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How Wall Street can wreck your life
Those who are successful on Wall Street and Main Street -- indeed in any high-stress job -- are often the most susceptible to depression and self-sabotage.
By Jeanne Sahadi, senior writer

NEW YORK ( -- Perfectionistic. Driven. Harshly self-critical. Competitive.

Such are the traits of some very successful brokers, financial advisers and traders, said clinical psychologist Alden Cass, who provides coaching and "lifestyle portfolio management" for Wall Street players who are therapy-averse.

How stressed are you?
1. Conditions at work are unpleasant or sometimes even unsafe.
Very Often

They're also common traits among many successful people in other high-stress jobs, Cass said.

And they're the very same traits that can take you down.

That's because an unforgiving drive to succeed breeds an unhealthy fear of not succeeding -- and, ultimately, depression whenever your mojo takes a coffee break, as it's wont to do from time to time.

"When you set your expectations for only success you set yourself up for big disappointments," Cass said.

A common refrain he often hears from clients is "I'm making all this money. How come I'm not happy?"

Here's how:

To hard-driving traders, say, a bad month or two defines their year and feels like the equivalent of "I failed." But, Cass said, "two bad months does not make a season."

Of course, that can be tough to see when you're already prone to feeling like a failure if you don't hit a home run every time and you work in an environment that's all about the bottom line and where you're only as good as your last at bat. (And, let's be honest, these pressures are hardly exclusive to Wall Street jobs.)

Among brokers and traders, Cass has seen depression about their performance turn into a desire to hide from clients and throw themselves into busy work to turn their minds off. That, of course, doesn't do much for their numbers, haunting them with thoughts that things will never change.

"If left unchecked, their emotions can destroy their careers," Cass said.

That's because negative emotions can fuel some destructive habits.

His clients are most often referred to him by their wives and branch managers after they've noticed serious changes in behavior: screaming, being overly demanding of coworkers, harassing women, driving clients to issue complaints and being what Cass calls "Ice Men" -- emotionally absent from family and friends. Their marriages become another mountain they have to move; their wives another person to answer to.

Reliance on Adderall (prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), on sleeping pills and especially on alcohol isn't unusual. Some of Cass's clients, he said, drink the equivalent of a bottle of wine a day. Those in their 20s and 30s are more likely to binge drink.

Potential signs of alcohol dependency (again, not limited to Wall Street) include having three or more drinks a day, having problems caused or exacerbated by alcohol and drinking when you know it's dangerous.

Another sign: drinking every night but feeling it's not a problem because you're still making money and doing well, Cass said.

If you work in a job where every month is a fight to win, "you need people to hold you accountable for not falling too far off the track," Cass said. That is, someone like a boss, partner or friend, who can give you a little perspective on your performance beyond the last five minutes and who can remind you what's ultimately important.

In an analysis of the kind of healthy psychology that can help someone sustain top performance throughout a career, Catalyst Strategies Group -- Cass's company -- highlights a few key traits: a willingness to seek help when you need it, to view mistakes as opportunities to learn what doesn't work and to recognize that having a balanced life helps prevent stagnation and burnout.

Maybe a good first step might be leaving on time tonight ... without the BlackBerry.


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C'mon, get happy. Seriously, it pays.

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Jeanne Sahadi writes about personal finance for For comments on this column or suggestions for future ones, please e-mail her at Top of page

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