I used to believe that income and impact were two mutually exclusive ideas—you could have one or the other, but not both at the same time.
Income and impact were opposite sides of the same “career coin,” each requiring the opposite sacrifice, and I felt required to choose. Impact—having a substantial effect on someone or something via your work—was reserved for the teachers, artists, and non-profit professionals who had meaningful work but struggled to make a living. Income—receiving a lot of money regularly via your job—was exclusively relegated to the corporate professionals who tolerated (or hated!) their work but made bank at the end of the day.
With options like these, what was a young, ambitious girl to do?
All my life, I’ve been a black-belt “box-checker.” Get all A’s in school, check. Make varsity softball freshman year, check. Get first chair in band, check. One of the last boxes I was required to check was, “Get into a great college.” That’s how Yale happened. The next logical box? “Get a great, high-paying job.”
That’s how Wall Street happened.
Do you know what I vividly remember thinking when I accepted the trading floor role that came with a $10k signing bonus, $70k annual salary, 12-hour workdays, and a sinking feeling in my stomach? Maybe I’ll like it. I signed on the dotted line, closed my eyes, and crossed my fingers, knowing I would hate it and simply hoping that I wouldn’t.
Isn’t that the reality we’re all led to believe? The only way to make great money is selling your soul to some degree—like it’s a foregone conclusion that a job that pays a ton will grind you into a pulp or a job you love will leave on the street singing for your supper?
If you want to make someone else’s life better, improve the world, or solve a real problem, you can forget the money. Go ahead and make the world a better place, but do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Go directly to career “jail.”
Why would a 22-year-old psychology major do such a thing?! That’s a great question that I still ponder on from time to time. I’ve come to a handful of conclusions that you may find familiar.
First, I had ZERO idea what I would do otherwise. I knew that I did not want to practice psychology or go into research. So, in the absence of a linear or obvious next step, I got swept up in what was readily available. Yalies are recruited heavily for finance and consulting, thus, the Wall Street gig.
Second, I felt an overwhelming need to make my education “worth it” and to pay my parents back in any way I could. As an only child, it seemed like my part of the college bargain to a) get a job and b) make it a lucrative one, so I could justify what my parents had spent and sacrificed for me to go to Yale. Yet another plus in the Wall Street column.
Third, there was no way in h-e-double-l I was going to graduate without a job. Period. In truth, there was no way I was going to let October pass without locking something down. Who wants to spend the second semester of senior year riddled with “what’s next” anxiety, when instead, you could be participating in Feb Club (a party every night in February) and making life-long memories with your friends? Not me. Wall Street, here I come!
The nexus of confusion, pride, and senioritis led me to accept a job I had zero interest in and zero qualifications to do. For that, I would spend the next two and a half years of my life—in what can only be described as indentured servitude—contractually bound to a role that paid me an incredible 6-figure salary but left me empty inside. I counted down the days before the bank holidays and prayed for more red lights on my way into the office.
As I looked around at my colleagues who were professionally ahead of me, I could see how the next 10… 20… 30 years of my life would unfold with startling accuracy. Miserable. Wearing golden handcuffs. Unable to leave but dreading the next day.
I know that might sound dramatic, but if you’re honest with yourself, the day you realize you don’t want to be your boss (or your boss’s boss) is the day you know you’ve hit a dead end. I was only 25 at the time.
I left that job with nothing but the belief that I could find work I loved that also paid what I was worth. Was I terrified I’d never make that much money again? Yes. Was I going against every logical piece of career advice? Yes. But did I have a deep, abiding conviction that it was worth pursuing? Absolutely.
The next five years were a bit of a blur. I enrolled in Semester at Sea as a post-grad and traveled around the world with college students, mentors, and entrepreneurs. I surfed couches. Took odd jobs. Worked for a professional speaker. Got fired from a job I hated. Had a come-to-Jesus moment after which I started my business. Spent 3 years selling behavioral assessments and coaching young professionals on the side. That’s when I made an incredible breakthrough and a rather surprising discovery.
It’s not income VERSUS impact. It’s income VIA impact.
After six years of helping people discover ideal careers (and being able to feed and clothe myself successfully), I now believe that this “versus” thinking is garbage.
Furthermore, I can tell you that this false mindset and distorted view of reality are the exact mechanisms keeping good people from doing great work globally and receiving the monetary value they deserve.
The reality is that your value as a professional exists on a spectrum of monetization. There is no work that is inherently “worth more” except in the eyes of the marketplace, depending on its position along the spectrum. One end of the spectrum is minimum monetization (aka, doing your work for free). The other end of the spectrum is maximum monetization (aka, doing your work for the highest bidder). Both have an incredible impact if you’re doing work that you love, and that is authentically aligned with who you are.
The best part (and the all-too-hidden secret) is this: Where you choose to work on that spectrum is entirely up to you!
The reality is, the more value you add in the world—aka the more IMPACT you create—the better chance you have at receiving value BACK in return for that work.
Yes, that will sometimes come in the form of freedom or fulfillment or flexibility. But if you’re doing it right (and not simply volunteering!), then that value should also come back to you in the form of FINANCES.
So, where and how to add value, aka create an impact?
This should be question #1 for all of us seeking finances AND fulfillment. Once you’ve determined your best and highest professional value, the sky is the limit on where and how you monetize that value. Take it from someone who left Wall Street with a dream of helping people avoid similar professional situations—if I can do this, so can you.
WRITTEN BYTracy Timm