Dying For Acknowledgment, Literally

Whether you’re in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street – in flip-flops or fancy attire – exhaustion diminishes dreams. In fact, it has even led to suicide for far too many.

So, is banning junior bankers from the office at Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Credit Suisse the answer to the problem? With our inability to let go of our phones long enough to use the restroom, I think not!

There’s a much deeper issue here. A better question to consider is; why are these young professionals driving themselves into the ground in the first place? What is the purpose behind such self-torture?

Let me be clear – they do choose to put themselves through the torture. No one is standing there with a gun to their head saying, “Skip breakfast, lunch, exercise, and checking in with your family/friends. In fact, don’t bother going out on dates, or enjoying an afternoon walk.”

No, they choose it. But why?

Answer: worthlessness. To be a part of such an esteemed group of people selected for such torture is a badge of honor. It quite literally means you’re among the worthy few who, if you work hard enough (and don’t die, or go crazy, in the process), are guaranteed to be seen as uniquely brilliant, super-talented, and clearly a notch above the rest.

Who doesn’t want that guarantee? We do… we want the world to see our brilliance, and some of us are so deeply afraid of our worthlessness that we’re willing to go to such an extreme to be seen and acknowledged.

Just check out the number of hits Brene Brown, a renowned shame researcher, has gotten on her various TED and TEDx Talks. In fact, take a look at this interview with Oprah on this very topic of worthiness.

Sure, there are a few exceptions – those who are driven by a greater purpose, and who actually get energy and excitement from the work they do, not the recognition. But, at the end of the day, what are these young bankers working so hard for? And, how do they know when they’ve reached success?

That’s just it – success is out there somewhere. It’s most certainly not already inside of you. This is where the bankers exploit such vulnerabilities by leading you to believe that your worthiness is somehow contingent upon being selected, and then surviving the brutal work environment.

The real solution to this problem is not related to your flip-flops, fancy attire, or banning work for a 40-hour period of time. The real answer lies in helping your team understand their intrinsic motivators and their unique purpose, or quest in their life.

Rather than ban these brilliant bankers from the office for 40 hours, carve out time to help them uncover their answers to the most pressing questions in their life. Doing so will unquestionably decrease illness and breathe fresh ideas into the banking industry and every industry it touches.

21 thoughts on “Dying For Acknowledgment, Literally

  1. Wendy

    I believe the senior partners in the banking industry put in the same kind of hours as the young executives looking to climb the ladder.
    When large sums of money are on the line, clients want answers quickly and putting in the hours to get the deal, information, etc is the only way to get it right.

    • Misti Burmeister

      It’s an excellent point you make, Wendy! Ty!

      The same idea holds true in the medical profession… If you want to be a good doctor (or a doctor at all), you’ve gotta put in the hours – period.

      Whether we’re talking about money (banking) or life (doctors), putting in the hours is critical. I’m certainly not giving either one over to someone who hasn’t proven their capabilities.

      That said, I wonder – what’s the difference between the older generation of bankers (they simply didn’t commit suicide, or run themselves so hard they we’re having heart attacks in their 20’s) and the younger ones (who are)?

      Why is it suddenly important to institute mandatory “40 hours out of the office?” And, more importantly, is there a way to reduce the number of casualties, and get even better results from our bankers, and doctors?

      I think so. While I have my opinions on what might help, it will be even more valuable to hear from more folks in the industry – I’ll see who I can find to weigh in…

      I wonder what would happen to the young folks, if…

      1. Senior bankers listened to the challenges of the younger bankers, and offered guidance.
      2. Bankers went away from the competitive (ego) model, and onto a collaborative one. Would we, in fact, get more for our money with such a collaborative effort? What gets rewarded gets repeated. Reward results, not emergency room visits.
      3. Add humor – what if we kept the seriously awesome results, and seriously reduced the level of intensity of the game?

      Young professionals simply do not need to kill themselves in order to become an exceptional banker.

