Why I Passed On $120K / Year
Hint: I didn’t want to become the fat man in the red BMW.
“Hey son, can you chat? I have some outstanding news for you!” said the text from my Mom.
When I called her, she told me that an exciting opportunity had come up. A friend of hers worked at a security company in the Bay Area, and two of their sales associates had just left. The company needed to fill the roles quickly.
She said, “Here’s the best part: you can make $120,000 per year!” She became more animated by the moment, elaborating that the VP of Sales was making nearly $200,000 per annum, and that I could eventually work my way up to that position.
“Aren’t you happy that I found this wonderful opportunity?” she ecstatically questioned. She was very aware that I was committed full time to my new startup Whttl, but she nonetheless knew that I wasn’t earning any income at the moment, other than my “on-demand” income via Lyft driving.
I paused for a moment and gathered my thoughts, attempting to prepare a rebuttal that was polite, yet prudent.
“Mom, I know you are looking out for my best interests, and this is indeed a well paying position. I’m sure it can lead to higher management roles, too. But it’s not in line with my vision. I’ve sacrificed far too much to accept defeat just before it starts to pay off. Call me crazy, but I have to pass.”
“But the pay is great! All of your anxiety about providing for your family would go out the window!” she said.
Again, I pondered at how best to respond. “Mom, do you remember what I used to dream of as a little kid? How at 6 years old, I used to draw out detailed blueprints of my dream houses, and the cars that would be in the driveway, and the dolphin and dog bone shaped swimming pools?
Although I may not still have the desire for novelty shaped water features per se, my drive for financial prosperity has not subsided. I can’t get there by working for somebody. I can’t obtain my dream if I work hard to build someone else’s.”
As Tim Ferris so eloquently puts it in his book The 4-Hour Workweek, I don’t want to be the “fat bald man in a red BMW convertible”, i.e. making a great salary by any standard, but nonetheless living in a habitat of cubicles, ceiling tiles, and weekends at the mall.
I elaborated how for the first time in my life, I was finally ready to abandon short term gains for long term benefits. When I was 22 years old, I had a thriving business. Even though I was still in college, I was making more money than many of the graduates with full time jobs. I made an impressive income because I sacrificed the longevity of my company. I was only focused on how to increase my profits every month.
I didn’t invest in systems, people, and strategies that would take us to the next level, because it would mean a decrease in my take home pay for a little while. My stubborn ego wouldn’t let me. Meanwhile, some of my fellow entrepreneur peers were struggling at the time, but they were investing heavily in their businesses and their corresponding long terms plans. Fast forward five years, and they are now millionaires, while I am, well…not.
She rebutted that I could do the sales job for just a year. That I could earn and save some cash, and then get back on track. I was even more opposed to this strategy, as it is a defensive paradigm that I am severely averse to.
What would I be trying to make it through? If I buckle down for a year, then what? I’ve only ever lived my life primed in a reactive mode. “If I can just get $50K…If I can just make $10K / month…If I can just get through one more year.”
Well, I’ve had $50K. I’ve received checks many multiples larger than that. I say this as humbly as I can, because I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve burned nearly every last penny. When I didn’t have a long term vision, it led nowhere. In the short term, cash never runs out and all is well in the land of make believe.
So if saving $50K wouldn’t change my life, what would I be I waiting for then? What would I expect to fall into my lap once the year long stint at the sales job expired?
I can achieve anything with what I already possess today. With Whttl, I am pursuing a tremendous market opportunity. I’ve got an incredibly talented cofounder. My friends have been emphatically supportive, and my family has helped us out financially over the last few months. What other signals from the universe do I need that now is the time?
Of course, a $50,000 cash cushion in the bank would be better than none. However, if building that safety net would require an opportunity cost of burning a year at a job that doesn’t fulfill me, it is most certainly not worth it. Ten times that amount wouldn’t be.
