I spent 17 years in banking and it's not an exaggeration to say that I thought about leaving every single month - sometimes even more often. Even so, I stuck at it. Rightly or wrongly, I had several things I told myself which compelled me to stay around.
1. You actually want to work here
In the day to day grind of finance, its easy to forget why you came here in the first place. Remind yourself of what drew you in. What was it about finance that had fascinated you. Is it still there?
Usually all those great things are still there.
2. You believe in yourself
The regular all-nighters, the bad bonuses and the abusive bosses can make you stop believing in yourself. Don’t.
Trust me, everyone in banking goes through this. All of us have felt this before. There is nothing wrong with you. It’s ok to doubt yourself. You just need to remember that you can do it. After all, if you work in finance already, you've come a long way.
3. It will get better
Yes, being an MD isn't a walk in the park, but once you've gone beyond the analyst and associate years, it does get better. I'm saying this as a guy who's been around the block a few times. Some of it’s because you mature, some because you know more, some just because the industry is cyclical and the cycle finally turns.
As Thomas Fuller knew centuries ago: Its always darkest before dawn.
So persevere. Don’t quit. Don’t sell at the bottom.
4. Banking is big. If you don't like this role, there are many others
It’s possible that you have changed. It’s possible that what made you happy in the beginning doesn’t make you happy anymore. That’s ok. If so, figure out what really drives you
I usually get all my mentees to get a piece of paper and write down the best parts of their job. What are the specific tasks, activities, projects that make them happy? Then they go and find ways to do more of those things at work.
You might find that you don’t really want to quit finance, you just need to change roles or divisions.
5. You're only going to get better at doing this
Do you suck at what you do?
Maybe you want to quit because you’re not good at what you are doing. I’ve known lots of people like this. Actually everyone who’s ever started anything has felt this way.
Remember: it’s always uncomfortable at the beginning. You are going to make mistakes. If you’re used to being the smartest person in your class, getting the best grades, this is going to be especially painful. But guess what, there is an easy fix for that.
6. Nothing else pays as well
For some of us, it’s all about money, it was for me when I started.
In that case, let me be very clear. Nothing else pays close to finance money. Yes this is why most people don’t pay attention to finance people complaining about their bonuses.
7. You can do both
You don’t have to leave finance right away to pursue your dreams. You can do both.
Say you want to have your tech start up, that’s great. You can work on that on weekends. Start flushing out your idea (what’s bad about your job), find your partners (maybe at work), find your customers (maybe your employer).
Spend 10-15 hours on it on the weekend and see what happens.
If you like what you are doing and the business is scaling, you know what you need to do next.
8. You don't know anything else - yet
You might think you want to leave banking, but do you really know about all those other careers? Your dreams will only make sense when you've spoken to people doing the roles you want to move into.
Say you want to move to the buy-side, well go make friends with ten people at hedge funds, asset managers, family offices, see what they say about their job. What are their challenges, what is their life like. Are they happy?
If you want to go be a doctor. Same thing. Go find a bunch of doctors and ask them what their life looks like. Then ask yourself, ‘Do I want to do this?’
9. You're viewing the alternatives unrealistically
Just because finance is hard, don't assume other careers are easy. Whenever I've spoken to people in other areas, the outcome has boiled down to this: their lives are no easier. In fact most people I spoke to wanted my job!
The grass always looks greener, no matter what you are doing. That’s just the way the human brain is programmed.
Make sure you actually understand where following your dream will take you.
10. You're rushing. Breathe
Hopefully by now you understand that you don’t need to be in a rush. Take your time. All of us will be working till we are +70. That means most of you reading this have 35-45 years of work ahead of you. Think about that for a second.
When I did that exercise, it was a relief. In seventeen years of working on Wall Street I’ve already had seven different jobs in two continents and four firms, and even at my old age of 39, I still have 30 years at least of work ahead.
I for one intend to take my time and enjoy the journey.
The author is a former Goldman Sachs managing director and blogger at the site What I Learned on Wall Street (WilowWallStreet.com).