I feel like a schmuck!
April 4, 2012 7:05 PM   Subscribe

I feel like a schmuck and I hate it. Very special snowflake details inside.

I've been in the workforce for nearly five years now. I spent four years working for one of the big accounting firms. I hated working there. I really wanted to be in finance. So I interviewed for other jobs for years without anyone finding out.

After four years, I got my big break. One of the large investment banks hired me in their New York office to work in private equity. Dream job, right?

The thing is, I'm just still so unsatisfied. I don't like how stuffy and conservative the atmosphere is. The work is boring. I don't like wearing a suit. And I feel like a schmuck.

I mean, I know this is a completely one-dimensional way of looking at things. My coworkers are incredibly bright. What I'm doing is high profile. I have a job other people would kill to have. (Hell, I'm lucky to have a job.) And I just feel meh about it now.

In some ways I kind of feel like I don't belong. In high school I was super nerdy. I hung out on IRC, reverse engineered software, etc. I didn't have any friends either and resolved to change that in college. I ended up getting sucked up into the whirlwind attraction of finance at the time, so I majored in economics and decided I wanted to work on Wall Street. In hindsight, I'd be happier at a tech startup or something. Or in media. Or in the restaurant business. Or would I?

I just feel totally lost. I know this is common for people in their twenties. Should I just learn to look on the bright side of things or what? How can I end up feeling like I'm somewhere I belong?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
This may not be your thing. It's perfectly okay to try a job you thought you'd be perfect for and find out it's not perfect for you.

You're not a schmuck at all, and being in finance doesn't necessarily mean working on Wall Street. There are tons of finance people who do other things, such as the bright, motivated, well-compensated finance consultants who I've worked with in various business consulting firms over the past dozen years who would rather do yardwork than work on Wall Street.
posted by xingcat at 7:10 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

How can I end up feeling like I'm somewhere I belong?

By not putting all the weight of belonging somewhere on your job. Do you do anything besides work? If not, why not?
posted by rtha at 7:11 PM on April 4, 2012 [14 favorites]

This is something a lot of people have gone through. I know a lot of people who got big jobs who loathe them but do them (despite significant health ramifications) because, well, why would you turn down/leave a job like that? Well, maybe because you actually don't want to be an alcoholic or have a nervous breakdown every weekend...

I don't know if you ever wind up with The Job anymore. We used to, but not so much now. There's a lot of fear attached with trying something new - the great unknown - but really, life is a series of moments. If this moment isn't working out quite like you thought it would, find something new.
posted by mleigh at 7:15 PM on April 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

How can I end up feeling like I'm somewhere I belong?
Can you use your experience to gain a position somewhere that needs your skillset but does something more exciting? Surely lots of tech start-ups need someone to do the things you do? Also media companies and restaurants? Stop thinking of yourself as someone that works in the finance industry and, instead, are a person with finance and accounting skills that is interested in working in x, y, z industries.
posted by dg at 7:20 PM on April 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

You're not a schmuck. In fact, your level of disappointment suggests to me that there's hope for your future: what's worse than climbing to the top and realizing prize wasn't worth it? Getting there and staying because you think you should.

So: is it the corporate culture that's getting to you? Because I bet there's a lot of smaller firms that would love to get their hands on you. Maybe they don't give you the bragging rights, but as you are finding out, intangibles matter. Or maybe it's the job you don't like? Being good with financial matters has got to be a skill with a lot of portability. What different things can you do with it?

Awkward as it may feel, this is a chance to grow and move from who you thought you were into who you want to be.
posted by Ys at 7:26 PM on April 4, 2012 [9 favorites]

I was in almost this exact position. I was a PE associate and burned out big time. I quit and went back to my home state with the idea that I would do something completely different.

I ended up taking a year off, which gave me time to figure things out. I blew threw my savings and had a "hole" in my resume, but it was totally worth it. For me, it turns out I really did like the work I was doing just not in that particular part of the industry. I decided I wanted to do public equity instead of private equity. That doesn't sound like a big change to an outsider but it is actually a massive change. I still do what I love (researching/analyzing, making investment decisions) but it's in a work environment that suits me. The transition took a few years and some back-tracking, but now I'm where I want to be.

