I Quit My Corporate Job at 28 | Here’s What I Learned
How I freed myself from the rat race of finding my worth in work, money, achievements, and status, and how you can too.
If you’re reading this and you live in America, you know the rat race quite well.
The traditional model has been:
- Do well in school
- Take AP classes
- Participate in sports or extracurricular activities
- Maintain a stellar GPA
- Crush the SAT
- Get into a dream college
- Get a degree (or two)
- Land an incredible job
- Make money
- Work hard
- Get promoted
- Make more money
- Get married
- Buy a house
- Have a kid (or two)
- Build that 401K
- Retire a millionaire, and so on.
This list looks a lot like one I had in mind in 11th grade at the malleable age of 17 years old. In fact, I actually had dates in mind for when these milestones were supposed to happen in my life. I definitely wanted to be married by 25. I thought I’d have kids by 28. And the rest would follow.
Can you relate?
As I write this, I am 31, I’m renting a light-filled one-bedroom by the beach in La Jolla, I’m in a relationship, and I’m still deciding if having children will be part of my journey.
However old you are right now or wherever you find yourself in life, you’ve probably been doing A LOT of reflecting over the last six months (you know, because of the extra time at home).
If you’re reading this and you just graduated high school or you’re in college, you are faced with the difficult decision whether to attend virtual university in the fall. Seems like all the great things about college has been stripped away- the friendships, the freedom, the office hours… and yet you still have to pay full tuition.
If you’re entering the workforce for the first time right now, or you’ve been laid off and are trying to get a job, it’s probably been a stressful time for you. You’re questioning everything right now. You wonder when you’ll feel job security and financial security again.
If you’re thriving and flourishing during this time, and you’ve seen your net worth grow due to unique and fortunate circumstances, this post is still for you.
The reason I’m starting this article like this is I want to unite us as humans. We all have different circumstances and are going through such unique experiences. The year 2020 has been such an unprecedented time. It has also set the stage for us to question the beliefs we’ve built our lives upon and the place we find ourselves in right now.
Okay, now back to the story.
The reason why I was so quick to accept the list above and the “traditional model of life” in America is because I am an immigrant. (I just came to this realization now.) My family and I moved to California from Manila when I was twelve years old back in August of 2001. Looking back, I think I worked so hard to fit into the mold because I was trying to assimilate to the culture.
I had always been hard-working, diligent, and driven way before I moved to the US. But growing up here reinforced those character traits to a greater degree. I realized that the reward system of society was based on success, money, hard-work, good looks, and status.
It’s difficult to write that. It makes me sad.
So… as a young person in a new country, I was easily influenced by movies I saw, books I read, people I met, and the subliminal messaging all around me.
I internalized these messages. I knew I had to be successful and make a better life for myself.
*Cue the deep relationship between self-worth and achievement, money, and success.*
Without knowing it, this guided the course of my young adult life.
Add in the voice of my immigrant parents who only wanted a better life for me and heavily discouraged me from getting a degree in English (I had a dream of becoming an English teacher and pouring over novels with my students) and insisted I go to business school instead. I followed their advice.
I graduated summa cum laude (meaning my rounded-up GPA was a 4.0) with a degree in Business Administration and Accounting.
I got an internship at a Big Four Accounting firm, I passed all four CPA exam tests on the first try, I slaved away as an associate sometimes working until 12 or 1 AM, worked hard for a good rating, moved up to Senior, and worked even more.
Along the way, I experienced exhaustion, overwhelm, and emotional numbness. At one point, I had a sizable lump in my neck which turned out to be an immune response to all the stress I was under. My doctor said I needed to switch jobs or else my health would suffer more. I couldn’t do that because I had to get my CPA license first. I also experienced my first and only impulse to hurt myself. I was so freaking tired from the long work hours that I actually wished I could drive my car into a tree so I could go to the hospital and not have to show up to work the next day. I didn’t do it, of course. But there were many nights spent crying on the drive home, with only one or two other cars in sight.
I haven’t shared this with many people. But it shows how deeply imbalanced and misaligned my life had become.
I did my time at that job and when I absolutely couldn’t do it anymore, I interviewed for a new job. I accepted an offer at the new company at a 28% raise, with more work-life balance. It was 2014 then. I was at Coachella when I listened to the voicemail from the recruiter saying they were going to increase the initial offer they made me and asked when I could sign. It was also my 25th birthday that day. I felt on top of the world. I distinctly remember jumping up and down at the Capital Cities stage celebrating my new job and my new-found freedom.
