Week 1: Hole Knew World Part Deux?

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Since I became old enough to vote, I’ve signed my name on the offer letter for 5.5 internships and 3.0 full-time jobs. I’ve started jobs in the spring, summer, fall, and even winter. I’ve worked in jobs in 4 states and 2 continents; in big office buildings with fancy Greek-sounding names and in a small dusty room called my bedroom. And since, I can’t even say I got paid for each of them, I only can say that the one similarity across them is that each had a “day one.”

That first day is always full of trepidation and/or excitement and this latest iteration was no different…wait, who I am kidding? I had no conflicted feelings at all. I knew exactly I wanted…I just wanted to go back to overcrowded, commercialized beach in Thailand. Barring that, I just wanted to go sit in an overcrowded, commercialized noodle shop in Hong Kong.

No, but actually, I was pretty geek’d to start on this job, if for no other reason than that I just wanted to figure out what I had got myself into. Contrary to my job description as an “research analyst” – I did very little diligence on the firm or the job titles. Instead, I fell back on the age-old wisdom of, “anything must be be something better” or g.i.g.s. Is it immaturity of not know what I want to do or finally maturity from realizing that a job is just a job is just a job and you can only expect so much out of it and so you shouldn’t waste time over-thinking it? As you can tell from my longer description, I’m hoping it’s the latter.

So, internal monologue aside, I walk into (yet-another-Midtown-skyscraper) preparing to actually have real conversations with people in dress shirts for the first time in over a month. Scary.

The thing about the having no expectations is that I also face no surprises. I sat down at my desk…and promptly got ignored – because everyone around me is, gulp, actually doing their job. I get an Outlook invite for orientation and…no one tells me where to go and when I’m going. In fact, it’s the first semi-real “orientation” session I’ve gone to in my life. Every job before this was either too short or too small – hold the jokes – to warrant an official training manual that. Put it this way – I finally got to participate in a 401k program!

Meanwhile, as I learned about how my new job doesn’t have vacation days (yet again), I came to slightly more profound realization that I might just be the youngest person in the entire firm. I looked in the room, in the hall, in the trading floor, even in the bathroom, and I’m pretty sure everyone was at least 10 years older than me. Either that or white people age really badly gracefully, seriously.

Combine that with the fact that I’m working at a company larger than 200 people (3,000! – though our relatively silo’d off group is only 4) and it’s safe to say I’ve entered the big league/the show/the majors – except I’ve got no perks anymore (this is how a company makes money). Otherwise than those contemplations, I mostly spent the first week trying to figure out if I like being a big monk in a small monastery or a small young monk in a big monastery – fish/pond for non-Asians.

Love and Surviving in the Time of Ubiquitous To-Do Lists

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When we were young we were taught to differentiate between wants (yummm, Oreos!) and needs (gross, actual food). Now that we’re actually grown up, it turns out that prioritizing has real-world consequences (damn you slow metabolism) and so learning to organize our life is actually really important.

Unluckily, there are a billion note-taking apps, to-do list apps, and every shopping/movies/music/travel site wants you to save lists. Plus, I love sticky notes. Oh, did I mention excel spreadsheets and word docs of items. And, don’t forget emails to yourself. (!!!)

So over Christmas, my number one to-do wasn’t to actually accomplish any of my to-do’s, but to just simplify my life by figuring out all of my lists and make them work for me again. Two weeks and many deletions later, I’ve consolidated everything physical and random in Evernote notebooks, kept only one short-term, important things list, and subjugated all else into locations where they won’t be lost but also where I won’t have to see them alongside more important items. (Why short-term, important? – because a man with less time than me said so.) Now to-do lists don’t suck up my life or space and I’m much saner (and sort of more productive). Here’s what else I learned:

1. There are two kinds of to-do lists. There are the lists you actually need with short-term, important things; and there are the lists of things you just want to remember for some future ambiguous time. If you forget to look at the former, you might miss something. If you look at the latter too frequently, you might actually drive yourself crazy because that list is only going to get longer.

So this point I already knew, because I’m always irrationally worried about forgetting about what TV shows I had wanted to watch or articles to read. I still used to keep track of those on excel spreadsheets but thankfully now there’s a million apps to do for you. The beautiful thing about keeping these lists of time-sucks tucked away is that you realize you didn’t miss them while they were away, yet at the same time you know that Netflix will keep track of your to-watch lists because they want you to renew your membership or that Amazon will keep your future to-buys safe so you will keep shopping there or that Spotify will….

