Why I Quit a $150k Job in Private Equity

Corporate Hamster — someone (me) being busy all the time, but never achieving anything important or meaningful

I thought I was going to climb the corporate ladder. Build my network and reputation in the industry. Elevate my title and identity along the way. Take on more responsibilities and projects. Get top of the market pay. I thought this would pave my way to finding freedom. Financial freedom, time freedom, and emotional freedom.

I was wrong. So I quit my job.

Everyone thought I was crazy. While everyone only saw the money I was leaving behind, I was envisioning the openings I would be creating for myself. My parents were critical at first. My Mom lived through the Cultural Revolution in China and my Dad survived the Vietnam War. From their perspective, they felt that I was throwing away all of their hard work and sacrifice they went through to immigrate to America. They’ve lived life with a sense of survival. As long as things happening around them in life were tolerable, it was enough to ensure survival for the next generation.

Survive. Tolerate. Just enough. These are themes I grew up with.

“Just be grateful you have a job and keep working hard. Lots of people don’t have the same opportunities you do.” said my Mom.

“I can’t even dream of making the money you’re making. How can you just give that up?” said my Dad.

“Every job will have the good and the bad. Just push through the bad days.” they said.

My friends were supportive, but didn’t fully understand:

“But you get to travel and get free hotel stays!”

“Just take some time off and recharge.”

“You’ve worked so hard to get to where you are already.”

Everyone said “You should have something lined up or a backup plan before you quit!”

I travelled a lot for work. It was fun at first, but eventually it slowly affected my wellbeing in multiple dimensions: emotional, physical, social, and spiritual.

I didn’t have any second thoughts; I quit anyway. I realized I was climbing a ladder and living a life defined by someone else. I was surrounded by limited beliefs. It drained a lot of my energy. Conversely, I found myself rarely depleted when I’m building and creating things I’m passionate about.

There were 3 key realizations I had that led to my decision:

  1. My mental and emotional wellbeing was declining
  2. The work I was doing lacked expression, purpose, and meaning
  3. I wanted to reclaim my time and refocus my energy

I’ll preface by saying that this journey of climbing the corporate ladder had to happen in order for me to even come to these realizations. Everything unfolded perfectly for me.

My thoughts are my own and this is a summary of my reflections and learnings. In no way are these a characterization of previous companies I’ve worked for.

My wellbeing was impacted by workplace politics

From my experience, most workplace environments are unconsciously operating from a place of scarcity and driven from the ego.

By that I mean, everything is a competition and there is not enough to go around. Zero-sum thinking. For me to win, someone else has to lose. Since I fundamentally don’t agree with zero-sum thinking in the context of a workplace, I always felt internal conflict as I unconsciously opted into this game and mental model. I started to believe the individuals that are politically in favor to the powers that be are the ones that survive.

This created an environment were I need to make sure I look good if I am to succeed instead of If I succeed and you succeed, we all succeed. This forced myself and other “team” members to step away from true collaboration where abundantly sharing of resources, information, and perspective were seen as giving away power. “Teams” were then compelled to be reluctant to share information, resources, and time. I was operating out of my element.

This was further reinforced by workplaces that promoted a culture of self and a mentality of accomplishing more than others on the same team in order to succeed. A blame culture was manifested where colleagues are quick to assign blame and pass responsibility to others for mistakes.

I’ve worked in toxic workplaces where employees compete against each other and remove trust rather than encourage collaboration and co-creation.

Eventually managers and supervisors ended up dictating and micromanaging without openness and trust in order to control and define the growth of others. The expected timeline of career trajectory was defined by people that have gone through it before or by an arbitrary model, resulting in constrained growth. False narratives were formed.

Example: You have to work X number of years as an Analyst before being considered for a promotion to a Senior Analyst. Then be a Senior Analyst for X number of years before being considered for a promotion to a Manager. And so on.

The corporate ladder climb perpetuated a paradigm of zero-sum and survival of the fittest in a rigid model with little room for innovation. From my experience, it was moving me out of alignment with what made me feel fulfilled, which was true collaboration and co-creation.

Coming to this realization of being out of my power led me to shift my behaviors back to center. I started to form boundaries for myself which led to a different set of workplace friction. In other words, the emperor has no clothes. I knew this was a sign to leave the corporate hamster wheel and empower my own field of possibility.

I wasn’t living in my fullest expression

I wasn’t developing skills I cared about or working with aligned individuals. I saw the person I was becoming if I stayed on the corporate ladder climb vs. the person I could become if I pursued my own passions.

