“Time is money,” they say. Well, actually Benjamin Franklin said it. However, nowadays I picture the idiom being used by a hotshot New York finance guy and I involuntarily cringe. This saying indicates a correlation between time and value, in this case, monetary value. However, what’s been confirmed for me again and again in the last year is that money is only as valuable as you perceive it to be. I’ve thought about this a lot since I gave up my full-time corporate job on June 20th, 2014.
Being born and bred in the Northeast, I’ve been conditioned to think that my life should consist of a high stress full time job, otherwise I must not be a very driven person. I did it for five years and was pretty good at it, learning so many intangible lessons along the way. I don’t think there is any replacement for starting on the bottom rung of a company and working your ass off to move up. Each step up is a huge win. Each delay in your progress is equally important for you to experience and learn from. Understanding how you work, what you can handle, and where you can find a true champion are all incredibly productive and confidence-building lessons.
But despite how much I enjoyed the challenges and learnings from the corporate world, I had this yearning for something else, something I thought of as another job in another city or business school. The thing is – when I was in the full-time grind, my problem-solving skills were pretty tailored to me being in business for the rest of my days. I couldn’t fathom anything outside of working within a corporate ladder. The unknown had no place in my future.
I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but at some point I let my mind wander to places I had never let it go before. What if I quit my job to travel? I sat with this idea for several months before I even vocalized my desire to do it. What I really wanted was to stop curating my own life. I wanted to give up control and let the universe do its thing. I wanted to learn lessons I couldn’t experience in an office. I wanted to have more stories than just those coming from my two days off between work weeks, or that one week vacation I splurged on to try and forget everything. On the path I was on, I’d only experience what I wanted to experience. And while, for lots of people, that might be exactly what they are looking for, for me it just didn’t sit well. When this thought clicked, I decided that I could not and would not let my entire life be lived from such a narrow scope.
After that, I started thinking a lot about money. My grandparents had gifted me some money that I had invested a few years earlier. My rented one-bedroom apartment in Cambridge, MA was $1600 per month, or $1750 with utilities. I made a good paycheck and spent most of it on things to make me forget work, i.e. nice meals, cocktails, clothes, and yoga class. I saved a bit of it though and then saved my annual bonuses, which were a good chunk of change. During an acquisition, the company that acquired mine gave me a bonus for each year I stayed at the company (it’s called a long term incentive plan), so that cash went to my travel fund as well. Then there were those two months of vacation I had built up over five years of rarely taking time off. When I left, I could cash that out for my trip savings as well.
Before these thoughts, I had been doing the responsible things. In fact, I pretended that my money didn’t exist. I’d only touch it to put it towards grad school tuition or a down payment on the house I would someday be ready to buy. But then I started thinking – what if I don’t go to grad school? What if I am not sure what city I want to commit to buying a house in? And then I began wondering what that money could be used for if I took away the conventions I had automatically put it towards. What if I used the money to invest in myself and change the course of my life? My dream of travel suddenly started feeling a little more realistic and valuable.
Once I stopped racking up my regular monthly costs, I was suddenly rich. That $1750 in rent could easily give me one month of travel in Southeast Asia, or more likely 6-8 weeks. And I think this is the thing people have the hardest time getting their heads around: the cost of living in a city is designed to take up most of your paycheck. You’ve all heard the saying: “The more you make, the more you spend.”
When I quit my job, I was quite luckily in a position with a lot of leverage – my skill set was unique and I had specialized knowledge. When I was approached to stay on as a consultant, this leverage allowed me to negotiate an hourly rate that was a lot higher than that of my salary. Suddenly I could make as much in 13.333 hours as I made in a whole week. This also meant that I could make money doing the things I liked most out of my job and keep out of the BS that tends to take up a part of each week.
I didn’t know how long I would survive on the cash I had saved once I began traveling. I made a goal of doing six months away, but was surprised to find that my money went a lot further than I expected. In the end, I had enough to travel for nine months instead of six (with plenty of mooching from some very generous folks).
Every cent of my savings is now gone. But, with it, I bought a lot more than just plane tickets and hotel rooms. My life feels completely different now: bigger, richer, and more vibrant.
I started appreciating time – not just time off, but like… all of my time. I developed new skills like writing and surfing; I improved upon old skills like photography and yoga. I did things I never would’ve considered before like spending ten days intentionally alone and detoxing from alcohol for a month. I got in touch with the spirituality in me that so wanted to be nurtured, which allowed me to deal with challenges instead of avoiding them.
My relationships improved – across the board – all of them. I took a long hard look at things I had done that caused me and others pain and was able to confront them with more perspective than I could have gotten at home. It became easier to be who I really was and the resentment that had built up from the past melted away.
I got to know myself without the influence of others – an incredibly rare opportunity. And from there, I was able to look at my life with more perspective, could see where it was lacking and then made incremental changes to improve it – like making the outdoors a portion of my everyday life and realizing maybe I don’t enjoy being in the city as much as I think I do.
I shared my thoughts and feelings about what I was doing and found that some people have no use for them, but others are dying to hear them and understand what it feels like to travel for the long term. I got feedback from people I didn’t know were watching or reading. And then it became something I didn’t want to give up because suddenly it felt like I had a purpose beyond just me. It was (and still is) invigorating and empowering.
Stepping away from full-time was never a goal of mine – solo travel was – but my new appreciation of time is a symptom of the travel. It has opened my mind to an entirely new way of piecing life together and now, for better or for worse, there may be no going back. When I look at what I’ve gotten out of it, I feel quite rich … rich in a way that money won’t ever make me feel.