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Monday, 3 March 2008

Is a banking career worth the sacrifice?

Are long hours, high pressure and bonus obsession worth it? The premature death of a close relative has helped one ex-banker put things into perspective.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions about my recent life. My cousin, one of my best friends and more akin to a sister than a cousin, died two weeks ago at just 42. A life tragically cut short, suddenly one sunny January Monday morning. She leaves behind a husband, two young toddlers who don’t understand what has happened and will not remember their mother, and a wealth of grief compounded by legal and tax hell.

For 15 years I worked hard in the City. I was obsessed with doing a good job, working long hours, winning mandates, getting paid and promoted. It was exciting to be a 'name' in the market and to be cited in the financial press. It gave me a buzz.

The accolades of my clients and colleagues were crystallized in a year-end review and bonus number. I felt worthy.

My firm had a genuine commitment to work-life balance, and as an MD, I was encouraged to promote it. But for most of my career, I didn’t really follow it myself. Many of the people I worked with were the same: we thrived in the high pressure environment. I had an adrenaline rush from going to work, wrapped up in the excitement of doing deals.

My friends stopped calling me as I was never available (or if I did make plans I generally had to change them), my husband was fed up with the phone ringing in the middle of the night, and at me for constantly focusing on my Blackberry. I didn’t care; I was seduced by my work. I was ensconced in my own bubble.

These days, I think about my cousin, her children and husband constantly. The things I could have said and done. How often I blew her off because I had to work, how often I forgot to call back, called her back with my mind on other things, didn’t go to see her, was critical of her. I can’t sleep.

I quit work 18 months ago to spend time with my family, to change my life, to get to know my children, to reconnect with my husband, to have a life. Yes, we have less money than before – we have gone from two incomes to one. But we are happier. The stress has dissipated. My husband and I have a normal relationship. Our children know both their parents. It was the right decision. My life has moved on. I wish I could have shared it with my cousin for longer.

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