As you may have guessed, I like to take the (not so) occasional trip down memory lane.
Just recently, I found myself thinking through all the ideas, concepts, and people I’ve written about since starting tracytimm.com back in January.
And I realized something alarming along the way.
For the sake of literary effect and in order to try and make a point (however feebly), I have tended to judge and generalize things pretty liberally.
I certainly wouldn’t take back anything I’ve shared here on the site, but I’ve noticed times when I’ve allowed my unabashed inner critic to reign free. There were times when I didn’t give people a fair trial. There were times when I prematurely judged a situation. There were times when I stereotyped to the nth degree.
All in the name of humor and a good story, I guess.
I realized that the most prolific recipient of this critical eye of mine has been none other than the infamous setting for my first job out of college—Wall Street.
I’m pretty sure I’ve called that place everything short of a lion’s den, and never thought twice about it.
I did call it a lion’s den, and then referred to myself as an “injured zebra.”
And that was just two weeks ago! Wow…
But friends, today I’m here to share with you the error of my ways. I’m here to make amends. I’m here to admit the truth. I’m here to tell you that this isn’t the whole story.
I’m here to give Wall Street a fair trial.
Well, the people of Wall Street, anyway. Or rather, one person from Wall Street who changed my mind about the whole thing entirely.
His name is Omair.
Omair taught me many things during our time together at RBS. He taught me the importance of impressions—first, second, and third. He taught me that if you look hard enough, you can find good people everywhere. He taught me what it means to be a real friend.
All of these lessons came with a selfless, generous, graciousness that I can only hope to replicate in some small way one day.
And he did it all…
After embarrassing the crap out of me.
If you liked my story about Simon Lee, flying chopsticks, and never eating the last piece of food again, you’ll love this one.
It’s a doozy.
And it all started, rather poetically, at the end.
Our analyst class had just wrapped up six weeks straight of interviewing with different desks on the trading floor. This is a customary procedure on Wall Street commonly referred to as a “rotation period.” Each analyst would spend two days sitting with a specific desk, and then rotate to the next one, in order to be exposed to every product and team on the floor.
While that might sound like a fun and easy way to spend six weeks at a new job, I can assure you it is not.
“Rotations,” as they came to be known, were a miserable process that involved strategically jockeying for the most popular desks, trying not to look too good to the least popular desks, and just generally monkey-dancing for twelve hours a day, every day.
Dance monkey, dance!
And when the music stopped, we were all exhausted.
So at the end of this wearying six weeks, we had one last rotation to go—strategy.
But instead of rotating on desks on the trading floor, we spent two days a conference room as each of the strategy teams came into the room and made their pitch to us.
I’ll say this much—coffee was necessary.
I might be a huge nerd, but I haaaaaaaaaate research.
I don’t care if emerging markets is the coolest place to learn about what’s going on in the New World. I don’t care that rates gets direct contact with the Fed. And I certainly don’t care about keeping tabs on foreign exchange by monitoring activity in the Eurozone.
But then, oh then, came the mack-daddy of them all-- the economics team.
I slowly reached for the coffee pot again…
The two team members, Michelle our senior economist and Omair her right-hand-man, came into the room all smiles. This was new, I thought. Happily, they announced that they had a slightly different presentation for us. This might be fun, I thought, naively. I’d do almost anything to get a break from statistics and research.
Because what they had in mind was a quiz.
An economics quiz.
And there would be prizes—for both the highest and the lowest scores.
Now, again, many of you might not know me personally, so I’ll just set the stage for you here.
In college, I majored in behavioral and social psychology. I managed to escape Yale without taking a single economics class (which I had heard were notoriously boring depending on your micro and macro professors). Somehow, I had convinced both of my RBS first round interviewers that despite this lapse in study, "financial accounting" (yes, a class), "quantitative thinking" (yes, also a class), and two summers selling Cutco knives were the makings of a great career on Wall Street.
Score one for me.
Ever since getting them to actually give me a contract, I had enacted a plan to keep this clever ruse under wraps, lest somebody sniff me out as an impostor and promptly send me out on my ass. I spent the entire summer studying for the Series 7 licensing exam. I stayed up late reading the financial news, so I would have something to say the next day. I memorized quotes, listened in on calls, and diverted conversations to play to my strengths.
