Why I Took a $50,000 Pay Cut to Work for Myself

This post is by my good friend and previous guest on my podcast, Barrett Brooks, the founder of Living For Monday and creator of Career Kickstarter.

I’ll always remember the phone call. I was in the office in downtown Atlanta working on an awesome proposal team to try to win a new consulting contract at a huge Atlanta corporation. I was the only staffer on the team and I was getting incredible exposure to executive level professionals within the firm. Essentially, this project team had put me on a first name basis with multiple movers and shakers within the organization and set me up for an awesome start to my young career.

But then the call came in. I picked up the phone and heard one of the partners on the other end of the line ask me if I could be at “the client’s” office that afternoon. As soon as I told the proposal team I was working with where I was going, I knew things were not going to be good. They told me that it was good because I would be billing my hours, but that they would try and come rescue me in a couple of months… Rescue me?

What did that even mean?

Fast-forward three months… I opened up our progress tracker spreadsheet to check in on how far we had to go. Great. Just 10,000 more documents to find and they were all from countries in very different time zones. We had no real process or knowledge of how to get in touch with the right people and how make sure they found the files. I banged my head on my desk and got up to grab another cup of the terrible office coffee.

The problem was that I was in a job that I was well equipped to do, but I didn’t even remotely believe in the work I was doing. I had used my relationship building skills in college to land a job with one of the largest professional services providers in the world in their management consulting practice. It was the holy grail of jobs for business majors graduating from my university.

Despite all of the prestige and the great paycheck, I simply felt no purpose in my work. The real problem didn’t lie in the company – it was a great company. It really wasn’t the work either – I had the opportunity to learn, grow, and even manage a team within 6 months of starting my career. No, it was the way I went about finding the job to begin with and the criteria I used to do that. I had gone about my career search all wrong and I was feeling the repercussions.

So many young professionals find themselves in the exact same position I did. Excited about their jobs on day one, and then quickly coming to the realization that they’ve made a terrible mistake.

Most people drift into a state of quiet desperation and eventually they do one of two things:

  1. They become complacent and accept the fact that works sucks and life isn’t fair.
  2. They wake up one day and decide to do something about their circumstances.

If you’re at the point where you know you’ve reached a dead end in your career, or you’re even starting to slip into a monotonous sense of complacency, I’m here to save you. I hope that my story will help you avoid a life and career of sadness and “what if.”

I’m on a mission to change the way the world thinks about work because I believe every person should have the chance to make an impact through his or her career.

Let’s talk about how to avoid those lives of quiet desperation, shall we?

The Catalyst for Leaving

I knew I was in the wrong job and that I would have to make some changes within the first six months of joining the firm, but I hadn’t decided what to do about it. As I considered my options, I went in search of new ways of thinking and challenging experiences that would push me out of my comfort zone.

First, I started reading blogs and putting more time into my own blog. I read Think Traffic, The Art of Non Conformity, and Smart Passive Income. I used my lunch breaks to begin hashing out my own thoughts on a personal blog. Essentially, I started thinking for myself and getting away from the dogma of conventional thought processes.

Then, I had a serendipitous encounter where I was invited to serve as a counselor at a summer camp for abused and neglected children. The camper:counselor ratio was 1:1 and the experience challenged me in ways I never thought possible.

I grew to love my camper in just 6 short days, even as he struggled to learn to swim, threw fits, struggled with having to return home. Midway through the week, the camp’s new director was fired because she was a bad cultural fit for the organization. The president of the board stood up in our staff meeting that day, told us what had happened, and asked for counselors to apply for the director’s role after camp ended.

That was the end of the line for me in my job. Seeing the impact that one short week had on so many kids and being presented with the opportunity to make that change happen through the director’s role really put the lack of impact of my work in perspective. Where at camp the impact was personal and transformative, the impact at work was corporate and focused solely on financial returns.

I didn’t appy to be director, but I did decide that I would quit my job. I had more potential than what I was being allowed to use. I wanted to make a real impact through my work rather than drowning in a sea of spreadsheets and cubicles.

