Since it’s been awhile since I’ve posted (to be explained) … first, a recap.
The Old Job
I ended 2017 as one of the top three portfolio managers out of ~20. When the calendar turned to 2018, so did my returns. As a housing stock analyst, I was caught completely off-sides (more longs than shorts) when interest rates spiked in January of 2018. My portfolio took a huge hit and I struggled to get my book back up despite working my tail off.
The Inciting Incident
One mid-August day, I came to work and was immediately pulled into a conference room by the group head. The minute he asked if “he could speak with me” … I knew I was dead. An hour later, literally with banker box in hand, I was headed home on the subway. Although I sensed that I was on thin ice, I had not realized just how thin.
The Initial Impact – Shock and Denial
Shock melted into denial. “Things would be ok, I’ll find something else – worst case, by end of year”. I told myself this over and over and over (see early blog posts). I exercised a lot to kill the stress. On the positive, I got to finally spend more time with family and generally catching up on life. Through labor day wasn’t too bad. I even scored a handful of interviews through some early networking. I learned from this stage to acknowledge the emotion and to stop debating and defending. I came to turns with what happened and explored why it happened. I was learning a few new things about myself. Biggest tip: don’t enter conversations blaming your old work for why you were fired – no one cares and it makes you look insecure and petty.
The Next Wave – Anger and Bargaining
By mid-September or so, the anger set in. I couldn’t help but focus a lot on observing others. Everyone else was doing well … working … happy … making lots of money … on a fast track … successful. My wife began to get enough of the constant negativity. Some friends began completely avoiding me and others relished in my bad luck. I constantly felt like punching a hole in the wall. I learned from this stage that envy was probably my most destructive vice. Like Warren Buffett preaches, “its really the internal scorecard that matters”. Initially I avoided others but gradually I began reproaching outsiders for comfort. Biggest tip: in these “Chainsaw Massacre” times, learn to be open and honest with others. As shamed as you feel, just be honest with yourself and to others. This stage sucks.
Elevator Continues Down – Depression and Grief
By the end of October, my anger transformed into depression. It was hard waking up in the mornings. The cold and darkness outside also transcended into my inner soul. I tried to distract myself with work but it just didn’t help. I’d get stuck in a mental circular reference thinking to myself repeatedly “what’s the sense”. I knew I was acting the victim but I couldn’t help it. I was absolutely stuck in the mud. Biggest tip: focus on all the good things you have both internally and externally. Focus on the future and making it better than the past. Grab onto the hope when it comes and try your best to push away the despair. This stage sucks even worse than the last.
Elevator Doors Suddenly Open – Testing and Acceptance
In mid-November, feeling absolutely stuck, an old friend called and threw me a life line. His neighbor was lead counsel for a large building products company – one that I had covered in the past. The neighbor brought up that they were discontinuing a couple small non-core businesses. Too small for my friend, he thought of me and connected me with the opportunity. This is how letting everyone know you are unemployed helps.
I began work on this project beginning on November 15th. It was a hard assignment to lock down and the situation was messy – negative EBITDA financials, accounting misstatements, no support for the assignment as a whole from above. My chances were low to make this into anything. Having nothing to lose, I took my best shot.
In a nutshell, from November 15th of last year until last Friday (April 5th), I traveled to the Midwest almost every week. I spent a lot of time at the plants and at the headquarters. The project brought me to remote parts of our country and, importantly, back home.
My parents live only ~20 miles from the main headquarters. God’s hand at work … this assignment allowed my mid-40’s self to basically “live back home” from Sunday night through Thursday night every week. I spent a lot of time with my parents. Additionally, I was able to spend time with a few old good friends and relatives. Some of these relationships have now improved back to the point where they used to be. Additionally, I made a couple new relationships with fantastic people who I met through the assignment. I’ll write about one in particular in more detail on a future post.
Importantly, spending so much time in the Midwest allowed me to take a really long walk back through memory lane. From cleaning out my old bedroom to having a “one last night” hoping around the old haunts with my ol’ buddy, I was able to think back through all of the stages of my life as a whole. I remembered the good times and I was reminded about the bad. I began to rediscover the series of people and events that collectively make up who I am today. It was a reminder about where I’ve come from and where I’ve gone.
The assignment paid well. I received a monthly fee that more than made up for both my last salary and my last benefits package. It gave me flexibility to drive off the beaten path and take the route less traveled pretty much whenever and wherever I wanted. With money coming in, my anxiety decreased and I was able to focus on both the job at hand and on my parallel trip of self-discovery.
Today, we will close on the final transaction. A brand-name competitor will be purchasing a large portion of the non-core entities that I was tasked with selling. For those who followed my posts to this point, you’ll notice how the assignment came close to falling off the rails at the very beginning of the year. I said “fuck that”, jumped in a plane and I saved it. By saving the assignment, I likely also saved about 30 jobs. After just six weeks, the company was ready to throw in the towel. As part of my self-discovery, I learned not to give up to easily. I fought and in the end I won.
This project also gave me a five month sneak preview of entrepreneurship and of what it would be like to work internally in the business development and strategy groups of a major company – the route that many ex-bankers and consultants take. I’ll go into detail on a late post, but as for now, I’d just say that I loved the entrepreneurial aspects of this endeavor and could never see myself working corporate. The politics and stress just don’t seem worth the somewhat steady pay. I saw that the same issues that I found on Wall Street are really everywhere – just in better disguise.
In all, I spent the cold dark winter battling and I won. I beat depression. I beat my thoughts that I was not good enough. I beat my worries about entrepreneurship. I padded my bank account and, in six months, made ~1.5x what I was making for a full year of bull shit as a hedge fund PM. My confidence is back. It’s 75 degrees out and spring has indeed sprung. As Chauncey Gardiner, the main character in Jerzy Kosinski’s classic novel, “Being There.”, says “There will be growth in the spring!”
President “Bobby”: Mr. Gardner, do you agree with Ben, or do you think that we can stimulate growth through temporary incentives?
Chance: As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.
President “Bobby”: In the garden.
Chance: Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.
President “Bobby”: Spring and summer.
President “Bobby”: Then fall and winter.
Benjamin Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we’re upset by the seasons of our economy.
Chance: Yes! There will be growth in the spring!
Benjamin Rand: Hmm!
President “Bobby”: Hm. Well, Mr. Gardner, I must admit that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I’ve heard in a very, very long time. … I admire your good, solid sense. That’s precisely what we lack on Capitol Hill.
Now that the deal is wrapped up, its “back to go”. I could be depressed and think “jeez, no prospects ahead, yikes, how will I ever work again?”. Instead, I’m going to try keeping the momentum rolling and see what I can do to keep extending this successful period. Hopefully, I’ll discover a way to do so in a more permanent manner.
For the next five weeks though, I’m gong to take a break. I’ve worked my butt off for months and have pretty much reached exhaustion. The one downside to this deal is that it took me away from my wife and boy A LOT. For the next few weeks, I’m going to re-visit cleaning everything up – from my finances and investments to my actual dwellings (things got pretty messy). Then, I’m bringing my family on a nice vacation for two weeks. When I get back … then it’s officially “go time”.