I Went From Working At A Hedge Fund To Becoming A World Traveler

Flickr / Felix Montino
Flickr / Felix Montino

I was at the pinnacle of the financial world – when trading was out of the picture.
People talk about trading all the time, but this is the journey of being in the finance industry, and doing anything but that.

Dunked into the financial world fresh out of college, you could say I was very blessed. Hardly knowing the struggle of looking for a job first hand, being relatively affable, and fortunate enough to have angels take me under their wings of tutelage — I had it easy.

In under two years, I had moved from a sell-side European bank to one of the biggest, fastest growing local hedge funds. Everyone either wanted to know how I got the job, or whose coattails did I ride in on. There had to be some form of underground connection — there always was.
However, I later realized it was secondary as to what I actually did in the fund. For all they cared, I could be the newest coffee girl. All that mattered was that I was in.

The sell-side was where everyone wanted to be. It was as though we were royalty. Banks courted you, and people wanted to know about your business. Back then, still labelled as “up-and-coming,” having a website wasn’t at the top of the priority list, effectively rendering Google searches rather futile.

Everything was by and large, word of mouth. Things escalated quickly both for the fund’s business and all our careers. Having to do everything and anything necessary for purposes of smooth day-to-day operations, we took the coveted terms problem-solver and team-player to the next level. With everyone batting for the same team, led by charismatic yet ridiculously down-to-earth bosses, it was easy to love coming to work.

In any organization, there were bound to be people coming and going at any point. But this one was different; priding itself on the extremely low turnover. I was not used to this, and was highly intrigued. Everyone genuinely loved working and that was something I did not see in banks. There, majority of the zombie-drone crowd who marched to various offices wore dull, lifeless glazed expressions from Monday to Thursday, only gaining tiny sparks of life come lunch time on Fridays.
However, here it was common to work 12 hour days yet people still found it in themselves to carry a spring in their step to work, met with choruses of cheery good mornings when you walk through the doors.

There had to be something special.

And there was, without a doubt. A glow that illuminated a good five years before the winds of change and institutionalization swooped in. We doubled, tripled, even quadrupled in strength, which was a good sign by any companies’ standards. But with each change in policy and standard, also came changes of culture, loyalty and questioned sanity.

The partners were living their dream, for sure. Owning a fund definitely ranks high on the list of “Dreams Every Trader Has,” but what about the rest? What about my dreams?

Is this it, the life I will lead for the next 10 years? Was my 20s destined to be slave to the hundreds of emails I get a day? It was a niggling thought at first, swiftly brushed aside by more pressing concerns of the work day. But soon, I had more and more chasms of time to entertain that potential destiny. Not because I had lesser work to get done or fewer emails to attend to. I had the same, if not more. It was just that I had gotten so effective at processing them that everything soon turned to auto-pilot.

We were flying at 35,000 feet on cruise control.

I was 26, barely achieving anything in life apart from joining a successful hedge fund.

With my new found pockets of time I’d found for myself, I wondered what it would be like if I was somewhere out there in the world pursuing what I was truly happy doing.

Travel the world, and write about it – that was the romanticized notion of my dream job. I didn’t even dare to say it out loud or share it with anyone because it just sounded ludicrous. Traveling to exotic locations for holidays was for people who had earned it, after slogging through the better part of the year, and their lives. Not for twenty-something dreamers living out of a backpack.

“Do something useful with your life. Work hard now, reap the fruits of your labor later,”/i> was a notion my Asian parents have always inculcated. Also true to my roots, nowhere did it say, “Follow your dreams, do something you love.” That only existed in fairytales.

So after some months spent vacillating between quitting my cushy day job as a modern day minion in a successful hedge fund and living out my dream, I came to a decision by drafting out a final day email (which I would later use after some edits) to my colleagues with all the reasons I had to leave. I loved writing – I always did; and the words came easy, sincerely, yet laced with sarcasm that was slightly politically incorrect, but executed with brutal honesty – the one thing that never wavered in my former company till this day.

That sealed the deal. It was everything I felt, combined with my penchant for travel and somewhat youthful ignorance. I had nothing to lose. With the youth to start over should I fail, and the energy and bravado to take on the world, it was now or never – and I chose the now.

My table was cleared out, and my backpack half-filled. The coming months presented itself as an empty canvas. I was free to dream, free to live them out every single day and free to go to bed dreaming. Sometimes, it feels absolutely unreal, and other times, it feels as though I am carrying the weight of everyone else’s unfulfilled youthful regrets. Setting out to accomplish the things that they themselves deemed would be, one-days and maybes, but never got around to doing.

And to them I say, it’s still not too late – maybe those dreams need a little editing, a little coaxing and restoring, but they still can blossom, if you give just them the room to grow. TC mark

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