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12/01/2014

How to Avoid Becoming the Archetypal Unhappy 45-year-old Finance Professional


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On the day after Thanksgiving, it may not be totally apposite to look at the disappointment of middle-aged financiers. But following on from November’s lament from a 46-year-old banker who felt his life had been wasted, it’s come to our attention that CFA Institute’s excellent careers guide contains some similar advice on how to avoid becoming that person.

The CFA’s lament concerns a 45-year-old equity analyst called Joe. Much like the 46-year-old banker whose wife had an affair, Joe’s mid-life job dissatisfaction stems from family issues – he uprooted his family from Boston to New York, where he spent five years working 12-14 hour days, earning $1.4m as an equities analyst at an aggressive brokerage firm. But after five years, his wife unexpectedly suggests a divorce.

“Even though he has made a lot of money, Joe is fundamentally unhappy and stands at the brink of a family disaster,” points out the CFA’s guide. “Over the years, his professional life has consumed almost all his time and energy. He has not been actively involved in raising his 10-year-old son, Tom, and his relationship with his wife, Julia, has deteriorated significantly."

So, how can you avoid this happening to you?

With the help of some pertinent questions, CFA Institute helps elucidate where it was that Joe went wrong:

1. He left the first company he worked for after graduation for the wrong reasons. Having risen to become head of research, he was made to "principal" because he wasn’t seen as a strong people manager. Even though the principal role paid the more than the head of equity research position and would have allowed him to pursue his passion (stock picking), Joe didn’t want to be principal because it looked like a demotion.

2. At the start of his career, Joe thought he wanted to be a chief investment officer (CIO), and persisted in pursuing managerial jobs that seemed to take him closer to that goal. This was despite the fact that he was repetitively told that he lacked people management skills and was better making the most of his talent as an equities analyst.

3. Joe didn’t properly research the jobs he was going for. Nor did he consider their potential impact on his lifestyle and family. He quit the first company he worked for, for a job at another investment firm. However, he didn’t research the new role properly and when he arrived, he discovered that it was fundamentally a marketing role and didn’t play to his strengths. Two years later, he quit this job too. After being laid off from another firm where he was head of equity research (despite his poor people management skills), he decided to focus on being an analyst and to go for the money – hence his five years on Wall Street.

CFA Institute's guide doesn’t draw any conclusions from Joe’s tale, but the moral of the story seems to be this: "Don’t persist in going for jobs that don’t play to your strengths. Don’t leave a role that’s right for you just because it doesn’t bring the status you think is your due. Focusing on the money is rarely a good idea."

  

–Sarah Butcher

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