Tag Archives: purpose

Wall Street Meltdown: The best thing that could happen to bankers

Wall Street Crisis
Image by MyEyeSees via Flickr

Roger Ehrenberg, ex-banker turned startup investor, wrote a good post a while back discussing the possibility that the collapse of wall street will fan the entrepreneurial flames of ex-wall streeters.  I’ve been talking about this since the beginning of the financial crisis and I have an answer: YES.  I believe that the financial crisis will lead to positive changes in the lives of many Americans.

As an ex-banker (well, sort of, equity research) turned sailor turned startup grunt turned rock band bassist turned student of startups, I believe that unleashing a herd of hardworking and (relatively) intelligent people will lead to more than a few entrepreneurial success stories.  If nothing else, a forced break from the fire-hose of “absolutely critical” business and career will help people to understand that there is more to life than climbing the corporate ladder.  Shouldn’t it worry you that spending a sunny weekday on sheep’s meadow nearly drives you crazy?  Thoughts on what I call “the river” and “PDA dependency” to come on later posts.

When The Street began to fall apart, I dreamed up a new project: collecting a set of stories about Ex-Wall Streeters who, freed from jobs that they hated, go on to pursue their passions and, most likely, much happier lives. What do you think? I’m not saying that every banker is self-loathing (most of the truly successful ones aren’t), but a lot are.   Sadly, people stay in jobs that they hate because their “opportunity cost” is too high to leave. They’d rather pay the price of lifelong self-resentment than pursue fulfillment in, gasp, a potentially less lucrative field.

Why do people who manage risk for their living make such “irrational” decisions you may ask? Their myopia is the result of spending 7 days a week, 51 weeks a year (save a week long “recharge” in an otherwise unused cottage in the Hamptons) in a culture that has but one yardstick, the dollar. The simplicity of a system where every decision can be measured with one simple metric- how much $$$ am I making? – is both distorting and intoxicating.

To bring it home, I  believe that Roger’s third factor, risk, will have the most affect on the ex-Wall Streeters. Wall Street was never risky to its participants. It’s probably one of the safest career choices (on an expected value basis) available. No longer be able to tell exhilarating stories about the exorbitant sums they made with Other People’s Money, these people will have to completely re-conceive their personal notion of risk and how it interfaces with their self-image. Drawing spreadsheets for a modest living is a bit harder to sell as exciting and risk taking, even to oneself. Accountants, where you at?

I think, and sincerely hope, that the implosion of “gravy train” will liberate talented ex-Wall Streeters from their myopic fear and enable them to follow their dreams. Value expansion, if only in the personal sense, seems inevitable.

If anyone wants to tell their story or has a  friend that wants rap about their new plans, I’d love to talk to you.   Thanks and good luck.

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New York City: Bring a plan

New York is a dangerous place for people without a plan.  I knew this, disregarded it, and got lost as was to be expected.

The City. People come here from all over the world to “make it big” in Art, Music, Money and more.  Twenty-four year olds and forty-two year olds alike work their asses off  in the City as managing directors, junior ad executives, or baristas/actors, all chasing different shades of the same brass ring.  Sweat and dreams,  failure and success, make New York feel like the center of universe as soon as you pop out of the subway.  I love it.

Problem is, that in the race for the rings, many of us run like rats in a maze, forgetting that simple pleasures such as having breakfast with our grandparents, climbing something tall, and seeing the sun for more than 30 minutes a day are even options.  Why?  Among other reasons, it’s much easier to prioritize one activity above all others when faced by the infinite possibilities the City offers us.  To do otherwise is to risk paralysis by analysis.

The collective tunnel vision of its residents makes NYC a particularly dangerous place to be without a plan. All of these driven people are likely to run you over if you don’t know where you are going.  Even if you are fleet footed, you’ll probably go mad trying to convince your peers to stop and smell the roses.  Even if you are nimble and stoic, you’ll still probably go broke.  Dodging, Processing, Surviving…  In NYC, treading water is exhausting.   It’s easier just to start swimming.  Many chose to do SOMETHING, ANYTHING, in order to feel like part of the club.

I feel that incredible pressure but continued to be paralyzed in the big light of the big city.  Should I get a Ph.D in business? Should I get a VC job? Should I take a stab at one of my 50 business ideas? Can I even do any of those things? After all, if this life is the only shot I’ve got, I don’t want to make any rash decisions.

That’s why I moved home to put a nail in this Fulbright project and to clear my head for the next chapter.  The respite has treated me well and I can honestly say I’m getting closer to making the right move. When it happens, it’s going to be big. I can’t wait to get back to the city.

Here’s a link to a Tim O’Reilly article that I find inspiring: