Damn the banks: I need some beauty treatment

So, I was analysing banks on that particular morning. Or rather I was trying to analyse them. The task can be considered as easy, of course, but not when you hate financial analysis and banks in particular.

            Mind you, till that rainy morning I wasn’t aware of my problem. In fact, I had no problem whatsoever.

            I was young, had three university diplomas, spoke four languages, had a membership in a prime sports club and a job in finances. The fact that with one diploma in languages and two in international politics I wasn’t really fit for finances didn’t cross my mind till then. And why should it? Who, nowadays, ends up in the job of his or her dreams? And in any case, in the field of finances, I was reaching quite a high point. Only two months earlier, my boss asked me to take over a portfolio of equities. Not only was I a financial analyst of banks I was also a portfolio manager (quite an important status by society’s standards).

            However, on that day, the little rebel who was inside me and of whom I wasn’t aware, on a subconscious level decided to manifest himself. Not that it happened that suddenly – after all I was on my tenth day of no -sleep, but it still took me by surprise.

            In fact, till that morning I was quite a perfect product of the system. Apart from some lapses at school, I managed to fool everyone around, including myself, that I was entirely fit for life. I reckon that I even thought that I was happy.

            This legacy of being fit for life in terms of exterior image and career choice was obviously a legacy of my communist past. From childhood I learned that, in order to succeed, I had first to become a pioneer (the first grade on the scale of communism), then a comsomol (the second grade on the scale of communism) and finally, a communist (the final grade on the scale of communism). This imposed reassuring discipline, and knowing one’s goals in life helped me quite well in my childhood, but of course, when communism was gone and when I moved to the Western hemisphere, my life priorities should have changed. After all I was living in a free society.

            But, of course, I wasn’t. It was a different gradation system, less visible and subtler, but it was still there, and thus, my life priorities remained more or less unchanged. In order to succeed in life, one had to finish university, excel in career, be a member of a fitness club (and go there), get married, have kids (especially in the case of women), still excel in career (and have perfect kids), make money, and project, in general, a strong image of success on everyone else, even when it was fake. 

            In my case it was fake but I didn’t know it. That rainy morning was the first time I realised that my life sucked.

            I would probably escape the psychiatric hospital if I was more prepared for the event. But in my case, I wasn’t. In total astonishment I caught myself saying aloud while trying to make estimates for my banks:

            “Damn the banks, I need some beauty treatment.”

            Ruud, my desk neighbour and a fellow analyst of banks looked at me in astonishment. Until then I had a strong disliking for my neighbour. Ruud belonged to the category of people who, managed to strike a good life-work balance somehow. He came to work at nine exactly, had his lunch at one exactly (eating the same sandwich every day), and by five o’clock he was out of the office, whatever financial or company crisis was looming.

            In fact, there were a few things that I could learn from Ruud, but this I would only discover later.

            Instead, I replied with a look of irritation to his curious glance and focused my gaze on the crows outside the window. They were much more interesting than banks.

            For an additional ten minutes I tried in vain to refocus my attention on banks. My job was very important – I kept repeating to myself. But the small rebellious voice in my head kept on replying that there were better things to do in life. Like having a pampering massage and a glass of champagne. I tried to chase the image of myself sipping at a glass of champagne, but it kept on coming back. The image was so tempting and strong that finally, giving up, I closed down my computer, put some belongings into my bag, drew a kiss with my lipstick on the computer screen, took my coat and waved goodbye to the surprised faces of my colleagues. No one tried to stop me on my way out, as speculation that I wouldn’t come back to the office didn’t even cross my colleagues’ minds. I was after all, one of the best workers of MoneyCare, super responsible analyst of banks.

            Outside the office I stopped for a few minutes to observe the crows. They were rather cute, in my opinion. I was also surprised that I hadn’t paid any real attention to them before, or to any other birds or animals for that matter. As far as I could reckon I was always running to and from the office, never stopping to notice what was happening outside my job and highly regulated life.

            I made the decision to change it. Instead of heading to the underground station to take me to the centre, I started to walk. I wasn’t rushing anywhere. Despite some rain and rather cold weather I was feeling warm. I was feeling happy and joyful.

            “Life is fucking beautiful!” I shared my feelings with a passing corporate worker dressed in a smart suit. Instead of stopping and joining me in admiring the sky, he accelerated his pace. In fact, he looked slightly frightened. I laughed into his back.

            Once I started to laugh I couldn’t stop. After all life was indeed funny. Giggling like mad I couldn’t drag myself from the square where several banks had their offices. Men in suits were returning to their work from lunch. Some of them were hurrying to finish a sandwich, while others had a more leisured pace, but none of them stopped for a second to look at the crows or notice two beautiful swans on the nearby lake. How was it that I hadn’t noticed this ridiculous setting before? How come, instead of enjoying nature, I was sitting behind my desk all day long for five days a week to culminate it with a trip to the gym? I was sure that all these bankers had more or less the same life, but from now on I knew better. Rain was pouring over me, but I didn’t mind. It was cold but I felt that I could even do without a coat. Banks were calling me with their estimates but I couldn’t give a damn.