  2. Jonathan Kraft

    Hey Misti!

    This is a good article.

    One thing I feel like is missing. You say:
    “Carve out time to help them uncover their answers”


    In the midst of the chaos and unreasonable expectations that often is the status quo when it comes to the corporate environment in America, who does a leader need to be, and then what do they need to DO, step-by-step, in order to carve out this time?

    It’s probably a different blog post, but I think you’re on to something here if you can help leaders realize that making time, regularly, for these kinds of introspective activities is probably among the most productive and profitable things they can do.

    • Misti Burmeister

      You make such a good point, Jonathan… Ty! Chaos is a result of failure of focus.

      By the way, nothing about what I’m about ready to say is easy – discipline simply is not, especially when it has not been drilled in until much later in life – The younger, the easier with this or discipline.

      1. Clarify your Quest (vision, personal mission, mission statement). Decide what you’re going after and know why it’s important to you. What is you end game? Even better, if this quest is not even about you, but instead what you’re committed to.

      2. Set aside Time. At the end of every day, go back over your day… What went right, what went wrong? As Jim Rohn says, “get from today, not just through the day.” At the end of your week, go over the week you just came through and plan for the next week, keeping your eye on your quest. Reaching your quest without your health, your family/friends… Seems pretty lonely. Make time for the things that are important to you.

      If you know what you’re striving to achieve, why you’re striving to achieve it, and you have your health, your friends, your family, you’ll be well on your way.

      Two great ways to ensure you will keep to your promises around committing time to these important endeavors:

      1. Hire a coach
      2. Start or find a mastermind group/accountability group

      Helpful? Got more ideas to add?

  3. Misti Burmeister

    Help me understand, Jonathan. What is it that they’re supposed to do exactly?

    Are their exact steps? To what?


  4. Carly Clayton

    Young professionals tend to be very reliant upon the culture of a work environment (especially during entry). Yes, it is a ‘choice’ to undergo self-torture, but are there others ways to accomplish a sense of worth and reward without the ‘brutal work environment’? What is the driving force behind this work culture? Monetary? Ego? Leadership?

    • Misti Burmeister

      Great questions, Carly!

      My simple answer… A severe lack of clarity around the quest. If more leaders understood what they were striving to achieve (that’s not even about them – or the bottom line), shared this with team, help them understand how what they do contribute to this quest – imagine the difference it would make.

      I’m all for making good money – and, painting a picture of the quest will naturally elicit an inner drive – a pull to action – for those who believe in the value of the quest.

      Understanding the purpose in our work contributes greatly to our own inner stability.

  5. Rob Barbour

    Hey Misti…I don’t think there’s a cut and dry answer to this and I don’t think it’s worthlessness.

    You’d have to look at where these kids were raised, where they went to school, their parents, their influences, and other factors.

    Is it for money? Is it for fame? Is it to impress others? Is it just to be recognized?

    Then there’s also the issue that they’ve likely been told/taught that hours and pay go hand in hand.

    If someone is truly driven to create/do something, then by all means do it. Start a business, do something significant, change the world, etc..,, but most kids aren’t driven by this.

    IMO – it really comes down to mindset. In today’s world we need everything instantly (or at least damn fast) and many are willing to trade health for the possibility of obtaining something sooner.

    Think about it – many years ago there was a mindset of “Work hard, work for many years, you’ll earn more, te company will take care of you, and you can retire comfortably.”. Today the kids see regular people becoming millionaires overnight and are looking for any angle they can get.

    I love to see anyone work hard for something that truly drives them and keeps them up at night.

    Unfortunately our society hasn’t encouraged people to go out, enjoy life, and be healthy – it’s all about the bottom line and “stuff”.

    Work smart and play hard 😉

    • Misti Burmeister

      Excellent comments, mom – thank you!

      This comment of yours caught my attention…

      “IMO – it really comes down to mindset. In today’s world we need everything instantly (or at least damn fast) and many are willing to trade health for the possibility of obtaining something sooner.”


