When I started in mergers and acquisitions, I didn’t know as much as I thought I did – about business etiquette, about standing up for myself, shit, even about how to dress. But M&A taught me a lot in a short period of time.
I cleaned up nicely. I looked damn good in a suit. I learned how to give direct and succinct answers to someone whose watch was worth more than my car, and my shoes never were without a shine. My Excel skills were never up to par with some of the other guys’, but my spreadsheets now look better than anything you’ve seen in your office (unless you work in finance).
But one of the most important things I learned about was the value of time.
I found that I developed a demeanor where every free second was precious. I had less patience for incompetence, and while still friendly, I found myself being annoyed by things I never had been before.
Lunch taking forever to arrive? Not getting a direct answer from a friend? Dog putting his paws up on your new Tommy Hilfiger suit? Ugh. I had little tolerance for these things.
Sure, it’s a nice life, but it’s not as sweet as it looks. Most of the guys I knew in M&A were extremely unhappy. Guaranteed that an analyst would give up a few hundred (dare I say a cool grand?) to turn his iPhone off every Friday at 5 for a month.
Yeah, I worked on Public Square in Cleveland rather than Wall Street, but life still wasn’t a picnic.
There’s a reason for the high turnover rate. Apparently, there is a low tolerance for being called into the office on a Sunday morning while getting ready for church.
But the few times I did get a glimpse of a senior banker being “real,” I got to see that they knew it was bullshit, too. But how could they expect you to have a positive attitude about working ‘til midnight or coming in 3 Saturdays a month if they lifted their façade?
For once, I understood what all the hippie artist-wannabees saw – an alternative. I’m still not buying into all the counterculture bullshit – I still do look damn fine in a suit – but there is something to be said for being able to do what you want when you want (within reason – living life still takes money).
I made a good friend where I worked (a member of the young-20s analyst fraternity) who told me he often fantasized of just turning his phone off, leaving it on his desk, and taking a bus to Miami to become a bartender. He told me not to be surprised if it happened one day without warning. I believed him. (It hasn’t happened yet.)
I drove a bus in college and I drove a bus after I quit M&A. The world needs ditch diggers, too. I played golf, drank and did odd jobs to get by for a few months. I felt freedom again. I watched a lot of The Price is Right.
I started a screenplay. I rocked out on bass again in my boxers holding a Bud Light at 11pm. I had nothing to wake up for. And when I met women and they asked me what I did, I had no good answer.
And it felt fucking great.
Now I’m a writer. For a small marketing firm. And I pretty much make my own hours. I don’t make much money. But I’m not miserable. I’m done at 4:30 every day. I get a workout in, play golf, go on a date or perform self-therapy by talking into a microphone.
I’m a small fish in a small pond. And that’s what I want at my job. I have never – and hopefully will never – felt that what I did for money defined me as a person. I gave up on being rich and famous a long time ago.
The bottom line is that in M&A, I was a dime a fucking dozen. There are a ton of yuppies out there starting careers. I interviewed interns for my old firm, and every one of them had stellar resumes. I would never be anything special in banking.
Sure, it felt good to throw around a few hundred at the casino, but it always felt like I was an actor playing a banker. Now I can be myself.
Time is valuable. I have way more of it now, but in a way that defies the law of economics, it seems more valuable. I’d rather be spending it discussing the perils of online dating or chasing twisters around Cleveland than doing research on some company my firm would never get a chance to sell.
This isn’t some magic fairytale. I’m not telling you to leave your job. I’m just telling you my story so that maybe you can relate. And maybe you can feel a little happier, a little more confident, in doing what you want instead of being a miserable prick.