I was making about $120,000 a year straight out of college and I thought I had made it. I thought I was on the right path.
After working several years in corporate America, I learned three important lessons along the way. I realized I was wrong, and that I was just taking myself deeper into this whole mess; and before I dug so deep that I wouldn’t be able to climb out of it, I decided to quit for several years after college.
I commuted one hour to the office and worked 10-12 hours. I then went back home, slept, and repeated this routine.
The next day, I slept at work and the next day, I slept at work and the next day, I slept at work.
I seriously thought that this would be it for the next 16,060 days that I would be doing this until I retired. At least on the bright side.
There were two moments every day that I looked forward to.
One time, I got up from my desk, went to the bathroom, and used my phone, and the other time, I got up from my desk and walked out those doors. One day, after watching too many motivational YouTube videos on the toilet,
I realized that I had two paths before me: one path was bright, with dirt, smooth and paved and safe, with a lot of people walking on it. The other path was darker.
The ground was rough. It was dangerous, with rocks and it was lonelier.
I know some of you reading right now. The highlight of your day is also when you go to the bathroom or when you leave the office, and I want to let you know that it doesn’t have to be that way.
So, this is to share with you my experiences on what finally convinced me to switch to a different path, and I really want you guys to pay attention because I want this to be more than just words.
So here are my three lessons:
1. Work Culture
Let’s start with the work culture itself: it’s based on how hard it seems like you’re working, not how hard you’re actually working.
I remember time and time again when I had to stay in the office until 8 pm, 9 pm, and even past midnight, sometimes in order to finish an assignment that day as if the world was going to implode.
If it didn’t finish that day- and I wasn’t the only one in the office either- there were honestly a bunch of people with everyone secretly wanting to outwork the other person and truly it was an endless toxic cycle of people bragging about how long they spent in
The company paid for the company’s employees’ dinner and their Uber ride home, which I absolutely hated.
But it’s just a thing that people did, and since I wanted to belong, I joined in on this cycle, which probably perpetuated the cycle, and looking back it never really stung me until one night. I remember this very vividly.
I was so frustrated at work because I realized I had to work late. My phone started ringing and I checked, and I saw my mom was calling me. My first thought wasn’t “this is nice.”
My mom is calling me. Instead, my thought was, what does she want now?
I picked up the phone and she asked in a very sweet, kind voice. “Are you coming home for dinner?”
I remember talking back to her and my voice was so angry and annoyed as if she said something that was completely outrageous.
What I said was “No, I don’t have time.” Then I hung up, and after that call, believe it or not.
I was still angry as if I hadn’t just acted like a complete jerk to my own mom and I just kept on working. It wasn’t until I went back home and I stepped through the door, and I saw my mom, that she was happy to see me.
She was excited to see me and asked me how work was. She brought out the dinner she had saved for me, which she had made for me.
The only thought I had at that moment was “wow.”
I chose to spend extra hours of my life in order to help finish a project so that others could achieve their dreams and that’s when I learned my first lesson:
“If you don’t build your dreams, then someone else will hire you to build theirs“.
I realize that if I never stopped to help someone else build their dreams, then every hour of my time, even after work, belongs to them and because they owned my time, they owned my emotions.
They owned my reactions and my relationships, and I know this might sound extreme, but this is genuinely how I felt after doing something that was so unsatisfying every single day that it became painful.
Yet, even after realizing all this, it still wasn’t enough to convince me to take my first step onto the darker path.
I graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2017 and then I worked in finance on Wall Street and I worked on hundreds of millions of dollar projects.
I worked with executives. I worked in London for half a year, and I’m not going to lie, I was super excited to get this job at first because it made me think I had made it.
What was even more exciting was the fact that I got to tell my parents that their son has a good job. Their son got paid a fantastic salary.
All your sacrifices, including the ones that you made to give us an opportunity to live in Hong Kong, you left your friends and family, and you came to the United States without knowing anyone or speaking the language.
All of that, all those sacrifices finally paid off. But after a few months, that excited feeling I got riding up the elevator to the 27th floor disappeared and instead, I started dreading going back to the office to do the meaningless work day in and day out.
I ever felt like I was doing so much, putting so much time and effort into doing something, but I felt like I wasn’t doing anything. I was just a spinning cog inside a machine inside a bigger machine. Then one day something happened.
2. You are Replaceable
That taught me my second lesson every day without fail around noon after lunch. I would pass this person in the hall and we can call him John. I was friendly with John.
He was like one of those really old guys who always seemed happy and always had a joke to tell. I wasn’t exactly friends with him, but we would say hi to each other in passing.
We had small talk, and I always thought of John as this model employee that every company would want to hire because he was a hard worker and never complained about anything.
Then one day, he stopped showing up and I didn’t think about it very much at first.
I thought he was just on vacation, but then a week went by and a month went by and then several months went by, and still nothing. To this day, I have no idea what happened to John.
He could have quit, he could have been fired.
People went to the office, people left the office. It was as if John never existed within these walls.
Ever since I really thought about it, I knew in the back of my head that a company is not going to stop running just because someone isn’t there anymore, but it felt really weird to witness that someone that you’ve seen every day, someone that you’ve interacted with every day just disappeared and nothing changed.
