Tag Archives: professionals

Thanksgiving on Wall Street

thanksgivingWith the holiday season rapidly approaching, we are all looking forward to seeing our loved ones.  Thanksgiving is a time to catch up with old friends, hang out with obscure members of the family, and gorge ourselves on mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and turkey and tofurkey.  Of course, Thanksgiving is also a time to stretch the truth about how amazing our lives actually are, in order to one-up our cousins and give our parents something to brag about.  So, in order to impress Uncle Jerry and crazy Aunt Lisa, here are some responses that may be better than the cold hard truth.

Crazy Aunt Lisa: “So, what are you up to these days?”

You: “Well, I’m working in New York at [prestigious company] as a credit derivatives trader.” 

(Translation:  I’m probably going to be unemployed soon.)

Crazy Aunt Lisa: “Wow, that sounds mighty impressive!  So you work in one of those tall, shiny skyscrapers?  What do you do as a trader?”

You: “Essentially, we run complex financial risk models and look for arbitrage opportunities.  My personal responsibility is to oversee all the trades that come through my desk.  Right now we’re in a bit of a liquidity crunch, as I’m sure you’ve heard, so even though it’s been tough, we are working through it.”

(Translation: I spend most of the day trying to break down the firewall that prevents me from checking my fantasy football stats.  At lunch, I serve as the designated pizza bitch for the traders on the floor who are actually making trades.  A few months ago, I used to carry six or seven pizza boxes back to the office.  Now, given the tanking credit markets, I’m ordering by the slice.  The rest of the day, I take bathroom naps and think about how I spent $120,000 on my education to get to this point: where, after a year on the job, I am a glorified delivery person with a Brooks Brothers suit and the financial modeling skills of an orangutan.) 

orangutanCrazy Aunt Lisa: “My goodness… and at such a young age!  So do you get to see friends a lot, given your busy job?”

You: “Even though the job is demanding, I definitely try and make time to see my friends.”

(Translation: If I didn’t see my friends, I would jump out the window of my shiny office building.)

Uncle Jerry: “How are you all liking New York?  Are you staying out of trouble?”

You: “Oh, of course.  My friends and co-workers are all young professionals, and we are always trying to do something different in the city.  There is so much culture in New York.”

(Translation: Yesterday I woke up sprawled outside my apartment door with the imprint of my floor mat on my cheek.)

Crazy Aunt Lisa: “That sounds like so much fun!  You are just so accomplished already… I hope [your screwup cousin] can follow your lead. Do you know of any job openings there?”

You: “I can talk to the HR rep about it.  Getting into the business is tough right now given the market, but I will check, definitely.”

(Translation: I would not wish this job on anyone.  Not even my screwup cousin.)

Uncle Jerry: “So, do you think this is it?  Found your calling?”

You: “Well I’ve enjoyed the work, and it’s been a great learning experience so far… I’m not sure I want to settle on anything just yet, because I’m still young, but I’ve learned a lot about myself.”

(Translation:  I’m peacing out after two years.  I have no idea what I’m going to do, but I know that it’s not this…)

Crazy Aunt Lisa: “Sounds like you have it all figured out!  To be so young and so driven… what a success!”

You: “Yep, that’s me… Could you please pass the sweet potatoes?  And take some more of my BS… I’ve had too much.”

Crazy Aunt Lisa: “Of course, dear.

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What Does It Take to Be Successful?

Having attended many business panels and conferences, I’ve always hated it when people ask a panelist, “What does it take to be successful?” First, I dislike it because the questioner assumes that there’s a simple path that leads to success: do this, this, and this, and you’ll have yourself a prosperous career. And, I also hate it because the respondent will inevitably give a typical answer about hard work, diligence, perseverance, etc.

If I were to re-phrase the question, I believe that defining “success” is far more insightful than talking about “what it takes”. When we were younger, most of us started out with the belief that success was something tangible: good grades, prestigious schools, high-paying jobs, and climbing up the corporate ladder. After all, we can show off our gold stars and shiny plaques and BMWs. Success stories followed a linear path, and always ended with riches.

study hard = good grades = good college = good job = $$$ = SUCCESS

But, now that we’re older, there may be different end goals that drive us. We may want to spend more time with our family, cultivate relationships, and build quality friendships. We may not want to work more than 40 hours a week. We may seek gratification outside work to define our interpretation of success.

Overall, I believe that most people fall into two camps. Those who are “Type A” think that professional success begets personal success. They believe in the formula above, that hard work and its resulting career will yield further opportunities and happiness. Those who are “Type B” think that personal gratification is more important than professional success. They believe in optimizing time spent with family and friends, rather than a life solely focused on our career goals.

Some people are just so accustomed to external definitions of success that they end up working only for their careers, titles, and paychecks, becoming Type A by default. Others are Type A out of necessity, working to provide a better future for themselves and their kids. They tend to see Type B folks as lazy, unmotivated, wastes of potential. At the same time, those who are Type B tend to think that the other side is made up of friendless, soulless, cutthroat workaholics who will end up sad and alone.

However we define our success, we are still not immune to what others think of us. In particular, high-profile women are often saddled with societal pressure to conform to a Type B archetype. As much as I disagree with her politics, I agree that Sarah Palin should have the right to accept the VP nomination, even if she just had a baby with Down syndrome. I agree that Hillary shouldn’t have to apologize for being ambitious, and Michelle Obama shouldn’t have to show off her softer side in order for people to like her.

So… what does it take to be successful? Well, what do you want out of life? A high-flying career? A happy family life? Are these two mutually exclusive? Can we have a healthy combination of Type A and Type B? And do we have to cater to what society thinks as well?

It’s a question that can’t just be answered with hard work and diligence.

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