Wall Street's emotional bailout

Traumatized bankers looking for a little therapy don't have to travel much further than the sidewalk outside the NYSE.

By Chris Taylor, contributing writer

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- To paraphrase Big Daddy Kane, investment banking ain't easy. Congress wants to cap your pay, the public wants you boiled in oil, and oh - Andrew Cuomo is waiting on line one.

At least you've got Kim Ann Curtin to talk to. Since global finance started collapsing last fall, the New York City life coach has been heading down to Wall Street about once a month to do some pro bono work. She parks herself across from the New York Stock Exchange and doles out free advice to shell-shocked bankers and traders. Think of her service as an emotional bailout.

"Even when things are going well, the pressure in finance is so insane that you can barely breathe," says the 43-year-old, who used to be a personal assistant for hedge-fund executives before starting her own business, The Coach Shoppe. "What it must be like now, I can't even fathom," she observes. "I thought this could be my small contribution, to help these people get a grip."

And so began her career as a real-life Lucy from the "Peanuts" comic strip. But instead of a lemonade stand and a slate that says "The doctor is in," Curtin has a concrete bench and her own homemade sign that says, "Are you stuck? The coach is in." And instead of Charlie Brown, Linus and Snoopy, she has Wall Street's walking wounded to help.

Among Curtin's more memorable sessions: A banker who kept coming to Wall Street every morning for five weeks, dressed up in his usual suits, because he couldn't bear to tell his wife and kids that he'd been canned. Her advice: He was shortchanging his own family by not allowing them to love and comfort him in a crisis. "He got that right away," she says. "I haven't seen him again since that day."

There was also the young trader who saw his life on the floor slipping away from him last fall. "It was his whole existence, and he didn't even know what else he would want to do," Curtin says. "For men in particular, that's a very scary place to go." She counseled him to reconnect with his original passions in life, before he had fallen into finance simply because the money was so good.

Curtin advises everyone to create a "What If" game plan that you can put into effect at a moment's notice. You should detail how long you could last with your current savings, where you could cut back on costs (Personal trainers? Gone), and which critical members of your network you could tap for job leads and advice.

"Just like a sports coach has a playbook to pull out when the team is in trouble, you should have a playbook too," she says. "Just having that in place will create a sense of power, knowing the exact steps to take if a layoff occurs."

Curtin also believes you should "download" all your fear and feelings with loved ones, instead of bottling everything up and pretending that your past luxurious lifestyle will continue. If the jobs well is totally dry, take the time to work on self-improvement, by taking courses or workshops. She recommends the Esalen Institute in California's Big Sur for refreshing the soul, and international volunteering center Cross-Cultural Solutions to shake up old routines.

Not everyone is inclined to absorb career advice while hanging out on a sidewalk bench. So Curtin makes sure to dress professionally at her makeshift office to mitigate the effect of her homespun sign and assure people that's she's legit. "People have a tendency to think, 'What the hell is this?' " she admits. "But if I dress like I'm at the office, it gives everyone a sense of safety."

Curtin assures bankers it's okay to grieve for the high-flying days when everyone was making tons of money. "Lifestyle adjustments are hard," she says - especially when you come from a place of extreme wealth that few people can relate to.

But instead of dwelling on what's been subtracted from your life, change the focus to what you still have, she counsels. If your million dollars in savings or investments have dwindled by half, be thankful you have a hefty stake with which to restart your life.

Curtin might be the only person in America who doesn't want to roast high-paid executives on a spit for their lavish salaries or bonuses. They can talk to her about the loss of their summer Hamptons rental, or about how their bank has cut back on its fleet of private jets - she isn't there to judge.

"As a society, we never show any compassion to the strong, the powerful or the wealthy," she says. "But they need as much compassion as everyone else." To top of page

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