What I Did After I Realized Money Really Can't Buy Happiness

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Every one of us has had "aha! moments." Epiphanies. Days when we reach a crossroads and realize that we have to make some changes. For the next two months, we're sharing moments like those in our Life Stage Lessons series: Real stories straight from the financial lives of our DailyFinance contributors about times when they realized they were due for a serious course correction. So read on, learn from our mistakes, and get inspired to improve your relationship with your money.

When I graduated from college in 2002, I thought that professional growth and money symbolized success. However, four years into my business career I realized they were simply distractions -- excuses for me to ignore what was really missing in my life. And that had to change.

Growing up as an athlete, I was used to being in the spotlight. And I loved it -- until college, when a hamstring injury put an end to my soccer career. I considered myself a failure and felt like I had lost my identity. The respect, admiration and popularity that came with being a top athlete was like a drug. It made me feel great about myself and provided me with a sense of justification. The problem was that it had disappeared without warning when I could no longer play competitively.

Could My Career Fill the Void Inside Me?

At graduation, I accepted a job at a large mutual fund company outside of Boston, and I was excited to see what my new career had in store for me. I hoped that professional success would provide me with that euphoric feeling I had been missing for so long.

Slowly I started to carve out my new identity -- first as a portfolio accountant and then as a senior portfolio accountant. From there, I made a leap to JPMorgan Chase to become an analyst, a senior analyst and then a supervisor. In just under five years, I had essentially received four promotions and tripled my salary. I felt like I was on the fast track to success.

My Quarter-Life Crisis

Now 26, and an assistant treasurer at JPMorgan, I felt like I had a "cool" title, and money definitely wasn't a problem. I was able to spend freely and still save toward a down payment on a condo. Yet, whenever I let myself detach from the daily grind and think, I realized that I still felt this empty space inside -- a space I wanted so badly to fill. I felt like I was shoveling dirt back into a hole, but the hole somehow kept getting bigger.

This emptiness became more apparent over the next year despite my attempts to fill it with material items, girlfriends, sports, etc. Then one day, I had enough. I had to do something drastic to shake things up. My career clearly wasn't the answer to this void. So, I quit.

I left my "secure" job and great salary, choosing to work on straight commissions as a personal financial planner instead. And the timing? Well, it was absolutely brutal. I chose this new career path just when the economy and the stock market began to take their nose dives into the Great Recession.

Looking in the Mirror, I Found the Answer

I spent the next thee years picking up the pieces of my shattered ideals. Forced to live on an income stream that was next to nothing, I had no choice but to turn inward and focus on rebuilding me, from the inside out.

My epiphany occurred in the middle of 2012, after years of searching for happiness and fulfillment outside of myself. It hit me like a ton of bricks. All along, I was looking for something that didn't exist. Happiness was nowhere to be found in the outside world -- it was hidden, and it was inside of me. With this incredible realization came the motivation to create my life anew. My vision became clear. What lit me up and gave my life meaning was creating something for me from the ground up and helping other people achieve whatever it was they were searching for in their lives.

So, I took my skill set as a financial services professional and put it to use as an entrepreneur of sorts -- "a personal trainer for your finances." The thrill of building something from nothing, not knowing whether it would work, gave me that euphoric feeling again. The ability to wake up every morning and create my day was invigorating. And as my business grew, so did these feeling.

Regaining control of my life grounded me in my new mission. Freedom, excitement and purpose drove me -- and they came from within. The funny thing is that they were the same three feelings that motivated me as a young athlete on the soccer field. I just couldn't see them back then, because I was too busy searching for my happiness in the outside world. So, it was no wonder that respect, admiration and popularity showed up then, because that was what I was looking for in people.
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