If there’s one thing I learned this summer about New York City, it’s that the weather forecast is usually correct. This means if it says its going to rain, you can bet that it is going to pour. Unfortunately I had to learn this lesson the hard way…
It was a dreary Thursday night and I had gotten off work later than usual. I ran out of the subway on 23rd Street and 8th Avenue, hoping to making home before the storm hit. A few sopping wet seconds later I dashed into the Starbucks on 23rd Street realizing that I indeed failed at beating the storm. I stood by the door watching out the window when I looked over my shoulder and noticed a woman in her late sixties sipping coffee by herself. She was staring out the window looking as hopeful as I was that the rain would soon pass. Just as I noticed her, she noticed me and asked if it was a cold rain. She proceeded to explain that she was hoping to catch a late night movie at the Bow Tie Theater, her favorite of, “all the crappy movie theaters in this crappy city.” Little did I know, this bitter old woman was about to make a very large impact on my life.
We began talking about New York City and how she has lived between here and Los Angeles her whole life. She shared with me the good and bad parts of city life and seemed very knowledgeable on the topic. The more we conversed on traveling, the more I started to realize this woman was very well traveled. The more she spoke the more intrigued I became with her and she mutually intrigued with me. An hour later I found myself sitting with her at a table in the corner of Starbucks.
It turns out this woman, named Alexis, was one of the first independent female investment bankers on Wall Street. Born into wealth, her grandmother was the first person to translate the Bible into seven languages (although I can’t remember which seven). Her second set of grandparents were royalty and helped settle a few colonies in Britain. Alexis was not allowed to attend school as a child because of her families high profile status, and was therefore provided a private tutor in each subject of study as a child. Although she had the opportunity to travel a lot as a child, Alexis was tired of living a life behind closed doors. This drove her to want to become and influential independent business woman as an adult, and she did just that. Alexis single handedly became one of the first female investment bankers to make millions of dollars without being affiliated with a large firm.
Not only did Alexis make millions once, but she did so twice, after going bankrupt early in her career. Having lived a successful, lavish and hard-working lifestyle, Alexis had some of the best advice I have ever received from someone. This is advice that I think everyone from our generation should hear, which is why I asked to audio record our conversation for this blog post.
1. “The overnight millionaire has ruined your [meaning our] generation.”
It used to be that to become a millionaire, you had to work for years to gain the notoriety in an industry that would provide you with millions of dollars in revenue. This is the generation Alexis grew up in. “When I was growing up in the business world we had to work for years to become successful. There was no such thing as creating a product, sharing it with the world immediately, and reaping the benefits almost overnight like the inventors of these social media sites. People also never made it to millions with out going bankrupt first. Look at the owner of JCPennys. One of the most successful businesses in the nation went bankrupt multiple times before becoming a big success.” She also believes that instant success means an inability to deal with failure. “When people can’t deal with failure in their professional lives, how can they deal with it in any other aspect of their lives? They can’t.”
2. “Learn to read a room.”
Alexis explained that a large part on investment banking has to do with what she called, “being able to read the room.” She explained that in investment baking you go into a room with traders and work out a deal. These deals can go on for days and often times all over the world. “The Chinese were always the hardest to read. When my team knew we had to fly to China for a deal we would spend a few days mentally preparing before leaving for China. They come into the room to trade and would wear you down without wearing themselves down. And they would hold the best face; you never knew their next move.” She explained to me that reading a room meant walking into a room with someone and taking in everything they are offering you to get to understand them better. For example, you walk into a room to do business with someone and you notice they have a very organized office and that they stand with a wide stance. From this you can immediately infer that this person is organized in nature and is more than likely a confident individual, meaning they will be a tough business man. Being able to figure these things about a person before you ever go into business with them can be used to your advantage.
3. “Human emotions should sometimes be checked at the door.”
Harsh right? But she had a pretty good point. “I’ve seen a lot of people die because, well, I’m old. Some people die sad, and some people die happy. People like to believe this is out of their control but to some extent it’s not.” By this point I was extremely confused…until she put it into context. “My mother and aunt both lived almost identical lifestyles with identical qualities of life. They both died around the same time, my mother died very happy, and my aunt died very sad. This was because of their perceptions of their lives were different. All emotions are is perceptions of events. If you can learn to truly control your emotions then you can perceive most events as you please. The difference this will make in the quality of your life will be tremendous. And although there will be times in your life that you should be sad or happy, there will be times when it is up to you, and you should learn to manipulate your mind to be blissful.” Interesting, right?
Three hours later I notice the rain had stopped, but I didn’t care. I was able to spend the evening with an extraordinary woman who had a fascinating point-of-view on life. I feel like I gained a lot of insight on life from someone who had personally face success, failure, and triumph. We ended up exchanging email addresses and plan to keep in touch. Although I don’t necessarily believe in talking excessively to strangers I do believe that everything happens for a reason, and I believe it was fate that I forgot my umbrella on that rainy day.