Beware of Goldman workhorses, deferred gratification is the worst thing


I had to recheck that there are 100 hours per week. In widespread statements to their employer, the young bankers of Goldman Sachs claims to spend about the same amount of time at work. Their woes (“my anxiety levels are through the roof”) wouldn’t move an Engels. There will be no treaty on The State of the Forex Class in Moorgate. Yet for those of us who have achieved what you might call a life-life balance, these testimonies of hard work could be dispatches from Mars.

Yes, the graduates knew about the deal when they joined, but the call for free will is an argument against almost all labor standards. Nine-year-old Victorian chimney sweeps knew the business. As for all the talk about the forge of characters, about toughening up in combat: to what end exactly? The point of a corporate career arc is for work to become more strategic, less hectic over time. Early hazing shouldn’t be made off as some sort of spartan agoge.

Without the effort, I could argue against hard work all day, even if it makes you want to argue against abstinence from peace in 1913. If artificial intelligence keeps its promise, the bankers, but also the staff from Amazon, the precariat of Uber and other burdens – the carriers of the day will be relieved in due course, as almost all of us will. How to find meaning in leisure will then become the predicament of mankind.

Until then, graduates, courted by banks and the like, might not blame a pointer or two from the generation above. Mine is to think very seriously before trading the reality of the current difficulties for theoretical joys down the line.

The aging process – as I have experienced it, as I have observed it with friends – has convinced me of one thing above all. Deferring gratification is the easiest mistake in life to make. And by definition among the least reversible. A leisure unit is not worth as much in late or even middle age as it is in your twenties. To put it in Goldman-ese, young people should discount the future more strongly than the prevailing sentiment suggests.

The first reason should be obvious enough, at least after the past 12 months. There’s no guarantee you’ll be there to savor some hard-earned loot. The career logic of an investment banker (or business lawyer, or junior doctor) assumes a normal lifespan, or so. And while the much shorter one is actuarial improbability, an outright physical downfall in the mid-thirties is almost certain. Drinking, sex, and travel are some of the pleasures that call for energies that peak exactly when graduate bankers squander them at work.

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Then there is the real obstacle to the pleasure of quarantine: the increase in dependents and responsibilities. Some (spouses, children) can be excluded, according to preferences. Others (disabled parents) are a matter of luck. Taken together, even a 30-something can be circumscribed in a way her slightly younger self would have been hard pressed to anticipate. What emerges from contemporaries who have taken the 100-hour-a-week route is the gap between their economic power to enjoy life and their actual freedom to do so. They don’t even have a trove of boisterous consolation memories.

Of course, it is possible for a junior banker to live a long life, not slow down a bit, and avoid all personal commitments and burdens in the market. But even that leaves a final barrier, more mental than material, between them and middle-aged El Dorado.

Enjoyment of life is a skill. The idea that it can be lit after decades at the grindstone underestimates the strength of human habit. Thinking of the retired or semi-retired draft horses that I know is to say how structured and deliberate their recreations tend to be. The adventure of wine, competitive sailing, art trade: these are corporate-type projects under another name. The talent of doing nothing, of succumbing instantly, has never been developed. Maybe that’s what “born” type A personalities would do anyway. Equally likely is the conditioning that begins with these 20 hour days as impressionable youth. If so, then Goldman’s alleged snowflakes underestimate their case. Delayed pleasures can be abandoned pleasures.

Email Janan at janan.ganesh@ft.com

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