Yeah, dancing away at Coachella at 25 was a far cry from getting married at 25. I’m still not married. Life has a beautiful way of working out.
My quitting present to myself was yoga teacher training. I signed up mainly because I wanted to practice yoga more.
So there I was at 25. I had a new job that paid me really well, I attended yoga teacher training in the evenings and weekends, and I was navigating heartbreak and all that good mid-20’s stuff.
I got more and more into yoga and found I really loved it. I felt connected to it in a deeper way. A yoga mentor recommended I audition to become a yoga teacher and after hesitating, I did it.
I was SO nervous during the audition and the subsequent times I taught yoga. It took awhile for me to find my voice. I stuck with it though, and truly grew into becoming a yoga teacher.
After some time, I was a few years into my new job, settling into a comfortable Newport Beach life. For me, that looked like starting my mornings out with a workout at Equinox, heading to work, eating a healthy lunch, finishing the rest of my work day, going off to teach or take a yoga class, meeting up with friends, or walking to the beach to catch the sunset.
I started to get sucked into the materialism that happens when you live in one of the top 1% areas. You just get used to beach houses in your neighborhood costing $15-30 million and you dream you’ll own your own someday. It informed my dating choices, promising myself I couldn’t date a guy who made less than me. Let’s just say none of those situationships ever worked out.
And then, in the comfortable-ness of it all, I started to hear the quiet voice in my heart that asked me…
Are you willing to risk it all?
After a couple raises at my work, I started saving more and more money. I didn’t know what I was saving for, I just knew it was the smart thing to do. Meanwhile, the voice in my head kept growing louder. I started imagining life outside the cubicle in more vivid color. Thinking about that inspired in me a sense of adventure and a glimmer of possibility. Every time I would think about it, I would shut it down right after. I argued that you simply can’t make enough money teaching yoga, it’s impossible, what about your standard of living, and so many more thoughts.
I wrestled with these thoughts until one day, I realized everything in life was a choice. I was choosing this.
So, I explored what it would be like to live as if I had no income coming in. How minimally could I live? What expenses were really essential to my life? I went through a trial run for two months. I realized I was ready when I was willing to cancel my membership at Equinox. (The funny way life works is I ended up winning a complimentary membership at Equinox six months later).
By then, I was 28. Yeah, the same age I thought I would start having kids by. With no solid plan and a decent savings to back me, I submitted my three months notice at my work. I quit my corporate job. I worked for a total of six years since college.
My life at 28 looked a lot different than the one 17 year old me envisioned. I figured it was the only time in my life I could take a “risk this big”. I had no dependents, no mortgage, nothing to tie me down. I took the leap.
Once the buzz of telling everyone settled down, I felt a peace in my heart.
This was a decision for me. Not for my parents. It was my own.
At first, it felt like getting off school and going into a forever summer. The world was bright. I started teaching corporate yoga during the workdays. I’d go to different companies and teach yoga to their employees on site.
A friend introduced me to a photographer, Julie Tecson (who took the photo above), who needed a last minute model for a photoshoot she was doing. I happened to be free so I went. This was the first of many paid modeling gigs.
So that’s what I did, I taught yoga and made the trek to LA for auditions or modeling jobs.
I lived in the moment. I took things one day at a time. I read books, I took long walks, I meditated, I did a lot of yoga, I worked with a relationship coach, I dove deep into inner work.
This is around the time I realized my self-worth was so unhealthily tied to how much money I was making.
I would feel good about myself when I was getting modeling work and getting new yoga clients. I would feel sh*tty about myself when I had more free time than I liked. I felt a sense of guilt when I wasn’t working between the hours of 9AM and 5PM. It was strange. My identity was so deeply ingrained in being a corporate employee.
These feelings continued and I wrestled hard with them. I also wrestled with the stress and guilt of not making more money than I did at my corporate job on a consistent basis (my total comp by the time I left was six figures).
If you can relate, you will probably also resonate with this…
How you can know whether your self-worth is unhealthily tied to your success:
You experience real feelings of depression, hopelessness, and anxiety when you are not being productive, making an impact, making money, being busy, and the list goes on.
You feel like a failure when you don’t meet your own expectations or your timelines get blown and plans don’t work out (hello 2020).
