I recently resigned from the best job I’ve ever had. This job was fun, challenging, and meaningful. I was very well paid, grew and mentored an amazing team and got to work with thousands of interesting customers. I learned skills I could carry with me from an amazing mentor. Best of all for the first time, I cared deeply about the product we were sharing.
I told everyone who would listen how happy I was to be at Aha! … and so when I left to become a self-employed life coach, people wondered why and how.
My close friends weren’t surprised because I’d been clear that my “retirement career” would be life coaching because while Aha! aligned with many of my values, life coaching enables me to exercise all of my values at once. Regardless of whether people were surprised or not, I know many wondered how I could afford to go from a competitive six figure paycheck to zero income.
I left Aha! because my calling to be a life coach was getting too strong to ignore. I could afford it because I’ve been planning this for 20 years – I didn’t know life coaching was my calling back then but I knew I never wanted to be jailed by money. I know that’s a luxury very few people have and I want to share how I got here.
I believe our culture is stacked against most people with the materialism and obsession with high-priced brand names. Consequently, many live with staggering debt. As a society it’s become commonplace to carry credit card debt, car loans and mortgages as part of the accepted routine. I’m here to say I have none of that and I believe that most people who are earning a livable wage can achieve this too (or at least get closer than they are).
Debt is a burden that can easily keep a person or family constricted because almost every decision must factor in the question “Can we afford it?”. It leads to guilt, frustration and arguments at a minimum.
What’s most important to me is that you know why I want to help other people and I will share that first, but as part of that story I think it’s my responsibility to share how I am able to financially afford a move like this. The last thing I want to do is romanticize my decision or inspire anyone to do make a decision that would be financially risky. But maybe my story will help insire some of you to make some positive changes to free yourselves.
What drives me to help others
It took me almost 40 years to understand my path to fulfillment. That’s a long freakin’ time to be lost and lonely — I want to help shorten the time it takes others to find their fulfillment. That’s why I’m a coach.
From an early age I struggled because I did not know who I was — I looked for cues as to how to portray myself from my surroundings and how people reacted to me. I am extremely empathetic and was so sensitive that I felt other people’s emotions – If I pleased them I did more of “that” and if I didn’t, I shut that part of me off. Because of this, I feel it took me far longer to get in touch with who I was and to be brave enough to be myself regardless of how others felt about me.
To the outside world I lived a meaningful and very successful life. I was a compassionate person, excelled at work and was financially independent. I was the person others leaned on for support and I was well-liked. But under the surface I was unfulfilled, lonely and ashamed. It was hard to explain in a way people could understand because I couldn’t understand it myself. Consequently I was very careful about confiding in others because I feared being a burden or defective.
I still don’t understand why being unfulfilled felt shameful to me, but it led me to Brené Brown’s talks about vulnerability and shame and they inspired me. Listening to her gave me the courage to practice vulnerability more often and I realized that it was the key to true connection. This was the beginning of a very powerful journey to becoming a life coach.
I now believe that there are so many people who muster the energy to appear happy — that they may have even resigned themselves to a life of just existing until they die.
Well, that’s sad and unnecessary in my opinion. We all have the right to thrive and live our most fulfilled life, and that is why being a life coach is my calling.
How I was able to quit my job
I was fortunate because I was raised by a frugal mother — I thank her often because she shaped my relationship with money. I learned never to waste anything, find multiple uses for things and do without — if it wasn’t a need, it was a want. We had everything we needed, but we had few “wants”. This didn’t bother me like it may have most kids, but with four kids, my mom had to say “No” a lot and I am thankful she sacrificed because I know it was never easy to say “No”.
I started earning money when I was in middle school, selling friendship pins and bracelets for 5 and 10 cents and with the money I made, I invested it back in my business by purchasing more thread, beads and pins. I walked dogs for a dollar a walk. Later, I babysat until I could finally work legally. I never stopped working and really enjoyed it for its own sake – early on I learned that I shouldn’t do things for the money and I should find value and meaning in everything I did.
I rarely spent my money because I didn’t really want for anything because I’d been brought up not to value material things. This served me very well (thanks Mom!).
When I went to college, I continued my frugality by choosing a state school to keep costs down. When I got my first apartment I never went out to eat. Ever. I made all of my meals. Every paycheck immediately was set aside to pay rent, food and bills. I allocated $10 for weekly entertainment. Paying my bills was very satisfying to me because with each paycheck I was closer to zero debt.
I continued this practice even when I got my first technology job making $30,000 a year – a huge salary for a 25 year old in 1997. I furnished my apartments with free or used furniture and always lived with roommates to keep costs down.
By this time I was making enough that I allowed a bit more entertainment money and went on my first vacation to Jamaica. Like many people do, I fantasized about never coming back but I had to because I still had debt. It hit home:
I never wanted debt or lack of money to prevent me from choosing a different life.
By the time I was 28 (2000) I had made my final student loan payment, owned a 1997 Honda Civic outright, had no debt, a maxed out 401K and an emergency fund of $6,000. The next time I had debt was when I bought a house in 2005, for which I put down $70,000 so I could avoid PMI (an unnecessary cost!). I drove a Saturn VUE that cost me $16,999 for over 12 years, had roommates for 4 years and was able to pay off my mortgage by 2010.
From there I focused on saving and investing, always maxing out my 401K, until I was safely in a position to manage without an income for several years. That time came in 2011, but I had a lot more to learn about myself before I would find my calling (more on that in a future blog post).
I am fortunate that my skillset allowed me to work in technology because the salaries are typically six figures. I know that many people are not in that situation and many people have kids – I do not. However, I am confident that if I made, let’s say, $50,000 a year I would have adjusted my home purchase to ensure I could still pay it off early — perhaps not in 4 years, but certainly less than 10.
Becoming a coach, for me, is very much tied to money, but not in the way you might imagine. For me, becoming a coach was something I only wanted to do when I was free to be guided by service to others, without worrying about the money. I knew that when starting out, I would make very little — likely only a few thousand in the first year — and I never wanted to feel desperate for clients or motivated for the wrong reasons.
A common misconception among folks is that coaches advise and perhaps some do, but I don’t believe in that. I don’t offer advice or tell you what’s right for you. I don’t even have an opinion — how the hell would I know what’s best for you? What I do is help you uncover your own path and support you in your journey. You already have the answers, but my have trouble accessing them.
However, if I were going to offer advice, one area would be in how to be eliminate or reduce the hold money has over you.
My hope is that, from my example, you might take my advice where it makes sense for you. And that is why I wrote this highly personal post, where I am practicing vulnerability (because this definitely makes me feel vulnerable).