So what I'm saying is...assuming you have a accumulated a couple decent bonuses, you can probably afford to take some time off. There are pitfalls, of course, but I think time away from the job is key to figuring things out.
posted by mullacc at 7:27 PM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Take some time to analyze what you like and dislike about the work. Hone in on those things next time. Hopefully you're making good money and have some time left over to pursue outside interests. I've come to think of career satisfaction as a sort of spiraling inward, rather than a straight line. Don't expect too much too soon and don't be too hard on yourself. Learn and keep your feet moving forward.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:28 PM on April 4, 2012

Also, it sounds like you have a history of expecting to land someplace and, finally, find contentment. But wherever you go, there you are. Jobs, cities, schools, relationships: these things can make marginal differences in your quality of life but they aren't going to fundamentally change who you are or how you feel. Trite though it may be, try to focus on the journey, and the guy/gal making it, not on the destination.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:31 PM on April 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

Ouch, this is rough. For someone who has been looking for a sense of "belonging," it's got to be hard for you to have ended up in a dream profession for some where you're in a position of being the exact opposite of a situation where you belong.

In hindsight, I'd be happier at a tech startup or something. Or in media. Or in the restaurant business. Or would I?

Echoing rtha, you're putting too much emphasis on your job. There are paths out, like using the money and expertise you gain to contribute to another business. Restaurants and tech startups require a lot of capital. You could transition to a position at a venture capital firm where you'd be working closely with tech people. Alternately, you could take a more quantitative route in your finance career and work with super-nerdy people who liked to reverse engineer software but are now building and running financial models and working on high frequency trading systems.

Don't think of yourself as being chained to this job. Think of yourself as a valuable professional building desirable skills and using this job to serve your purposes to find another path. Meanwhile, hang out with restaurateurs and tech entrepreneurs. Honestly, they'll probably want to make you their new best friend.
posted by deanc at 7:38 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

My husband is a nerdy, intellectual, left-wing, non-mainstream person and he worked for an investment bank for a few years. He HATED it. When you asked him why he was so miserable, he said things like, "I hate having to wear a suit" and "I feel like a poser" and "Everyone is really aggressive and goal-oriented" which sound like dumb reasons to quit a job. But they were symptoms of a bad fit.

He quit, was instantly a zillion times happier, and had more respect for himself. He went back into academia, which doesn't sound like it is for you, so I'm not suggesting that. But he knew deep down what he'd rather be doing and he wishes he had done it sooner.

But unlike some people above, I think you should find the next job before quitting this one. No matter how much of a savings cushion you have: unemployment is stressful.
posted by lollusc at 7:47 PM on April 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

You're not in as bad a place as you think. It sounds like you're really a programmer or techie at heart. If you add that with some genuine experience in the finance world, you could have the hottest ticket on Wall Street. (Or, really in finance generally.)

Besides that, I think that a good way to gauge what you would enjoy doing as work is to look at what you enjoy now (or, perhaps enjoyed then), and looking at getting paid for that kind of thing.

Don't be afraid to look around at other opportunities in the mean time, though. It's not the classiest thing in the world to do to leave early, but it's better than the alternative.

Good luck!
posted by Citrus at 7:48 PM on April 4, 2012

If you're in NYC and have any free time, it couldn't hurt to hang out at tech meetups and the like. There's plenty of hipster-nerdoid tech startups here where you can hang out in IRC and reverse engineer software and wear ratty tshirts and sweatpants to the office and make a good solid wage. You'll meet a bunch of people working at those companies, and probably end up finding opportunities for yourself.
posted by akgerber at 7:52 PM on April 4, 2012

Your situation reminded me of this blog post by Cal Newport. Maybe see if it resonates.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:03 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I got The Job of My Dreams but it turned out to be unspectacular and I actually hated the work and the field was completely unstable, etc. etc. However, it's paying the bills until I can get life a little more stable and prepare to make the jump to what I want to try next. Maybe you could explore your passions in your free time, see what you'd really like to do, and use it to pay the bills in the interim?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:31 PM on April 4, 2012

Rather than starting with the job, and belonging there, start with yourself. Make a list of your likes: what you like to wear; what you like to play with or think about currently; what kinds of relationships (collaborative, competitive, creative, independent, etc) you like to have with coworkers; what fields have been interesting to you the longest, aside from infatuation with fads, and so on. Then look at those lists and research what sort of jobs will meet these criteria and preferences, so that when you're there you'll happen to fit in rather than magically belonging. One belongs because one is at the right place, with the right people, doing something that matters to them; it's not like your coworkers are trying to be assholes (probably). It's just what they value happens to not be what you value. So start with what you value and go from there instead.