Anyways, with your unimportant to-do’s kept on those ubiquitous commercial sites, you can instead keep your actual to-do list clear of clutter and not have excuses for, you know, crossing off your items.

2. Don’t look at your to-do lists every day. Okay, so you’ve successfully prioritized your prioritization system. Now you just stare your list of 10 things and watch it everyday because it won’t shrink, just like your waistline – also an item on your list because you didn’t make specific, obtainable short-term goals.

But actually, as opposed to other advice, I’d prefer to keep my to-do list away from my direct sight everyday. Are you really going to forget that you need to “buy a new phone” or that you need to “clean your desk”? Instead, you should only pull it twice a day – once in the morning to figure out which of your to-do’s you are going to accomplish that day and once more at night to cross off said item. So force yourself to only write down items that are completely necessary in your life.

If you have time-specific goals, make a calendar invite on your medium of choice. Try to keep your actual to-do list time-unspecific so that it is about accomplishment, not fretting.

3. Have a read later folder. Speaking of fretting, there are a thousand things to read everyday and 999 of them end up in your email inbox specifically to cause you worry. You can’t delete them because you haven’t responded/checked out the link/filed away the advice, and yet you really don’t have the time to go thru them all. The best part: tomorrow your inbox number will magically go up by 10.

My solution is to have a “Read Later” folder, or even several “Later” folders. Skim and file away. That way, you won’t worry about forgetting nor about inbox bloat. Your inbox should be your must respond or must do, not an ever expanding list of maybes. The truth is, if you file away and you don’t remember it, that just means the email wasn’t important enough to warrant your time. It’s like a missed call, if it’s really that important they would’ve left you a voice-mail. On the other hand, if you ever have lots of time or you randomly remember you want to check something out, well you know where to search.

4. You don’t have to finish. I’m stealing this from Marissa Mayer because I never heard anyone articulate this point exactly, but it just made so much sense. “If I did [get to the bottom of the list] it would be a real bummer,” Mayer said. “Because think about all those things at the very bottom of your to-do list that really shouldn’t take time out of your day.”

And in one sentence, Queen Yahoo! summarizes my last 700 words – because #1-3 are not just ways to keep you focused on the priorities, but also accepting them will keep you sane.

The bottom line: technology should be about making your life easier, not tougher. As someone who just lost an external hard drive (and had to pay $$$ to get the data back), it’s worth spending a little time to organize your information in order to have technology organize your life for a longer time. Filing things away will give you peace of mind and you probably won’t even miss them as you go about your days being awesome and creative.

P.S. Yes, the irony of writing a blog post with numbered bullet points is not lost on me.

The Unbearable Lightness of Not Being

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When I die, if my New York Times obituary doesn’t read something ridiculously awesome, it will probably read that I was incapable of living in the moment. I blame it on living in Times Square, two blocks away from two movie theaters where I can see every new release that I want (and some that I don’t want). That and free online streaming TV shows give my 10-year-old sense of self-control way too many avenues to be nostalgic or wistful – and sometimes both at the same time. (How?)

Mind you, this is different than FOMO, which I guess the grown up media has just recently discovered as they vainly seek to quantify their kids’ social networking habits. Sure, if you let it, social media outlets just increase our want for something…else. But I’ve leveled up, so rather than wishing for someone else’s Instagram life, I’d rather just view MY OWN past through rose-tinted glasses or go sleep and dream about my future. My recent drugs of choice: movies and TV.

Just last weekend, I went to see Pacific Rim. Sure, talk of huge robots punching even huger monsters with help from some elbow rockets gets my own elbow joints ready to move (into my pocket for my credit card). But also, I read that the movie took place in Hong Kong and I was just as eager to take a brief sojourn back to my 2011 summer trip via a 60 foot screen (kind of like Pacific Rim‘s concept of “drift”). That trip was the last one before my first real job started and when I think back to Hong Kong now, I ignore the unbearable humidity and weird Chinatown smell but focus on the excitement of the unknown and my great moment of zen at a not-so-secret pier on the Harbor.

In a way, I’m just doing what people have done for centuries through books, fireside stories, or papyrus scrolls. I’m sure somewhere there is a cavemen drawing that imagines the artist’s life in a world without ice.

So, looking back on my job search, I realize that one reason it was so hard was that each interview gave me an opportunity to imagine a different world. Sometimes, the world seemed so much better. Sometimes, it was simply a simpler world, one where I wasn’t looking for a job all the time. And sometimes, I just wanted to return to a world where the future was unknown.