Climbing this ladder of “success” meant tolerating the survival paradigm through lack of positive action rather than a conscious choice.

It meant I was holding back what’s true and genuine for me in order to fit a certain workplace model and to be someone I’m not. It meant I was giving up my freedom and liberty in order to get in favor of dictators that controlled my career path. It meant I was subscribing to an unwavering resistance to diverse perspectives, change, and progress.

I was slowly letting other people’s definition of success, achievement, and happiness distract me and dictate my choices. I was filling up my life with this social conditioning, and left no room for me to reflect on what was truly authentic for me.

I spent years playing the corporate game and office politics while minimizing my own authenticity.

Eventually those distractions became my values by default. Most workplaces don’t allow for vulnerable expression because vulnerability is seen as a weakness. There’s also no safe space for honest and open feedback. I had no space to be genuinely empowered.

It took some inner reflection to realize I was feeding into a culture of being measured by a job title, how many promotions I was getting, how much money I was making, etc. I was not being seen for who I am because I was showing up as a model employee. More and more, the work I was doing in the corporate world seemed to lack meaning. All I seemed to be doing was trading my time to line the pockets of rich millionaires and billionaires. What was the point?

I started to tune out the opinions, expectations, and obligations of the world around me, and began to hear myself. My inner voice, my inner being. I wanted to be more effective on my own terms and create my own playbook; not follow someone else’s. I wanted to own my own vision and strategy for things I’m passionate about while being in my fullest expression with zero barriers or limitations.

Money can’t buy happiness

Time, money, and energy — life’s greatest paradox.

“While you’re young, you’ve got all the time and all the energy to enjoy life, but no money. When you get to your middle years, you’ll have all the money and all the energy, but no time. And when you’re retired, you’ll have all the money and all the time, but no energy.” ~ Chuck Blakeman in Making Money Is Killing Your Business

This realization hit me profoundly. If I continued on the path I was paving, I would be entering a phase of life where I had all the money and all the energy, but no time. And eventually end up with all the money and all the time, but no energy. I needed to shift my relationship with money, reclaim my time, and refocus my energy. Money is a means, not an end. I started to realize I can always have more or less money. My income and net worth didn’t define me.

My relationship with money was influenced by the environment I found myself in — a capitalist society and workplace where money (salary) was a measuring stick of identity and success. There is nothing wrong with money, as long as we have a healthy relationship with it. When my relationship with money started to feel like money was controlling me instead of me being in control my money, I started to feel unhealthy.

Most of my initial education about money came from observation of my parents’ relationship with money. Growing up in an immigrant household, money was scarce for my family.

“We can’t afford that.”

“That’s expensive. Do we really need it?”

These were common phrases I grew up hearing. Financial information and education were nonexistent for me. This led me to value frugality and simplicity. As long as we had just enough to get by, we were doing fine.

Fast forward to adulthood — I was making money, investing my income, and compounding my nest egg. I was improving my relationship with money but still viewed money as scarce. This scarce relationship with money was affirmed in the workplace where salary negotiation, financial security, and insecurity were constant office discussions amongst colleagues.

I would constantly hear, “I don’t care what my job title is or what work I’m doing, as long as I get paid I am happy.”

Some would say, “I want to get paid more and get a higher title; I’ve been in this position too long.”

I bought into these beliefs as well! I started to believe being fulfilled was either about title or money or both. I thought these external validations would make me feel fulfilled.

I had to shift years of intentional and unintentional conditioning, and transform my relationship with money.

For me, I actually find the greatest joy in associating myself with the work I’m doing. But I was surrounding myself with negative beliefs about job titles and money. I needed to step away. Step away from limited beliefs and step into supporting beliefs.

Final Thoughts

Leaving a job with nothing else lined up feels scary. Letting go of old societal beliefs and conditioned ways of thinking feels uncomfortable. But I am consistently nurturing things that feel in alignment with me, and that feels revitalizing. I hope my sharing of my observations may support those going through their own reflective journeys. Introspection goes a long way.

One of my favorite quotes and words of wisdom of all time. The real source of peace, love, and happiness is in your heart and nowhere else.

What’s next?

I plan to take some time to myself for the rest of 2022 and travel the world, with the intention to Explore, Create, and Commit.

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I have this unshakable belief and trust that everything will be okay, and that the universe 100% has my back.

I am committed to working for myself and working on things that energize me. I trust that by honoring my myself, good things will happen.

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Kerry Dang

Kerry Dang

inspired by the infinite — exploring my curiosity and sharing what i feel and learn along the way