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10 tips from the clinical psychologist teaching Goldman juniors how to live their lives

Beware the bear pits of early adulthood.

Like it or not, the spotlight is on the needs of 20-something banking juniors. They're the ones who are overworked, socially isolated, sleeping in toilets, popping Adderall, and quitting banking because they can't take it any more. They're also the ones who are allegedly earning more money out of banking than ever before, and who are being heavily courted by everywhere from leading investment banks to leading hedge funds which are short of junior staff. Young bankers have never been more important, or more pandered to. They need to be kept happy.

It is possibly with this in mind that Goldman Sachs has engaged the services of Dr. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist known for her work helping 20-somethings to come to grips with their reality. Yesterday, Dr. Jay came to Goldman and gave a lecture to the firm's analysts. 

We weren't at the lecture, so we can't relate what Jay said to the Goldmanites exactly. However, Jay gave a celebrated TED talk last year and her message is consistently similar. If you want to get the lead that Goldman's given its juniors, this is what you need to know (If you're in your 30s and 40s, Jay's work is less helpful but may at least signpost what you ought to have done decades earlier....).

1.  Don't be deceived into thinking your 20s don't matter and that life begins at 30

It's a misnomer that your 20s are just a preparation for real life, which starts at 30, says Jay. Your 20s are incredibly important. They will shape your future: 80% of life's defining moments happen before 35.

"Our twenties are a time when the things we do–and the things we don’t do–will have an enormous effect across years and even generations to come," she says.

2. Don't fall foul of 'present bias'

People in their 20s are actively encouraged to submit to the cognitive error of 'present bias', says Jay. Because the 20s are too-often seen as 'downtime', there's a tendency to eat the cake now, to delay the gym until tomorrow, to pay the credit card bill next month. This is just storing up problems for the future.

20-somethings need to train themselves to think long term, suggests Jay. University-leavers especially are used to thinking in '17 week semester-sized chunks.' "For a 20-something, the future in January is May. It's all about what you're doing this summer, who you're living with next year. Beyond that, you're getting out of your comfort zone," she says.

3. If you don't lay the foundations in your 20s, you'll come apart in your 30s

If you're waiting until 30 to find the right job, the right spouse, the right house and to start a family, you're setting yourself up to fail. "The stakes are very high," says Jay in her TED Talk. "When a lot has been pushed to your 30s there's enormous pressure to partner-up, start a career, move to a new city all at once. There's huge pressure to do all of that in a short space of time."

If you don't live deliberately and mindfully in your 20s, Jay says you're more likely to face disappointment in your 30s when it becomes apparent that you can't have the career you wanted, or the children you wanted with the spouse you imagined would be there for you.

4. The amount of money you earn in your 20s will have an exponential impact on your future earnings 

Jay frequently repeats the mantra that the first decade of your career will have an exponential impact on your earnings in future. This would seem to be good news for young Goldman Sachs bankers, and for young bankers in general. According to London-based recruitment firm One Search, pay for first years in M&A is now as high as £100k ($167k), rising to £280k by year three.

5. Don't cohabit in your 20s, or you'll be trapped in your 30s

Jay wrote a controversial op-ed for the New York Times, in which she advised against the cohabitation trap.  "Too often, young adults enter into what they imagine will be low-cost, low-risk living situations only to find themselves unable to get out months, even years, later," she said, "It’s like signing up for a credit card with 0% interest. At the end of 12 months when the interest goes up to 23% you feel stuck because your balance is too high to pay off. In fact, cohabitation can be exactly like that. In behavioral economics, it’s called consumer lock-in."

6. Consciously pick your future family

Tied into point five is Jay's advice that 20 year olds should mindfully select who they want to live their lives with. One patient repeatedly tells her, "You can't pick your family, but you can pick your friends." However, Jay points out that you can pick your future family: "The best time to work on your marriage is before you have one...Consciously choose who you want to be with, rather than just killing time with whoever happens to be choosing you."