One interesting thing is really to practice looking at your current environment and figuring out what the culture there values, and how that translates into behavior and the reward/punishment systems in place. So, ok, they wear suits; why? What's the mental framework underlying the importance of formal wear at your workplace? I know you studied economics, but put on your theory hat and get in touch with your inner sociologist for a bit (I know economists at least act like they've got an inner sociologist inside-- I certainly am not prepared to argue otherwise, being an English major).

My guess is that it's seen as important to 'look the part' and/or 'dress to impress'. Why? Probably because of the ritualistic, male-dominated quality of that arena. From what I know of high-powered finance (which isn't a whole lot, and involves Tom Cruise movies), there's quite a bit of chest-puffing, otherwise bluffing, and posturing-turned-networking involved. If you want someone to invest or trade their cash, you want those people to trust you and like, give you money, without, like... having to build intimate relationships and talk about your feelings. So you dress up and pretend you're cool and mature and with it even if you're not, and you go out to drink sake and make small-talk or whatever, because it's not like you're going to bond some other way, probably. So there's likely to be a purpose to it. Now, if you did join a tech start-up, it's not like the culture would suddenly be 100% more 'genuine'-- you may simply feel more at ease 'cause it suits you better to communicate in a different way. Say, geek male culture builds trustworthiness through displays of playfulness and innovation and competence rather than confidence (as such), it seems to me. So you'd get to wear casual clothes to the office because you'd be doing your posturing through unleashing some really killer app which gives you cred, or something. I mean, think about it-- sadly, finance people have no real... product. What is their true purpose and their reason for existence? Are they needed by society? By each other? Really? If yes, it's only because they've created the demand and then provided a supply. Anyway, err... in essence, step back for a sec and think about this, and about yourself.
posted by reenka at 8:31 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had that problem when I worked as a newspaper reporter. I thought I loved it, and for a long time, I did. But then I reached a point where my work wasn't fulfilling anymore, so I applied to a bunch of grad schools, quit my job and basically had no life plan for half a year. I retooled through the grad school process, though, and now I'm doing something I love.

It's OK to reach a goal and decide it's not what you want. What you need to decide is whether to suck it up and put away a nest egg in the meantime, or quit cold turkey and have a financial hole to dig out of. Or try transitioning to a different line of work in the same general field (like the private/public equity suggestion above.)
posted by Happydaz at 8:41 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not a schmuck, many feel the same for different periods. Lots of good suggestions. Do consider non nuclear options like hobbies prior to burning bridges. I'm luck not to have to wear a suit, but on that point, make sure you have a comfortable suit and shirts with a neck size that's right, I realized that some suit time misery was just plain physical discomfort.
posted by sammyo at 8:58 PM on April 4, 2012

There are a lot of people in the world who would think that you're the complete opposite of a schmuck for realizing that working for big finance is unfulfilling.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:18 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's one thing that's helped me when I don't totally enjoy my job. I realize that it's only in the last short while in the history of forever that people have even had the benefit of being able to ask the question, does my job help me feel self-actualized? Because up until the last hundred years or so, people worked to survive and keep their family from starving. Heck, you didn't even have the benefit of choosing your occupation through most of history. You did what your family did, or what your community needed to not die. So, I look for out-of-work opportunities to help me tap into life meaning and enjoyment. My work is simply a means to an end, which I ultimately find outside of the job.

That being said, though, it's probably a good idea to find a job that you enjoy at least a majority of the time, if you can. If you can find your calling through a job, all the better. But, I've come to terms with the fact that I will try to find work that is as enjoyable as possible and matched my life goals as much as possible; but when not, that job doesn't become who I am. It gives me the resources to maximize my happiness as I find value elsewhere. Somehow, this works pretty well for me. It's when I stop finding value outside of my job that the job itself becomes pure drudgery, because it simply becomes a seriously long and boring activity that emphasizes the fact that the rest of my life is going nowhere.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:28 PM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

A background in finance and private equity gives you great experience doing whatever it is you come to the conclusion is for you. The only thing you need to do now is find out what that is.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:16 PM on April 4, 2012

