How 2 years of self-employment changed my defintion of “wealth”


Just over two years ago, I left my corporate marketing job behind. The kind of job that actually looked pretty decent on paper — nice salary, comfy corporate office, fancy job title, and the automatic reputation that comes with working for a blue-chip corporation. The kind of job you’re “supposed” to have after you finish your MBA, one that signals you’re professionally “successful.”

However, deep down, when I looked myself in the mirror, I wasn’t feeling great about my career. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the corporate experience, the intelligent colleagues, the corporate rigor, and the intellectual stimulation that comes with trying to relaunch brands, grow a business, and create compelling ad campaigns. But at the end of the day, I struggled to find meaning in getting consumers to eat more luxury ice cream, buy more trash bags, or clear more sink drains.

So I left. Leaving the traditional work force scared me to death, but I’m a huge believer in letting go of part of your life to make room for something greater. So I let go of my day job to make the needed space to launch the career consulting business I’ve devoted my energy to since leaving my last corporate job in August 2013.

One of the biggest hurdles I had to get over (and still sometimes struggle with) is the money issue. I don’t make quite as much as I used to in the corporate world. Because of this, I spend more time thinking about my finances, being more careful with money, and watching my spending. And yes, I’ve had the occasional sleepless night wondering if everything will go south for me . . . if I’ll go broke, run out of clients, have my consulting gigs suddenly disappear, etc, etc.

Yet in spite of taking a hit on more traditional, monetary measures of “wealth,” I now feel wealthier than ever before.

Last August, I visited Vancouver, Canada, where work-life balance, family time, and sustainable living seem fundamental to the culture and people I met there. It got me thinking a lot about what wealth means to me. For a good chunk of my professional life, I sometimes caught myself defining wealth using traditional metrics like financial wealth, physical assets, and money.

Now, I measure wealth in 5 new ways . . .

1) Time with people I love

Hanging out with my mother & extended family. Taichung, Taiwan. April 2015

Although I’m working harder than ever before, I now have more time to be there for the people who matter the most to me. For example, after I left the Haagen-Dazs team in 2013, I immediately flew to the United States to spend a month with my mother to help her relocate cities after my father passed away. I helped her pack up their suddenly empty-feeling house, negotiate the sale of the home, and make the road trip to relocate her from Sacramento to Los Angeles, where she now lives. Earlier this year, I spent 20 days with her in our home country of Taiwan, paying homage to my father’s life amongst long-lost relatives from his side of the family, rekindling relationships with my uncle and cousins in Taichung, celebrating my grandma’s 93rd birthday. I also got to introduce my wife to my extended family there. In the past two years, I’ve had much more time to spend with my wife at home, on our personal travels, during her conferences abroad. I’ve been mentally present in ways I wasn’t when I worked on an always-on global marketing team. I’ve also had the chance to visit friends, many back in San Francisco (where I’m headed this evening), whom I left behind when I moved to the UK five years ago. I’ve always said my relationships are my top priority, and for the first time in my professional life, I feel like I’m actually acting in a way that supports this belief.

2) Freedom to manage my own schedule

My makeshift office desk, looking out onto Vancouver Harbor (and Canada Geese), the original inspiration for this post. Vancouver, Aug 2015

With running my own independent business comes the freedom to work when and where I want. I actually work much longer hours than I did in the corporate world believe it or not, but I don’t feel mentally drained. At all. In fact, I feel energized. Because I’m in control of my schedule. My days are so much more efficient now. I’m not locked to my desk. I’m not attending discretionary meetings. I can work remotely at a café downstairs, hotel lobby, or even abroad if I need a refreshing new environment to kick-start my work. If I’m running low on energy during the day, I close the laptop and go to the gym during off-peak hours, so I can actually get through my workout much more efficiently. The activities I used to cram into non-work hours like grocery shopping or running errands used to be met with long lines and crowds. Now, I take care of these things when most other people are in the office. Managing my own schedule has reduced the slack in my life and driven up my productivity.

3) Liberty to control my future

My talk on managing marketing agency relationships. London, Sept 2014

Gone are the days when I used to have to seek multiple levels of approval to pursue or launch a new idea. I rebranded my company from Onward Coaching to ILUMITY Coaching in 10 days, start to finish in 2013. A couple months ago, when I relaunched my website under josephpliu.com, instead of working with giant agencies, I crowdsourcing ideas, working with freelance designers and experts from around the world who are rapidly delivering work & ideas that meet and even exceed what I used to see from some of the world’s largest established marketing agencies brand in my brand marketing days. I pursue only those opportunities where I feel I can truly add value. If I want to explore a new business opportunity, I just do it. If it’s not perfectly aligned with the work I currently do, I can still decide whether to pursue it or not. I love knowing I can pursue the abundance of opportunities out there without having to worry if I’m breaking conventions or not following the “rules” of the business.

