• Otávio Santiago

After my banking career wore me down, I found my way back to research—and myself

After 15 years working in banking, my body had given up. I was bedridden with pneumonia, and for the first time in years I had a reason to stop—and to reflect. I hadn’t set out to be a banker. As an undergraduate student studying politics and economics, I loved academic research, and I was told I excelled at it. My undergraduate supervisor even asked me to stay and work as a researcher after I graduated—but I wouldn’t be paid. I grew up in Italy as a child of a Palestinian uprooted father and an Italian civil servant mother, and my family had spent much of my life wrestling with citizenship challenges and aiming just to make ends meet. Unpaid work was not a viable option.

When a U.S. investment bank offered me a job in London, I jumped at the opportunity. The trading floor was exhilarating, full of supersharp high achievers. There was a sense of having made it into “the club.” But this came at a cost. The demands were relentless—to be “on” all the time, to constantly prove myself and meet ever higher sales targets, to fit in with the elite, white, masculine environment. My earnings freed me from the financial difficulties of previous generations, but as the years passed, I lost a sense of who I was. I pushed myself so hard for so long—until my body forced me to take time off.

To my surprise, my bedbound month was one of the happiest times of my life. I took the time to explore why I felt so demotivated to return to work, reading research papers on motivational theories, psychology papers on career change, sociologists’ conversations on identity. The more I read, the more certain I became that I wanted to return to academic research. Banking had given me financial stability, and I now had the opportunity to choose my path anew.

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