I'm guessing that by working in PE, you get exposure to a lot of different companies and industries. Use your current situation to scout out possible new careers. If you end up working on a project that's particularly interesting, see if that can lead to a job in that particular field. Think of every day at work and every assignment as an opportunity to explore your next move. Plenty of folks in PE make the switch to industry, so you can do it too.
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 1:36 AM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Venture capital? I'm pretty sure you need PE experience to do VC but it's much less stuffy and seems more dynamic. Also, if you are on the east coast you may want to explore west coast firms. Very different culture which may appeal to you.
posted by emkelley at 3:45 AM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is probably not the job for you long-term. It is, however, the job you've got, and it presumably pays pretty darn well. You've got some thinking and planning ahead of you, maybe some school, maybe some time when you're not going to be earning much. Right now, you have a good income and you feel miserable - one way to try to feel better about having a stupid job is to take the money it gives you and throw it around on consolation prizes: having more apartment than you need, eating fancy food, going out all the time, having the bleeding edge everything. Another way to try to feel better is to know that whatever you eventually decide to change to, you'll start getting ready for it right now by building up the biggest savings buffer you possibly can. You don't have to decide right now what it is that you'd rather be doing, you just have to start thinking about it - and you might as well start getting ready for it.
posted by aimedwander at 7:52 AM on April 5, 2012

I'm only going to address the "I hate wearing suits" aspect of your question, which relates to the "I don't belong" question. You have the good fortune to be making a lot of money when you are young and (I presume) free of a lot financial responsibilities other than maybe student loans. So put some (or a lot) of your disposable income into buying really nice suits and dress shirts. Tailor them until they fit perfectly. Then, every time you put one on in the morning, revel in the benefits of fine tailoring and give thanks for your good fortune in being able to afford it.

The benefits of expensive suits:
1. Whether sitting at your desk chair, airplaine seat, or MSG stadium seat, nothing will feel more confortable on your waist, hips and legs than a pair of fine wool, tailored, lined suit pants. Ever notice how the men in a first class flight are often wearing suits? Sure, it may be because they'll be attending a meeting at their destination in their suits, but unless you're going to be wearing pajama bottoms on the plane, expensive suit pants are going to be next most comfortable fabric.
2. A well-made, good-fitting suit will flatter your body shape. You may have problems with the hyper-masculine atmosphere at your bank, but I'm assuming you're not going to object to an outfit that accentuates your shoulders and (when you close your jacket) slims your waist.
3. An expensive suit tells people with an eye for clothing details -- i.e., the bros at your bank -- that you understand and appreciate quality and are committed to living up to the social code of your workplace (which need not be the social code of how you live, as others have pointed out upthread). An expensive suit tells everyone else that someone who makes a lot of money, has an important job, or both, is walking by, and you will be treated accordingly. That doesn't mean you get to be a jerk when wearing a suit, of course, and you wouldn't want to wear your $1,200 suit to an Occupy protest, but if expensive clothes have an effect on people, it's usually in ways favorable to the wearer.
4. Roughly speaking, your Monday to Friday banker's wardrobe will eventually consist of, in category 1: two to four grey suits, two to four blue suits, two to four pinstriped suits; in category 2: 10-15 ties; in category 3: 20 shirts in blue or white that you have made sure fit your neck and sleeve; in category 4: two to four captoes or wingtips. Pick one from each category. Don't forget an undershirt, black belt, and dark socks. There. You never have to wonder what to wear again. On weekends you wear sweatpants.
5. If your past life makes you feel like an imposter or out of place with the preppies and frat boys, an expensive suit will help you fit in, build confidence, or at the very least, remove one area of insecurity.

A fine suit is a luxury not available to a lot of people. There are almost certainly better things to spend your money on. But you have the extra money and are expected to spend at lot on clothes. So you should consider a nice, well-tailored suit -- the pinnacle of 10,000 years of clothesmaking that flatters your form, ensures your comfort, simplifies your clothing choices, and enhances the image you need to project from M-F, 8-8 -- to be one of the benefits of your job, albeit one you have to pay out-of-pocket for.

Anyway, once you get to work, you take off your suit jacket, right? Maybe also roll up your shirtsleeves, and loosen your collar? So at that point, you're just left wearing comfortable pants and a button-down shirt. How is that different from any other work outfit?

Then, after you quit your bank, and have navigated the daily stress and uncertainty of putting together a biz casual outfit, you can pick out one of your old suits to wear to a wedding, confident that you'll be one of the best dressed people there, and await the compliments from the bridesmaids, "Hey, Anonymous, you look great."
posted by hhc5 at 9:20 AM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

You said in your post that you didn't have friends in high school and resolved to change that in college and then got sucked into the whirlwind of finance... did you also improve your social life? I'm just wondering what you do in the rest of your time and whether making that part of your life more fulfilling might not be a good place to start as you try to figure out what other career you might like.
posted by sumiami at 8:36 PM on April 5, 2012

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