This is me. A photo taken in December 2022 at an outdoor cafe. Yes, I look happy. Because I am. Relaxed and in the company of friends, it was a very enjoyable lunch and conversation. It feels very different from where I was a year ago.
In Dec 2021 I was not happy. I was recovering from type 2 diabetes which was diagnosed in May 2021, and had been on months of medication, side effects of which were poor sleep and headaches. I had to endure those because I needed to continue to reduce my blood sugar. I was also under extreme stress at work. I was unable to help my stressed out team because I could not even help myself. Every day I felt like I was drowning, and there was no help to be found anywhere. The situation was relentless. I was working 70 - 80 hour weeks for months including nights and weekends and it still wasn't enough. Every Sunday I would lie awake with anxiety at what new crises would happen the next day and I felt completely hopeless.
So, what happened?
By January of this year I became determined to change jobs. The internal transfer was not handled well, and that convinced me that I needed to change companies as well. I enjoyed my time in cloud technology but it turned out to be every bit as volatile as investment banking, and for many of the same reasons. I worried that at my age (55) despite my experience and skills I would struggle to find a good (enough) job, as I had in 2010 after I left JP Morgan.
Fortunately, I was quickly able to find a great role in a buy-side asset management company's international sales department, leading a young and diverse team of developers, designers and UI specialists. My background in finance (albeit sell-side) and technology has been useful, as has my fluency in Japanese. I am doing good work and my work is being highly appreciated across the firm.
I learned a few very important lessons.
1) Sometimes what didn't really work out for you really worked out for you. Read that again.
Leaving the comfort and safety of Thomson Reuters (now part of LSEG) for "The Cloud" in 2016 was a very difficult choice to make. My current employer will make my 4th job in 6 years. Changing jobs is extremely painful and emotionally draining, and learning cloud solutions in my late 40s did not come easily. I had to invest a huge amount of time and energy on topics that others probably intuitively understood. However, if I had not gone through those tough times I might not have developed the important skills and understanding I need now to create the right solutions for my current employer. I met so many fantastic people and (hopefully) will keep and deepen my relationships in the future by being a good customer. If I had it to do over again, I would have had to choose the same course of events. As stressful as it was, it brought me to where I am now.
2) Prioritize Your Mental Health and Balance above all else
We often talk about the need for balance. This can be described as work/life balance but also as the "Holy Trinity" of mental/physical/emotional well-being that is the key to longevity. In my case, the high stress and anxiety led me to emotional and mental instability which ultimately contributed to my health issues. My poor health had knock-on negative effects on my mental and emotional health in a downward spiral that ended up out of control. In retrospect, I think emotional health was the most important factor to get right first. My happiness would have minimized my physical impact. Even working hard, if I had not been so stressed out/feeling hopeless constantly I think I would still have slept well, eaten better and found time to get more exercise. Many people can maintain a positive outlook even when they are not feeling 100%, but I think feeling despair will naturally disrupt mental and physical elements as well. No job, no career is worth jeopardizing any of the three factors and I am grateful I found another option before my conditions got worse. I felt that as a survivor of so many hardships, and a martial arts instructor as well, I would be largely immune from the effects of stress and anxiety on my mental/physical/emotional health. I was very painfully proven wrong.
3) There is ALWAYS something you can do - but you need courage (and to let go of your ego)
As my situation deteriorated, I felt more and more helpless. I worked harder and harder, longer and longer, believing that I could work my way out of the negative spiral I was caught inside. I believed that if I got myself into a situation, any situation, I could get myself out. I told myself to "Man Up" and convinced myself I would do whatever I had to do to provide for my family, even die if necessary. I would have preferred to die than to fail, or so I thought. My family staged an intervention. It happened when my wife brought me dinner to my little room one night and told me that whenever she knocked on the door she worried that she would find me collapsed dead at my desk. She was very serious.
As a family, we spoke about it and they reassured me that this was not the way. I shouldn't risk my life for my job, any job, and that whatever changes I needed to make they would support me 100%. I made up my mind to get better. That would mean making changes. Major changes. It would also mean facing my fear of failure and letting go of my ego - stop trying to fight a battle I knew in my heart I could not win. I had to also stop worrying about what others would think of my many frequent changes - whether or not my bosses, my co-workers, my team or anyone else would judge me for throwing in the towel and quitting.
I had to believe that in the end, those who were meant to be my friends, those who really cared about me, would understand why I needed to do what I did. That is exactly what happened.
Far too many people fail to find alternatives to bad situations, or feel too trapped to make other, better choices. They worry too much about being judged or are too afraid of change. Far too many people fail to get the support they need or the mental health care they deserve. The truth is - it's never too late to make a positive change and a wait-and-see approach generally only makes matters worse.
4) FUCK COVID
Yes, I said it. We've all been thinking it. This horrible disease has taken so much from so many, devastated families and workplaces, and even fundamentally changed the nature of work forever (hopefully for the better). I cannot and will not blame COVID for everything, but in my case it made a bad situation worse and added so much additional stress to an already challenging and difficult situation. During COVID, we were prevented from seeing each other, prevented from seeing customers or friends and this led to terrible feelings of workplace loneliness and isolation. Every day was a poor carbon copy of the day before - 10 or 12 hours of back-to-back Zoom calls and desperately trying to get a bathroom break in-between. No time for "actual" work and no way to build the all-important relationships that make work worthwhile at all. Everyone tried to make up for it with ergonomic chairs and virtual happy hours but they were all poor substitutes for actual face-to-face human interaction. I was miserable and COVID was a big part of that. No, the time of COVID is not quite over, but the world is finally moving on. One day all of this will be nothing more than a bad memory as we all mourn what we have lost and the high price that has been paid by everyone worldwide.
Happiness is not automatic or guaranteed. Part of knowing what it is comes from experiencing what it is not. 2022 has had its fair share of challenges, but I am very grateful to end the year in a far better place than where I started it.
I wish all of you a safe closing of the books on 2022 and all the very best in 2023.