A Little Deep and a Little Shallow

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When I had my first big boy interview a fourth of a score ago, something that the voice on the other end said still rings true in my head today.

When I asked one of those, “so what questions do you have for me” questions, I was told that the biggest difference between college and working life is that there are no longer any deadlines and breaks between semesters / finals / holidays, etc – a much much dimmer light at the end of the proverbial tunnel if you will.

So here I am, a couple months removed from my last update and a somewhat voluntary exile from talking about myself blogging because I wanted to finish talking about myself interviewing. A self-imposed break in the tunnel if you will.

But the truth is, I fell for a bastardized version of “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” – I tried to put some aspects of my life on hold whilst waiting for something else to happen – and you just can’t do that. In the post-college life, you can’t just let your bad spell of tests run its course and wait for a new semester to start afresh.

Cue obviously shallow but seemingly deep phrase: Life waits for no one.

And so, the one year anniversary of my current job search has come and gone. I’m closer than I’ve been in a while. I know that because I have already started self-questioning my future offer before I have even received it.

Nonetheless, I think it’s time to fill in the gaps in this blog and set off a total timewarp mindfuck by backdating posts between the summer of 12 and today. Yes, I’ve been keeping a to-do list of blog topics that sorely needs to be checked off. I usually dread these types of site updates but I fear my own future ignorance if I don’t leave some kind of marker here.

Getting Dumped

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I’ve been dumped a dozen times in the last couple months. And not just by normal girls, but by unicorns – supermodels with personality who pampered me. The type of dream girls, whose pictures I would save on my tumblr. With the first couple of girls, I got over because the mutual friends who set us up would hook me up with more. But the last couple rejections have made me question everything that I ever thought about myself.

And as time went by, the amount of supermodels with open dance cards have approached the limit of zero. So now I’ve gone on dates with mere fitness models, or models with quirky personalities, maybe a beautiful girl without the greatest sense of fashion. But who am I to be picky? And yet, by the time I’ve convinced myself to put her on a pedestal with the best, she’s turned me down too.

And it’s all weird because it’s not like I’ve never been successful before. Sure maybe the location was different and the stakes were somewhat lower, but I’ve tasted success.

And so now, I’m left here wondering if I will ever find someone to give me an opportunity believe in me. Because the scary part is that I’ve had plenty of opportunities…great, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities…that I’ve cocked up.

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It’s hard to find a reason to be a homebody in the City unless you are trying to avoid something. I’m trying to avoid getting asked, “when are you quitting your job?” Yes, I know, I’ve been trying to quit since I got in here, you think I’d still be here if I had a better choice???

And yet, what’s left of me is that I keep on discovering new ways for others to say no. It’d all be very amusing if it weren’t, you know, MY LIFE.

And now I’ve had plenty of experience…

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Sigh. But there’s nothing I can do, but to ask, as my ATF TV show always said…what’s next?

Wake Me Up When September Ends

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Summer has come and passed
The innocent can never last
wake me up when September ends

One time in band business camp they told us that whenever your morality is questioned on the job, just imagine how you would feel having it blasted gossip girl-style all over the front pages of the WSJ.

On a related note, today I got asked by my boss and our legal counsel to delete some files off the drive and to hunt down all copies of those files held by ex-employees….oops, that’s a story for another time.

Details of a potential scandal aside, I actually opened New York Times to see our firm prominently featured – unfortunately it was because we are listed as going through a “strategic review”. In other words – worst case: firm gets bought, analysts get fired; best case: firm augments practice, analysts get fired.

Just kidding.

Sorta.

Either way, it’s not the ideal situation for analysts because bad Feels come swarm around the office as senior bankers feel the pressure from losing jittery clients, middle level bankers feel the pressure to outperform their roles as they prepare for new potential bosses, and junior bankers in general don’t know whose asses to kiss. While this would be the time that the typical analyst has reached the point where mistakes are rare and learning can consist of more than powerpoint shortcuts. Unfortunately, our new analysts (aka all analysts other than me) are wondering if they should be looking into lateraling and/or whether its worth to work hard for an entity which not might exist for much longer.

Me?

I’m in full expiring contract mode. I’m in the unique position of knowing that I will leave this place in a couple months – not matter how the “strategic alternatives” turn out. So I’m forced to care about something that I have no incentives in – a state which unfortunately has been all too common these days, but that’s yet another story to be told later.