4) Engagement with my work

Working up ideas for the next phase of my coaching work. Southampton, UK, June 2015

I now truly care about what I do. It’s not like I didn’t care about my work before. In the corporate world, I gave it 100%. I did everything I could to deliver results. But at the end of each day, I just didn’t feel the same kind of deep satisfaction & ownership I now feel. I feel like the work I now do helping people relaunch their careers makes the most of my skills, experiences, and natural strengths. I feel much more like I’m in the zone, like I’m doing work that matters to me, to others. I no longer feel those Sunday evening blues or dread about the workweek ahead. I look forward to every single day. I honestly don’t feel like work is work anymore. I just feel like it’s another gratifying, even fun component of my day. The only difference being that I approach it with more professional scrutiny and happen to get paid for it 😉 The feeling of focus I have is incredibly addictive.

5) Energy to make the most of each day

Biking with my wife around Stanley Park. Vancouver, Aug 2015.

One major difference in my life right now is that I feel this endless energy each and every day. I feel energized when I wake up. Energized when I work. Energized when I’m not working. There’s a bounce in my step and wideness to my eyes that just weren’t there before. People have even told me I look so much healthier now than I did a couple years ago. And with this energy, I’m exercising more than ever before. Last year, I began an abs routine. This year, I’ve gone from a 9.5 min mile to a 7 min mile. Okay, so that 7 min mile was a one-off run, but STILL, the fastest I’ve run since high school. I’m eating better. No longer eating out as much, but instead cooking more, eating more vegetables, and drinking mostly water, not coffee. I feel more alive. I fit more into each day, and I squeeze more out of each day. Overall, I feel fantastic.

Okay, so you might be saying, hang on a second, Joseph. Are you REALLY feeling this good about things? Don’t you miss the higher salary, the other stuff you used to have?

Back in my days when I studied psychology, we talked about the universally human concept of “cognitive dissonance,” a fancy way of describing how people will do anything to convince themselves their decisions were the “right” ones. It can even involve deluding yourself or ignoring how you really feel to convince yourself you’ve done the right thing. Being aware of this natural human tendency, I wonder if I’m just trying to pull a number on myself to feel better about the fact I earn a bit less money these days.

Then, I step back and realize that I’m not trying to fool myself, that this feeling is 100% genuine. Sure, I do have my moments of doubt when I miss those superficial perks. However, they simply don’t matter to me as much anymore.

You see, those sleepless nights I mentioned earlier aren’t always driven by worry. Most often, they’re driven by excitement. Excitement around my next coaching project. Excitement to do as much as I can to support my clients navigating important career decisions. Excitement I feel every single day to squeeze as much as I can into each day to help even more people relaunch their careers.

To borrow a slogan from the great MasterCard advertising construct . . .

Earning a lot of money? Nice. Sharing a fancy job title? Convenient. Having access to corporate perks? Pretty cool.

What about engaging in deeply meaningful work? Having time for people you love? Having access to experiences that truly matter to you?

Absolutely priceless.

Over to you! How do you measure the “wealth” in your life right now? How has your definition of what “matters” evolved over time? I be interested in your thoughts.

This story was originally posted on my blog. You can download this free wealth worksheet to help you define what really matters to you.


Joseph Liu is a Career & Personal Branding Strategist and host of the Career Relaunch Podcast based in London with a passion for helping people gain the clarity, confidence, and courage to pursue truly meaningful careers. Having gone through three major career changes himself, he now shares insights from building & relaunching global consumer brands to empower professionals and business owners to build & relaunch their personal brands at josephpliu.com. His unique approach is informed by 10 years of blue-chip marketing experience in the US & UK managing brands including Glad, Liquid-Plumr, Gü Desserts, and Häagen-Dazs combined with 500+ hours of professional career consulting. Check out Joseph’s TEDx Talk on Reshaping the Story of Your Career.

Stay in touch with Joseph on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, & Google+, Periscope, and of course, Medium.

Read my publication “Career Relaunch for more Medium stories about bravely relaunching your career & pursuing work that matters to you.