Hedge funder quits to seek 'more' in life

Forrest Xiao
Source: Forrest Xiao
Forrest Xiao

Like some who work in finance, Forrest Xiao wasn't fulfilled despite making a lot of money.

But unlike many frustrated employees, the 25-year-old New York-area hedge fund employee decided to make a big change: He quit.

"I've become more and more obsessed with making money, in part because I've used it as a measure of myself," Xiao wrote in a farewell email to AQR Capital Management colleagues in March, as first reported by hedge fund news site Absolute Return. "I worry that I've lost the sense of purpose that I once felt, the desire to help the world in some meaningful way."

Xiao is now traveling the world.

He's gone to a meditation retreat in Johor Bahru, Malaysia; sampled street food in Bangkok, Thailand; and explored the jungles of Tioman, an island off the coast of Malaysia, north of Singapore.

"I've had an amazing first month of travel," Xiao told CNBC.com Wednesday via email en route to Tokyo from Chiang Mai, Thailand. "It's been great gaining new perspective and experiencing different ways of life."

The blog he set up to document the experience, Splashee, is designed to help others take similar trips. Xiao, a former Goldman Sachs analyst and 2011 Washington University in St. Louis grad, notes the site is "Working to simplify travel planning ... From trip recommendation to dealing with flight price volatility."

"So here I am," Xiao wrote recently, "Leaving behind the safety of a good, stable job for the adventure of the road. Working to create something I believe in, to help others see the world that I'm lucky enough to experience." (Tweet This)

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Here's his full email to AQR colleagues:


Today is my last day at AQR. Even though this wasn't the place for me, I'm thankful for my time here and for everything I've learned. I now have a better understanding of finance, of the "real world," and more importantly, of myself. I've learned to be more practical, while realizing that I'm a deeply idealistic person. I've learned to appreciate the structure and routine of daily corporate life, while realizing that I thrive in a dynamic, flexible environment. Ultimately, I've learned that staying here would mean not staying true to myself.

That's too bad, since staying here would put me on a very nice, comfortable path. Year after year, we make more money. We eat out at ever-fancier restaurants, then come back to our progressively nicer houses. We take our families on ever-more-luxurious vacations. But this isn't the life I dream of. Sure, it sounds like a good life. I can't argue with that. It turns out that $400 meals can be pretty tasty. And it's almost ridiculous to not be upset after waking up to a $600 bill from the night before (thanks again for splitting that guys). But still, I feel a lack of fulfillment.

What's important to me is to have a purpose, to fight for something meaningful. Yes, maybe our purpose is to help participants in underfunded pensions receive the benefits they've been promised. But if I really believed in that, I would work for less money. Instead, over the past few years I've become more and more obsessed with making money, in part because I've used it as a measure of myself. I worry that I've lost the sense of purpose that I once felt, the desire to help the world in some meaningful way. Of course, I say all of this from a position of privilege, while making enough to not be worried about money. But now that I'm here, this is an opportunity I can't waste.

So I'm making a change. Wiping away this clear path toward "success" was tough. The road ahead of me is less clear. But too many people avoid taking the first step forward, just because they can't see where the path leads. I don't want to live my life like that. I'm off in pursuit of something more.

I'll be traveling the world, heading out on a one way flight to Thailand on March 11. Not sure how long I'll be abroad – I'm thinking a year or so to start. At the same time, I'll be working on my own project. You can follow my progress and travel experiences here: http://www.splashee.com/#/blog. Hope to see some of you out on the road.

- Forrest

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A spokesman for AQR did not respond to a request for comment.