My number one goal was concealing the fact that I actually had no idea what I was doing and no understanding of how I even got the job in the first place.
Needless to say, surprise quizzes were not part of that plan.
So as the quiz made its way around the table, my only thoughts were:
Please don’t be last. Please don’t get the lowest score. Please don’t let them find out.
There were ten questions on this quiz, and I quickly realized that I understood only five of them.
Yes, they were all in English.
A few painful moments later, I sheepishly turned my quiz in and anxiously waited for the results.
The funniest part of all this (especially now that Omair and I are close friends) is that I remember his face precisely.
I remember how excited he was. I remember how giddy he looked when the grading was done and the prizes were ready. I remember the sparkle in his eye when he awarded the highest scorer, Natan, with an advanced book on financial markets.
And I distinctly remember the smirk on his face when he turned to me and announced the prize for the lowest score:
Economics for Dummies.
Yes, friends. In front of a group of twenty of my peers, at my very first job, within the first few months of starting, I was handed a copy of Economics for Dummies by one of the senior-most employees at the bank.
Devastation does not even describe…
But if you know me (which by now you should), you’ll know that I never go down without a fight.
So instead of accepting my fate and moving on with my new must-read, I sarcastically commented,
“Welp… guess I shouldn’t have majored in psychology.”
The color left his face. He awkwardly turned to Michelle. They exchanged what I can only describe as holy-crap-this-was-a-bad-idea glances.
The rest of the room had a very different reaction.
They just sat there... silently staring at me.
My cynical side says they were probably judging, but most likely they were thanking their lucky stars that it wasn’t them. We were constantly looking for ways to outshine each other, and this moment made me the least shiny penny of all.
Now, to offset the boring drudge that was two days of strategy presentations (and in my case, drink away any embarrassment that had occurred), the research teams pooled together and threw us a New Analyst Happy Hour. My college motto, if it’s free, it’s for me, took ahold of me, and I decided to join despite my injured ego.
Humility is best served chilled, right?
The happy hour went just like any other until I received an unexpected tap on the shoulder.
It was Omair.
I had only been on the trading floor for a few months, but I already knew to brace myself for the jokes that would be coming.
But he surprised me.
Instead of jokes, the first words out of his mouth were,
“I’m so sorry.”
Turns out, he and Michelle had gone back to their desks absolutely crushed. What they thought would be a fun quiz and a funny joke turned out to isolate the most vulnerable person in the group while falling on the least humorous ears imaginable.
I still can’t believe no one even giggled…
It was kind of funny, after all.
Omair apologized profusely and asked if there was anything he could do to make it up to me. I accepted his offer, then told him (jokingly) that he’d have to be my personal economics tutor to make up for my public shaming. It was the least he could do, I said, with a wink.
And much to my surprise once again, he said yes.
From that day on, any time I had questions about upcoming news or pending announcements, I’d hustle over to the econ desk and ask for pointers. I got on his email distribution lists, so I was the first to know when big news was breaking. Our professional relationship made me the go-to-person on my desk in matters of economic consolation.
In short, he changed the game for me.
He graciously shepherded me through the learning process. He generously helped me without ever asking for anything in return. He selflessly made amends for a mistake that he could not possibly have predicted.
He was a real, compassionate, human being in a place where I thought none existed.
He taught me to look past first impressions, when they were wrong. He taught me that people might just surprise you, if you give them the chance. He taught me that you’re never really alone, if you don’t want to be.
All because he was willing to be a light in the darkness, a breath of fresh air, and an angel among men.
My time at RBS, and my life for that matter, would not be the same without him.
So the next time you find yourself judging or generalizing, even when that feeling or action is justified, just remember—first impressions aren’t always right, you never know who might surprise you, and you are not alone.
Who in your life has surprised you with their selflessness, generosity, or graciousness? When have you been that angel among men for someone else?
Share your story or your reaction in the comments below.
Did this story resonate with you? Or did it make you think of a story of your own?
I believe that stories unite us. These stories can be traced back to one person, conversation, or observation that provided a turning point in our lives. I’d love to hear if you believe this, too.
If you do believe this, then share it with your friends! Because sharing stories an instinctual, powerful way to touch the hearts of others and change the world around us.