How one woman left a well paying job to pursue a career she loved

Allowing Yourself to Discover Your Passion – Profitable Passion Interview

Unhappy in your job but just not sure what to do next? Do you feel like you want to do something else, but you just don’t know what. This month’s guest for the Profitable Passion series knows how you feel.

Stephanie left a stressful, high-paying finance job where she wasn’t making an impact to find work she loved. It wasn’t a straightforward path, but now she can honestly say she enjoys her work. And she gets to work from home! Check out her story!

The Profitable Passion interview series will be a monthly segment on Mama Fish Saves where you can get an inside look at the entrepreneurial life. You’ll hear how these individuals got motivated to make a change, actually took the leap, and what it meant for their lives.

Previously on Profitable Passion…

If you are interested in participating in the series, please email me at chelsea[@]smartmoneymamas.com

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Profitable Passion Interview: Doing Work You Love

My questions are in heading form, Stephanie’s answers (in her own words!) are below each question.

Stephanie Gatewood - Cozy & CalmTell us about yourself!

I live just outside of Richmond, Virginia, with my husband, my 11-year-old son, my 10-year-old daughter, and our rescue pup Tally.

Fun fact: I took Spanish as my foreign language elective in middle school, high school, and college and I still can’t speak it! But this year, my daughter and I are determined to learn to speak it conversationally and are working our way through the Mango Languages app. Our goal is to save enough money for a trip to Spain and only speak Spanish while we’re there.

What were you doing for work before pursuing your passion? Why wasn’t it fulfilling?

Before pursuing my passion, I worked for a Fortune 200 financial firm. When I started at the company, it was small, and the projects were fun as we worked as a cohesive team to try to gain market share and grow the company.

But as the company grew and banking legislation expanded, the job became bureaucratic.

I managed a small team and was never available to help them because I spent my days in pointless meetings. Then, at 5:00 the meetings would end, my team would go home, and I’d sit at my computer and respond to the hundred or so emails I’d gotten throughout the day. I felt like I made no impact and wasn’t sure why I even bothered showing up every day.

Upper management reorganized the staff constantly, which was stressful.

And the employee performance review process changed and became brutal. Directors fired people often. Every six months I had to go into a conference room with about 60 other managers and basically fight for my associates so my good team members stayed employed. The rule was that the bottom 5% must be cut every six months, even though the company bragged that they hired the best and brightest.

This sounds like a terrible management strategy, but sadly a bunch of hedge funds and financial firms have adopted the practice in the years since. My firm didn’t do it, but I’m sorry to here Stephanie’s did!

What finally made you realize something needed to change?

I hated my job so much that I had to take deep breaths and give myself mental pep talks to gather the courage to leave my car and even walk into the building every morning. At that point, I should have quit, but I wasn’t ready to break free from the golden handcuffs.

I finally decided I needed to leave when, during the latest rounds of reorganizations and firings, I was devastated because I was NOT let go.

Ah, this makes me want to give you a hug, Stephanie! Sounds very similar to my crying-on-the-train commute routine my last year in finance.

What is your current passion-based business and how did you decide on that business?

I took a twisty path to find my passion-based business.

When I left the corporate world, I was running away from that job, not toward my passion.

My dad had started a small design firm a few years earlier. He’d hired my brother, but they still needed someone to help with a website and business management.

I quit my soul-sucking corporate job and joined them on what I thought was a temporary basis, thinking I could help them while I took time to decide what to pursue next.

But I ended up staying and becoming an owner. I’m still there, over 10 years later!

We’ve grown the company and staff, and I’ve gotten to define my current job role. I created my job with flexibility in mind so that I could have both a career and the time I wanted with my kids. I stay out of the demanding client and project management work. Instead, I take care of all the financial and business management responsibilities.

But when I started, we all worked in an office. I longed to work from home. So five years ago, as our office lease approached expiration, I put together a plan outlining how we could make our business operations function with everyone working from home. I performed an analysis of the cost savings and found we could save over 30% in overhead. The other owners bought into the idea and we executed my plan.

When I left the corporate world, I was running away from that job, not toward my passion.

