Why I Opted Out Part One: The Workaholic

I have been writing this blog for nearly six months now and while I have written quite a bit about moving halfway across the country, I have yet to really go into detail on the other big move in my life: how I opted out of my finance career.

For me, it was a seismic shift, going from (hopefully) C-suite bound corporate finance workaholic, a track I had cultivated for years, to co-CEO and COO of the homefront with two young children to manage. Why?

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? At the time, it sort of was. My decision, as well-thought out as it was and believe me, it was thought out, overthought out, researched and analyzed, still took me by surprise.

When some people draw up their master life plan they plan to get married and stay at home with their children. I was not one of those people.

For right or wrong, when I graduated college almost 20 years ago, my dream was pretty simple: go to New York City, and build a career. I wanted out of my hometown upstate which had no jobs, no money and no prospects. Each year I witnessed GE, the big employer in the area knock down building by building at the plant, just like dominoes. I also saw the urban decay that followed.

In January of my senior year I won an internship at a large global bank based in New York. It happened to be interview season for the bank’s financial analyst program. On the last Wednesday, instead of sitting at my desk working on a one-size-fits-all model of the financial statements of South American telecom companies, I dressed in my best suit, met with several Vice Presidents and talked about my greatest strength, how many if-then statements I could nest into an Excel formula, and my work ethic. Always the work ethic. After all, I was balancing a editorial position on the college paper, a senior thesis, and a part-time job. All of that was on top of my course load.

I got the job. The analyst program was a crash course in accounting and finance, in debits and credits, in the art of the discount rate, but it also was Professionalism 101. I learned how to navigate the various work styles of the 5 Vice Presidents who were able to staff me on their deals. I learned how to conduct conference calls and bank meetings for some high maintenance clients. I learned how to pick an appropriate bottle of wine or two at dinner. I poured all of myself into that job and it gave back. I loved it. I really did.

I suppose I loved it more than my boyfriend at the time, someone I had met my senior year of college. At the end of my second year I was asked to work a rotation in London. I said yes. Wait, no, I said, hell yes! He wanted me to stay. That was pretty much the beginning of the end of that relationship and honestly, that was fair. You can’t work 80 hours a week and expect your so-called partner to be satisfied with the leftovers.

After three years I reached the end of the analyst line and decided to go to business school full-time. Some analysts were promoted to associate without a MBA and I was asked to stay but I wanted the degree. What if I didn’t want to stay in banking? Even the recruiter that hired me admitted it was the best thing to do. I always felt a bit out of place that there I was with my liberal arts degree, working on multi-billion dollar credit lines but had never taken a finance course as an undergraduate.

Off I went to business school. On the first day of orientation I met my husband. It’s not like we met, fell in love, got married and rode off into the sunset together. No, no, no. It was more like, we met, started dating a few months later, worked hard, graduated, and got finance jobs where we worked even harder. We got that part about each other: that innate need to work. Oh, and we got married five years later.

After graduation I ended up in another banking training program in New York, this time as an associate. That wasn’t the original idea after business school as I wanted to do corporate finance for a company as opposed to a bank and eventually that’s exactly what I did. For the time being though, different bank, same workload. Some nights I napped under my desk rolled up sweatshirt for a pillow, phone as an alarm clock. As an aside, if you want a more detailed look at life as an investment banking associate in the 90s, check out the book “Monkey Business.”

Almost two years later I left banking and started a job in the treasury department of a company that was growing by leaps and bounds. The company had an insatiable need for capital. Since banks don’t just give away money, it also meant there were never-ending due diligence request lists, and part of my job was to fill those. I had a steep learning curve, but I dug in. Some days I felt like I had given birth to an Excel model. Unlike the bank, at this company, most everyone was out the door no later than 5:01 PM. Not me. There were many nights I stayed much later, more like 8 or 9. While I started earlier, it still was an improvement from the sleep-under-my-desk days of banking.

Work became a security blanket of sorts. Early in my days in treasury I made a fairly significant mistake on a report simply because I had failed to double check some numbers. I made sure it didn’t happen again which meant checking, double checking and triple checking. I wasn’t okay with leaving my work until I could defend it from every angle. All of that took time, time I was happy to give.

At least my work was getting noticed. A year and a half later I got promoted. At the age of 31, I became Assistant Treasurer of a company that had just under $1 billion in assets.

A few years after that I moved on again, this time to a larger company, also growing by leaps and bounds. I applied the same formula: work hard and the rest will follow. And it did. Another year and a half went by, another promotion.

However, this time things were different. Now I was the mother of a baby boy, conceived after nearly a year of fertility treatments. I certainly had quite a workload, but not just in the Excel spreadsheet sense. It was time to take inventory, and not in the FIFO or LIFO way. My balance sheet, well, wasn’t balanced.

Stay tuned for “Why I Opted Out Part Two: The Wake-Up Call”.

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Tags: finance, opting out

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