I’m 25, unemployed, and living in my mom’s basement in a large US city. You could call me a classic, good-for-nothing corporate dropout and dismiss me right there, and on the surface, you’d probably be right. But, after reading many, many personal finance stories that all sounded like ritzy successes, I figured I’d share my own.
Growing up, I was always an overachiever.
In high school, I always got straight As, learned to play 3 instruments at age 11, performed genetics research in a medical lab at 15, and shadowed a neurosurgeon by 16. I also worked part-time at Arby’s to afford my college laptop and pay for my first solo trip to Europe by age 18. In college, I joined the sailing team, held leadership positions in the student government association, and started my first travel blog while working 3 part-time jobs to pay for school.
You could say I did a lot.
But then, when I started working full-time, things began to change. At first, I was my normal, overachiever self, participating in recruiting, corporate diversity groups, and social events. But then, things slowly started to fall apart. Long story short, I changed jobs, moved across the country, then eventually decided I needed to take a year-long career break.
Which brings us to now.Why listen to a girl who's 25, unemployed, straddled with student debt, and side hustling for every last cent of income? If you hear me out, I'll explain...Click To Tweet
You see, the reason why I’m writing this post is because I’ve noticed that much of the personal finance world centers around big numbers, flashy headlines, and giant stats. I read one recently titled, “This 25 Year Old Has a Net Worth of Over $200K.” Despite it being a well-written, inspiring piece, I couldn’t feel farther away from the realities that person faced.
Why listen to a girl who’s 25, unemployed, straddled with student debt, and side hustling for every last cent of income? If you hear me out, I’ll explain…
This post is part of my “Baggage” series, a short set of personal posts where I detail the stories that brought me to my year-long career break, and explain why I’m avoiding going back to the corporate world for as long as possible. You can find the other “Baggage” posts here:
- Part 1: I’m a 25 Year Old Corporate Dropout (this post)
- Part 2: Freedom vs. Financial Independence: Why They’re Not Always the Same Thing
- Part 3: 5 Things I Learned from Moving Back Home With My Parents
My First Job Was Amazing (At First)
When I got the phone call, I had just gotten home from a morning run and I was out of breath.
“Hi Kay!” the partner said cheerily in the phone, “We were really impressed with your application and interviews, and we’d like to extend you an offer to join our incoming class of Business Analysts* this year.”
(*Not my actual title, but if I used the real one it would give away which firm I worked for…)
My first job out of college was your typical, high-profile financial client services job. The company was an international one and had a prestigious reputation. I made a really good salary for a 22-year-old. I loved having smart, fun colleagues and working in a fast-paced, challenging environment. In the evenings and weekends, the firm paid for things like class dinners, fun parties, and weekend outings.
During my first case, I was working 60-70 hours a week. I didn’t mind because I felt like the environment was teaching me a lot and giving me what I needed to succeed. In my first few performance reviews, I got great evaluations and felt like I could truly kick ass long-term at the firm.
However, after the “honeymoon phase” died down, the job’s long hours and competitive undertones began to slowly chip away at my happiness and ego until I felt buried under my Imposter Syndrome and lack of self-esteem.
The final straw? After being sexually harassed by a senior executive, reporting him, and watching him face zero repercussions, I felt jaded and unwelcome in an environment where I once thrived. People brushed it off like it was no big deal whenever I opened up to talk about it. The executive still works there today.
The Dream Job That…Wasn’t
Right in the middle of my personal hell, my Dream Job seemingly popped out of nowhere and landed on my lap. It was located in a new city and, given my situation, I took it in a heartbeat.
I won’t say where the new job was, but let’s just say it’s a VERY well-known company in a role that many people would consider to be their dream job, too.
At first, I was thrilled at the thought of landing this amazing gig right as I turned 24. But of course, in the corporate world, nothing is ever as it seems on paper. A few weeks into the job, I started to get frantic emails and calls almost every day into the wee hours of the morning by people WAY more senior that I was. I thought maybe it was just a “fire drill” kind of deal that would resolve itself over time. But then, quite rapidly, the problem got worse and worse.
A Job Wasn’t Worth Destroying My Mental Health
After a few months at the new job, I realized I wasn’t learning anything new, but I was working 70+ hours most weeks. And when I’d reach out to mentors for support, they’d tell me it would be unprofessional to do anything but stick it out for several more months.
The worst part was that I was totally underutilized. All of the tasks I was asked to do were menial ones that didn’t involve much thought or skill, like changing words on slides or redoing a deck to move boxes and change colors. The decks often got shown once then thrown into the garbage because they didn’t have much data or substance in them.
