In 1985 I was working on a Wall Street trading floor. I was deep in the epicenter of capitalism and there was a lot of money to be made. I had the kind of job and social life that thousands of hungry young graduates would have given their right arm for, but life in the fast lane takes its toll.
Technology has transformed how trading is done today, but back in the 1980s there was huge pressure on floor traders to make good decisions, quickly. The infamous “greed is good” culture of Wall Street made everyone ultracompetitive, so life on the trading floor was both physically and mentally demanding.
So how does a young man with a pocket full of cash escape such stress? By partying hard, of course. We would spend our evenings eating in Little Italy and drinking in Studio 54, before staggering home at 5:00 a.m. for a shower, and then heading back to the trading floor.
Knowing when enough is enough:
Now many of my friends and colleagues on Wall Street knew when to stop. I just wanted to keep going, and it wasn’t long before it became a real problem. I struggled with addictions and alcoholism, so it was inevitable that people noticed how much my performance was suffering. At the time it felt like I was treated harshly, but I was quite rightly fired.
I didn’t recognize it at the time, but I have almost obsessive tendencies so perhaps always had those “isms” in a way. In some ways this made me perfectly suited to trading and risk taking, but it also meant that the Wall Street culture was perhaps the worst place I could have been. I realized it too late, but I would urge everyone to consider if your social life is impacting your performance in business.
Stay in peak condition:
The best professional athletes will go the extra mile to give themselves the best chance of success when it comes to competition time. In the same way, entrepreneurs and business leaders must keep themselves in the best condition to interpret information quickly and make tough decisions, and that could mean changing your lifestyle. I thought I could make tough decisions on the trading floor just as quickly while I was hungover. I was wrong.
Alcohol affects the neurotransmitters in certain areas of the brain and central nervous system. It may only stay in the system for two hours, but the effects of intoxication could take 48 to 72 hours to disappear completely, so even recreational drinking could impact your performance at work for days.
Being able to inspire others:
By 1992 I was sober. I was down to my last $400, but I decided to take a trip to Estonia, where my father had come from after the war. I arrived in a strange country where I knew nobody, but what followed was a series of events that saw me build real estate businesses across Central and Eastern Europe that I would sell for $200 million just 16 years later.
At that time I knew very little about the real estate industry, but I was an entrepreneur at heart. My newly rediscovered clear thinking not only allowed me to spot an opportunity, but also enabled me to share my vision in a way that attracted and inspired a good group of people who would help make that vision a reality.
I would never have been able to get people to buy into my vision in the same way if I had still been drinking. Excitement is contagious, so I needed all my energy, creativity and communication skills to lead by example.
It’s all about balance:
It doesn’t matter whether you are an entrepreneur, a manager or a professional athlete, if you are going to be successful, you must find the right balance between being in control and letting go. Focusing 100% of your effort and energy on one thing is not sustainable – you need relief from stress or you will burn out.
When your stress release starts impacting your performance, however, you might want to reassess things. For me, I would never have achieved success in business if I had been drinking or doing drugs. Alcohol clouded my judgement, sucked my creativity and drained my energy – three vital skills you will need to succeed in almost every field.
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