A Cubicle of One's Own

I've lately come to accept that I am a being devoid of any integrity. I thought this would come later in life, a backbone cementing itself, turning me into a fire-breathing dragon, but no: 26 years later and I'm still a spineless jellyfish, a guy who, when asked his opinion on the troubles in the Middle East, or the breakdown of the legal system under the awesome force that is Paris Hilton, scuffs his foot, stares at the carpet, and mumbles, "I'm not really all that informed about it."

If you think I'm being hard on myself, let me explain to you the last few years of my existence. I was an M&A investment banker for a year after college. As anyone who has ever been an M&A investment banker can attest to, it was hands-down the most miserable year of my life. Ninety-hour work weeks, endless mundane spreadsheets, co-workers who thought drinking games based on Microsoft shortkeys was an excellent way to spend the rare free evening of debauchery. After a year of this sado-masochistic exercise I quit, went into economic consulting, and wrote a book about my i-banking experience (more info about this at www.escapefromthecubes.com). My novel Bank is a feel-good tale of cubicle liberation, of the whipping boys rising up against their tyrants. In contrast to my own onanistic days as a banker, my protagonist is immersed in a land of one thousand nubile assistants who are more than eager to spend leisurely afternoons indulging in uninterrupted boardroom romps.

While it's a surreal experience to see my book at a local Barnes & Noble, cranking out novels is perhaps the least financially secure profession ever (behind blogging, that is). As such, even before the book's publication, it was back to the cubes for me. This is where the complete lack of integrity kicks in: Right now, as you're skimming over this post, I'm perched at my desk in the bowels of a financial services recruiting firm. Let me rephrase this, in case any further clarification is necessary: I'm a guy who wrote a 300-page book lambasting banking who is now ushering the next generation of spreadsheet monkeys into their cubes (ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife? -- you've got nothing on my case of irony, Alanis).

Every day, I speak to dozens of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed candidates frothing at the mouth to get into investment banking. In order to make my bread and butter, I spoon-feed the opposite advice that is the central theme of the novel. When describing a bank with a notoriously ruthless shark-infested culture, instead of my heart-felt verdict ─ "Listen, buddy, it's worse than the sixth sphere of Dante's hell, the one where they're trapped in flaming tombs," -- I find myself saying, "Dude, these guys work hard and play hard, and if you stick it out for the two or three years you're all but guaranteed admission to the b-school of your dreams."

My afternoons are filled combing through hundreds and hundreds of well-pedigreed resumes. Ten minutes of this can easily induce a throbbing headache. My cranium bulges under this onslaught of shiny worker-bees with their French cuffs and their Prada heels, the idiosyncrasies of their personalities ironed out so that they can slot easily into the perceived role of investment banker. My favorite line is the "Interests," though these are unwaveringly the same: golf, traveling, exotic cuisine. Just once I'd like to see a resume with "Interests" listed as: random sex on a sticky summer evening, weekends wasted on 24 marathons, mashing an entire box of Ferrero Rochers into a paste and eating it with a spoon (because I know I'm not the only golf-hating, French-cuff-couldn't- give-a-damn guy out there; the hilarious www.trueofficeconfessions.com provides some evidence of this).

Of course, when I check my own resume, my "Interests" are as staid as they come: skiing, traveling, running.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: No integrity whatsoever.