At this point, I just want to be left alone. Left alone to do my interview prep. Hey company executives with golden parachutes secured in the new contract, can you please do YOUR jobs before you tell me to do MY job? Sigh, just wake me up when this is all over.

End of Year Review – Part 4: “How to Love”

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See, you had a lot of moments / That didn’t last forever / Now you in this corner tryna put it together / How to love, how to love

If I could describe my first year in banking as a relationship, I would say it was like dating a crazy, beautiful girl. You go into it knowing that you’ll have to buckle up, that it’s not sustainable, and potentially bad for you. At the same time, I needed something like that in my life at that point, something to get immersed in, something to give you experiences that you wouldn’t get anywhere else, and something that you just have to experience at least once in your life. And at the end of the day year, I will have learned something – if not the actual skills they wanted to teach me, at least the traits of I want from my next relationship job.

So as I embark on my no-sleep tour of 5 cities in 9 days soon, I’m finishing my end-of-first-year-in-banking-review by writing about finding a positive result come from a negative. Seeing what specifically bothers me about the banking culture has helped me figure out what is important in my next job.

What I’ve figured out is that it is almost not as important what we do, as how we do it. Namely, I don’t want to be someone’s bitch anymore. I’d like responsibility – but not in the way of, ‘I’m giving you responsibility, so if you fuck up, it’s all on you.” I like being given leeway to change the administrative aspects of our jobs but would like it to translate over to actual work products too. Structure is interesting – ideally, I’d like a bit more structure where it matters (overall firm vision) but less structure where it doesn’t matter as much (less micro-managing details).

So when people ask me, PE or VC or HF or something else, I don’t have a strict preference as long as I go somewhere where my creativity isn’t stifled and there’s more to a work product than whether it fits “what we’ve always done.”

Basically, just give me a beginning plus an end and I’ll figure out the middle parts on my own. The problem with the deadline-driven culture of banking is that the middle parts gets micromanaged more than the beginning and the ends.

———–

The other thing I’ve learned from banking is how the soft skills fit in. The irony is that while liberal arts kids go to banking to learn finance and other “quantitative” skills, Wharton kids come out of banking having picked a lot more non-finance skills.

Whereas those kids’ advantages coming into work arose from walking through the crucible of technical questions, the more sustainable advantage come from knowing that there is more to finance than getting the balance sheet to balance (yes, there are strategic issues for m&a that isn’t explained away by “accretion”) and also having more time to devote to the soft skills since the hard skills are more or less conquered.

Being able to work with different personalities and within the constraints of a evolving, yet ever-domineering culture is an acquired skill in itself. Fortunately, stumbling into an extremely weird and hard-to-replicate situation here has prepared me well for whatever else comes at my next job.

End of Year Review – Part 3: “Angels Cry”

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Lightning don’t strike / The same place twice / When you and I said goodbye / I felt the angels cry

Looking backwards gets an unfairly bad rep. In reality, you can learn from your crappy experiences and your cool experiences can make you feel warm and fuzzy. It’s only the opportunity cost aspect of “living in the past” that is really damaging.

Since I’m a greedy and selfish person, I look at those warm and fuzzy experiences and of course the first thing that comes to mind is how do I replicate them for the future?

More specifically, I look at my 13 months here and wonder if I had to do it over again, how do I manage to get taken off the bad MD’s projects, get on the good side of the most vocal MD, and position myself to be the special teams player on the best projects? Additionally, how do I get all the little perks like being able to come in late and get away with tricking out my work laptop?

This line of thought becomes even more pressing when you feel your cache slipping away a bit. After all, this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world.

So after realizing that you want the good times to come back, you might feel that you only have two choices – you can stay under the same spot and wait for the lightening to strike you again or you can run around attempting to hit by the same lightening strike in a different spot. (Don’t worry, the first method isn’t as stupid as it sounds.)

(By the way, this is a large reason why lots of people stay in this industry – too afraid to lose the cache that you have built and all of a sudden, wake up to find yourself as a 30-year-old VP still checking comps and changing colors in ppt).

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I guess it’s a big part of growing up to be able to accept the fact that lightening don’t doesn’t strike the same spot twice and also be able to move on to not chasing the same lightening strike in another spot. And to be honest, despite realizing all this, I don’t think I’ve fully been able to do that.

When I sit around not doing much (fun times in the office), it’s easy to think back to when I was jamming on high-importance projects or when I was still climbing up the curve and learning things. Your mind plays tricks on you like that – blocking out the crappy and only reminding you of the warm and fuzzy.

