May 24, 2024

KT Business

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My Wall Street Job Nearly Destroyed Me

6 min read

I was expecting that Thursday in February to be a normal day at work. I hadn’t expected to be lying on the office floor thinking that I needed to quit my investment banking job — yet there I was.

Minutes after fainting, in the ambulance en route to the hospital, I contemplated the choices that had led me to that moment.

The allure of an investment banking job is seductive. It attracts starry-eyed college students with irresistible promises: An opportunity to execute multibillion-dollar transactions for the world’s largest corporations. A six-figure salary. Access to boardrooms and C-suite executives. A stepping stone to even more lucrative private equity careers.

And the path to breaking into the industry, arguably more difficult than getting into an Ivy League, reflects this reputation.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t immune to the job’s calling. I was determined to land an esteemed summer internship, so I clocked over 100 hours of interview prep, scheduled over 50 networking calls, and interviewed at four banks during my sophomore year of college. The hard work culminated in an investment banking internship during my junior year.

Charmed by the prestige, pay, happy hours, coffee chats, and corporate outings of the internship, I enthusiastically signed my full-time job offer in the fall of 2022 as a college senior. My life was perfect. I was ready to make lots of money on Wall Street and generate lots of shareholder value.

Being an investment banking analyst was much sexier in theory than practice

I knew banking would be intense from the internship, but nothing could’ve prepared me for just how intense the full-time role was. First-year analysts, like myself, spent every waking hour doing anything and everything senior bankers demanded from us.

Advising on mergers and acquisitions looked a lot like creating endless financial analyses in Excel, aligning logos on PowerPoint, responding to emails around the clock, and calling restaurants about the pricing of hors d’oeuvres platters to plan dinner conferences. On a good day, I logged off at midnight. On a bad day, I didn’t go to bed.

As for the six-figure salary, $110,000 seemed like a lot, but it boiled down to a $25-an-hour adjusted rate when I considered the long hours.

On one hand, there was light at the end of the tunnel: Analysts who perform well generally climb the ranks within the team to become associates, vice presidents, and maybe even managing directors. Still, I felt utterly disposable as I witnessed hardworking analysts and associates lose their jobs over multiple rounds of layoffs.

Many months of this lifestyle finally came to a climax when I passed out on that fateful Thursday morning

My whole life revolved around work. I was sleep-deprived, anxious, and extremely unhappy. The week that I fainted had been particularly grueling, consisting of several late nights and all-nighters as my team scrambled to close a deal.

My usual strategy of gritting my teeth and caffeinating myself was no match for the eight months of overwork I had put my body through. Mid-conversation with a coworker, I saw black spots dancing in my field of vision. Suddenly, I was on the floor. I was hyperventilating. Tears were streaming out of my eyes. I tried to get up and saw black. I couldn’t feel my hands or feet. One of my coworkers called an ambulance.

I was whisked away to the emergency room, where I spent the rest of the day lying on the hard hospital bed with a splitting headache and terrible nausea.

Eight hours and multiple CT scans, IV drips, blood tests, and urine samples later, the doctors came to the conclusion that nothing was wrong and that I should go home and rest up.

When I went home from the hospital, I realized I had three missed calls on my work phone. A college sophomore had scheduled a networking call with me for that afternoon, and I had forgotten about it. “Sorry for missing your call earlier,” I emailed him. “I was in the hospital all day. Feel free to reach out to another member of my team.”

I saw my younger self in his eagerness and wondered if he knew what he was getting himself into. I felt nauseous again.

The reaction of other investment bankers illuminated another dimension of the industry’s work culture

After the incident, colleagues reassured me that I shouldn’t panic. I was going to be just fine. I was told that I wasn’t the first person on the team this had happened to. Perhaps anti-anxiety medication could help my situation?

I was also told that there had been a team meeting while I was at the hospital to discuss the situation, but I was not informed about what was discussed at the meeting or of any initiative to address what I felt was the root cause of what had happened to me.

I certainly didn’t feel fine. Although the bank informed me I could take as much time off as needed, I felt, culturally, I was expected to be back in the office sooner rather than later. I took a week off to recuperate, attempting to make up for months of sleep debt.

Returning to work, it became clear to me that people had accepted moments like these as an inescapable byproduct of the job. Tasks and emails began to build up again, and I felt I was expected to rest and be ready for another 90-hour workweek.

This incident was an unmistakable sign for me to leave banking

I was terrified to leave. There’s very little advice out there on how to quit your investment banking job. On the contrary, there’s plenty of advice on the exact opposite — how to scrape through the misery of an analyst stint. It would be silly to quit before getting my first bonus or lining up another job, seemed to be the consensus opinion.

I wondered if I was making a stupid decision. What did I know about navigating a career at 22 years old?

But I came to the realization that I didn’t want to evaluate my career choices with the same measuring stick that seemed to normalize overwork to the point of collapse. As analysts, I felt we were putting our mental and physical health at risk for a job that treated us as PowerPoint slide-creating robots. And when we burned out, there’d always be a fresh crop of enthusiastic college graduates desperate for our spots.

I knew myself and knew that this industry was not the right fit for me. I had no concrete plans for what I was going to do next, but I knew I had no interest in continuing to overwork myself in pursuit of prestige or another opportunity with the same nonexistent work-life balance.

My last day was in March, exactly a month from the day I fainted. After quitting, I decided to pursue journalism, something I was always interested in but had no time to explore as a banker.

I wasn’t the first to quit banking, and I certainly won’t be the last

A job that requires such long, grueling hours and is often associated with mental and physical health issues requires some critical analysis.

Sure, entry-level transaction experience and Excel skills look fantastic on a résumé. But those skills come at a steep price.

Perhaps some people are so passionate about this profession that they’re willing to sacrifice their free time, social life, family time, and health at the altar of investment banking. I can’t say I loved investment banking to that degree, so I walked away.

Editor’s note: The financial institution where Ji worked, which was verified by Business Insider, said:

“We recognize that our industry is demanding, and we have initiatives in place to ensure that our junior staff are protected, including mandated time off and staffing /workload policies. We expect both managers and employees to understand and adhere to these policies, and we take any violations seriously. We also have several channels in place to ensure that our employees can speak up to raise concerns. As it relates to this specific situation, we are disappointed that our colleague has chosen to leave the bank, and we wish her all the best in her future endeavors.”

If you quit a six-figure job due to work culture or burnout and want to share your story, email Manseen Logan at [email protected].


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