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A quiet new year

After two years and given that it was the year end, I thought it was timely that I should spend some time to consolidate and reflect on the takeaways, the hits and the misses during this time. But nothing actually came to mind. So I spent the crossing-over to the new year in a relatively low key fashion. No celebration, not a lot of booze, no chugging of beers, no fanciful dinners or gatherings. All I did was head up to the open-air rooftop of my hotel at approximately 23:50 in anticipation of the fireworks overlooking the Hong Kong city skyline. Even after the clock struck 00:00, there was also no spectacular display of fireworks, not at least from where I stood.

Yet, this was how I enjoyed the new year crossing. The simple peace and serenity of taking in the cool 15 degrees outdoor air, the sensation of looking forward to a restful morning on the following day. And perhaps more importantly that the rest of the world only wakes up and starts to go to work two days later.


Some might even call it a short reprieve from the shitstorm of work awaiting in the first week of the new year.

 

During my investment banking analyst days, a VP once asked me what I did on weekends. I gave him the rhetoric of being too busy catching up on work to be able to plan for anything else.


It was true anyway.


Whenever anyone asked me about my banking days, I always told them that we worked seven day weeks, had after dinner drinks at 9pm, went back up to work around 11pm, got off past midnight and then back into the office the next day at 930am. that routine changed slightly as we grew into our jobs with travel increasingly becoming a part of it but the hours never really changed.


Aside from the mandatory 2-week compliance leave that we were entitled to, there was hardly any downtime, and hardly a moment to "switch off". This daily cycle can put a toll on you, both physically and mentally.


I recalled one of my colleagues popping pills to regulate this blood pressure because he was getting increasingly affected by the incessant badgering, the non-stop phone calls and the never-ending refreshing of pitchbooks and financial models.


"Regardless of how little time we have, one must learn how to block out work when it is time to rest. Otherwise, you would go crazy." - that was what the VP had said to me.


There is stress everywhere, in every blue-collar and white collar job, no matter how much you try to justify it using salary. It could take the form of overtime hours, a nasty boss, an unreasonable client, unhealthy working environment, etc. Everyone deals with the vicissitudes at work differently.


Some say this deprivation of normality over long periods of working in a high pressure environment leads to overcompensation through the splurging on the extravagant stuff. Despite what the rest of the world says and thinks, I think one of the biggest takeaways from doing investment banking wasn't really the money, but the fact that you can put yourself under tremendous pressure and yet pull off functioning as a normal person under any circumstance (at least for those of us who made it out sane).


Yet, there are those who seemingly made it out but never really left. You can of course leave an investment banking career and still stay rooted in a toxic mentality. These are the same people who continue to measure success through lofty titles, name dropping and the size of their pay checks. You can always sniff these people out by what they choose to talk about with you. Only just recently, I was re-connecting with an ex-colleague over WeChat. Much to my surprise, within a few text exchanges, he started asking where I was now, if it paid well and other stuff related to corporate hierarchies and knowing who's who. I did not write him again.

 

And so, there will always be nasty people to meet and unpleasant experiences, but there is also the mindset we take with us to deal with it.


We can continue to complain about working on weekends, how much of a pile of work awaits us on Mondays, how we are not commensurately comp-ed to our peers, how much we are sacrificing personal, social and family time for work, or how sucky the markets are. Endless worries.


Life will forever be a struggle, but to some extent, we are almost always in control of the decisions we make and always have the choice of deciding how we want to let the little things shape us and the way we move forward.

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