It’s not a normal career path that begins with selling bonds and ends with writing novels, and I was first among the skeptics who doubted my ability to make the transition.
When I first set out to write my first novel, a good friend pointedly asked, “No offense, but you’ve spent your whole career on Wall Street. What do you know about writing books?” The short answer? Nothing.
The art of writing and the science of math are clearly mutually exclusive groups; and still, without realizing it, Wall Street more than adequately prepared me for a writing career. While the financial skill set may be unique, the ability to apply and adapt those skills to a variety of problems makes those who have enjoyed a career on Wall Street far more versatile than some would think.
In speaking with other writers who were struggling with the same daunting task of attaching words to page after horridly blank page, I discovered there was a consensus on one of the most difficult parts of writing. The sitting. The waiting. The staring at a screen for hours on end hoping that something deep in the recesses of your brain will incite an idea. I understood their frustration, but I’d actually found this to be one of the easiest parts of the process. Working on Wall Street requires you to sit in front of monitors for twelve, fourteen, fifteen hours a day. One little laptop with a blinking cursor hardly seemed as menacing as four large flat screens flashing numbers all day long. This discipline, the ability to sit, and stare, and wait for something to happen, is second nature to me. Finance instills a focus and intensity in those who work in the industry that I hadn’t even realized was there. Without them, I’d have found the writing process infinitely more difficult.
When I began exploring the possibility of switching careers, I had the luxury to speak with Adriana Trigiani, a behemoth of women’s fiction and a New York Times best selling author. She asked me what I would really like to do with my life.
I replied, “I’d like to write a novel, but that’s just a pipedream.”
She tilted her head and asked me, “Why? Did you even try? Did you even attempt to write anything down?”
Then I remembered how that type of inertia, that type of insecurity, would be viewed by my peers in finance. Not well.
We are trained to be aggressive, to take risks, to step outside your comfort zone, whatever that may be.
These aren’t inspirational sayings tacked on the wall in the office, or bumper stickers attached to cars. These are mandatory qualities and character traits that you must possess if you want to thrive in the industry; the same qualities you need to have if you want to attempt a career in writing.
One of the main things holding back aspiring writers is simply, fear. It’s daunting, putting your ideas our there for the world to judge, for publishers to edit, for critics to ridicule. It’s a risky proposition, one with enormous potential to backfire.
Finance prepared me to be fearless: to say what was on my mind, to present my ideas with confidence, even if they’re met with skepticism, and to stand behind my work.
It taught me that you can never know success if you aren’t willing to fail spectacularly, as that’s the only way you’ll do better the next time.
And yes, there will be a next time, because if you work in finance, quitting is simply not an option.
Erin Duffy, is the author of the just released "Bond Girl: A Novel" (HarperCollins 2012)