the windows open and the radio blasting “Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen; “Talk about a dream, try to make it real, you wake up in the night with a fear so real. You spend your life waiting for a moment that just won’t come. Well don’t waste your life waiting.” Those lyrics hit me hard. I kept repeating that line, “Well don’t waste your life waiting”. That was the answer. You need to make it happen. YOU need to make CHANGE happen. I felt good about myself for the first time in almost three years. I originally thought the smell in the car was the methane belched out of the Linden Co-Generation Plant on the Turnpike, but it became sweeter the longer I drove. It was the smell of freedom. It was the smell of change. It was intoxicating.
From a small seed, a mighty oak grows
While I’m far from comparing myself to a mighty Oak, even the smallest effort to foster a positive change in your life should be lauded as a Herculean effort. Quite honestly, the only difference between leaders of industry, innovators, and economic titans like Jobs, Forbes, Gates, Edison and the rest of the world is that these few had the spine (or the stupidity) to take that first small step. Continue reading