HOW I QUIT MY BANKING JOB
4 minute read
“I work way too hard,” my boss looked wistfully into the night out of the corner office window. Far below, the midtown Manhattan evening rush had died down. “I barely get to spend any time with my family,” Jim lamented. “Last year I even missed my son’s graduation.”
“But it’ll be over soon,” he perked up, as if reminding himself that an exit strategy was in place.
“Will Jim actually quit one day?” I wondered. The first time I met my boss, one of the top investment bankers on Wall Street, I marveled at how someone elderly could have so much energy. “Not bad for a 60 year old,” I had thought. Later I was told that he was only 29.
Late nights and long flights had taken their toll over the years. “Is this really where I want to be in 8 years?” A penthouse on the Upper West Side, Hamptons on the weekends, two day ski holidays in the Alps, and 70+ hours a week at a desk?
As it turned out, Jim never quit. He continued along making his money and, last I heard, his marriage was over.
He was a living example of what I had heard and read before: most of the super rich are super lonely.
The Beginning of the End
Things looked bleak and I began reflecting. I would >not< mortgage off my youth to chase rainbows, I resolved. What’s the point of all the money if when I have the time to spend it, my life has already gone by?
It was a sucker’s bet. They had taught us about the time value of money in university. Now it was time to think about the money value of my time: give up my 20’s and 30’s to save it for my 40’s to 70’s?
The math didn’t work out.
And who was going to guarantee that my fancy new consumer lifestyle wouldn’t require even more money to maintain. Forcing me to work more years. This year the BMW, next the yacht, and ultimately keeping up with the Joneses would mean replacing everything every two years.
Finding the Good Life
As I reflected I thought back to my childhood: Who were the happiest people I had ever met?
Were they the ones with the most money and the most things? Definitely not. Were they the most popular? Not always.
The happiest people I remember were the ordinary pious Muslims that lived a contented spiritual and home life, making time for God, family, friends, and the outdoors, with just enough money to live simply. Not too much, not too little.
This was the good life.
This realization is what finally got me out of the riba industry. The prodigious hours and the profligate spending—first class flights, five star suites, and the devil-may-care expense accounts—were fun for the first few months, but nothing like coming to a home-cooked meal with a loving family.
The lack of baraka (blessedness) in my own life was obvious: I couldn’t find someone to get married to though I had been trying for years; I was stuck in a job I hated; and my physical and mental health were in terminal decline from the long hours. And, of course, more and more I was hearing about the harms of banking: to people, communities, and the environment.
But how could I expect God’s help when I was in a ribawi industry warring against Him?
“Fear Allah, and give up what remains of your demand for usury, if you are indeed believers. If you do it not, take notice of war from Allah and His Messenger…” (Quran 2:278-279)
My colleagues tried to justify their own misery. “Just work a few more years, make lots of money, then quit,” they said. In reality, few ever quit. All my work-addicted friends are still working away, single men in their 50’s, with no end in sight, no family, and nothing to show but a few bragging rights.
Ironically, the corporate rat race, filled with ambitious people chasing money, seemed like an unambitious way to live my life. I needed to work on something that had meaning. Not just push papers and pretend that my life was glamorous.
Free At Last
I still remember the sound of the limousine door closing when it dropped me home the morning I quit. It would be the last time I would be ensconced in that world. I was ready for a change.
It was the first time as a professional that I really turned to God with my whole being, asking for guidance.
I began to realize that a lot of the fear of changing my life was simply fear of the unknown. I opened the Quran and found courage in the words:
Whoever has godfearingness
God makes for him a way out
and provides for him from whence
he did not even expect to be provided for.
And whoever puts his whole trust in God,
Verily God effects exactly what He wills.
Here are the steps that I took. With the Internet, I could start my own business and work remotely from anywhere. Islamic finance was coming up at the time and, with my background in banking, I could transition into Islamic banking. For starters, I had to get out of New York City. The cost of living there alone made no sense:
Why remain somewhere I didn’t want to live?
I knew what I wanted: somewhere Muslim, traditional, safe, and reasonably priced to start a family. Numerous locations came to mind: Istanbul, Fez, Kuala Lumpur, Amman, Islamabad, and, of course, the many picturesque towns and beautiful coastal villages that fill the Muslim heartlands.
As I turned to God more, it seemed that He was turning to me. Around this time, I heard a scholar relate the famous hadith qudsi:
God Almighty says:
Whoever comes with a good deed
will have the reward of ten like it and even more.
Whoever comes with an evil deed
will be recompensed for one evil deed like it or he will be forgiven.
Whoever draws close to Me by the length of a hand,
I will draw close to him by the length of an arm.
Whoever draws close to Me by the length of an arm,
I will draw close to him by the length of a fathom.
Whoever comes to Me walking, I will come to him running.
Whoever meets Me with enough sins to fill the earth,
not associating any partners with Me,
I will meet him with as much forgiveness.
I felt an exhilaration that I had never felt at the workplace. Within months, doors began to open miraculously: I married the woman of my dreams, started the company that changed my life, and found pious friends who helped me along the way. Even money began to come with greater ease, without having to work as hard.
I could feel God helping me. The blessedness of quitting conventional banking was being played out before me in every aspect of my life.
Ultimately, it was only by God’s grace that I was guided:
Is it not time that the hearts of those who believe
should be humbled to the Remembrance of God
and the Truth which He has sent down…
My practical advice to someone stuck in a conventional banking job is this: start planning your exit right now; not after work, not tomorrow; this minute. If you only have a moment, take the first step that I recommend to everyone in the same situation:
Ask God for guidance. I sincerely believe that every single time anyone, Muslim or not, asks for heartfelt guidance from God, turning to him in humility and utter neediness, He answers.
Plan some time off. I took one year off to think things through. Others might benefit from only two weeks, or just the weekend. Take this time off to reset your priorities. Go on Umrah, a road trip, camping, anywhere but where you are. So that you can clear your mind. Take your family or a trustworthy, pious friend, and share your thoughts.
And then prepare to take the first step to reclaiming the rest of your life.
By Daoud Stefansson
Image quote source: “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost