Stickman Readers' Submissions August 9th, 2011

Is It Good To Travel Young?

This was it. This was my moment of triumph. My moment of vindication. All those weeks slaving away in the office over mundane projects, all those hours schmoozing up to obnoxious clients. All those amazing opportunities I’d no doubt missed by staying in depressing Farangland rather than heading for glorious freedom in Southeast Asia. It was all going to be worth it. As I cradled the letter in my hands, I knew then – it was all going to be worth it.

The letter, in case you’re wondering, was a job offer from an investment bank in London. Not just any bank, either, this American firm was the Manchester United of investment banking. For anonymity’s sake let’s just call it Megacorp plc (slight clue – a Wall Street firm whose first syllable of its name is a yellow precious metal!)

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I had submitted my application for the position just over 7 weeks ago, having seen it on the internet and thought it was worth a shot. Hey, why not? I was performing great at my current job and I certainly had career prospects at the firm, but, in all honesty, it was relatively small fry in the world of wealth management. A job at Megacorp, on the other hand, would look nothing short of spectacular on my CV. Plus, they have offices all over the world – who knows, in three or four years time, maybe I could blag my way into a job at the Hong Kong / Singapore office?

Two weeks went by after the application, and I’d heard nothing. I assumed I’d been unsuccessful. Then, out of the blue, I was phoned and given a rather intense phone interview by one of their recruitment agents. Having passed that, I endured three gruelling face-to-face interviews in their central London offices over the next three weeks.

And it had all been worth it. Against all odds, I was headed for the big time.

Until a couple of weeks ago that is.

“Banks’ profits crash.” “Credit crunch 2 is coming.” “15,000 financial services workers in London to be laid off over the next year.” The headlines of doom seemed to just blare on and on as stock markets round the world went into freefall. At this point I’d started to feel sick to my stomach, but reassured myself that Megacorp was too big, too successful to be affected by all this financial unrest.

Then came the sucker punch. I first saw it on the cafeteria TV at work whilst eating my lunch – “Megacorp to cut 3,000 jobs.” The next day, again at lunch, I got a phone call from the recruitment agent – the role I had (successfully) applied for had been put on hold ‘indefinitely.’

I remember just mumbling a bland response before ending the call, before looking down at the bland tuna sandwich I now had no appetite for. I wanted to scream.

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My first instinct was to run out of the building, get in my car and never come back. I felt there was no way I could go back to my cubicle and concentrate on tediously boring finance data after that. Thankfully, saner thoughts prevailed – I finished my lunch and went back to work.

I also put in a request with my boss to use up the remaining three weeks of holiday I had left, starting from mid-August and ending early September. That very evening I booked a flight to Thailand.

I honestly think I’ve done things the wrong way round to most people i.e. going travelling round the world before starting my working career. On the one hand I have had the opportunity to visit places like Asia for two to three months a time, an opportunity that some people never have.

But, on the other hand, it’s like a drug – once you’ve experienced it, how can you go back to the real world? The world of going to work 9 5, paying your bills, watching garbage television. I’m not even 24 yet but I feel completely burnt out. I think I could deal with everything as long as I felt my career was moving forward, but now – with all the problems the finance world has suddenly encountered – it feels like I’ve stalled, at least for the next year or so. For the time being, jobs in banking will be scarcer than an honest politician.

That’s why I have to escape – at least for a little bit. The plan for the first day is to get to Bangkok and see my lovely girlfriend April, check into a reasonable hotel, get a nice massage, chill out by the pool. Then come night-time, head down to the clubs in Khao San Road before maybe moving onto RCA or Sukhumvit if I get bored of the backpacker crowds.

I’m not sure what I’ll do next – check out a couple of the islands I haven’t been to yet, or maybe cross the border for another trip into Cambodia. So many choices; so little time! That’s the downside of coming for only three weeks I guess. But what other option do I have?

With every day that goes by, my excitement for LOS grows; as does my dissatisfaction at work. It hasn’t helped that the last week has been particularly rough – with markets tanking all over the world, our phones have been ringing off the hook with panicked clients and angry brokers screaming in our ears!

But, going back to the original theme of my submission, what do you guys think? Is it good to travel the world as a young man? What would you recommend to your kids? I’ve always thought – and still do – that I am so lucky to have got onto that first plane to LOS, that first trip which awoke the adventurous spirit which has taken me around numerous countries across the globe.

And yet, how do you deal with the comedown? It’s one thing discovering these things when you’re nearing retirement, but what about when you’ve got twenty, thirty, forty years of 9 5 working ahead of you? I remember reading about the young medical student who wrote in a couple of months ago nearly throwing his medical degree away for the romantic appeal of travelling – I wonder, as he no doubt is now hunched over a desk in his student digs trying to decipher a mammoth medical textbook, is he still glad he visited LOS and had all the amazing experiences that he did?

Anyway, I thought I’d just drop in and give some food for thought for you guys. As for me – time to get packing I guess!!

Stickman's thoughts:

I spent 6 months in Europe when I was 20, with time spent in the States on the way over and the way back. From then on, travel has never been far from my mind. I don't think there is any right or wrong about when is the best time to travel, but one does have to be mindful of moving forward and making sure they have a future.

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