Flipping The Script
How Chasing Prestige Hijacked My Identity
I truly loved my first job out of college. For an entry-level analyst at a Bay Area mutual fund company, the work was tedious, the hours long, and the pay—well, let’s say I was grateful someone hired me right out of school. But the people were fun and building a network of clients who valued my contributions fostered a deep sense of connection. I was perfectly content.
A year later my wife landed a sexy investment banking gig that paid four times what I was making. Soon I had a view into a San Francisco subculture where 20-somethings made half a million dollars a year, flew around on private jets and raced ridiculously expensive cars at 2pm through the Broadway tunnel.
Helping big companies move money around didn’t particularly interest me. But I had caught the scent of something alluring—prestige—and the outsized paycheck appealed to my middle-class roots. I quickly networked my way into a seat on an institutional equity sales desk at a prominent investment bank, pitching stock ideas to hedge funds.
The long hours at this new job were predictably the same, but I quickly discovered that the people—with few exceptions—were quite different. They appeared to care only for accumulating money, particularly, it seemed, at the expense of the individuals who sat next to them for 12 hours every day.
Everything about this new environment felt alien to my values and my sense of self. I struggled to create the connection I valued so much. But I felt fortunate to have landed a seat in this coveted field, and I was surrounded by accomplished, wealthy people. Prestigious people. I stayed.
A daily conflict began quaking deep inside of me. My body felt dense and lethargic as I reached for that seat each morning, and the amount of mental coercion required to will myself into work left me feeling more fatigued with each passing month. Soon the conflict was vibrating into other areas of my life, as I struggled to engage hobbies and social interactions. My sleep suffered, as did my diet.
Then one morning I woke to the realization that this was the life I was creating for myself. My body was sending clear messages about the way I was using it, and immediate relief required merely letting go. I walked into work an hour later, quietly quit, and left the building. The shaking stopped.
I would love to say that I celebrated this exit as a personal victory, followed by a return to work rich in meaning. Instead, I convinced myself it would be a waste to walk away from the knowledge and connections I had accumulated. Success was still within reach; I needed only to stretch a little taller to grasp it.
What followed was a series of corporate access consulting ventures, introducing the CEOs of foreign corporations to deep-pocketed investors. Soon I was becoming a successful “Founder” in International Finance. Helping those big companies move money around still didn’t interest me, but I felt a strengthening connection to the prestige I had first chased into banking.
A curious pattern emerged: I would partner with a salesperson to place my services, train up my employees to run the business for me, and then slowly extricate myself from the daily operations. I convinced myself that I was building "4-Hour Work Week” businesses. My growing indifference to each business would in time sour my partnerships, and that familiar quaking would return. I would simply walk away from the company, and for a time the shaking would again subside.
Every exit offered a new opportunity to turn toward more meaningful work. I would instead launch yet another firm, and start the cycle all over again. At the time I thought I was terribly clever, and my life felt pretty darn enviable.
But the closer I came to success, the more I felt uprooted and detached from…me, somehow. I was irritable. My sleep again deteriorated, now to the point that I would simply jump on my bike at 3am instead of suffering in bed. I was progressively offloading my growing discontent onto my family, crowding resentments, elongated silences and passive-aggressions into the spaces where care and courtesy had once lived. There were no more rumblings now. Something had broken loose.
By my fourth venture, I didn’t even want to start another company, but this awareness couldn’t prevent me from doing it anyway. Madness. With a herculean effort I built the most impressive offering yet, I again found a partner to sell it, and I again hired an employee to do my job.
I was exhausted. I felt so removed from who I had been when creating deep meaning in work mattered more than status or fortune. I envied the ease and simplicity of that starter job. I missed the sense of contribution and connection. Those values and sense of self that felt so threatened at the investment bank had slowly faded along with any signs of inner resistance. The script had hijacked my identity.
I began to understand that my behavioral patterns—placing partners and employees between me and my businesses, the sabotage of my abrupt exits, the reinventions—were all symptoms of my body unskillfully struggling to break free of the script. All along it had been resisting, providing clear signals that I was stretching too far from my foundation.
For the first time in years I turned my focus inward for direction. I searched the few times in my career when I had experienced joy and thriving. It was always when I advocated for someone else. My sense of contribution and connection had in fact survived, I came to see, in my friendships; in the intense interest I took in the aspirations and well-being of others; in the strong bonds I had cultivated with my employees over the years.
With some help I searched deeper, to what my father had taught me about putting people first in business. I dug further still, into my heritage and the powerful example of service and contribution set by my grandfathers. There I rediscovered something: an inherent personal value, derived not from who I was in the world, but from how I was in it.
I remembered that people were what mattered most to me. I remembered that, like my father and grandfathers before me, I had a natural gift for connecting deeply with others in a way that made life richer, for them and me. I had lost sight of that.
At first, I didn’t know what to do with this remembering. But it was clear to me that until I filled my days with activities more deeply rooted in my values, the momentum of the script would continue to keep me off the ground. Knowing I was stuck was not enough; I needed to physically change my behavior.
I began pouring my energy into others. I sat, I listened, I asked questions. I showed up—really showed up—for as many people as I could, every day, in whatever capacity was asked of me. It felt natural, easy. It felt really good.
And change came quickly. I was light and effortless in my body for the first time in years, yet also deeply grounded. Within a few weeks I was sleeping long, full nights again. Soon that craving for prestige simply fell away, along with the script. I discovered a fresh connection to my family, along with a strong sense of purpose through serving others. Peace returned.
In 2018 I let go of my career for good. My days are now spent helping individuals reconnect to the best parts of themselves, so they too can experience greater meaning through sharing their natural gifts with their families, friends and colleagues. The hours are long, and the pay—well, let’s say I am grateful that my clients let me into their inner worlds. But the people are fun, and building a network of clients who value my contribution fosters a deep sense of connection. I am perfectly content.
Scripts are strong social currents that quietly consume us with feelings of lack and inadequacy. They are most powerful when they blow gently, steadily nudging us away from what matters most. What scripts are circulating in your life? Are you feeling stuck? Turn your attention inward and start digging. Something powerful is waiting there to be rediscovered. You.