Escaping the Hamster Wheel

Saturday 29 March 2014
CATEGORY: Lifelesson
TAGS: Mindset

Its 365 days since I packed my huge duffels and headed with tons of kit to Kathmandu – the aim: climbing the highest mountain in the world. As I see some of my friends returning to the mountain, I cannot help but look back and reflect on what all has changed in my life since I handed in my Blackberry and my work access card a mere twelve months ago. The day I left the IB industry behind a friend sent me the following email:

And right he was – for years I had been benchmarking myself against people, whose success, value and happiness was to a large extent defined by the size of your $ bonus. Every year in January I would hear ”Produce more!” and “you are already behind the budget”. Half the year we would spend speculating whether bonus figures would be up or down and who would be promoted. The main aim was to extract as much value from clients as possible, sometimes with doubtful long term benefits (CDO cube, TARNs, snowballs and Barrier Reverse Convertible anybody?). When I started in London a decade earlier my intention was never to become MD, Partner or whatever – I didn’t even know what an investment bank was doing. I was seduced by an opportunity in a  foreign country and earning a multiple of my dad at age 23 didn’t hurt the ego either…. However as I moved along the benchmark, the bar to quit seemed to be continuously rising too. That imaginary figure upon which I would leave my job, leave finance and do all the stuff i never had time for seemed to increase with every year… it was always at least one more bonus away.
Don’t get me wrong – I loved it. I enjoyed the dealmaking, the fast pace, the smart people and obviously the $. The good thing about a hamster wheel is, as long as as you are in it, and it is turning fast you don’t even realize that you do not go anywhere – you just enjoy the ride…fast, faster!!
The last twelve months have offered me the opportunity to look outside that wheel – to see where the hamster can go without the cage.
Yes, I had some amazing adventures that brought me half way around the world and to wonderful places ( I am just about to put a best of list together – don’t get jealous:) . I had experiences which clearly tested my limits but also brought me back to what really counts in life.
Sitting for weeks and weeks in Everest Base Camp or staring into the never ending night sky sailing across the Atlantic and thousands  of miles away from land, I had a lot of time to reflect:
I managed to spend more time (and especially quality time) with my family and close friends than all the years before,  I met amazing people and made wonderful new friends that I probably never would have met.
But most of all I had and have the chance to give back: Be it working with orphan kids in Kenya, building toilets in Nepal or helping epileptics in Hong Kong.
In the end it was these adventures that were the spark that lead me to break out and re-set my benchmark. When I received some phone calls this Jan from ex-colleagues complaining that they were paid “down”, although their colleagues were “up” – I could only smile. My only advice was: Get real! I have also long since stopped getting upset that email replies from my old colleagues always take weeks – they are way too busy (making lots of $) and also honestly (homo economicus talking:) conversations with me are probably not directly related to the size of the year end payoff.
Three weeks ago I visited my former work place on Fleet Street in London for the first time since I left the corporate world. Within thirty minutes several former colleagues, how they admired me and that they wished they could do it too – leave the corporate treadmill behind… so why can’t they?
It seems all the money has created a universe that requires you to stay employed just  because your luxury BMW or Aston Martin, your 1500sqft house and your kids at elite private schools are the things to have… well, caught in a golden cage!
This week I had the pleasure to be involved with the launch of a new project – The aim is to allow people with a passion for luxury to share, support grassroots charities and make a positive difference to our community. Already it has connected me to some amazing people, my learning curve is as steep as ever (well definitely way steeper than the last 5 years in my previous field of work) and i am convinced its going to be a great success.
All these thoughts are probably influenced by my talk next week at an upcoming TED conference with the topic: the Power of Change. I can only speak for myself: Change was and is something great, and while it might not have made me a better person it definitely has made me a happier one!
What do most people say on their deathbed? They don’t say, ‘I wish I’d made more money.’ What they say is, ‘I wish I’d spent more time with my family and done more for society or my community.’


(i like that quote, despite or maybe because it is from a “super-capitalist”)

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