I asked my mom, “When was the last time you saw a ‘Help Wanted’ sign at a fast food restaurant?
“I suppose within the last few days”, she remarked.
“Well, why didn’t you run that by me? I’ll tell you why. It’s because you know that it’s not a viable role for me. Not that there is anything inferior with a position like this, but it is easy to see that I would not feel valued for my knowledge, experience, and ambition.”
She had set a mental threshold in her head, whether conscious or not, of what opportunities would be well suited to present to me. I told her that we are officially raising that bar. Effective immediately, $120,000 per year may as well be minimum wage in my book, and in hers, too. Same goes for the $200K that I could earn as VP. That’s a great salary, and I’m sure these are good jobs, but again, it’s just not for me.
I’ve finally committed to not taking a job just because it pays well. It needs to be aligned with my long term vision. It’s difficult to ascertain a precise value that I would I place on working on something that I’m super passionate about versus taking a traditional (boring) job that pays well, even if only temporary. But the delta is large, very large.
But I don’t want to sound callous or arrogant. Many people would say what I am doing is selfish. That I have a family, and that I choose to not provide for them by taking a job like this.
But the people that care about me haven’t said this, in fact, they’ve supported me one hundred percent. I knew it sounded illogical to turn down an opportunity like this while I don’t currently have a salary, but it’s a risk that I’m willing, and committed, to take.
Over the last few months, I’ve used the sharing economy to pay the bills. I’ve rented out my car on RelayRides and our home on Airbnb to make cash. I’ve driven for Lyft on the weekends.
Perhaps that is why Tim & I have started a company that promotes the sharing economy; it’s very existence has allowed me to pursue my (our) dream(s). I can personally attest to its ability to create this incredible flexibility to make money when I need. It’s almost as if I feel indebted to promote the benefits to consumers. Whatever the reason, the I feel privileged to do what I do, even sans salary.
It’s been incredibly challenging to be in a constant cycle of cash woes. But the passion that I have for building the business is what makes it manageable. It would all be done in vain if I just threw in the towel and took the sales job.
I’m where I am today as a result of being short sighted. I’ve always looked at maximizing my monthly and annual income, as a tradeoff for career earnings. I’ve never looked far into the distance, and plotted a course to get there.
Is it emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally taxing to be so stressed for money?
You better believe it.
But it’s only for the short term. As the saying goes, this too shall pass. If I get in the office every day, and work as hard and as smart as I can, I’ll look back at this challenging time as only a brief hiccup. I am a mere three feet from gold, and I will not stop anything short of my vision for my long-term future. Failure is only the result of me not believing in myself. Taking the job is my message to the world that I don’t.
I know of no other possible alternative. I don’t want another year or two or ten to go by before I wake up and realize I’m on the wrong path. To start building the life of my dreams it has to start today. It has to start now.
I abide by the ancient Chinese proverb that says “The best time to plant an Oak Tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is today.” I planted my tree 3 months ago. It’s only inches above the proverbial ground, but with time, it will become a towering and majestic Oak.
My wife is unflinchingly supportive of my efforts. But when we do have our tough moments, I remind her that if we want to have a life that only 1% of people get to experience, we have to be willing to go through what 99% of people won’t.
That means turning down a position that pays double the national average, while simultaneously we can barely afford a night at the movies. Gains come from sacrifices.
Beyond the financial implications, I owe it to myself, my family, and friends to succeed with my next venture, regardless of how hard the road gets. I will never, ever accept defeat. I’m too far in, and I’m too hungry for success. Join me on my journey by following me here.
Am I wrong? Am I right? Join the conversation on Twitter.
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Greg Muender is the founder of Whttl, described as the “Kayak.com for the sharing economy.” Use it to compare dozens of different providers and marketplaces at once, including RelayRides, DogVacay, and HomeJoy. Drop Greg a line via greg<at>whttl/dot/com. For further reading, check out the Official Whttl Blog.