Because our business is cyclical—we’ll have a profitable year or two, followed by a decline—I wanted to find a side hustle so my income doesn’t suffer in the “lean” times. I also wanted a creative outlet and a business that I loved that was all my own.

I struggled to find my passion-based business. I tried on and jettisoned a few ideas. At one point I considered getting another master’s degree so I could start a business as an independent speech-language pathologist. I even spent two years taking the prerequisite courses! But when I got into the graduate program and considered the time commitments, I decided not to pursue it.

I also started a pet sitting business, which was profitable quickly. And although it’s not my main side hustle, I still make money for our Spain fund with pet sitting.

Meanwhile, my son (and, later, my daughter) was diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy. After he had an anaphylactic reaction, I felt completely overwhelmed with trying to learn to manage his food allergy. And the doctors were unhelpful, so I felt alone.

Once I had a handle on how to navigate the world and keep him safe, I wrote a book so other parents wouldn’t have to feel like they were on their own to figure it out, like I had felt.

I also started a food allergy blog. I wasn’t able to figure out how to make money from that blog, but I did learn that I loved helping people through my writing.

And that long and twisty path is what led me to starting my current personal finance blog. I knew I loved blogging and writing, and personal finance is my passion.

Did you start the business before leaving your prior job or did you save up to give yourself time to become profitable?

I don’t intend to quit my design firm, even after I replace my current income. I like having multiple income streams.

Because my income can vary from month-to-month, and my husband is also a solopreneur with an unreliable income, we have an entire year of living expenses in a cash account. Well, we did. I had to dip into our savings this month because both of our businesses weren’t busy enough last month!

So you could say that I started my passion business before leaving my other job and I have money saved up.

What was the scariest part of making the transition?

Failure is the scariest part for me. When you do something new and risk your time, energy, and money, the possibility of it all being wasted is scary.

I failed to monetize a blog before, so I know I can survive. And I have my other job plus my pet sitting side hustle that I can fall back on financially. But sacrificing all this time with my family and possibly never getting paid for it scares me the most.

Who has been your biggest cheerleader in this process?

My husband has been my biggest supporter. I put a lot of pressure on myself and he has a way of talking me off the ledge.

Here’s the conversation we had when I started my current blog:

Me: I’m scared I won’t be successful and make any money. I’m scared I’ve invested money in this and I won’t ever get it back.

Husband: Are you enjoying what you’re doing?

Me: Yes.

Husband: If you make money, that’s great. If you don’t, then enjoy it as a hobby. Most hobbies cost money, so don’t worry about it.

I still put pressure on myself and have big business goals. But at least I know my husband won’t be disappointed in me if I don’t achieve them.

How long did it take for your business to become profitable? What did you learn about running a business in the process?

My pet sitting business was profitable in month 1. I think I did everything right when I started that business, but the number one thing that led to my success was that I limited my service area to a large, densely-populated neighborhood with many pet owners. My service area is only about a 1.5-mile radius and I live in the neighborhood, which means I don’t waste my time driving around and can even get to my clients on foot or a bike.

With my pet sitting business I learned that a professional attitude, good business processes, and a desire to exceed client expectations creates loyal customers. I often have to turn down work because I don’t want to pet sit full-time.

I’ve also learned that some businesses lend themselves to bootstrapping, are fairly easy to get up and running, and become profitable quickly, like pet sitting.

Although an online business like a blog can be started with a small investment, blogging has a steep learning curve. And it usually takes a ton of time and effort before you make much money.

I’m still in the red with my blog, but last month I more than doubled my revenue, and my strategy and path to profitability become clearer every week.

What has been your biggest accomplishment since pursuing your passion?

Getting positive feedback from my readers or other bloggers is so fulfilling for me. Blogging can be lonely and often leaves me wondering whether I’m doing any good in the world.

I had a particularly bad day recently, wondering if I was helping anyone or just wasting my time and energy. Later that day, I received an email from one of my readers telling me I inspired her and she hoped I’d continue sharing my experiences. That message arrived just when I needed it and made me feel like I was making a difference.

Don’t worry about being successful but work toward being significant and the success will naturally follow. - Oprah Winfrey

What do you wish you had known before making the jump?

