At 35, I had achieved a lot. I had a Harvard degree and an MBA from a top business school. I was a Director at a big deal consulting firm. I owned and lived in a beautiful condo in a posh neighborhood in San Francisco. In other words I was "successful". I had spent well over a decade forming the perfect, fake-plant life -- shiny and lush from afar, but lacking texture and vibrance if you leaned in too close.
I felt accomplished, but empty. That was two years ago.
My growing dissatisfaction nagged at me to take a hard look at my camera-ready reality. I could see that I was spending crazy amounts of time and energy on keeping up. Not with the Joneses. I was struggling (and suffering) just to keep up with my own creation. I had painstakingly crafted an enviable lifestyle... which had become a Frankenstein monster. It was a high-maintenance beast. And I was exhausted.
What I had succeeded at, was constructing a lifestyle. I had failed at creating a life.
I had an acute desire to put meaning before money. After trying many things, I found three practices that helped me build up the courage to finally give myself an 80% pay cut... in favor of greater freedom and fulfillment.
1. Building capacity for self-awareness. Shaking up routines -- by traveling, and also by welcoming unfamiliar situations closer to home -- has made me more aware and adept at observing my own patterns.
2. Questioning everything that seems true. Mixing with new people and ideas has helped illuminate my default belief system. I see habitual choices that I never challenged as choices before.
3. Creating space to experiment and explore. Giving myself permission to play and have fun has eased my unrelenting drive to achieve. As my inner critic gets quieter, my creativity grows bolder.
Simple perhaps, but not easy. After months of integrating these mindset shifts, the pull of discontent eventually began to outweigh the gravity of comfort. I decided to leave my corporate job. I moved out of my meticulously furnished flat, waved farewell to family and friends, and took my life on the road.
No boss. No schedule. No place to call home.
I dove into life, heart first. I have soaked up stimulating experiences, fascinating people, and awe-inspiring nature. Ten days of silent meditation. A five-day trek into the jungle. Intense heartfelt connections. Moments of unbearable confusion and loneliness. Laughing crying. Crying laughing.
This life is not always rosy. But it is real; it is raw; and it is rich.
I feel rich because I own my time. As an independent executive coach, I can work from almost anywhere. I choose the people I want to work with and the projects I want to work on. I say no to opportunities if they do not match my values or do not fit my schedule.
Now the majority of my working hours are spent dreaming up and making things that matter to me. This year I created a unique retreat experience designed to spark change for on-purpose women who are making moves to embrace meaningful work.
I used to think money would afford me many things... freedom, security, love, respect... I was surprised to notice these things pouring in effortlessly as I relaxed my grip on the pursuit of wealth. I am no longer focused on making money as the means to these ends. Instead, my focus is on becoming self-aware, questioning things and embracing playfulness. I see huge positive changes as a result:
- I travel lighter. My monthly expenses are now on the order of hundreds of dollars, not thousands. I only buy the things I love and need, and leave the things I merely like and want.
- I live in choice. I wake up and shape each day from scratch. I choose whether to stay where I am or go somewhere new. I choose what to do, how to think, and who to spend my time with.
- I learn all the time. I am always interested in and investing in my learning and growth -- whether through formal training and workshops or exposure to new people and experiences.
- I am deeply connected. My closest, most treasured friendships have endured while more superficial connections have fallen away. I have genuine bonds with people all over the world.
- I feel supported. I value my inter-dependence over my independence now. I feel more comfortable in asking for help and trust in receiving it. This provides an unshakeable sense of security.
I have much less in terms of money and things these days. Yet I feel richer in my experience of life. There is more freedom, more choice, more growth, more connection, and more security abounding. I have time and space to create what I care about. I am living and working on purpose.
Wendy May is a leadership consultant, executive coach, and creator of Life Reboot -- a unique retreat experience for women seeking to shift the meaning of work. Wendy has found that many principles used to shepherd organizations through change can also be used to guide individuals who are making changes within themselves for the "soul purpose" of work freedom and fulfillment.