Everyone should have an alter ego - a blurry vision of an alternative self in an alternative career that offers some phenomenological perspective when reality becomes too much like working long hours for less money than expected. The average middle-aged banker with exhausting spending commitments and a dwindling bonus may be in particular need of such mental escape mechanisms.
We asked a selection of bankers of a certain age what they would rather be doing if they weren’t bankers. Not everyone had an alternative in mind. This might have been because banking is so totally consuming. It might have been because the people we spoke to liked banking so, so much. Or it might have been because juxtaposing a different life to the one you have today is a doorway to dissatisfaction, regret and fantasies involving Harley Davidsons.
“Most bankers just don’t have time to think seriously about alternative careers,” said Damien Regent, a former managing director in UBS’s fixed income business. “When you’re in the office from 7am to 7pm, you’re tired when you get home and there’s no time to think seriously of doing anything else.”
Some bankers do manage to create parallel-fantasy-careers alongside their day jobs. Take Yannick Mallegol, the former head of derivatives sales at Barclays Capital, who was also a professional Ferrari driver. 44-year-old Mallegol left Barclays in 2011 to drive Ferraris full-time. His racing career has gone much better since – a year ago he was ranked 2,400th in the world. Now he’s ranked 800th.
Andrew Stead, former head of European Convertible Bond Trading at Goldman Sachs, said people are programmed to suppress thoughts of all the alternative things they’d rather be doing. “If you bring those subconscious thoughts into your consciousness and acknowledge that you’d rather be running biking holidays than working on a trading floor, then you start to get tension about what you’d like to do and what you actually are doing.
“Most people open the box, look inside, and shut it very quickly,” said Stead. “It’s not just bankers - it’s the same for everyone.”
This is what the bankers we asked had inside their boxes…
1. Changing the wheel nuts on a Formula One car
“My ambition is to be the person who changes the wheel nuts on a Formula One car,” said a very senior banker at a European bank in London who declined to be named. “It only takes four seconds three times per race, and there are around 20 races a year. That works out at four minutes work every year. Yes – it’s dangerous, but if something went wrong you’d be on YouTube and instantly famous. It would be great.”
2. Pyrotechnics expert
“I’m too old for all my sporting ambitions,” said one seasoned head of equity research who also declined to be named. “Personally, I don’t really have anything else I would rather do, but I was once interviewed by a head of research who said his real aim in life was to be a pyrotechnics expert, flying around the world and running firework displays.”
We were unable to locate this man.
3. Being a lawyer, judge or QC
Louisa Symington Mills, a not-yet-middle aged, director of research at Jefferies, said she harboured a dream of going into law. “My fantasy career would be to be a lawyer – preferably a judge, maybe a QC. But I think the closest I’m ever likely to get is being a magistrate – an ambition I’ve held for a long time – although even this requires a time commitment I can’t give at the moment.”
4. Various sorts of intellectual dilettantism
The Epicurean Dealmaker, an anonymous blogger, Twitter agoniste and senior M&A banker, revealed an array of dream careers including: 1) Professor of Philosophy. 2) Writer/fisherman a la Hemingway in Islands in the Stream. 3) Flâneur.
In his fantasy dream world, one energy banker said he'd throw it all in and buy a plot of land to grow his own potatoes and harness the power of the wind. "I think there's some sort of energy collapse coming," he imparted, quietly.