What do male executives say in their letters to their younger selves? Frankly, I was recently blown away by the experience.
On May 10th I conducted a standing-room-only Letters To My Younger Self® Seminar with five managing director panelists—three women and two men—for Deutsche Bank at its Wall Street headquarters. Because this event served as the kick-off for the Aspire Project, sponsored by DB’s Americas Finance Diversity team, it was well-attended by more than 150 male and female bankers from various disciplines and backgrounds.
This was not the first LTMYS Seminar in which I’ve worked with men (two of three presentations I’ve led at Genentech featured men among the letter-writers) but it was the first on Wall Street and the first with two men onstage at the same time.
Mitch Danzig, a 41 year-old who is COO for CIB Finance, demonstrated a level of humility that’s rare on the Street, and had been rarer still for him during much of his career. During our interview, he told me that one of his prior bosses had described him as “confident bordering on cocky” in his twenties. During those years, he privately relished his “bull in a china shop” reputation because it signified that he could execute quickly.
All of this chutzpah was fully displayed when Mitch took a new job with Deutsche Bank in London at age 28, the age he decided to write to. In his letter, he admonishes himself for trampling over colleague’s feelings and suggests that he spend time learning how to cultivate people.
The heart of his message: “You don’t have to be soft—but you should be softer. You can drive dramatic change—but the change doesn’t have to happen in one day. You can drop some of your bluntness and still achieve your goals.”
John DeRosa, my other male panelist, is Head of Tax for the Americas at Deutsche Bank. Interestingly, this is a job he held earlier in his career. But this time around his attitude toward it—utter and complete fulfillment—is dramatically different. Why? During the intervening three years John was diagnosed with and treated for a serious blood cancer, watched Lehman Brothers go down in flames, lost a chunk of his net worth and began job hunting in the worst financial crisis since the Depression.
His words to his three-years younger self served to remind all of us in the room that afternoon about truths that are so easy to overlook during our pell-mell daily lives.
He wrote, “One solid conclusion is that everything in life is all very fleeting. It can turn on a dime. In fact, it has turned on a dime….Oddly, even though you financially have less, you are going to feel richer and more satisfied than you’ve ever felt before. Oddly, you—the guy who used to change jobs every two years—will feel fulfilled and content every day in a job you left behind.”
A key fact I’ve learned from a recent mindfulness course is that when you attend closely to what you are doing in any moment of work or play, the intensity of the experience rachets up. To me, John’s fulfillment is a measure of how fully he is able to put his attention on the present moment rather than living in the future or the past.
Thank you, Mitch and John, for pulling back the curtain on part of your internal journey. (Coming soon: a synopsis of the messages sent by the three gutsy women at DB who joined them onstage with me.)