When it comes to friends, family, or romantic partners, you feel immense pride in your accomplishments and believe there’s a direct correlation between how much they love you and how well you’re doing in life.
You are unable to meet new people without mentioning your resume qualities and share your achievements as a way to connect and establish rapport with or gain respect from others.
You get a sense of urgency to take action right away, you find it difficult to sit still and wait, you know your results are up to you, and you feel the need to make it happen no matter what the cost is to your health, relationships, and well-being.
There’s more where this came from, but that’s just a few of the big ones.
So, back to the story. The first year post-corporate, I went through an exploratory stage.
I said yes to pretty much everything.
If I were to break it down, I probably spent 50% of my time working on yoga and modeling, 20% on reading, self-development, and introspection, 15% spent with family and friends, 5% dating, and 10% doing nothing.
It feels so honest to share that. But I think after over-working and over-achieving during the first part of my 20’s, I really needed that.
I started making some money, and on the months my income didn’t cover my expenses, I dipped into my savings. I didn’t work “full time” at anything. I was getting to know myself.
The second year post-corporate, I met someone who lived in San Diego. We started dating long distance from Newport Beach (about an hour and a half or more with traffic).
I was faced with a fork in the road.
Should I move to LA to pursue commercial acting/modeling full time or should I move to SD and see if this relationship works out? (Spoiler Alert: It didn’t work out, I decided to stay in San Diego, and I’m grateful because shortly after I met my partner and we’ve been dating now for a year and eight months!)
Being the hopeless romantic I am and having the dream of one day getting married (25, remember?) I chose to move to SD. I told my agent to stop submitting me because of the long drive from SD to LA. I decided to mainly focus on yoga and build my corporate yoga career in San Diego. I left my cute little beach house that I was renting with two friends in Newport Beach and moved to the Little Italy area, just outside of downtown.
I didn’t know anyone in the yoga community in San Diego, so I was starting from scratch. To make extra money the first few months I moved, I took a job as a hostess at a trendy restaurant and bar in Little Italy. This was one of the moments that really defined who I am now. I accepted a minimum wage job in the service industry.
Quite a 180 from my former life.
I needed to know what that felt like. In the limited and small thinking of my early 20's, I used to see people in terms of what they did, how much money they made, and what their “value” was. Heck, that’s the same measuring stick I was using on myself. I’m not proud to admit that. But those few months working at the restaurant really opened my eyes to the human experience.
In between seating guests and handing out menus, I reflected on my life.
I thought about humanity.
I grew in humility.
I started detaching from the old ways I placed value.
I learned the value of a dollar.
I realized that job titles, career progression, and a fat bank account were accessories of life and not life itself.
I woke up to just me, without anything fancy.
I don’t think everyone has to quit their cushy job to have this transformation. Maybe some people never even look at the world this way and just see everyone for their soul. But apparently, that’s what I needed to change. From childhood to adulthood, I internalized all the world’s programming about success, worth, money, and status. The years of 29, 30, and now 31 have been spent unraveling all this programming.
August 2020 wraps up my third year post-corporate. Before all the lockdowns, I was having the best year yet. I was teaching corporate yoga to some of my favorite companies in San Diego. I started getting more referrals and more clients. I was reaching more people through yoga. I was helping my students find the strength, peace, and mindfulness of the practice and observed as they created the work-life balance so critical to a happy life. The number of students in my classes continued to grow. I gained enough clarity to start a new business, and held my very first Glow from Within workshop. Things were really beginning to take form for me. And then coronavirus happened.
It knocked me off my feet. I know it did for so many others. There were unexpected blessings too.
I got to move to my favorite beach in San Diego. I live alone and have the freedom to teach yoga online, write Medium articles, make meals in my bright and airy kitchen, go on leisurely walks around the beach, and take the paddleboard out with my love.
It took me awhile to adjust to the flow of things. I shed many tears. I felt helpless/anxious/uncertain/depressed. I went through a cycle of feeling bad that I wasn’t being productive, to giving myself grace since we’re in a global pandemic after all. There were days I struggled with motivation to work and some days I was so inspired I worked all day.
Now I’m in a hopeful, grateful, and optimistic state.
I know my story is still being written.
I took my life apart and I’m putting it back together with intention and great care. Choosing what aligns with me and what doesn’t.
When I feel the urge to push, control, overwork, achieve, and stress out like I used to- I immediately take a break, sort out my thoughts, practice self-soothing, and get back into my breath.