Lesson learned: When you hit a dead end, seek out experiences, people, and learning that push you as far out of your comfort zone as you can go. Get out of the weeds long enough to see the big picture again. Do some soul searching and ask yourself what it is that you feel called to do. When you find an answer that provides some direction, start planning to make it happen.

The Final Decision

I didn’t go back to work right after camp and immediately quit my job. Instead, I began considering all of the possible options for what I could do with my life and work. I thought about going to work for another company, applying for nonprofit work, going back to school, and starting my own business.

At the end of the day, I revisited a powerful document I had created as a part of a leadership development program in college. In that paper, I outlined my ideal vision for the future, which included starting a business with a nonprofit subsidiary and investing money to find solutions to some of the most pressing problems of our time.

I knew that if I waded any further into the waters of big business, I would likely get too far up the chain to start my own thing in the future. “Now is the time to take a risk,” I told myself. I made my mind up to start my own business.

Lesson Learned: When you’ve decided you need a change in your work and life, don’t just move on for the sake of moving on. Instead, take an intentional approach to determe what your ideal life looks like and what legacy you want to leave behind when you’re gone. Let that vision for the future guide your decision making, and trust that it will be a guiding light as you make mistakes along the way.

How I Left

Once I made my mind up to leave and I had some basic direction, I knew I had to rally the people I cared about most around my decision. That was the most intimidating part of the entire process, because I didn’t know how my family, girlfriend, and close friends would react.

At first my mom just said that I was having a bad day and to sleep on it before doing anything stupid. By the time we had the same conversation 4 or 5 times, she knew I was serious and that I had given the decision serious thought. She began brainstorming business ideas, at which point I knew I had won her over. She went to work convincing my dad that I was making the right decision.

In the mean time, my girlfriend and I hashed out all of the possible alternatives. She had seen just how miserable I was. It was having a big impact on our relationship, and she simply wanted me to be happy so that we could enjoy life together. Like many of my friends, she didn’t exactly know WHAT I should do, but she knew I had to make a change.

One weekend I was riding in the car with my Dad, and he said, “You know, if you had to live with us for a few months while you get started, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if we had to buy your groceries for a little while.”

I got home, wrote my letter of resignation, and quit my job the next day.

Lesson Learned: Deciding to quit is not hard, but winning support of the people you care about most is. Winning their support and rallying them around your idea for what comes next is crucial for your sense of well-being as you leave. That support becomes even more support while making the transition.

What I Decided to Do Instead

Ever since college when I had to bounce back from ridiculously stupid, self-inflicted mistakes, I have been obsessed with leadership, personal, and professional development. Those may sound corny, but I love the study of what makes humans fulfill their greatest potential.

  • What makes high performers different than others?
  • How do people use failure to catapult them to great success?
  • What processes do people use to overcome challenges, learn from their experience, and refuse to make the same mistake twice?
  • How do some individuals and/or employers create teams and environments that inspire top performance from their people?

What I saw in my short-lived big business career were a ton of young professionals with ridiculous amounts of potential wasting away in jobs they despised. Their talents weren’t being put to proper use, their interests weren’t aligned with their work, and they felt absolutely no purpose or mission behind their daily activities. The more I looked around, the more I saw people experiencing exactly what I was, across industries, companies, and job titles.

I saw a gap in the way most career centers, career counselors, coaches, bloggers, and companies were talking about careers. Companies were portraying their best selves as they recruited new people, which meant the truth was being hidden and candidates were hugely disappointed when they showed up to find something completely different at work. Candidates were presenting themselves in the way they thought employers wanted to hear. They were landing the jobs, but then they showed up to work in a job they didn’t want with low levels of engagement, productivity, and fulfillment. To make matters worse, all of the “career experts” simply try to get their piece of the pie by facilitating poor connections and boring, superficial advice that draws in advertising dollars.