  6. Phil Wilkinson

    I think that’s fairly true, I would have said that or loneliness but the two seem to go hand in hand. There is the other side of things also where people may be trying harder to prove themselves as if they have a chip on their shoulder

  7. Taylor Holland

    Companies could also help their employees rethink the definition of success. Everyone defines it differently, but it should somehow include joy, which is achieved through a balanced life, not just a bigger paycheck. After all, if you’re not enjoying life, what’s the point of living? Senior leaders can help their employees by setting a better example and demonstrating balance in their own lives.

  8. Kim K

    So eloquently said, Misti. These is such an important topic. How are we living our lives and from what place, from internal or external values?

  9. Janie T.


    This is a great topic and applies to other tech industries, too. Within my company, we are trying to help employees define success by the value of their contributions rather than their presence at the office. This is a slow cultural shift that is mired by the mix of generations who have different ideas about what constitutes value. I agree that being driven by worthiness or worthlessness is something we learn very early from our parents. There is some interesting research on the “Imposter Syndrome” related to this topic.

  10. Misti Burmeister

    I had to laugh at myself a little bit yesterday. After posting this blog, I went for a walk – I remember that it was a beautiful day, but that’s about all I remember because I spent nearly the entire time looking at my phone… I was eagerly awaiting feedback on this post.

    Then, for no apparent reason, my phone turned itself off. Sometimes got to do just that – turn everything off, and tune into the moment.

  11. Mario Livio

    Excellent points! Apply not just to bankers, but to professionals in many disciplines, including the sciences.

    • Misti Burmeister

      Please, share more, Mario… you are a renowned scientist here in Baltimore, and around the world. Will you please comment on Wendy’s – See above – the first comment – post…

      “I believe the senior partners in the banking industry put in the same kind of hours as the young executives looking to climb the ladder.
      When large sums of money are on the line, clients want answers quickly and putting in the hours to get the deal, information, etc is the only way to get it right.”

      I added my comments, and Id like yours.

  12. Misti Burmeister

    Perfect for this post…

    If you are losing your leisure, look out! You are losing your soul.
    – Logan Pearsall Smith

  13. Chichi

    I really liked your thoughts on what our real focus should be on, ie understanding the unique purpose of those around is. I’d add, that “those around us” doesn’t refer only to subordinates. Sometimes the battle is in understanding what drives your boss and trying to reflect something similar.
    Also, I think it goes further than wanting the world to see our brilliance. I think it’s more about wanting the world to see one’s WORTH. In the competitive employment market, setting yourself apart from every other person with a resume that mirrors yours may be achievable only by proving that you have the capacity to “work like a beast” in the best interest of the company. I’m not saying I condone it. I have found myself almost swept up into it where I find myself feeling guilty about leaving at 4pm (which I am rarely able to do), despite having worked a productive 8 hours.

  14. Henry Mortimer

    Congrats on another excellent post, Misti! A very timely and poignant message, as always. It’s critically important for this time of year, when many employers are preparing quarterly evaluations of their staff, to remember that a person’s self-worth can be as valuable to the bottom line as their net worth. Maybe even more important, depending on the industry. People working low-wage service jobs — managing the register in a department store, for instance — whose boss takes the time to remind them that they are valued and have value, will be inclined to treat customers with the same level of respect and care. Happy, fulfilled employees (ie, those who’re told and thus believe they can be super-talented and a notch above the rest) will make for happy, satisfied customers, who in turn, attract more happy customers. What better marketing strategy is there?

  15. Mario Livio

    On Wendy’s comment, I would like to note that while putting in the hours can be important, often the true breakthroughs and innovations come from thinking
    “outside the box.” Working nonstop is not a good recipe for encouraging
    independent, outside the mainstream thinking. One should be able to take
    THOUGHTFUL calculated risks, and those are not enabled by pressure.


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