In my early thirties, I left a solid job and took a 50 percent pay cut to join a fledgling start-up.
About a year before I quit, I received a huge promotion at a global bank. I was helping millionaires and billionaires with their banking and investment needs. One of my responsibilities was to find new clients.
A mutual friend referred a potential client to me. They were trying to sell a building in Manhattan, New York. It seemed apparent that they needed help, so I did some research on their property.
A friend of mine told me that their sale price didn’t account for their “air rights.” Manhattan is an island, so real estate developers build skyward to make more space, which makes the air above buildings valuable–air rights.
I told them about the mispricing of their building and got them another 10 percent added to their sale price.
They walked away with about thirty-three million dollars.
Since it was a little too much money to hide under a mattress, they told me that they wanted to work with me. And, I was happy to be their banker.
After that transaction, I realized that I could create value for others and the company for which I worked.
From that realization, I got the idea that I needed a raise and promotion. And, I decided to do something about it.
I walked into my boss’s office, sat down, and started to talk. “So, I’d love a raise and promotion,” I said. “I think I can continue adding value here.” My boss told me that he would need to talk to others since the decision wasn’t totally up to him.
Sure, I was blunt. But, I thought, what’s the worst that could happen? They weren’t going to fire for asking for a raise. And, hearing “no” wouldn’t kill me either. So I went for it.
Around that same time, a new opportunity presented itself to me.
I started talking to a friend who owned a small startup that designed luxury retail spaces. I told her about my job and shared the story about the real estate deal.
She showed me her work, and I was mesmerized. The spaces they designed carried you into another world, filled with masterfully coordinated colors, materials, and textures that magically melded together and swept you away into a fantastical world.
During that meeting, I started to understand the power of design. It was something that I just felt and couldn’t articulate before we talked. But, from our conversation, I began to see the thought process behind it. And I was intrigued.
The owner of the design company helped me see a new world. One in which I could see myself working.
After our conversation, she seemed to think that I could help her business and wanted to see if her partner would agree.
So the three of us met. During the meeting, they asked me to help them. I jumped at the opportunity and agreed to join them as a consultant, while still keeping my job at the bank.
After working with the design company for a month, they asked me to join them full-time. But, the pay was hard to swallow, and the benefits were non-existent.
By this time, I was even more interested in this new world of design. I just wasn’t sure if I was ready to leave my corporate job with all of its perks.
But, when I was honest with myself I knew I wasn’t happy at the bank, even with the higher salary. It was just a job to me. It wasn’t my passion.
I was on the fence about the situation until a series of events flung me over the edge.
Our bank’s COO was beloved by almost all of the employees. He even knew everyone’s name (not an easy thing to do in a global organization). Then, he died.
I saw him walking around looking perfectly healthy the day before. Then, I got the terrible news. I was shocked. An aneurysm took him. He was only in his fifties.
His death marked me. It reminded me that life is short and unpredictable. More importantly, it made me want to live while I was still alive.
Then, I got the response to my request for a promotion. My boss told me that there was nothing he could do for me. I didn’t blame him. But, I walked away, with a distaste for large corporations, feeling like a cog.
I started to wonder if I wanted to work in a bureaucratic behemoth where people who don’t even know me could control the fate of my career.
Then the idea of getting paid more money didn’t seem to make me interested in staying at the bank. Banking wasn’t what I really wanted to do. It wasn’t my passion.
I wanted to live. I wondered if life had something more for me than just climbing the corporate ladder and getting fatter bonuses.
So, I accepted the offer from the design company and never looked back.
I told my manager at the bank that I was leaving. He asked me if I was sure and even offered me more money. That struck me as odd, but I told him that the decision wasn’t about that.
I knew that I would be taking a massive pay cut. And, I didn’t know if this job was the right direction for my career. The only thing I was sure about was that I had to try. I didn’t want to feel stuck and miss out on doing something I loved before I die.
I could gamble with money, but not with time.
Design and its ability to move people interested me. But, I wasn’t sure if it was my passion.
I studied the work my new employers created. And, I saw their process, and how they toiled over the details. Their work moved me.
As I spent more time at the small company, design started to become a passion. I loved seeing how the final product made our client’s businesses better. I loved seeing how beauty improved people’s lives.
I knew that I wasn’t a designer, but there was something that I could add. I understood people and business. And, I saw how I could be a bridge between the designers and their clients.
The new position took me a different direction in my career, and it had a lot of uncertainty. But it was a risk that I had to take.
I was on a quest. It wasn’t for promotions or raises. It was for love. I wanted to find a career that I loved.
Getting stuck working in a job, even a good one that paid well, wasn’t enough. I knew that life is unpredictable and shorter than we think.
So, yes, I took a 50 percent pay cut to see if I could get 100 percent out of life.