I hope that if I ever have children they are nothing like me.
For those that don’t know, I quit my job three weeks ago. I am moving to Lima, Peru where I will be training and competing in mixed martial arts. In fact, I am en route as I type this, in the Ft. Lauderdale airport on a layover (no joke, 7 hours).
How did I get here? Back in October I took a two-week vacation from work. During the second week, I went with some college friends to visit our friend Ben who lives in Lima. After college Ben moved down to Peru as part of a program to teach English in a village. Ben has a really cool story which I will hopefully go into later, but basically he started training MMA, and in no time, became the champion of the Inka Fighting Championship. On the last day of our visit, we went in to the gym where he trains and we grappled with some of the fighters.
Ben paired me up with one of the younger guys and we started to roll. While I hadn’t done much jiu jitsu before, my wrestling instincts took over and I was able to score takedowns pretty easily and soon drew the attention of the gym. Ben pulled me aside, “They want you to go with Ivan. He knows wrestling and has trained with the Cuban Olympic team.”
Ivan was a bit bigger and older than I – a rugged looking Peruvian with the clear posture of a seasoned fighter. On our feet we traded shots, each ending in a dead end scramble. Eventually I grabbed a single leg and dove for the back, eking out a takedown. And then another. Eventually, he got a deep double leg and I back-pedaled, trying to keep my balance. I reached down and grabbed his triceps, yanking him up and sagging my own weight down so we met chest to chest. I locked up double overhooks and launched him over the top. He got up with a big grin and shook my hand.
After that, we went to shower and get ready for our flight home that night. Ben said, “Ivan wants to take you guys out for drinks before you go.”
We arrived at the bar with only 3 hours until our flight home. When we sat down at the table, Ivan ordered two bottles of Johnny Walker Black and filled everyone’s glasses to the brim. He started talking to Ben rapidly in Spanish.
Ben turned to me, “He said he is going to get you to come fight here.”
“Haha right,” I replied and rolled my eyes.
“I dunno, he is pretty persuasive. He was the one that convinced me to fight.”
“I mean, I’m honored he thinks that, but that’s ridiculous, right? Did you tell him I have a good job in New York?” Ben translated across the table. I could make out the words “Wall Street” and turned to look at Ivan. He shrugged indifferently.
“Ivan said that when he was young, he left home with 100 dollars in his pocket to fight in Brazil. He left behind his wife and newborn because he had the itch to compete. He says he didn’t have a choice. He can tell that you still have the itch. You still want to compete.”
“Yeah well, I guess I do. I mean, it would be very cool, but I have a good job and can’t just pick up and do this.”
“He says that he is confident you will find a way.” It went on like this for hours as we washed down bottle after bottle. Ivan would turn to me and hold his glass up, smile impishly and then empty it. He didn’t need to say anything. I knew the game and I matched his every move. My friends looked concerned.
“This is funny, it’s like a recruiting trip for Rollie,” said my friend Neil. The bottles disappeared like hourglasses beckoning our approaching flight. We left the bar and the next thing I remember I was on the plane back to New York.
I returned to my desk at work the following week and tried to shake off the cobwebs from two weeks off – a tough process. Where is the S&P? Okay got it, higher. IGs are where? Tighter, of course. What new issues did I miss? Lots. What is my computer password again?
I caught up with all the numbers that blink incessantly across my computer screens and eventually got back in the groove of things. But the seed had been planted firmly in my head and I couldn’t shake it, much as I tried. It made no sense. I had always watched UFC and thought, “Those guys are tough as hell, but I can’t imagine doing it.” I’m kind of tough, but not like those guys. When people would ask if I thought about trying it, I laughed.
But it wasn’t just about that, I wanted adventure in my life. I am 26 years old and don’t have a family. If ever there is a time to do this, it is now. There is a very small window of opportunity. I could live in a different country, learn a different language, immerse myself in an alien culture and have life-changing experiences. I have always sought out adventure and here was an epic opportunity staring me in the face, daring me to blink.
And the seed grew. It germinated into a pernicious vine that wrapped my brain in a stranglehold. Those numbers that blinked on my screen, that had once had deep meaning and context, suddenly faded into mere digits. Perspective is a funny thing.
I had everything I had always wanted. As a junior in high school, I picked up the book Ugly Americans by Ben Mezrich and from that day forward I decided that I would work on Wall Street. Because of wrestling, I had a pretty wide choice of colleges but I chose UPenn in no small part because of their business school. The summer before I matriculated to the Wharton School, I worked as an intern on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. I interned for three summers in college for various firms and desks until I graduated with a job at the Royal Bank of Canada. I wound up trading investment grade corporate bonds on the prop desk. After two years, I was about to get my own portion of the portfolio to trade. This was what I had always wanted to do. This is why I got in the business. I had passed all my own goals. And then I visited Peru.
I tried talking myself out of it. I ran through every justification as to why this was unreasonable and foolish. And trust me, it’s not difficult coming up with reasons. But it was too late – I had made up my mind. I knew that if I passed on this, I would look back in 5 years in bitter regret. I started talking to Ben in order to lay out the details and I slowly fortified my plan. As soon as I returned from Peru, I started training jiu jitsu, boxing, and muay thai. I now went double time, trying to build a base so I could hit the ground running when I got down there. And then on November 13th I sat down booked a one-way flight. I crossed the Rubicon.
And here I sit in Ft. Lauderdale about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.
Want to hear how this story ended? Check out my book: The Cage: Escaping the American Dream.