Perspective

The following came from Bloomberg and rather than just give you a link, I will reproduce it all here to save you clicking away like mad.It is written by Michael Lewis who is the author of Liar’s Poker – a book that was a bible to young money market traders like myself in the late 1980’s.

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Recently I received a letter from a young employee of a well-known financial firm, who asked that I not mention his name, his employer or anything else that might give him away. Though a bit short on self-pity, this letter was otherwise a fine example of a sort I’ve received often these past few months.

“I am writing you for advice,” Anthony began. “I graduated in May of 2008 and since July have spent my time entangled in the culture of (his well-known New York bank). I’m thinking about leaving. My dad laboured his whole life so I could have the opportunity to do something like this, so leaving isn’t exactly what I want to do. I know if I stay here I could work unbelievably hard and move through the ranks, or maybe move firms [but] I guess I’m starting to question the whole securities industry.”

The young man went on to concede that what attracted him to Wall Street was the chance to get rich quickly, and the excitement – but that both of these things now seem gone forever.”So I have this plan to go to Hollywood,” he wrote, but then instantly undermined himself. “I feel confused, a little stupid, but yet somewhat confident. I mean, I read your book, I figured out how to get to Wall Street from a non-Ivy League school, and I got here. The only question now is, if I leave, where do I go?”

Dear Anthony,

On several occasions I have taken my own advice and it has almost killed me, and so I’m a tad uneasy about offering it up to you. But if you promise not to take it any more seriously than I do, I’ll answer you as best I can.

Let’s start by putting your problem into perspective: you still have a job. You work at one of the world’s biggest banks. It’s true, the thrill and money is rapidly being drained from such places. Your big bank, like all the other big banks, seems to be in the process of being nationalised – thus the longer you stay the more you may find yourself in something resembling a government job.

But that’s not all bad: government jobs are secure. You are also young, in your early 20s, and without a family to support. That is, unlike the vast majority of the people on and off Wall Street, you have the luxury to wallow in your misfortune.

Now let’s wallow. We’re at the beginning of a recalibration of the role of finance in global economic life. The excitement and the money that attracted you to Wall Street will probably not return for a long time. If these really are the only reasons you became a financier you probably should find something else to do with your life.

But before you go lurching into Hollywood, let us make sure you aren’t simply repeating the mistake you made by lurching onto Wall Street. That is, let us focus less on your immediate condition – safely employed but disillusioned – to the habits and beliefs that led you into it.

You were never exactly wrong. If you’d been born 10 years earlier and behaved exactly as you have done, your career might well have made you as rich and seemingly successful as you imagined your father wanted you to be. You simply came to Wall Street too late, and are in the strange position of a man who won the lottery on the first day there was nothing in the pot. The mistake you made, in your view, is to have played the lottery on the wrong day. The mistake you made, in my mind, was to have played the lottery at all.

There’s a question you might ask yourself: Am I looking for a job, or a calling? On the one hand, the importance you attach to your career suggests a desire for a calling; on the other, your instinct to abandon your chosen career the moment it ceases to offer an easy path to fame and fortune suggests that what you’re really in the market for is a job.

The distinction is artificial but worth drawing. A job will never satisfy you all by itself, but it will afford you security and the chance to pursue an exciting and fulfilling life outside of your work. A calling is an activity you find so compelling that you wind up organising your entire self around it, often to the detriment of your life outside of it.

There’s no shame in either. Each has costs and benefits. There is no reason to make a fetish of your career. There are activities other than work in which to find meaning and pleasure and even a sense of self-importance – you just need to learn how to look.

Reading between the lines, I sense that some of your anxiety is caused by your desire for the benefits of each – job and calling – without the costs. Perhaps that is what led you to Wall Street, and why your mind now turns to Hollywood.

What Wall Street did so well, for so long, was to give people jobs that they could pass off to themselves and others as callings. Such was their exalted social and financial status: Wall Street jobs made people feel special without actually having to be special. You never really had to explain why you were doing it – even if you should have.

But really, the same rule that applies to properly functioning financial markets applies to other markets: There’s a direct relationship between risk and reward. A fantastically rewarding career usually requires you to take fantastic risks. To get your seat at the table on Wall Street you may have passed through a fine filter, but you took no real risk. You were just being paid, briefly, as if you had.

So which is it: job or calling? You can answer the question directly, or allow time to answer it for you. Either way, I think you’d be happier if you stopped thinking of what the world had to offer you, and started thinking a bit more about what you had to offer the world. Real excitement isn’t just in whatever you happen to be doing, but in what you bring to it. In the end, you have to look for it not on the outside, but on the inside.

Michael.
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I find Michael’s response pure gold. I used to work for a HUGE investment bank and was earning more money at the age of 23 than I ever have since. I was bloody good at my job but to be honest, I only ever really saw it as a way of garnering a massive pay check. I was fully aware I added no value to society,solved no problems nor added any comfort to anyone but I didn’t care at that young age.It was all about the $$ and the trappings.Hell,it was nice being able to fly out to Tahiti with the girlfriend for two weeks, ski in France and drive the latest car whilst wearing Hugo Boss. Nobody understood what I did ( come to think of it….neither did I really) but all they knew was that young turks like me got paid SHITLOADS of money and that was what they admired. I made it through the filter to get that job but that’s all it was….a job. It was never a calling or a rewarding career that made me feel good about myself or what I was doing .

Recently with all the economic crap-out and also now with Grace on deck, I have started to stress about money again and what the future holds.I don’t know why I can’t overcome this tendency of mine to stress-out about the future intermittently because what the past has taught me time and time again is that you can’t control what will happen or when it will happen so why stress !!. My superannuation has taken a beating, I am trying to clear a credit card debt, service a mortgage in Australia and pay for everything here in Cambodia and I am doing it on a fairly moderate wage. We can’t travel overseas EVER and at the moment even trips to Kep for the weekend are on hold.

Yesterday I had to slap mysel
f in the face. I remembered where I am living and reminded myself that I am far better off than 99% of Cambodians and alot of others globally. I only have to travel 100m from my front gate to encounter severe poverty . This morning at work we had some wheel-chair bound athletes circling our athletic track in rickety old wheelchairs and again, I slapped myself. They were smiling and laughing and although I am sure they might have the odd day where they curse their luck, they have a right to.

Things may be tight financially but I have my health and my little family and for that I am blessed. We live in a very comfortable town house here in Phnom Penh that is a bloody palace by local standards and my health is pretty good.I have a great job that allows me to give a little bit back by way of getting things done for all the kids on Campus and whilst I am earning far less now than I did when I was much younger, I am fundamentally much happier.

At times like this, it’s all about perspective.

Your comments, as always, are welcome.

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3 Responses to Perspective

  1. Goyzer says:

    Justin, I find YOUR answer pure gold. Well written my friend. I traded futures for 11 years without having the first CLUE what it was all about ( you know this…!) but I took the money and loved it c’est la vie.
    ps your posts are an enthralling insight to another life, loving it!

  2. Anonymous says:

    You got a beautiful kid and you live in one of the few countries in the world that will have a decent % GDP growth in 2009.

    I wouldn’t worry too much; just work hard, save hard and enjoy your family.

  3. Felgerkarb says:

    Why, when you write so well, are you such a tosser in person? :p Love ya, man. Everything will be great, because you remembered the most important things, family…and YOU ARE FREAKING IN CAMBODIA, DUDE! You have it all in aces…

    P.S. Didn’t know you were one of those banking retards…glad you saw the light…

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