4 Ways Self-employment Changed How I Define 'Wealth'

01/06/2016 05:33 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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When I left my last corporate job behind two years ago to start my own business, it marked the end of my 10-year stint as an international brand marketer managing leading brands at blue-chip consumer goods companies in the U.S. and UK.

Although I had the privilege of working on some great projects, I eventually grew tired of the daily grind, of feeling like a cog in a wheel.

So I decided to leave it all behind and start my own business focused on a cause I found more meaningful.

When I first ventured off on my own, I struggled to feel as "important" or "credible" as other professionals in my peer group, especially when faced with the age-old question, "What do you do?" I found myself fumbling over my response as someone self-employed. For so long, especially post-MBA, my professional identity was largely driven by my association with companies where I worked, brands I managed, or job titles I held.

When I left the corporate world, my finances also took a major hit, at least initially. The days of corporate perks, financial incentives, and year-end bonuses came to an abrupt halt.

I initially felt like I had let go of a lot of "wealth" in my life. 

However, self-employment has radically expanded my perspectives of "wealth." Wealth is now about accumulating what I truly value, what makes me happy.

Here are four ways my definitions of wealth have evolved . . .

1. My profile over high profile

For many years, I genuinely believed working for a big-name company somehow made me more important. Really. I thought having a fancy title or managing a cool global brand somehow earned me more respect from others. Even if that were actually true, I now realize this external judgment just doesn't matter to me anymore.

Instead, I now value doing work that aligns with my personal brand and what I can uniquely offer the world. I value being driven by a cause that matters to me -- helping people relaunch their careers. I value doing meaningful work that engages me, making me feel wealthy in ways I never did sitting behind a corporate desk.

2. Health perks over corporate perks

Ahh yes, corporate perks. Here's a small sampling of material things included in employment offer letters to which I used to assign disproportionate value: stock options, corporate relocation packages, company cars, airport lounge access, even free product. However, offer letters also often include a section called, "Normal Hours of Work." For all you non shift-based employees out there, you probably know these hours are only partially within your control, and you end up barely having free time outside of work.

Now, I control my days. I eat better, sleep better, and exercise more. Therefore, I'm healthier than I ever was in the corporate world, nearly the best physical and mental shape of my life. And because I now do work that actually energizes me, I have more left in the tank to actually lead a balanced life. My father once told me that your health matters more than anything else. I've always believed that, but only now am I able to act accordingly.

3. Relationships over money

I wouldn't label myself as someone primarily motivated by money. My family led a very modest life as I grew up in small-town Springfield, Missouri in the US. Still, I liked my corporate salary, the financial incentives, the end-of-year bonuses. I got used to the cushy lifestyle very quickly, and those corporate carrots dangling around every corner had an uncanny way of convincing me to keep climbing the corporate ladder.

Right now though, I find greater happiness in having more time with people I love. Although I now work harder and longer than ever before, I spend more quality time with my wife. I can take extended trips to visit my family, all of whom live overseas. I can connect with friends in ways I never managed to make time for in the corporate world. Relationships keep me going, and I'm to now prioritize them accordingly.

4. Freedom over security

When you work for an established organization, the stability, predictability, and established reputation can be comforting. The steady, monthly paycheck doesn't hurt either. Knowing your company will exist the next year or decade is great. However, nothing is guaranteed. Layoffs, organizational changes, and mergers happen all the time.

Now, I value freedom so much more. Freedom to control my scope of work. Freedom to engage with the clients I enjoy serving. Freedom to change course. Freedom to evolve my priorities as my interests evolve. I love knowing I'm in control of my destiny instead of being at the mercy of an organization's agenda.

Can you have it all?

Do status, money, and stability still matter to me? Sure. Do I still care about  material wealth? Yes. In fact, I'll likely care about it more as my life inevitably becomes more complex over time.

The irony is that by focusing on these other more deeply personal components of wealth over the past two years, conventional wealth has followed.

Financial wealth and "life" wealth can and often do coexist. These days though, if push came to shove, I'd opt for the latter. Ultimately, fueling my passions, health, relationships, and freedom makes me happier, more fulfilled, and energized every single day, which is absolutely priceless.

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