So I decided to fill the gap. I’m passionate about how people and organizations develop to fulfill their potential, and I’m passionate about helping people find works that helps them make an impact on their life.

My mission is to change the way the world thinks about work and I do that through Living for Monday.

Lesson Learned: Find the intersection between what motivates and interests you; what other people value; and what your natural strengths, talents, and skills will allow you to be the best in the world at. Jim Collins and Chris Guillebeau are two guys who expand on this concept in Good to Great and The $100 Startup, respectively.

What I’ve Done in the 18 Months Since I Quit

It’s been a long journey since I quit my job 18 months ago. I went through a period of intense anxiety and depression while I was making the shift to self employment. I’ve had to deal with the frustrating issues of minutiae, like naming the company and products, setting up the right technology, and figuring out what to do first. I’ve lived off of no paycheck for months on end with the support of the people that love me. I’ve tried ideas, failed, tried again, failed again.

But more importantly, over the past 18 months I’ve felt an intense sense of direction and purpose. I know exactly why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’ve continued to hone my messaging and focus on my ideal target market. The Living for Monday community is growing rapidly and we’re adding more aspiring world changers to our ranks everyday. I’ve built enough expertise on the topics of career search, personal branding, networking, sales, entrepreneurship, and more to start teaching what I’ve learned. I’ve already helped 100’s of people change the way they look for work (and land jobs by doing so).

We’re positioned to help literally 1000’s of students find jobs that matter in the next year. As we grow our community, we continue to hear great feedback on how we can help solve problems. We know the essential elements of building a fulfilling career and life, which has its foundations in a ton of academic research. I’m setting myself up to not only make a huge impact, but also to make damn good living doing what I love.

The past 18 months have been trying, no doubt. But more importantly, over the past 18 months I’ve reached to the depths of my soul to find my own potential. I’ve interacted with hundreds of readers who shared their stories after I shared mine. I’m living on purpose, building my own sense of fulfillment, and making a direct impact on the lives of the people in the Living for Monday community and beyond.

Lesson Learned: Every journey has its ups and downs. Nothing worth pursuing will be easy. Making an impact and trying to build a legacy is hard work, and it doesn’t really get easier. To build expertise, you have to be willing to invest thousands of hours in learning, taking action, and learning from the results. Being fulfilled and making a difference in the world are hard work. Period.

Wrapping Up

So, what does all this mean for you? Well, it means that if you’re about to go in search of a career, you shouldn’t settle for any old job.

If you feel you’ve reached a dead end or you’re feeling complacency creep it’s way into your life, it’s time to stand up and get out of your comfort zone. You are in absolute control of the life you live and the decisions you make. Will you settle for a life of quiet desperation and ”what-ifs?” Or will you put in the work to find your purpose and pursue it with relentless dedication?

It will take hard work. It won’t be easy. To do it right, don’t make a blind, irresponsible decision to leave your job with no plan and no idea of what you want. But instead, take the time to conduct a deep self-evaluation. Find out what motivates you and why you do what you do. Push yourself to experience new things and find ways that you can apply your purpose and passion to make an impact through your work.

Sometimes, your journey will lead you to starting your own business. Sometimes you’ll simply find a better place to work that gives you an environment that encourages you to do your best work and surrounds you with people who help you fulfill your potential. Sometimes you already have what you need right under your nose and you just need to look at your job from a different perspective.

Regardless of what you decide to do, at the end of the day, it’s all about seeing the impact of your work. Your work should be a reason you’re excited to wake up on Monday mornings and it should be a chance for you to make your mark on the world. If you can see the impact, then you can be fulfilled in your work. If you can’t see the impact, then please, find work that matters.

We need your contributions to matter, because you have too much potential to let it go to waste.

What’s the first thing you can do to find more purpose in your work right now? Tell me about it in the comments – I’ll read every comment.


Barrett Brooks is the founder of Living for Monday and he is on a mission to change the way the world thinks about work. You can sign up to join the Living for Monday community and receive a free resource toolkit to help you establish a vision for your life and make it happen, starting today.