The London Paper – 12 Dec 2008
Whoever builds his life on reality, on material things, on success … builds it on sand.” Whilst it’s rare that I find myself quoting the Pope I couldn’t agree more with this view that he expressed a couple of months ago – especially in the context of City boys who often base their confidence on the foundations represented by their career.
There is something peculiar in the City boy psyche that makes being fired perhaps even more difficult to deal with than in other professions. It’s not just about the loss of earnings, the loss of bonus, or the share options that are no longer worth anything anyway. It’s something psychological that hits you, too. Because City boys can’t help but view the loss of their job as a direct judgment on their own inadequacies. Let me explain.
City boys tend to believe that competitive markets, be it the stock market or the job market, are relatively ‘efficient’ e.g. they ultimately reflect the true value of an asset. This was a very comforting thought when the good times rolled and you’d just received a million pound bonus, because it suggested that you were ‘worth’ about 40 times as much to the economy as the average British worker (who earns around £25K).
However, losing your City job can suggest that in fact you are a two-bit loser who has singularly failed to prove to ‘the market’ what a talented, worthwhile human being you are. This is, of course, is utter balderdash because smart, hard-working people can be made redundant when a hastily-implemented and relatively indiscriminate job cull takes place. However, the recently fired City boys I have spoken to have taken their dismissal as a hideously critical judgment on their talent and, hence, have found it very hard to come to terms with.
When I met two recently-sacked former old muckers for a drink, both seemed to have lost their once staggering confidence and were stuck in a state of deep introspection. Their newly acquired free time, something they weren’t used to, had allowed them to ruminate endlessly on the loss of their job that had afforded them their status and to some extent had defined who they were. When I tried to soothe their frayed nerves over a glass of Gavi de Gavi by telling them that Credit Crunch job culls can take anyone down they simply pointed to colleagues who had been spared as proof of their own failings.
It was a terrible sight to behold but I understood their perspective because as a stockbroker I too had viewed my bonus as a ruler that I would use to measure whether I was truly a big swinging dick. It was the macho, competitive world of broking that instilled in us the idea that our bonuses and our jobs were the most important measures of our well-being. So next time you read about job cuts in the City and think “Oh they don’t have it as bad as some,” remember that City boys have feelings too.