            Heading to the nearest bar I ordered a bottle of champagne.

One magical day in Amsterdam

I have a friend who believed all his life that in his previous incarnation he was Napoleon. Nothing is wrong with this belief (which might be true as a matter of fact), but be careful to whom you reveal your deepest secret. My friend started to talk about his Napoleonic ambitions at his work. Well, he ended up in the hospital. 

            As for me, I freaked out on a rather ordinary day in November while sitting behind my desk at my job in Amsterdam. It was pouring with rain – but that’s a usual thing in that city. Starting from October till April in general, almost everyone in the Netherlands is battling with the feelings of depression due to strong wind, constant rain, and grey sky.

            I wasn’t battling with depression though, but rather with euphoria. I had this feeling that something magical was awaiting me in the near future. That the life I knew now would be transformed into something much more interesting and fulfilling. I suppose that practically everyone reaches this point in life nowadays. The point when life appears to be worthless and one starts asking oneself serious questions about fate, the purpose of life, and one’s own role in society. I wouldn’t assume that so many people reach this moment in life, if the amount of self-help books in the stores didn’t testify otherwise. Nowadays it’s the biggest selling market in the book world.

            I reached this point rather early in life, at the age of twenty-seven. Maybe because I was born in the Soviet Union, and witnessed first-hand the demise and collapse of the most beautiful land (from my experience). Or maybe because I worked in finances. Bankers are the first to react despairingly in crises.

            I wasn’t a banker, but I was a financial analyst of banks. In between lunches at banks, where I could at least indulge in my love of food (when I was allowing myself the pleasure of eating), I was battling with overwhelming boredom. Analysing figures and reading annual reports of banks for five days a week for two years straight can drive anyone mad.

            But since quite a lot of financial analysts of banks don’t go crazy, I guess that in my case there was something else besides simple boredom. Now, looking back with some perspective, I suppose that it wasn’t just the job – it was the whole routine of organizing your life when you have to sit the whole day in an office and aren’t sure what to do productive with your life afterwards.

            Just think, for a second, about what exactly I mean. Maybe you are familiar with this routine, and can quite easily visualize the picture.

            Your day starts with the terrible beep of an alarm. Not only are they really unpleasant, they also intervene, in a nasty way, into the natural functioning of your body. You would love to continue seeing that last dream (something like enjoying a holiday in the Bahamas) for five minutes more, but eventually you end up dragging yourself out of your warm and cosy bed to attend to your responsibilities.

            Then you grab, from the fridge, whatever is available for your breakfast (assuming you are well organized and do have something in your fridge), take a quick shower and run towards the underground station as you realise that you might be late. As usual.

            In the underground station (or… on a bus), once having managed to battle through a crowd to get onto the train, you have to endure standing close to irritated and sleep-deprived fellow passengers, who are more than happy to invade your personal space as you do theirs. And in case you go by car to work, I bet you spend some quality time in a traffic jam.

            By the time you rush into the office, it’s rare that you are in a cheerful mood.

            And it’s just the beginning of your day. You still have to face eight long hours (at least) in the office.

            From these eight hours, as a general rule, you need to be productive for the majority of them. You do have to show that you are doing something useful, in between coffee breaks, chatting with colleagues, checking Instagram or your Facebook account.

            You survive till lunch (the best part of the working day by all standards), but then the worst part of the day lasts for eternity. Our bodies are programmed in such a way that the most natural thing to do after your lunch is to have a good nap.

            But no, in your case you have to drag yourself back behind your desk and struggle with a terrible desire to sleep for the best part of the afternoon. You try to focus on your job (with difficulty), while at the same time constantly checking the clock to see how much time is left till you are free to go home.

            Still… at this point, you try to think of doing something positive about your life once out of the office. Instead of watching the next episode of Eastenders or sabotaging your brain with something like Big Brother, you envision yourself doing something more productive and useful, like joining a course in creative writing, starting to study a language or simply reading an intellectual book.

            Unfortunately, this positive thinking usually stays in the realm of a fantasy vision, since as soon as you are out of the office, you can’t wait to end up on your cosy sofa watching endless TV until it’s time for bed.

            And the next day it starts all over again, and the day after, and the day after, until it’s weekend – the only time we seem to really enjoy ourselves nowadays. 

            On that particular November morning, when I was trying to do some estimates for banks, I got, for the first time, a glimpse that life could be something else entirely.

            Doctors blame it on the chemical imbalance in the brain, David Icke says that we are invaded by reptiles, and some call it enlightenment.

            Whatever the name of the phenomenon, on that day I took my first ride into a magical world, which is hidden from us behind job responsibilities, money worries and the burden of everyday routine tasks.

            Who knew that this adventure would land me right in the nearest psychiatric hospital?