I wish someone had told me that, when you start a business, you should focus on just one thing at a time. That is, find the one thing that is the most important task or project that will have the greatest impact on your business. And try to ignore everything else until that project is complete.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done when you’re starting a business. But if you can identify and focus on the one thing that will move you forward, you’ll see yourself make progress rather than become paralyzed by overwhelm.

For blogging, when first starting out, the most important thing is to learn how to write focused, engaging content. And to ignore how many people are reading your blog or subscribing to your emails because it takes time to gain traction.

Focusing on the wrong thingsor too many thingscan derail your efforts, lead to burnout, and cause you to quit.

How does your work-life look today and what is your next big business goal?

I always felt trapped when I worked for someone else or had to be at an office at a certain time. I’d spend my lunch break outside or hidden away in a conference room reading a book, trying to escape the feeling of being trapped.

I absolutely love my work life today and working from home. I’m almost always at my desk early in the morning and on the weekends, while other people are sleeping or relaxing. But since I love what I do and am in control of my goals and schedule, I feel liberated, not overworked or stressed.

And being able to take a walk whenever I want or grocery shop when the stores aren’t crowded or even go see a movie when everyone else is at work makes me feel completely free.

My next big business goal is to replace my current income. Not because I plan to leave my other job, but because having that additional income would allow us to travel as a family and save even more money for the kids’ education.  

What advice do you have for people who are unhappy in their current job or feel like they can do more?

Don’t resign yourself to the belief that your work doesn’t have to be fulfilling as long as it pays the bills. I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of “this is just the way life is” and accept that all jobs suck. Or that the jobs that are fulfilling won’t pay the bills.

You don’t have to stay at a job you don’t care about or that you hate. You can find a way to bring in extra income and save it all so you have money to walk away. And you can transition to something you like that also pays the bills.

There are so many ways to make money nowadays that don’t require traditional employment. You can work online from home, earn a living with a flexible schedule as an independent contractor, or bootstrap your own business.

And if you have a high-paying job that you detest, don’t use the golden handcuffs as an excuse to stay. You can adjust your lifestyle to live on less. Sell the big house and fancy car if you have to. Happiness and freedom are worth much more than those things.

Where can readers follow you?

You can follow me on my blog, Financial Freedom Crew!

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Smart Money Mamas’ Thoughts

Thanks to Stephanie for sharing her amazing story of throwing off the golden handcuffs to head out and discover her passion!

Just like I do in the Aha! Moment Debt Interviews, I want to share some thoughts:

  1. You don’t need all the answers. Stephanie had to make a jump to work with her father and brother. She didn’t know if it would make her happy, but she knew she needed a change. When you’re unhappy, it can be hard to determine what would make things better. Ideas you have could be a true passion or a case of “the grass is always greener”. But nothing will change until you make a move. Don’t be afraid to try something new, or to pivot again if you haven’t found where you fit.
  2. Have cash on hand. Entrepreneurship and job changes can mean unpredictable cash flow. Quitting with no plan and no emergency cushion is just going to create more stress in your life. Have a well-developed emergency fund, even if it means starting your business before your leave your job or picking up a side hustle while you prepare to jump.
  3. Blogging is hard. Stephanie’s anxiety about making money with Financial Freedom Crew is totally natural. It takes time, sometimes years, to make money with a blog. And giving up those hours of family time without a guarantee is scary. If your focus is making money, consider freelancing or working as a virtual assistant to bring in cash while your blog grows. It will allow you to be more patient and avoid getting frustrated when the cash doesn’t start rolling in right away.

Thank you again, Stephanie!

What did you think of Stephanie’s story? Any thoughts you would add? Drop a note in the comments!

Leaving a job to find your passion | How one woman left a high-paying corporate job to start a twisting path to find a business of her own that she loved | Pet sitting business | New blogger #entrepreneur #career #profitablepassion

1 thought on “Allowing Yourself to Discover Your Passion – Profitable Passion Interview”

  1. I like Stephanie’s advice to focus on one thing at a time as you grow your business. There will always be 1000 things to do…it can be overwhelming.
    Also I love that she tried a few different things. Some worked out and some didn’t but that’s ok. Sometimes we try a side hustle and it doesn’t work out. That doesn’t mean you’re a failure!

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