Moritz Erhardt and Ambition

I’m a typical twentysomething stuck in a dead-end job, but dreaming of something more for myself. I don’t know what it is yet, but I know that I want more. I want to achieve something. I want to make a difference. I know that once I pick a direction, I will work hard and propel myself forward. Long hours, all nighters, whatever! I’ll do it, because you’d do anything for your dream job, right?

Right.

Moritz Erhardt was like that too. I’ll give you the TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) version of everything the news has reported thus far.

TL;DR: Moritz Erhardt, a 21-year old intern at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch died last week, after pulling 3 all-nighters in a row, and 8 in the last two weeks. They found him dead in his shower in London. He had grueling work hours and was under pressure to succeed.

MoritzErhardt

Looks like this guy was the full package: cute, smart, ambitious, and hard working

This hits close to home. I didn’t know Moritz and I don’t know anyone who died from exhaustion–although there is some speculation that Moritz had a medical condition (like epilepsy) and/or was getting some help from methamphetamine to trudge through those long hours.

This hits close to home because I see myself in Moritz. I’m only a few years older than him, but that was me. That still is me, sometimes. I remember pulling all nighters in college, sometimes two in a row, just to finish a project or study for an exam. Like Moritz, I was under a lot of pressure to succeed, and I was incredibly competitive and overachieving.

My wake up call was when I ended up in the hospital. I worked myself to exhaustion and dehydration. I went to the hospital in the bad part of town (intake is faster). They told me that I was exhausted–unsurprising, since I was running on little to no sleep. They told me to drink water or even Gatorade to replenish my electrolytes and help my dehydration. I couldn’t drink anything without gagging. I was throwing up all day. At some point, my stomach was so empty that I was throwing up nothing–that’s right, I was throwing up air. I couldn’t sleep because I kept getting up to throw up.

They hooked me up to an IV and fed water into my veins. It’s absolutely sick that I loved it. It felt so nice. I felt somewhat refreshed. It didn’t occur to me, in that moment, how fucked up the situation was–I had worked my way into a hospital bed.

When I told my professor about the hospital incident, she told me that nothing can make up for the health I’ve lost.

I pulled a handful of all-nighters the following year in moderation. Since graduating, I haven’t pulled a single all-nighter and I intend to keep it that way.

My heart goes out to Moritz’s family and friends during this difficult time. I hope his death wasn’t for nothing–that his death will spark public outrage, and labour conditions for our interns–and other professionals like lawyers, doctors, and bankers–will be improved. We shouldn’t reward 100-hour workweeks. And we shouldn’t punish those for working normal hours. At the end of the day, it’s just not worth it.

As for all of you Moritz’s out there, take it easy. Your health is the most valuable thing you have. Don’t fall into the trap, set some boundaries for yourself, and know when to call it quits.

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10 thoughts on “Moritz Erhardt and Ambition

  1. I have a friend who worked/interned in investment banking. Though it was common to leave at 3 AM and wake up at 6AM, it wasn’t common to leave at 6AM. I think it is insane. As young people, we are pushed so hard to give ourselves up for work (because career! success! ambition! you have nothing better to do!) that some companies forget that health is the most important thing. Just a final thought, I don’t see how efficient someone can be after a 12 hour working day nor if working those hours shows efficiency. Maybe, it is just a way for bosses to haze us into submission (woaah that escalated quickly)

    • Such an interesting theory. Cults work like that–they deprive you of outside stimulation, food, and rest so you’ll be more compliant.

      I think that young people are so zealous to get ahead and work themselves to the bone to prove their worth–and companies go ahead and encourage that with praise and other rewards. It sucks that there isn’t a mentor or a buddy at the organization who can take the young’un by the labels and say “Go home kid. You’ve had enough.” Remember, these interns are competing for jobs, so they’re constantly trying to out-do eachother and prove themselves to the bigwigs.

    • Oh, and yes, my brain turns to mush after 12 hours too. This guy had 3 days in a row–yikes!

  2. The pressure to work harder and harder gets more and more stressful as the chance of success decreases with the economy. I can’t blame anybody for wanting to come out on top. People like to think that working like that is what fulfillment and happiness should be like…

    • Ain’t that the truth. Our parents’ generation was different. If you had a college degree in the 70’s, you were already ahead. Damn.

      • People are so caught up in the American Dream of “If you work hard, you’ll succeed.” But how hard is too hard? The ratio of college tuition to the minimum wage hours you’d need to support it has skyrocketed compared to the 70s!

      • I completely agree. People go out and get a second mortgage on their house so they can put their kids through school. Jobs are shrinking. And then they graduate and work retail or somewhere else they’re overqualified for. And for what? For minimum wage? It’s absolutely insane.

  3. Pingback: Moritz Erhardt: Extreme Personal Competition to the Death – John Gelmini « Dr Alf's Blog

  4. This statement all the major media outlets are pushing, that he “worked three days until 6AM” makes it sound better that it was.

    He worked 72 hours straight, after working 8 times in a two-week period where he went without sleep. I read that he he worked 2 nights in a row without sleep 8 times in a two week period which is impossible.

    If you work 2 nights in a row (48 hours without sleep), you can only do it 7 times. (2 x 7 =14).

    What is more likely is he worked a mix of 24 and 48 hours at a time in a two week period by going without sleep that then tried to cap it off by working 72 hours in a row without sleep.

    It also appears that after working this 72 hours in a row without sleep, he was going to go back and work another 24 hours without sleep.

    There is no indication he had epilepsy or that we has taking meth.

    He did from overwork, his electrical system went haywire because he hadn’t sleep hardly at all in 2-1/2 weeks.

    We can’t work in this corporate system. We all have to get out.

    • I agree. And our young generation is the one that needs to rebel and push back. We grew up believing in change. We grew up believing that if we tried just hard enough, we could make anything happen. We’re the questioning generation–the millennials that are ostensibly difficult to herd and manage.

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