The London Paper – 3 Dec 2007
‘The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very, very brightly’ said I to my colleague, who was claiming that he was going to have to leave the City because he couldn’t take the pace any more. OK, quoting Blade Runner may not have been the most mature response to a mate making a heart-felt complaint about how he felt ‘burnt out’ but it was too good an opportunity to miss and such is my emotional retardation that he should have expected nothing less. Anyway, he managed to come back with another Blade Runner quote, ‘I want more life, f*&ker!’ which suggests he wasn’t too low.
Burn-out in the City is an occupational hazard. It is not just a cliché that this is a young man’s game. The terrible thing is that my chum is only 38, a few years older than me. The simple fact is that our jobs entail hideously long hours, sleep-deprivation, stress, rich food, booze and, increasingly I’ve noticed, the devil’s dandruff. It’s no wonder most Cityboys feel drained and mad as a box of frogs after a decade or two of doing the pointless crap that we do. I’ve seen some fat, corpulent, red-faced, bleary-eyed jokers in my time … and that’s not just in the bathroom mirror.
This particular pal claimed, over a couple of pints of wife-beater, that he was seriously considering leaving the City after January’s bonus. He was somewhat taken aback when I reminded him that we had had exactly the same morose conversation around this time last year and the year before that. The fact is that we in the City love to pretend that we’ll retire around 35 and then do something creative or worthwhile but we’re constantly trapped by a lack of alternatives and the vast amounts of wedge those nasty bosses keep throwing at us at the end of the year. We’re like old bank robbers who stay on to do ‘just one last job’ but never actually give up because we’re addicted to the buzz, the money, the lifestyle. The problem is we all know how those gangster films end … and it ain’t with the doomed robber coming to his senses and buying a little holiday home in Wiltshire for him and the missus.
It is a common-place tragedy that we Cityboys throw away the best years of our lives and destroy our health whilst creating fantasies about what we’ll do once we retire. Before you know it you’re forty five with two divorces under your belt and obliged to keep working in this terrible industry for little Tarquin and Henrietta’s school fees and the ex-wives’ alimony. Next year when my mate repeats his age-old complaint I’m going to tell him to put his money where is mouth is and actually call it a day… that is, on the off chance I’m still doing this God-awful job.