Growing up, I occasionally heard people say, "do what you love for a career and the money will come." And it was usually followed by, "and you'll never work a day in your life either." It sounded like an amazing way to live, but was it possible for my life?
Freshman year of college, I remember taking my first trip with friends to NYC. There was something so frickin' empowering and magical about jumping on the train from Boston, and arriving in one of the most creative, vibrant cities in the world. It also happened to be one of the most expensive, but that meant nothing to me at the time - I was walking on air, not to mention, living off of my parents' income.
I would day dream about my future life in NYC after I graduated from college. From my apartment in SOHO, to shopping at Bergdorff's and Barney's, dining in the yummiest restaurants, strolling through Central Park, and most importantly, landing my dream career in broadcast journalism as the next Katie Couric. I'd love my career, interviewing interesting people, stretching my curiosity and imagination, and as the quote says, the money would come.
But then something happened. My dreams started to fade. But why?
I've typically called it "practicality or reality setting in." During college, my money reality was feast or famine. I'd start off the month shopping, wining and dining and then barely be surviving off nickels and dimes at the end of each month (literally, I would be out of quarters...). That was uncomfortable and not how I wanted to live. Some would say I was a normal college kid, but I've learned that that word can be dangerous, so let's ignore normal.
This money reality pushed me to imagine my money story of what life after college in NYC might actually look like. It wouldn't be shiny and luxurious. I'd live in a studio apartment (with two other people) and eat ramen noodles for dinner. I would have a hard time finding a broadcast journalism job that would pay me enough to actually enjoy living there. The NYC money story in my mind was struggle. Was it true? Maybe. Did it have to be that way? Most definitely not!
But at age 20, I was way too uncomfortable risking financial security (you know, because I was getting older, I would want kids one day, they would need to go to college, and I'd want to buy a house, and bad stuff happens, I need an emergency fund)! I'm only sort of kidding about these thoughts, but all jokes aside, the truth was, the money story ran much deeper that wanting a shiny life. I realized I relied on money as a way to avoid types of struggle. It was an emotional security blanket; a way to avoid fears, negative emotion, pain and discomfort.
Money, similar to food, alcohol, drugs, sex, or anything else that causes momentary happy feelings or relief, can be a band-aid for hurt. All of your problems go away... For a moment or two.
I remember my 20-minute daily escape in college: Starbucks Grandé Americano with sugar-free vanilla + skim milk + 2 packs of Sweet and Low (I know, it makes me nauseous to think about too) . And you may ask, why the F did you need an escape as a privileged kid going to Boston University? That's for a future post, but we'll call it "pressure to be perfect" for now. My Starbucks concoction honestly felt like something I couldn't live without each morning (and afternoon), not for the caffeine, but for the "hug" it gave me. And 98% of days, I didn't go without it.
Then there was shopping. When I felt lonely or frustrated, I would trick my mind into thinking that shopping was a great solution. The funny thing was, I was so aware of what I was doing. I knew I wasn't fixing anything by spending money, but the problems underneath the surface felt so big that I'd rather buy things for momentary relief than deal with the big stuff. I'd save that for "later."
When the time came to declare a major, broadcast journalism represented too much struggle. It was too overwhelming and scary. So I ditched the dream and chose financial safety instead. I transferred to the business school and changed my major to finance - one of the top industries hiring undergrads right out of school. I landed a corporate finance job at Accenture outside Washington, DC. It was a great resumé building job, with amazing benefits and I'd make more than enough money to support my Starbucks lifestyle!
But the day I started, I was nervous, intimidated, anxious; similar to how I'd feel giving presentations in the business school. The pressure to be perfect was worse than ever, but this pressure in many ways felt so routine to me at the time. I chalked it up as first day jitters and told myself, this is how it's going to be. This is work. What started as "jitters" turned into years of stress, head and back aches, panic attacks, and what I would call today, a complete disconnect with my own gut intuition.
My mind told me how much I loved having a somewhat intellectually challenging, financially stable career and that the grass isn't greener, but my body and soul were telling me something was wrong. Something big was missing. But what? How could such a dichotomy exist inside of one human? That's when I asked for help from a therapist. I was scared. I needed to start understanding what the heck was happening. What were my money stories (lo and behold many other stories too) doing to me?
I learned that no amount of money was ever going to feel like enough until I healed my emotional wounds. Once I started to talk, the wounds shrunk. They didn't weigh so heavily on me. I was able to grow at Accenture personally and professionally and I'm grateful for that - I gained more confidence, took advantage of opportunities that felt more like me, things I actually enjoyed. The imposter syndrome quieted. I also got promoted and started making more money than I could have ever imagined at that point in my life. I suddenly noticed that it wasn't a coincidence; I chose the work I wanted (as much as I could), and the money came.
Almost 8 years into my career, financially and emotionally, things were the best that they had ever been in my life, but too much of my job still felt like draining work. I knew deep in my bones there was better. I started to lose interest in the intellectual component of my job, and craved deeper meaning with how I spent the majority of my waking hours. I started to see an entrepreneurial vision for myself. It would take risk, but I had saved money. The vision was meaningful to me, and potentially to many others. I would regret not trying, especially because I finally felt emotionally ready to tackle something new!
So I went for it! I put in my notice, handed in the corporate laptop and haven't looked back! I took some time to strengthen the parts of my life that felt weak and began living my journey, one that would keep me in alignment with my gut. I created the career I love today, as a coach to so many fantastically talented, inspiring people. In some ways, it's so similar to my Katie Couric vision, I'm just not on TV (yet)!!!!!
Freeing yourself from old money stories and creating new ones that evolve with you and your mission is a powerful process. I believe that we all have the ability to love what we do and to make money doing it, but we have to look inward to discover what is standing in our way. Is it the money stories you tell yourself? Does the fear of not having enough money stop you from taking risk?
Please comment below or email me to share your story or questions. Thank you!!!! xoxox