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Happiness is a Choice (And I Chose it over Money)

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happiness is a choice

Someone once told me, happiness is a choice you make. Well, I chose happiness over a $150K salary and within 6 months of leaving made more than that working for myself. Let me start at the beginning.

This story starts with me second-guessing my gut instincts. Something I’ve since learned is a bad idea. At the time that this opportunity came my way, I had been self-employed for nearly three years and was feeling antsy. I had a small roster of clients, but it wasn’t enough to take my business full time and I wanted to branch out. I was stagnating in my work and didn’t feel challenged or excited about what I was doing.

In through the door walks another part-time contractor opportunity. They liked me, I liked them, and in within an hour of meeting, I had the gig. Less than one month later, it was made clear that the company wanted more of a commitment from me as we moved into a significant project that would require all hands on deck, international travel and long hours. 

This is where my gut started telling me to walk away. But I wanted something new. I was bored where I was. Was this the opportunity I had been looking for? To get myself right, I decided I’d ask for what I wanted, including the highest salary I’d ever had and the more impressive role I’d ever been in. 

I asked, and like rubbing the side of genie bottle, it was granted to me without hesitation. Within weeks, I was flying first class around the world, diving head first into a new industry, and finding my place on a new team.

Flash forward to six months later and I was struggling to get through work every day, my already poor gut health was declining, and when people asked me, “What do you do?” I cringed as my stomach turned. I didn’t enjoy the work, my co-workers were impossible to work with, and despite my best attempts to do the work I knew I needed to do, I was being pushed back every step of the way.

I was losing confidence in my abilities as a marketer, I was second-guessing myself, and all I wanted was to go back to what I had before.

The thing is: I was making a lot of money—and I had a title that would look amazing on a resume. I was “living the dream.” I would ask myself every day: Is this really that bad? Most people would kill to be in this position, am I being unreasonable for wanting to leave?

I asked myself these questions probably 100 times in a span of 3 months and finally, one day, I couldn’t take it. I left the office early and cried all the way home. I was playing tug of war with the idea of leaving—but I kept coming back to one question: How could I walk away from that money?

Clarity came when I honestly asked myself one simple question: “If I died tomorrow, would I be happy with how I’ve spent the last six months?” The answer was clear and immediate: No. I also happen to believe that the Universe provides us with what we’re supposed to have, and I suddenly knew, with total confidence that if I was supposed to have that $150K, I would. It would get to me somehow. 

The next day, I asked if I could fall back to a part-time role and explained to my immediate superior what I was struggling with. I rubbed the genie bottle, and again, my wish was granted. But I still didn’t have what I actually wanted. I ultimately wanted to be free, self-employed—moving forward. But I was still afraid to walk away from the consistent income, albeit less than I was making as a full-time employee.

The Universe did what I couldn’t, and 3 weeks later, on a Friday, I was let go. The following Monday, I sat at my home desk and took the first steps toward turning my small roster of clients into a full-time business. In just six months, I made more than the salary I walked away from, I was happy, fulfilled and managing all the ups and downs that come with riding the entrepreneur roller coaster.

Within the span of one year, I went from disbelief that I could get a job at that level, to desperate unhappiness, to being a first-time business owner, to making more than $150K in just six months of working for myself. 

This story may sound unique, but I’m not special. Anyone can turn a bad situation into a life-changing move—or avoid it altogether. Use my mistakes as your guide.

Not every opportunity is an opportunity for you. 

This was no-doubt an amazing opportunity. A great position, making great money, in a growing company. The question I kept coming back to was: is this a good opportunity for me? For someone who was interested in that field, and wanted to climb the corporate ladder, this would have been a dream come true. For me, that was not the case, but I realized that only after I signed on the dotted line.

Your gut is smarter than your head sometimes.

It’s easy to get distracted from what you really want. In my head, it looked right, but in my gut I knew it wasn’t. I can’t tell you what would have happened if I had listened to my gut, slowed down, and stepped back or stayed with them in a part-time role. But what you just read is what happened when I didn’t do that—and it was a rough six months.

Happiness is more important than money.

I was unhappy. My husband and I had just moved into our first house a week before I had to leave for international travel, with a team I didn’t even know and I didn’t want to go. I was a mess. I was anxious to be traveling so far away without him, to a place I’d never been to before, and all I wanted to do was be in my house making it feel like home.

The first-class ticket for a 12-hour flight was amazing, and while I did have some good times with my new co-workers, I was desperate to get back home. I wasn’t happy just one month into this new job, and yet I stayed for five more.

Belief in yourself is non-negotiable.

After going part-time, the desire to fully go out on my own was strong. And I knew that if I had the time, and I wasn’t spending 5 hours each day doing part-time work for them, that I could build a lucrative business. I just knew I could do it.

I know this sounds corny, but even Venus Williams, one of the best tennis players in the world, with more awards and medals to her name than most of us will ever earn in a lifetime credits her success to a similar belief in herself: “My secret sauce is believing in myself.” Don’t discount this, it’s an important one if you’re ready to walk away.

You have to commit. 

You have to believe in yourself, but you also have to do the work. I didn’t build this business by snapping my fingers. I committed to it. I was networking every single week. I was on my computer until 9pm, working all day, attending events, and still trying to take care of myself and my body. It was hard work and if I didn’t commit, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Tuning in will help you get out.

I knew I was unhappy. I could have ignored that feeling, pushed through, and kept working for the money. And that’s what most of us would do because it’s easier to simply get lost in the doing than to acknowledge that we’re unhappy. When we acknowledge that, then we have to do something about it and that something is rarely easy. Yes, I am successful as a business owner, but it isn’t always easy and it definitely wasn’t easy getting let go from a job to which, despite being unhappy, I gave my all.

But, by tuning in, I was ultimately able to identify the key to freedom for myself: happiness. I wasn’t willing to live my life unhappy knowing that any moment, this life can be taken from me. It sounds dramatic, but it’s true.  

Happiness is a Choice You Can Make Too

If you’re feeling stuck in a position, unhappy and unfulfilled, you can walk away too. Remember: happiness IS a choice. I had a part-time roster of clients as a launching pad, and you could start looking for a new job, or building a client base to act as your launching pad too. Better yet, make a plan to save for six months and then leave, giving yourself time to figure out what the perfect next step looks like. 

With belief in yourself, commitment to the work, and a keen eye for what opportunity looks like for you, you’ll find yourself making more than you ever imagined sooner than you ever hoped. And more importantly, you’ll be happy while you do it. 

A version of this first appeared on my LinkedIn Pulse: I Chose Happiness Over Money and it Worked

Jessica Thiefels is the Founder and CEO of Jessica Thiefels Consulting, a content marketing agency, and upcoming author. Living life with intention has helped her move across the country, build a thriving business, and travel the world while growing her marketing agency and writing a book. Now she's sharing her experiences to help others bring intention to their life, their work and their business.

Happiness is a Choice (And I Chose it over Money)

By: Jessica Thiefels Time to Read: 6 min