About 6 months in, I became very, very depressed. Not sad, but truly depressed. My hair began to fall out and I couldn’t eat normally. Every morning on the way to work I thought about jumping in front of the metro instead of stepping into it. I couldn’t sleep at night or make plans on the weekends because I was worried about getting phone calls or emails.
Even seeing friends became too hard for me, because I couldn’t work up the energy to pretend to be excited anymore. Before, when I’d open up to loved ones, they’d just tell me to stick it out and keep going. Little did they know if I continued down the path I was headed, I probably wouldn’t be here today.
If you’ve never been depressed before, this small paragraph won’t even begin to explain to you what it feels like. If you have, I’m SO sorry for what you’ve been through.
In January of this year, I had shriveled into a broken shell of the overachieving, ambitious person I used to be.
After several months of tears and an indefinite darkness, I decided that enough was enough. I’d stick it out until my one-year anniversary, then put in my notice and move on.
And in May, that’s exactly what I did.
I Dropped Out of the Corporate World to Travel and Plan My Next Steps
When I decided to quit my job, I realized I had about $22K in savings that I could use to fund part of my year of travel. However, it wouldn’t be enough including student loan payments, so I began to turn the wheels on saving money. I sublet my apartment and moved home to my mom’s basement to save money. I sold a bunch of old electronics to make extra cash, and took several side gigs to make as much extra money as I could. By May, I saved a total of $30K and felt confident enough in my financial safety net to leave my job.
During my adventures around the world, I had the opportunity to do so much that other travelers only dream of. I wandered through mosques and bazaars in Iran. Saw flaming gas deposits in Azerbaijan and sipped on “black wine” in Georgia. Visited aged-old monasteries in Armenia, boated my way through Lake Como, and ate fondue in Switzerland. Not to mention spending 3+ months traipsing overland through Central Asia, passing through the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan, swimming in glacial lakes in Kazakhstan, driving along the Afghan border in Tajikistan, exploring the old minarets of Uzbekistan, and traveling through the no-man’s land of Turkmenistan.
And you know what? I’m only 6 months in.
Currently, I’m still figuring out where I want my next career steps to lead. I don’t have all (or even most) of the answers yet. In fact, I started this site so that I could chronicle my journey from six-figure-twenty-something to unemployed side hustler (and hopefully back again).Everyone's definition of freedom is different. For me, it meant traveling the world and seeing beautiful places outside the four walls of my office.Click To Tweet
And you know what? While some might say this story has an unsettling ending (for now), I personally think it’s a happy one. Despite the fact that I make just a fraction of my income before, I am proud of myself for choosing the path that led to self-care and happiness. I’m no longer depressed or constantly paranoid about being called late at night by a micromanaging boss.
It’s so refreshing to wake up every day feeling thankful and energized and PUMPED for what the day will hold. Things are so much more uncertain these days, but it makes me realize that every new gig and revenue opportunity is something to be excited about.
Finally feeling like my old self again is worth SO. MUCH. MORE. than achieving early financial independence. Every day, I am grateful for the opportunity to share my journey with you all and hear about your journeys, too.
Not Every Financial Independence Story Has to Be a Flashy One
The tl;dr? Everyone’s definition of freedom is different. For me, it meant traveling the world and seeing beautiful places outside the four walls of my office. But it’s not the same for everyone.
Everyone’s life is unique, and my struggle with corporate disillusionment, harassment, and mental health issues is just one of many. But alongside the 24-year-old millionaires and the guy who retired and bought a yacht at 25, every story deserves to have a platform in the personal finance and financial independence world.
Yes, I’m still hoping to achieve financial independence and retire early. Of course, I’m still extremely conscious of my finances and where money is coming in and going out. And as always, I’m hustling in a variety of side jobs to earn a living. I’ll get there eventually, but it wasn’t worth staying in a toxic environment and pretending to be okay when, in fact, I wasn’t.
However, I’m probably not going to retire at 30 or have a six-figure net worth in the next year or buy a yacht to live in. Just sayin’.
For those of you who are already financially independent/retiring early, I applaud you. I know how hard you must have worked and how long you had to budget/save/be frugal to get to that point. For those of you, like me, who are struggling with student loans, a sh*tty job situation, mental health, or something else, I feel you. It’s hard to make the right decisions for yourself when the world is telling you to do the opposite.
Just know that at the end of the day, YOU are in control of your own story.
What’s your personal finance story? Share it with me in the comments, I’d love to read it!