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Wall Street Millennials Are Losing Their Mojo—Is Pot to Blame?

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Financial advisors, especially millennials, are moaning that they’ve lost their mojo. Could chronic marijuana use often be the reason? That’s what New York psychotherapist and performance coach Jonathan Alpert argues in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.

A year ago, Alpert, whose clients include a number of traders, analysts, bankers and FAs, declared in a conversation with this reporter that many of his millennial clients were “a strung-out, rattled mess” working killer hours and trying to deal with job stress by relying on prescription and street drugs, among them, marijuana.

Now, he argues, that stress compounded by high market volatility has made both young FAs as well as many seasoned advisors reliant on weed to ease anxiety and is a cause of their losing that much-needed performance edge.

According to Alpert, marijuana clouds thinking and kills motivation.

In a goal-oriented program, the licensed therapist, 46, coaches clients back to a healthy lifestyle and recapturing passion for their job.

Alpert, who early on worked briefly for the FBI, made waves in 2012 with his controversial New York Times Opinion piece headlined, “In Therapy Forever? Enough Already.” That year, he also published “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days” (Center Street/Hachette).

In the 2010 Oscar-winning documentary, “Inside Out,” he commented on the financial crisis, and he has appeared on the “Today” show, CNN and Fox News. Licensed in three states, he’s been a spokesperson for Liberty Mutual Insurance and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, among other companies.

ThinkAdvisor recently spoke with the therapist-coach, on the phone from his midtown Manhattan office (He has a small practice in Washington, D.C. as well). Besides shedding light on ways in which financial professionals are trying to cope, Alpert revealed how the savviest of his FA clients regard President Donald Trump: They like him.

Here are excerpts from our conversation:

THINKADVISOR: What aspect of performance are your clients in their 20s, 30s and 40s seeking help with most?

JONATHAN ALPERT: They feel they’ve lost the edge they think they need on Wall Street and consequently, aren’t performing well. They want to learn how to get back in the game.

Please explain what you mean by “edge.”

Lost their mojo. Their energy, their ability to take smart risks. They’ve become, perhaps, more conservative or cautious in their work. They start to slack off, show up late, leave early. They’re not studying the market as well. They’ve lost interest.

To what do you attribute that?

Some of it’s just fatigue. Wall Street is a high stress, high-anxiety environment — a fight-or-flight situation. That might improve their game, or it might force them to retreat and lose their edge.

Is the volatility of the stock market at all responsible for the way they feel?

There’s some anxiety because of the volatility, which makes them cautious. They’re more concerned about that than some of the more seasoned financial folks. The younger ones will catch the headlines and sensationalized stories. That’s only going to make them react emotionally or maybe make irrational investment decisions.

How much does being relatively new to the industry relate to how they react to volatility?

They don’t have the work history to know that what’s happening is pretty normal. The younger folks have a lot to prove, and they feel more pressure — self-imposed and otherwise. When there are dips or volatility in the market, there’s more anxiety around their job security.

When we talked last year, you told me that millennial advisors were a mess — working killer hours and relying on drugs to reach peak performance. Has that changed?

The general feeling is that they’re still participating in self-destructive, unhealthy behaviors. But I think that’s par for the course with young Wall Street folks.

You also indicated that to alleviate anxiety, financial professionals were compulsively frequenting massage parlors for sex. To what extent does that still occur?

We’re always going to see those vices with this population.

Marijuana use is on the rise nationwide.  Are your advisor clients using it to allay anxiety?

Yes. In New York, marijuana seems to be a popular go-to for people dealing with stress and anxiety. But stoners and potheads aren’t usually the ones that are superstars at work. Marijuana use isn’t the healthiest thing. People try to convince themselves that it is just because it’s becoming more acceptable for medical use.

Certainly losing the ability to work at top performance is bad for a financial advisor.

That’s what I’m getting at. The people that see me need that edge. It’s brutal on Wall Street. Marijuana clouds people’s thinking and dulls them.

What do you mean by “dulls”?

What I’ve seen with chronic marijuana users is that it seems to breed a certain level of lethargy and laziness. People lack motivation and have difficulty focusing.

Does that have anything to do with the feeling of losing their “edge”?

Yes. When I evaluate a new client, sometimes [their behaviors] are muddled by marijuana use. When they’re reliant on it, their level of concentration and ability to get stuff done is in decline.

Do any of your financial industry clients use marijuana while on the job, such as in the restroom?

It’s used at night more so. Marijuana is rampant, and people are doing it at times and in places where they shouldn’t. They try to justify it because it’s becoming legal for medical purposes. But with steady use, all they have to do is look at how they’re performing. It kills motivation.

Are the FAs working with you who use marijuana addicted to it?

There’s a reliance, a dependency. I simply ask: “Can you go without it? Prove that you can go without it.” It’s hard for them not to use.

So, going back to the issue of market volatility, your more experienced financial clients aren’t upset by it?

They know that it’s pretty normal. However, they’re anxious about the tech companies. Over the years, people have been rewarded quite well, but now they see a chance for decline in some of these [stocks].

They’re rather worried?

Yes. I think a lot of investors [FAs and clients] are spoiled as a result of the bull market we’ve had over the past several years. That’s why I stress to step back and look at the big picture.

What do you think of President Trump’s performance?

What I think you’re seeing in the Trump administration mirrors somewhat what you see in the corporate world. That’s the way he seems to be running the White House.

What’s your financial clients’ attitude about him?

The really smart, savvy folks like Trump. They understand his policies, like tax reform. They can look at the big picture and ramifications of his policy, and they like it.

Is there anything about him that gets them nervous?

If Trump makes a statement about a tech company or something they fear might start a trade war. But there’s an expectation that some moves from this administration will be less traditional than previous ones. People have grown accustomed to Trump’s firing off tweets that can trigger a response in the market. I’m not saying they like it, but they expect it.

Do the president’s frequent firings of appointees and other departures from the White House upset the FAs?

The turnover is of some concern and does affect them. I think to some extent, it also affects the market. If every second or third week, a new appointee is fired, it creates a level of uncertainty. When times are unpredictable, that’s when there’s anxiety and concern about the market.

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