7. The urban job is overrated 

This may come as a shock to a banking audience, but Jay admonishes against thinking that you have to spend your 20s in a large population centre. 20-somethings tend to stick together and gravitate towards to the same places, she says. However, there are plenty of opportunities further afield.

8. Don't skip from role-to-role

Jay appears to caution against such things as quitting your banking job to travel the world, to bake bread, or to become a photographer. Or at least, she cautions against doing this without a definite purpose in mind. You don't want to be one of the people who says, "My 20s are almost over and I have nothing to show for myself – I had a better resume the day I graduated from college.’

9. Use your weak ties to open new opportunities

In your 20s, you're like a plane that's just taken off, says Jay. With minimal tweaking you can either land somewhere pleasant like Hawaii or somewhere foreboding like Alaska. Bear in mind that most jobs aren't advertised - you can change the direction of your 20s by tapping 'weak connections' like cousins, friends of friends. These are who are most likely to help you find opportunities that will change your future.

10. Forget the identity crisis, get some identity capital  

Don't spend your 20s fretting about who you want to be and drifting from one thing to another (or maybe working 20 hour days in a banking job you don't like). Your 20s are all about laying foundations, says Jay.

"Forget about having an identity crisis and get some identity capital," she advises. Find something that adds value to who you are and is an investment in who you want to be next. "Now is the time for that cross country job, for that internship you might want to apply for," Jay says. She adds that there's nothing wrong with 20-something exploration, as long as it counts towards who you want to be. If it doesn't, it's just procrastination.

Will Goldman's young bankers have been reassured by Jay's talk? It's hard to say. If she repeated her stock points, listed above, it's likely that some will have come away feeling reassured that their 20s aren't going to waste. Others may suddenly feel that they're drifting through the most important time of their lives, earning good money and building their resumes but failing to lay the foundations for much else.

Related Links:

Pay for new graduates in banking rises to £100k

U.S. hedge funds harassing hot young bankers, making multiple job offers

Junior bankers: Stressed, overworked, but loving it



AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • Ya
    10 April 2014

    Don't you think is funny that this advise comes from a psychologist employed by Goldman Sachs to "educate" its junior employees advocates choosing a career in a big corporation"
    Says, Don't leave Goldman Sachs while you are young and working for us, let us take your most valuable time and age, and replace it with money and forget about your dreams ,everything is money and we control your life.

  • Ja
    James Evinstone
    6 March 2014

    There is some good advice here - point 5 about co-habitation is a real issue that people don't think about when they are 25 but which I have seen trip up a number of people, mostly women. And point 6 is also good advice - it is helpful to think about the kind of person we want to spend our lives with before we meet them, although I would caveat that we should be focusing on their qualities and values much more than their appearance.

    But, OMG, most of this is SO depressing - telling 20-somethings that they should already be sacrificing themselves to the career that they will have for the rest of their lives and if they haven't got one by now they never will it is not only wrong but it must put people under terrible pressure if they really think they need to follow this advice! How about living your life, the way that you want to, making choices that you believe in and standing by the consequences - for good or ill. No-one can tell how life will work out and it is (hopefully) a long road with many twists and turns. As 'Do_not_conform' points out, people can strike it rich at any time in their life (if that is what they want, and there is nothing wrong with not wanting that).

    If I was being cynical, I would comment on how surprising it was that a psychologist employed by Goldman Sachs to "educate" its junior employees advocates choosing a career in a big corporation while you are young and then sticking with it come what may (God forbid anyone should want to travel the world...)

  • Do
    25 February 2014

    This is mindless crap. I have re-invented myself numerous times on a personal and business level. I'm in my mid-thirties and to say if you don't follow these steps in your 20's, you have missed out is a false opinion. I've seen guys in their 50's achieve fortunes through persistence and learning the right skills at the right time. If you want your soul sucked away working at certain corporate institutions then this is the guy for you with this advice!

  • Lo
    Lord C
    25 February 2014

    What happened to enjoying the moment? Don't forget to plan your funeral as well.

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