That’s where the second lesson clicked that:
“We are all replaceable. Every single one of us – and this really ties back to my first lesson in that you’re only as good as the hours of life that you can give to the company.”
Once you can’t give them any more hours or you want to give them fewer hours, they’ll find someone else who can.
3. Find a Purpose
This is when I felt more motivated than ever to really start planning and strategizing on how I can change my path and start walking the darker path.
But it wasn’t until the third lesson that I took my first step onto the other path, because this is when I really thought about my entire life.
When I was in preschool, I was always open to helping other people, whether it was someone at school who didn’t have a toy I had. I would let them play with my toy or if I had an extra bag of Cheez-its and my friends finished theirs.
I would give them some of mine, but as I got older, I stopped. I became a lot more selfish and this thinking really stemmed from seeing my parents being taken advantage of because they couldn’t speak English.
I know this because I was there when these situations happened. I was just too scared to speak up, because I was just a little kid at the time, and internally I was thinking like I became so cynical at the entire world.
The only thing on my mind was finding a job that pays me because then, if I had a good job, then I would have more leverage and I wouldn’t have to rely on other people as much.
Fast forward a couple of months or a year or so into my work, while I was mindlessly working on the computer, making a presentation in PowerPoint, I don’t know what I was doing. I was resizing a box to make it look nicer.
At that moment, I was thinking to myself – is this what life is all about? Creating really nice excel models to make really nice powerpoint’s like?
I was just thinking to myself that there has to be more, and then I realized my third lesson. This is what was missing from my career: a purpose.
If you don’t have a purpose in life, then you will be a part of someone else’s purpose and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with not having a purpose in life as long as you’re aware of it and have made this decision on your own.
Personally, I wasn’t fine with it. I wanted to do and contribute more with my life than what I was doing at the time. I wanted to rediscover the mindset that I had when I was a kid.
I realized that the best way for me to do that is to use my background, my knowledge, and my education to help other people understand and teach them how they can improve their personal finances.
Despite all the sayings that money is the root of all evil, the truth is that money impacts all of us and unless we control money, money will control us.
It took me years to learn these lessons that ultimately inspired me to take the first few steps down the darker path. I was lucky enough to be in that position that allowed me to do this.
It took me years to finally make the plunge because I felt so much pressure internally and externally.
My dad is the hardest-working person I know out of 365 days, and he only takes one day off—Chinese New Year—to spend time with his family.
It really sucked when I was younger because I didn’t see my dad very often like when I was a kid, I would go to bed pretty early and I wouldn’t wake up until a little later.
Internally, quitting just felt wrong, like it was a disgrace to my family that I couldn’t hold a job or withstand my job for longer than a few years.
I felt like I was being really ungrateful, walking away from a job that was so comfortable and had such great benefits.
What I realized is that sticking through something that is deeply unsatisfying just isn’t worth it. I didn’t want to be paid money to shut up and forget about my dreams and continue down this safer path with no other purpose than to just make money.
We all have a purpose for being here today, but sometimes we lose sight of that. Sometimes it’s different from what we’re doing, and we want to be doing something else, but we’re not trying because it’s scary going down that darker, more dangerous path.
We let fear stop us from going after our dreams, we get worried about being uncomfortable or failing, or just the lifestyle choices we made in the past prevent us from taking that plunge.
We get sucked into what society expects of us, which is to get a job to buy a really nice car, buy a nice house, because other people have nice cars and other people have nice houses.
We want other people to accept us because we care about what other people think over our own happiness at some point in our lives. Impressing other people when you really don’t care about them is not worth it!
Golden handcuffs are something to avoid. They’re not worth it, as they make it harder to break free every time you buy something more.
I had my job to thank for allowing me to learn these lessons because without going through this for years, these lessons would have just become a quote that I read online somewhere or just words that I heard from a random YouTube video.
If there’s one thing the education system failed to teach all of us, it’s understanding the power of money and personal finance. The real power of money is not that you can buy whatever you want.
The real power is that you’re able to buy the freedom to spend your time how you like, when you like, and where you like. It’s the freedom not to let anyone else control your time, your emotions, or your life.
Conclusion: I am Scared
If you want to hear about what I’m experiencing right now, yes, I’m scared. I’m scared of failing.
I’m scared of disappointing my parents, who sacrificed so much for me to go to college to get a job and if I fail it feels like I’m throwing all of that away.
I’m scared of not making it, even though I’m giving it my all. But despite all these fears, there’s one thing I’m even more scared of, and that is to not try. I’m scared of regret.
I’m scared of not taking this opportunity. That’s before me and not trying to make something out of it.
What I understood
You can’t grow unless you’re uncomfortable until you’re scared. And when you join me on this path, I want to let you know that you’re going to constantly feel like you can’t do it.
There will be people who tell you that you will fail, but that’s okay.
What’s worse than failing is not trying when you really want to and if you’re not ready to try that’s okay, too. But take this time now to start planning for how you can take that next step. Don’t lose sight of your way and your reason.
If you’re asking when is the best time to start taking this plunge, the answer is there is no better time.
You have to take the jump when you can afford to drown.
Top 7 Reasons Employees Leave a Company Today
Here are the top 5 reasons employees leave a company:
- Low Salary.
- No remote work availability.
- Lack of stability.
- No future.
- Lack of work-life balance.
- Poor management.
- Poor workplace culture.