April 14

The $700 lunch

Thanks David Brooks. Thanks for explaining better than I could have why I left investment banking 25 years ago. In your essay The Moral Bucket List, you answer the question that I’ve felt a bit embarrassed answering because I didn’t want to sound self-righteous. The truth was that I had as a 29-year-old living in Tokyo a really interesting job at the British subsidiary of a French bank for which I was paid very well. I was good at it, got to travel the world and felt appreciated.

Then one day my boss told a co-worker and me to take a VERY important fund manager out to a special lunch. We were told to expense the lunch and we’d be reimbursed right away. The lunch was delicious but the bill made me sick. It cost 70 times more than the most expensive lunch I had eaten prior to that. My co-worker loved that we had gotten to eat that meal. I was depressed. I thought, We could have built a school in Africa with that lunch money. That’s not who I am. We could have given someone a much-needed scholarship. I couldn’t shake it for the rest of the day. When co-workers asked me about it I told them I didn’t want to talk about it.

I went home that night and told myself that it was time to redesign my life and I did. Lots and lots of people tried to talk me out of it. They tried to talk me into going to business school instead of design school. I have never been able to adequately explain it but when I read David Brooks’ article I felt as though he had captured what I had been aiming for. I knew that if I ate one more $700 lunch and began to think that was an acceptable thing, it would destroy the essence of who I’ve always wanted to be. Sometimes in an instant we learn who we truly are.