I spent three decades in the corporate world, for the most part really liking what I did. But if I’m being 100 percent honest, toward the end of my time in corporate, a thought was always on my peripheral that I couldn’t shake: “I don’t really love this anymore. But I can’t afford to leave.” Or so I told myself.
You see, my story went like this.
Making plenty of money meant I was succeeding. I had to have somewhat bigger houses to live in as I went along–it was a sign of progress for me, not crass materialism. Now, I liked what I did and loved using my various leadership roles as platforms to help others become the best, most-fulfilled versions of themselves, but I began to get inklings that I needed to live a life of even greater servitude.
But still, money.
I couldn’t picture ever doing something where my salary would go backward. Again, forward progress only. I came to a crossroads in the late back half of my corporate career. Something else was calling me.
It was a desire to pursue my first love, speaking from the stage. And writing. Teaching. Coaching. I yearned to broaden my platform for making a difference in people’s lives. But that meant making the leap from corporate to start my own business with my wife. A launch into the unknown.
To fast forward through the multiyear mulling, I came to realize it was about the meaning, not the money. I began planning my entrepreneurial venture while still in corporate, testing out my keynotes, writing my first book, developing my workshops and coaching model–a long side hustle so I could get hustling the day I quit.
Oh, and about the money: My wife and I came to the realization (or rather I did–she was always there) that we simply didn’t need as much as we had. Period. We’d built up a lifestyle that I felt trapped in. Not outrageous, five-finger-ring, lobster-quaffing living, but very comfortable. Would a trade down from that be so bad?
So we built a post-corporate/now-an-entrepreneur financial plan, based on the assumption of a trimmed-down lifestyle as we realistically wouldn’t match what I was making in corporate. We even calculated a very specific revenue target needed to afford the trimmed-down lifestyle.
The adjustment was freeing. Exhilarating. So, long before I made the leap, I had already gotten used to the concept of less is more.
So I took the leap.
And then something unexpected happened.
Knowing that some of the financial pressure was off allowed me to pour my heart into creating with my business, into prioritizing making a difference, not dollars, into spending my time on what put joy in my heart rather than just bread on the table.
Free from the money trap (which for me doubled as a self-esteem trap, if I’m honest), I began doing some of the best work of my life, taking risks, trying new things. Joy made its unmistakable imprint on every keynote, article, workshop, and class I crafted and delivered.
Clients noticed. And wanted more. And referred me. And referred me some more. And now (please forgive me, this isn’t a brag, it’s honest, pertinent information)–I make more than I did in corporate.
Wait a minute, you mean joy didn’t mean financial juggling?
I thought it would, turns out it didn’t.
This unexpected cycle is worth repeating. Being ready to make less freed me up to do more soulful, passion-filled work, which clients noticed, which led to me to make more.
What might you do armed with this epiphany?
Let me be very careful here. By no means am I suggesting that those who read this should just say “I can do with half” and then quit their job to open that hand-crafted-jewelry store on the beach. We all have our own unique situation and I wouldn’t dare to presume otherwise.
I’m simply saying this: We do our best work when it’s driven not by money, but by what moves us–and everyone profits.
If you’re already doing what moves you and it makes you money, fantastic. But if you’re assuming doing more of what you love means making less, maybe not.
Look, if you’re contemplating leaving your job as an investment banker to be a schoolteacher, I get it, the math doesn’t add up. But there are so many cases where the move from point A to point B is less financially dramatic than you’d think, and a “I can do with less” mentality plus joy-filled work might more than close the gap.
Might you build more joy into your life by at least considering if you need less? By making time to do more of what you love?
I’d argue you can’t afford not to.