Top 5 reasons why my career in finance was the best parenting boot camp

I spent most of my twenties in corporate and investment banking training programs, first as an analyst after college then as an associate after business school. At that point in my life, the only thing I ever imagined giving birth to was a spreadsheet. Now I have spent the last half of the thirtysomething years and now my early forties as a mom. Not only did my time in banking provide me with a solid and valuable start to my career, it turned out to be better than parenting class. Who knew? Here’s why:

1. You quickly get used to sleep deprivation. The hours for entry-level bankers are insane. I describe it as 9 to 5, 9 AM to 5 AM. Sure, it’s a slight exaggeration, but not much. You go home to grab a few hours of sleep, rinse and repeat. This isn’t just Mondays through Fridays either. Well, taking care of a newborn means you are similarly on call 24/7. The only difference is instead of going to an office every day or traveling for due diligence or a pitch, you are stuck home, all the time, and there are no days off. When I had MBA Son, I found it amusing that the hospital discharge instructions actually included a phrase which stated the 8 to 12 daily feedings your newborn needs are around the clock, including nighttime. Also, now just as then, power naps were not my friend. Dozing off for a half hour in between pitchbook turns or feedings never helped. I awoke drowsier and just wanted more sleep. At least as a banker I could pound as much caffeine as I wanted. As a new breastfeeding mom, not so much. Silly me for choosing to breastfeed.

2. You learn to be attentive to detail. As an analyst and associate, I spent quite a bit of time on financial models that were used by CFOs and treasurers to make financial decisions. Making mistakes such as not having a balance sheet balance is not just embarrassing but could lead to bad decisions which could destroy value for your client’s shareholders. This means double and triple checking.  Every detail must be perfect for presentations as well. One time a banker I worked for actually took out a ruler from his desk to make sure the margins were perfect. I guess in his view the justify button in MS Word wasn’t good enough. There are countless parenting situations in which this skill is key but dosing medication is probably the best example. Yes,when your pediatrician gives you a dose by weight, you really do need to pay attention to those tiny lines on the medicine dropper to give that exact 3.14159 ml dose of Tylenol to your 17 pound baby. Rounding up could, I don’t know, damage your child’s liver. I also have learned to double check my children’s medications from the pharmacy to make sure the description on the label actually matches what is in the bottle. I had an incident with MBA Son’s Singulair refill at age 4 in which he was supposed to get the 4 mg square tablet but instead we ended up with a bottle full of 5 mg ovals. The pharmacist was on the receiving end of a phone call from a very angry sleep-deprived mommy to a newborn MBA Toddler. If I could catch that mistake on no sleep, what was the pharmacist’s excuse?

3. Canceling plans becomes second nature. Had plans for that game 7 Yankees World Series viewing party with a few of your friends? You did, until you got staffed at 6PM for follow-up work that had to go to the client the next morning. This was in the days before live streaming and radio reception inside steel skyscrapers is nonexistent so no beer and baseball for you tonight. As analysts we had an expression, “Don’t make plans you are going to have to break anyway.” Parenting works the same way. How many times has your kid started throwing up or came down with a high fever right before you were heading out to a kid-unfriendly restaurant to eat something other than chicken fingers with a side of macaroni and cheese? I thought so.

4. Consistency is key. In financial analysis, using the same formulas consistently not only saves time but leads to better results and fewer mistakes. Consistency was such a valued trait that it was actually okay to make a mistake, as long as you carried that mistake through. As an example, if the stock price appeared 5 times in a slide, but was misquoted, the forgivable sin was for it to be wrong in all 5 places instead of just one spot. As for parenting, keeping a consistent feeding and sleeping routine minimizes tears for all and helps them sleep longer. For a new parent, no commodity is more valuable than sleep. If you put them down at 8 PM every night, nothing ever gets in the way of that, even if that means rearranging heaven and earth.

5. You’re not in it for the money.  Some may disagree this is the case with banking and I will be honest, there are some senior bankers who are extremely well-paid. However this isn’t really the case with junior bankers, especially analysts. One night a few of us calculated what we made on an hourly basis and it was sort of depressing. Yes, the promise of a paycheck will get you to work in the morning but it’s not what keeps you there through the night. For me, I love working with numbers. Just like words, numbers tell a story and I love deciphering that prose. That’s why I did it. Now, we all know what parenting pays. Instead of dollars, you get paid in kisses, hugs, diapers, spit-up, milestones, and that peaceful sight of a sleeping child at the end of the day. That’s why I do it.

I am extremely fortunate that I was able to spend all that time in the banking trenches and these are great skills to bring to any position. My children are better cared for as well, so it’s a career and parenting win-win all around.

I suspect finance isn’t the only career that has helped train new parents. What skills from your working life have proved valuable to you as a parent?

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