Billionaire burnout – Carrie Sun thought working for a hedge-fund boss meant living the dream. But despite the designer handbags and luxury spa breaks, his demands drove her to the brink, until finally her therapist told her: ‘Your job is killing you’

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Carrie Sun

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On the surface, 29-year-old Carrie Sun’s high-paying new job as the sole assistant to New York hedge fund manager Boone Prescott seemed like a dream. It was the culmination of years of perfectionism during her pressured childhood as the only child of pushy Chinese immigrants, whose ambition was for their daughter to have “a shot at the American Dream.”

Carrie had been desperate for this job and had broken off her engagement to her wealthy fiancé Josh, who had asked her to give up her career in finance to make way for his. Landing the job was quite an achievement, requiring fourteen interviews, one of which was by an ‘executive coach’ who assessed her mental fitness: would she be ‘all in’ and put her work above all else?

Now there she was, the happy Chosen One, slim and perfect in a suit and high heels, on the 46th floor overlooking Central Park, working for a soft-spoken financial genius who was clearly raking in billions.

Author Carrie Sun, who exhausted herself trying to meet her employer’s demands

“I was sure I would stay with Carbon for the rest of my life,” she writes in this compelling memoir. (“Boone Prescott” and the company name, “Carbon,” are pseudonyms.)

Somewhat ominously, the five-page guidelines for new hires listed 96 “responsibilities” and 13 “general expectations,” including “being prepared to assist the company as needed.” That expression ‘if necessary’ appeared eleven times.

The opulence of the office lifestyle was hard to resist. During lunch, Carrie could order luxury deliveries to her desk for an expense. The towels in the office gym were “like blankets.” Gifts given to her by Boone and his wife Elisabeth included a £5,000 jacket and a Balenciaga bag.

The contrast between this and what her parents had experienced during the Cultural Revolution in China was stark. Carrie’s mother’s ankles were still swollen after working in rice fields for a pittance. She and Carrie’s father had managed to emigrate to the US in the 1990s, when Carrie was four.

But Carrie soon discovered that “as needed” meant being on call 24/7, and that her high-paying job was almost as grueling as what her mother had experienced. Gradually it became clear that Boone expected her to be an impeccable machine of efficiency.

“Can you respond to all my emails when you see them?” he asked her one morning, with the soft-spoken, steely determination that was his trademark, after she hadn’t replied when he’d sent her a photo of his children after office hours at the company’s family day.

Landing the job in New York was quite an achievement, involving fourteen interviews, one by an 'executive coach' who assessed her mental fitness: would she be 'all in' and put her work above all else?

Landing the job in New York was quite an achievement, involving fourteen interviews, one by an ‘executive coach’ who assessed her mental fitness: would she be ‘all in, putting work above all else’?

She discovered that the only way to do the job to his required standard was to work on weekends and give up all social contact.

Boone was relentlessly demanding and nothing was ever good enough. His demands were “continuous, nonrepetitive, and increasing in intensity,” so Carrie could not comply with his requests. For example, he would suddenly give her 30 minutes to read dozens of research reports, collecting and synthesizing all the data that could influence a billion-dollar decision.

And then he said, “Carrie. So. Your energy. I want you to walk with more confidence and just walk in and then leave, but also be more relaxed and relaxed.”

One day he asked her to “track what you do minute by minute and then add up all the minutes you could save if you were inefficient or suboptimal.”

In his assessment, he said he wanted her to “become more of a leader through hard work,” “increase proactivity” and “take feedback well: it’s meant to make us better.”

But then he gave her a bonus and a pay rise, the benefit of ‘investing in the fund’, plus a voucher for a massage and body scrub at the Mandarin Oriental, so she felt like she should be grateful. “He was kind – so kind – while he worked me to the bone,” she writes.

She worked on the 46th floor overlooking Central Park (pictured) and worked for a soft-spoken financial genius who was clearly raking in billions

She worked on the 46th floor overlooking Central Park (pictured) and worked for a soft-spoken financial genius who was clearly raking in billions

When she dared to say she was overworked, Boone simply gave her a few days off at a luxury spa or yoga retreat.

This is a fascinating look into the world of hedge fund billionaires. “The Banality of Genius” is what Carrie notes: Boone’s success came not from some mystical gift, but simply from his total, obsessive efficiency.

One of Carrie’s tasks was organizing Boone’s family holiday: not just the £35,000-a-night accommodation at a billionaire beach resort near Malibu, but every aspect, including chartering the plane to bring ‘different breakfast catering’ to the to fly home. .

“Carrie, remember,” Boone reminded her as she was floundering, “money can solve almost anything.”

“Ah, but is that possible?” you wonder as you read this book. When the main fund fell 20 percent during a tough financial situation, Boone didn’t seem too concerned, but Carrie noticed that the whole atmosphere in the office turned to misery.

Exhausted, she started making small mistakes, like forgetting to book her other boss, Gabe, for his flight online, leaving him waiting a full hour at an airport. “This can’t happen again,” he told her.

One day, Carrie was sweating on the walking machine, as part of her drive to be physically and mentally perfect, and was so busy answering one of Boone’s emails that she tripped and burned and cut her leg. So she had to give up exercising for a while and go on a “six-day juice cleanse” instead.

Her boss's demands were

Her boss’s demands were “continuous, non-repetitive and increasing in intensity.” He suddenly gave her 30 minutes to read dozens of research reports and synthesize all the data that could influence a billion-dollar decision (Stock Image)

You begin to see how crazy and self-punishing the world of affluent New York can be—and how, if you break the spell of that perfectionism, you can fall apart. Carrie broke the spell and fell apart.

Due to her exhaustion, her blunders at work became more frequent. She stuffed herself with cupcake sundaes, which led to episodes of bulimia. She has gained 36 pounds. Boone gave her a pair of £1,500 leggings, but they were too small. In her diary, she noted that she “chews and spits” on dried coconut chips in the afternoon “when she gets so crazy that all I want to do is die.” While she was grateful for the high pay and perks, they were all hollow when she was unable to function.

Looking back on all this, Carrie delves into her impossibly difficult childhood. Her account clarifies the consequences of China’s one-child policy: her mother had forced abortions after her birth. All the pressure was put on Carrie to succeed and be perfect. Her mother pulled her by the ear and forced her to practice the piano. Her father punched her in the face for spilling milk – so badly that the police were called.

Carrie got the perfect job, but the end result was a nervous breakdown. Boone sent her to a £2,000-an-hour therapist, who told her: ‘There’s nothing wrong with you. Your work is killing you.’

It was time to leave.

“This is terrible timing for me,” Boone said as she resigned.

Eight years later, she is happily married, living in Brooklyn and proving to be an excellent memoirist.