Tuesday, January 21, 2014

LIVE from…Wall Street!

Wall Street  — Sam Polk made much, much more money than I ever did. But he and I both worked at Credit Suisse, and both he and I came to Wall Street, inspired and excited, after reading Michael Lewis's Liar's Poker. And like Sam's parents, my parents raised us kids paycheck-to-paycheck. And also like Sam, it didn't take long for me working on Wall Street to earn in just a couple of years what my parents had spent a lifetime earning.

Earlier this week, Sam Polk wrote an Opinion piece in the New York Times about his experience being, as he described, "addicted" to the money on Wall Street. He then goes on to talk about how he finally, one day, walked out of Wall Street. Unlike me, Sam didn't have a plan for what he wanted to do with his life after banking, and I think it takes an awful lot more guts to leave without a plan than to leave with one. At least I knew where I was going — or thought I knew, until for a time I didn't.

But Sam's piece in the Times has pushed a lot of buttons, and not just bankers' buttons. There was this in the Times' Comments section from Matt R in Brooklyn:

"I know I'm supposed to feel pleased at the author's epiphany. But I don't. I feel angry. It's nice that after making more money than I've made in my life the author was willing to walk away. It's nice that he was able to come sober, though I doubt there would have been many repercussions if he hadn't. It's nice that he went on to perform charity work. But he still seems to be an over-priveleged person."

A banker friend commented, referring to the comment itself, that had Matt R been given the chance to make that kind of money, Matt R would've jumped at the chance to do so, just like every other 22-year-old kid getting his or her first shot at making it big on Wall Street, or anywhere where money is growing on trees.

But all of this misses the point. The point here is the exit, the courage it took Sam to realize something in his life was very wrong, at least from his perspective, and change it. Even when he wasn't sure what the change would be.

And I do know what it feels like to have your very powerful and very persuasive Wall Street boss trying to encourage you to stay for 'just one more bonus.' I know how hard it is to walk away from a good job, a job you've worked, as Sam put it, "like a maniac" for, a career that makes you feel important. And I know how disillusioned you feel after leaving that career behind.

It's been several years since I left Wall Street, and still every morning I wake up missing having to be somewhere at 6:30am. I miss the banter, the friendships, the eccentricities. But nothing can replace what it feels like to follow a dream. Nothing, not even the fantastic adrenaline of Wall Street, can replace what it feels like to discover your truest self.

"LIVE from Mongolia" is Patricia Sexton's true story of leaving Wall Street to pursue her dream…which ultimately led her into the news anchor chair in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Patricia has hosted Sinovision's WE Talk, a talk show about people pursuing their dreams, and she authors this weekly blog about dream-followers and adventure. LIVE from Mongolia was published in October by Beaufort, and is available on Amazon, bn.com, and in bookstores from New York to New Zealand. 

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