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You Are More Than What You Earn, or Why I’m Choosing a Career I Love

When I landed my job in digital marketing at a local university, it was a dream come true. I got the offer via phone call exactly one week after graduating from university and I was thrilled. The role was perfect for me—digital strategy with lots of writing—and the salary was higher than I had imagined. After splurging on a dinner out, surprising my mom with a new MacBook (love you, Mom!) and treating my better half to a weekend at the Disney Resort, I buckled down and started paying off my student loans.

Less than a year later, I was debt free and I felt….miserable.

I expected to be deliriously happy, but instead, I felt defeated and sad. In many ways, paying off my debt was a life changing moment for me, but not in the way I expected.

It was the moment that I truly understood that money wasn’t the answer. For the first time in years, I was financially stable and debt free. It was a time in my life when I should have been able to take a deep breath and truly relax. But even though I was no longer living on less than $15,000 in one of the nation’s most expensive cities, I still felt poor and terrified.

I was trapped in a world of scarcity.

$1,000 in the bank wasn’t enough to make me feel safe, but neither was $5,000, $10,000 or $20,000. No amount of money was big enough to rescue me from my feelings of fear.

I went back to therapy. I journaled. I allowed myself to spend money. I went on long runs. I worked through my feelings of guilt and fear. I cried a lot, but I kept going.

Somewhere along the way, I decided that I wouldn’t allow money to define me. For so many years, my lack of money defined my existence. Could I afford to spend $1 on dinner? Would I be able to work another 15 hour day so I could pay rent?

But once I was earning money at my full-time job, the obsession didn’t end.

The circumstances had changed—I had more than enough money—but my fear-based spending did not. Enough was never enough and even more heartbreaking, I felt like I was never enough.

I no longer think that.

I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way, I decided that I was enough, and that one small shift has changed everything.

One of the biggest things it’s changed? My career path.

In less than two weeks, I’ll be embarking on an entirely new career as a high school English teacher. After a lot of soul-searching, I feel confident that this is exactly where I am meant to be right now and I am SO EXCITED.

For the next 8 months, I’ll be a full-time student and student teacher. I’ll be working in the classroom with a guide teacher and 30 teenagers, all of whom will help decide the future of our world. I’m excited to play a small part in the people they choose to become.

I feel excited. I feel ready. And most importantly, I feel at peace. I feel at peace with my money and my career and all of the decisions I’ve made to get to this point.

But the funny thing about feeling at peace is that other people, who have not yet arrived at a the same destination, have strong reactions.

When I was at FinCon last year (a huge financial conference), I was in the beginning stages of planning for this career shift. I found myself in a car full of early retirement bloggers and one of them asked what I do for work.

I answered that I work in digital marketing. Heads started to nod and someone sagely replied, “There’s a lot of money to be earned in digital marketing.” I laughed in response, “I’m actually working towards becoming a high school teacher.” The car filled with silence. Someone finally replied with pity in their voice, “Oh, there’s no money in that.”

I’ll never forget that moment because in that instance, I saw my previous self reflected back to me.

For that person, money was the beginning, the middle and the end.

It was the sole aspect to consider when making a decision and the only element that mattered when it came to big choices like how to use our one lifetime. My obsession with money took a different form than his, but it was similar nonetheless.

Instead of responding, I felt a wave of sadness wash over me. I felt sad for the younger version of myself who felt so fearful about not having enough that she made herself sick. But I also felt sad for this man and the ways in which he had clearly limited his own life and happiness.

As for me, I’m glad to be free.

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