 

End of Year Review – Part 2: “I Want…Forever”

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It may not mean nothing to yall / But understand nothing was done for me / So I dont plan on stopping at all / I want this shit forever mine, ever mine, ever mine

The only thing worst than a humblebrag is an ungrateful humblebrag. And yet, it’s so much fun to feed my martyr-ism by say “no one else understands.” So, well…here goes…

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One of the most memorable things I remember grown-ups telling me about the growned-up world is that there no immediate feedback. Figuring out if you are doing well is either nebulous (getting good projects, etc) or extremely blunt (fired, bonus, etc). Time is also an issue (isn’t it always?) – there’ no periodic exams, etc.

Well, the crazy thing about my situation now is that I have people telling me that things are great. I had great feedback, the “review” was great. But somehow I don’t feel that way. I feel like something is missing.

Is it just being unsatisfied with the status quo – something that is normal for type-a-ish 24 year old? Or is it because I feel like I lucked into something here – everyone else quit, I’m here by default? Or is it something deeper, something that comes from my upbringing?

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“Or is it because I feel like I lucked into something here – everyone else quit, so I rose to the top by default?”

I think part of my unsatisfaction that I realize this isn’t sustainable.

As I’ve gotten older, something I’ve been obsessed with is the idea of carpe diem – completely different from YOLO. This idea is more linked with my mid-twenties being my physical prime – energy, stamina, strength, flexibility, and other pseudo-sexual terms to describe the time of our lives when I have the ability to really accomplish something.

So I don’t want to waste my time doing something that I know I don’t want to be doing for the intermediate term.

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“Or is it something deeper, something that comes from my upbringing?”

I didn’t come from the hardscrabble streets of Scranton, but I didn’t exactly come from privilege either. And I’d like to think that “nothing was ever done for me.” So I guess when someone gives me props, I feel like either 1) there’s another shoe to drop, or 2) if the platitudes are really shoeless, then I must move on to the next challenge.

Also, subconsciously, when you look around and see other people get to your position but had more advantages along the way, you feel a bit lonely and misunderstood – as if you almost want to differentiate yourself from others.

So just when you feel that you have reached some modicum of success on the exterior, your own interior battle hasn’t even started yet.

———

At the end of the day though, I am really looking for forever…just don’t know where it’s going to come from.

End of Year Review – Part 1: “Lost Then Found”

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Why do we say things we can’t take back / Why do we miss what we never had

My dirty secret is that sometimes I wish my life were a movie. (Or at least a particularly emotionally exciting music video.) Well, the last 12 months have some of the most emotionally turbulent times of my young life so far. The term “emotional roller coaster” doesn’t even begin to describe it all.

Well, that first phase of my professional life ended earlier this week when I got my “number” and could calmly head off to vacation – aka my “no-sleep-tour” of 5 cities in 9 days. This is after I just moved into a new apartment with a open kitchen / bar stool setup and a basketball court three floors below me and a beautiful oil painting that I received as a gift from someone special. And after I spent a good chunk of time 1) just staring at my bank account, 2) paying down debts and 3) acquiring objects of desire that I have eyed for months on amazon.com; I finally got around to putting some thoughts on paper wordpress.

If that last paragraph sounded like a humblebrag….well, too bad. I was trying to figure out how to talk about that, most, banker-fied of moments – getting your bonus – without sounding like a douche. Well, I just have to give up on that and instead take it as an accomplishment.

They say that money doesn’t make you happy. Well, to me, being able to accomplish my goals and do the things that I’ve wanted to do for months, for years…because I now have the money to do it….that makes me happy. Since even before college, I’ve dreamed and thought getting that number and having it justify the insomnia that I knew I would pick up. Over the next couple years, I quantified those dreams and put them into my amazon.com shopping cart 🙂 So is it still superficial and materialistic to say that I feel like I’ve accomplished some goals that I set out to?

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The other mitigating factor in my humblebrag is that I’m using this as a shout-out to the people who helped me go from “lost” to “found”. You don’t go on a emotional roller coaster without reaching both peaks and troughs…and if the last couple weeks have been some crazy highs, well, it’s only been possible because there’s been some crazy lows in the preceding 12 months too. And as much as my pride would like me to think that I did it all on my own, I had a lot of support and so my rewards this year is something that I appreciate that much more. To those who helped me through “lost then found”, you know who you are…thank you.