To say my 30th birthday was a muted affair would be an understatement.
It was a rainy Monday, and I was two weeks into my summer investment banking internship here in London.
My hopes of getting out early that night (slim to begin with) were convincingly dashed by 9 am.
An offer had been made for one of the bank’s clients. We were appointed sole defense advisors. It was all hands on deck for the next month or so.
And to make things even worse, I was all alone.
As it happened, a good friend of mine was getting married that week, so our entire social circle took off for a week-long destination wedding in the sunny Caribbean.
My wife offered to come visit me instead, which I declined, knowing she wouldn’t see much of me anyway. Why share the misery?
When I finally came up for air about two weeks later, I grabbed a quick drink with my fellow interns and headed straight home, exhausted from an incessant string of late nights and early mornings.
The Sands Of Time
It’s damn hard to believe, but in just two days I will turn 40.
A decade, gone by in a whirlwind.
This time around, there will be a proper celebration.
There will be family, friends, presents (hopefully!), a few nicely aged ribeye steaks, and more than a few bottles of fine California red.
And no, I won’t be working.
But most importantly, I will be staring down the barrel of a drastically different decade.
Now, it would have been very poetic if on the day of my birthday, pretty much a decade after I first waltzed into the lobby of a big investment bank, I would get to exit the revolving door forever.
However, bonus cycles and deferred compensation plans don’t necessarily work that way – and I am not one to leave my hard-earned money on the table.
In other words, an immediate exit is not on the cards. But make no mistake – exit I will, at some point over the next 6 to 18 months.
Because while I certainly enjoyed my thirties, I’ve got equally grand – and drastically different – plans for the decade to come.
Now that I’m old and wise, I obviously can’t help but offer a couple of reflections.
To be very clear, if I had a chance to back in time, I’d repeat my journey in a heartbeat.
Yes, the ride was choppy at times. A decade in investment banking isn’t for everyone.
Then again, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that sooner or later, everyone needs to pay their dues.
Making money, especially in a fair bit of it in a relatively short period of time, requires sacrifice.
Anyone who tells you otherwise is either a liar or has something to sell you.
Yes, putting the pedal to the proverbial metal in your 20s or 30s inevitably means missing out on some of the greatest gifts only youth can offer.
But punting it to your 40s or even 50s brings other sacrifices, mostly in the form of family, health, and missed opportunities.
The good news is that paying your dues isn’t as tough or scary as it looks.
There’s nothing quite like having your back against the wall to crystallize your priorities and find energy and confidence you didn’t know existed.
Heck, give it a shot and you may even find the whole process enjoyable.
I certainly did.
At the same time, while hard work is important, the biggest mistake you can make is to pour 100% of yourself into your job.
Some of the best things I’ve done over the past decade were outside of investment banking.
Financially, it was getting into real estate.
Creatively, it was starting this blog (incidentally, on the back of a tough stretch at work!)
And personally, it was taking enough time to spend with my family, including two unforgettable three-month gardening leaves.
In fact, I would argue that the more interests you have outside of work, the more successful you are likely to be at work.
At the end of the day, people like people.
Especially in client-facing industries, being an engaging, relatable person is far more important than being the best excel jockey in the world.
In addition, one can only draw from the proverbial piggy bank for so long.
Whether it’s health, relationships, or interesting experiences, it doesn’t matter how much of it you had when you were starting out.
Very few people can walk the desert without refueling in an oasis along the way. And taking time for yourself is the best (and only) way to do that.
So what’s next in store for yours truly?
Quite a bit.
First of all, as mentioned above, it’s thinking through a career change.
For someone in my position, it usually means transitioning to a corporate development role.
Then again, I have a crappy track record when it comes to choosing the default option. Thus, I’ve also been toying with the idea of going back to academia.
The other option to explore is putting more time – and external capital – behind my real estate adventures.
I’m still fleshing this last one out, but it looks more and more attractive as I think through it.
The second key aspect to think through is location.
While both my wife and I are fortunate in that our respective parents are still around, we might not be so lucky in ten years’ time.
In addition, our siblings, nieces, and nephews are also not getting any younger.
It would sure be nice to spend more time with all of them – and to give our own children a chance to bond with the extended family.
What this means in practice is that we are likely to leave the UK at some point over the next year or two.
The exact timing and logistics are still being firmed up, but it looks like our London adventure is approaching its inevitable conclusion. Our latest real estate purchase was actually one of the building blocks in that strategy.
The third priority is health.
To draw on the piggy bank analogy above, I’m certainly guilty of not making enough deposits into the proverbial health account.
I’ve been addressing that over the past 12 months or so, but it’s high time to eliminate the deficit completely.
And finally, it’s spending more time on hobbies.
With our younger child nearing the end of the diaper phase, we are now in a position to go back to life as we knew it.
More tennis, more skiing, more travel.
And yes, in case you were wondering, more blogging.
In other words, watch this space for an update on how things actually panned out.
ETA? June 2031.
In the meantime, many thanks for reading – and happy birthday to me!
About Banker On Fire
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Banker On FIRE is an M&A (mergers and acquisitions) investment banker. I am passionate about capital markets, behavioural economics, financial independence, and living the best life possible.
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