I question my motivation for doing anything now.
Is it to feel more valuable? More worthy? In my eyes or in the eyes of others?
I’m working on my relationship with money.
I’m processing the childhood trauma around the financial and relational struggles my parents and I initially went through when we moved here.
I am more aware now.
I’m aware when I am placing my worth or value too far into anything- whether it be my romantic relationship, my bank account, my investment portfolio, my work opportunities, my appearance, fill-in-the-blank…
I know my value and worth is inherent in me just being me. Alive and well. At rest or at play. Working or not. Just my essence. My soul. My being.
My key takeaways from quitting my corporate job at 28 TLDR:
- Make choices for you, not for anyone else.
- See people as human beings, not human doings.
- Your worth is far more than your resume, bank account, relationship status, body fat percentage.
- Don’t waste the best years of your life.
- Live your life on purpose.
- If giving up three years of net worth means regaining your health, it is 100% absolutely worth it.
- If you don’t spend time on personal development, introspection, self-reflection, and becoming aware, you’ll wake up decades later not sure how you got to where you are. You may even feel unfulfilled, miserable, and trapped. If it means working less hours to focus on your mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, do it.
- Invest in books, therapy, coaches, programs, trips, anything that will uplevel, heal, nourish, and enrich your soul.
- You can gain the whole world achieving and conquering your work or your business, but if you don’t prioritize or nourish your relationships, there will be an upper limit to your happiness and joy.
- It will surprise you how doable it is to live minimally. With contentment comes great peace.
- You will only be in your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s once. Take big risks.
- Being single is awesome, you can do absolutely whatever you want. Being in the wrong relationship makes you shrink and can lead to insecurity, self-doubt, and loss of confidence. Being happy in love, in a loving, nurturing relationship is the most life-giving, healing, and fun experience you could ever have. It will inspire you to greater heights, give you the courage to be your fullest self, and confidently share your truth with the world.
How you can free yourself from the rat race too:
- You don’t need to do anything drastic like a career change. Start with questioning your deepest held beliefs. Think about the programs that run in the back of your mind. What causes you to do what you do? Why do you do it? What assumptions do you base your life on? Are they valid? Are they what you want them to be? Who is running your life? Are you happy? Why not? Do what you need to get clarity on this. Take a few days to reflect. Spend time alone. Be honest with your own heart.
- Get to know your true essence. Just days ago, I was on a coaching call with a business coach who has a really helpful podcast. I called in wanting to talk about some habits of inaction that I’ve noticed in my own life. When it came down to it, we realized the problem isn’t that I am procrastinating. It’s that I’ve been conditioned and gullibly influenced to be a driven person against true nature. He asked me to put my hand on my heart and say out loud, “I am a gentle person.” Immediately, a flood of tears came over me and I sobbed. On the phone. With five other strangers. I literally felt so held and seen in that moment. It was my first time ever speaking to him and somehow he intuited my true essence. Towards the end of the call, he encouraged me to pioneer a new form of gentle wealth. Miraculously, all the struggles of inaction have melted away and I have been creating ever since.
- Once you have a bit more clarity, figure out what needs to change, if anything. Sometimes, your circumstances don’t need to change, your thinking does. But there are times where you do need to make physical changes. Seek out help. Talk to people. Be vulnerable. Do this for you. You are so worth it.
- Get off the hamster wheel. Just do it. And don’t get back on. If the rat race for you is all about constantly shaming your body, punishing yourself with vigorous exercise, struggling with food, and so on, learn to finally accept yourself as you are. Embrace the changes your body has gone through and really work to love yourself as you are now. Work on health from the inside out but beyond that, ditch society’s body standards.
- Let go of your expectations, and just let life flow. If anything, this year was a big reminder that we are not in control. Allow. Breathe. Live.
- Even the concept of a rat race is just a thought. There is no race. No one is racing. So many of the things that keep us stuck in mental prisons are self-created constructs. Especially the thoughts around guilt and shame. Just something to think about.
Thank you so much for reading. That was such a raw and honest moment for me. Some of my friends don’t even know some of the things I’ve wrote about in here. I really appreciate you holding space for that. I would love to connect with you.
The funny thing is, life always comes full circle.
I spent my 30th birthday at the very same restaurant I was a hostess at, reminiscing on the time I worked there and learned some valuable life lessons.