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Someone once asked me what the hardest thing about banking is. Well, nothing really is hard. But if I had to give a semi-truthful answer…it’s not the finance, the hours, the screaming bosses, making sure you don’t wear the same pants four days in a row, the 99% correctness = fail, or even keeping your weight down…it’s dealing with a completely paradoxical environment 85 hours a week.

Our job, as a departing analyst put it so eloquently, is to just “fucking do what you are told.” Two summers ago, my associate famously told me, “there’s no independent thought in banking.” But then why do I get a comment like this one today: “you have no pride in your work”?

During my mid-year review, I was told my greatest flaw was doing things exactly as I was instructed – no more, no less. Apparently, if I’m asked to do A, B, and C, I should also try to do D, E, F, and maybe G too – aka read their mind and give them what they didn’t ask for.

The biggest problem with dealing with these irregularities is that at some point it becomes too hard to tell what’s real from what’s imagined. I hear what my instructions are but I also know what I should do or what they historically have told me to do…and if those mismatch, I forget what’s the actual instructions and what’s subconsciously filled in by my own head.

I’m asked to take pride in my work, but if I know the book is not going to be read and the deal is going to die, should I just pretend it’s real anyway? If you pretend every superfluous pitch, silly analysis, useless due diligence is real, then how do flip the switch and gear yourself up for when it does get real?

But being in an environment like banking lets you realize what things outside of work actually is REAL. Take my best friend at work, S. His plans to move in with his girlfriend of 10 months this weekend is the real inspiration for this post. Throw out the jokes about the putting on the shackles at age 23 and remember that their relationship just went through the worst job-related 10-month stretch that $70,000 / year can buy. You can’t argue with that kind of realness.

And so, is it enough to know that you have at least one thing in your life that is real?