I spoke to many of my colleagues in the industry and asked them this very question. Some great points were raised.
This business for better or worse, is one where the boundaries between your personal and professional life are often blurred.
A very successful thirty-four year old female friend put it this way: “There are plenty of industries where you can make a good living, it may take longer to climb the ladder, but there is more of a balance. When you factor in the weeknight entertaining and the constant checking of your blackberry after hours, this job is more than just a job, it’s who you are. The real question people are facing now in light of the stress of layoffs, difficult markets, and reduced pay, is where is the breaking point? I think a lot of people are hitting that point, and realizing that the sacrifices they’ve made over the years to further their careers may not be worth it anymore. When you look forward, it doesn’t seem like that will change any time soon. I think a lot of people are looking at their lives and wondering if there’s a better way.”
She is not alone in her thinking.
The industry has changed. No one can argue that, but with this change comes the opportunity for some re-evaluating of what is important in life. Is it worth it for a working mother to employ a nanny to watch her children if she is making 50% less than what she used to make? Maybe not. Is it worth it for men to commute at 5:30 in the morning, entertain at night, and return home at midnight so that he goes two, three, even four days without seeing his family? Hard to say.
The reality is that the lifestyle this industry once afforded might not be enough to compensate for the fact that there is zero job security anymore. Add to that the fact that Wall Street has been scrutinized, villainized, and occupied, and the stress begins to take a toll. People are realizing that maybe they don’t need to live in the tri-state area anymore, where the cost of living is higher than most of the rest of the country. People who grew up outside of the New York epicenter are remembering simpler childhoods, and all of a sudden realizing that simpler wasn’t a bad thing. Is it worth it to work yourself into the ground at the expense of everything else in your life when the future, if possible, seems even bleaker than the present?
I know people who have either reluctantly or willingly decided to leave the industry. They are becoming teachers, going to law school, doing Teach For America, opting to be stay at home moms or yes, in some cases, even to write. Another successful friend on an equity desk is considering moving back to her native Boston, where a comparable paying job will allow her to own her own home rather than renting a two bedroom apartment in Manhattan. Wall Street has changed, without question. The only thing that seems to have changed more, is the mentality of the people who work there.
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