Working in financial services involves long hours, a sedentary lifestyle and can often induce stress. However, to say that this automatically promotes ill health is not always accurate and, in my case, high blood pressure was in the family.
However, quite how quickly it came about was a shock. I was in my late-20s and a routine visit to the doctor to get some vaccinations for a trip to Thailand revealed a very high blood pressure level of 160 over 110. He told me I need to change my lifestyle immediately, or I was at risk of a heart attack by my mid-30s. This was a wake-up call.
At the time, I was working at a large UAE bank as a trader on their fixed income and rates desk, having moved to Dubai three years earlier after a time working at Bloomberg in London. The hours were tough, and the work stressful, but if I’m honest I never had the motivation to get myself to the gym.
I didn’t know what to do to keep myself fit, but I saw a feature on the ‘Out and About’ show on wall climbing in Dubai and thought I’d give it a go. After a few weeks of me huffing and puffing, the instructor came up to me to ask what, exactly, I was doing. I had no upper body strength, she said, and my aerobic fitness was clearly lacking.
She suggested a trip to Everest Base Camp in Nepal to get myself into shape – this was great, it gave me a chance to experience a real mountain and certainly got my fitness up. I came back ten kilos lighter! When I got back to Dubai, I started running and keeping fit, but I kept on asking myself how I could take mountain climbing further and really wanted to take a second trip.
The second trip to Nepal was a real eye-opener; the base camp trip was essentially a walking holiday, but this time I actually climbed a 6,600m mountain and saw Everest rise up in front of me. This was really the spark that ignited a passion for mountain climbing and returning to the day job left me feeling a little deflated.
I still needed an impetus to quit, though, and it was a combination of things. Firstly, I’d been offered a new job working debt restructuring in a boutique restructuring firm. Realistically, if I was going to accept this I had to commit myself for a few years – obviously, this isn’t a requirement, but something I felt ethically inclined to do.
I decided to quit my job and turned down the new offer until I decided what I wanted to do. One piece of advice I’d give to anyone working in banking looking to move out of the industry is to save your money – the industry pays really well, and my savings meant could live comfortably until I found what path I wanted to go down.
I’d been going to Nepal every year, getting more adventurous in the mountains I climbed, and had the same guide every time. We’d become friends, and after we got talking about my situation, he explained that he’d always wanted to start his own adventure company and it made sense for us to work together. This was how Mountain Quests manifested itself.
It might seem strange to run a mountain holiday company from Dubai, but the emirate is really entrepreneur friendly and there’s a large expat population across the GCC who have a keen sense of adventure.
Working in financial services isn’t something I’d ever go back to – that chapter of my life is closed.
Matt Farr is managing director of Mountain Quests, an adventure travel company based in Dubai