How I Left Corporate America (and why you should too)

This is a post that I have been wanting to write forever, but first, I actually had to leave my career in banking.  To be honest, this wasn’t an overnight decision. Instead it lingered in the back of my mind for many years.  It started as a “wouldn’t it be cool” idea if I could actually build a business doing what I love – helping people eat nourishing food to improve their health.  I never thought it would be possible to turn my passion into a business.

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I worked in corporate banking for 13 years underwriting and structuring debt for technology companies in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. It was the longest “relationship” I had ever been in, and breaking up was hard to do. Because for a long period of time I loved banking. While other young girls dreamed of being veterinarians and ballerinas, at a young age I dreamed of being a business woman wearing a black suit and carrying a briefcase down Wall Street (just ask my mother about this). I didn’t make it to NYC, but climbed my way up the ladder in Los Angeles and San Francisco as a woman determined to break the glass ceiling. I loved the pay checks, I loved the bonuses, I loved the perks and I especially loved the creativity of structuring debt and proving myself to rooms full of white-haired men over and over again.   

Overtime, as with anything painted in glittery gold, the appeal of banking lost its shimmer and I began to see the cracks in the pavement as I continued down the road of my corporate career.  Three years ago I landed at a large institution, one of the biggest banks in America (by assets), and this is where my long term relationship with banking began to reach its imminent end. Compounded by my marriage that ended during my tenure here, I started to re-evaluate what it was that I truly loved about my career.  I noticed that things that were once important to me – money, status, nice clothes, expensive trips – were no longer my priority. They were no longer ME. Or maybe, I thought, just maybe this lifestyle never really was me.  It was time for a change.  It was time to become me again.

I have always been a hippie at heart. I actually hate using a hairbrush, I never really enjoyed wearing a lot of makeup, I could eat crunchy granola, beets and kale every day, and horoscopes and moon phases are pretty much my favorite things to talk about.  But my absolute favorite topic, that lights me up and will get me talking for hours, is about the power that eating whole foods has to change our health. I won’t crowd this post with my own story about my health and wellness journey, but I have seen firsthand the effects that food can have on your body and your mind. I have suffered through the negative effects of a diet based off of processed foods and have since discovered the health benefits of eating a diet of real food.

I have always “coached” family and friends on their own diets and how to make healthier choices, and people started to encourage me to make this into a career. After many years, I started to listen and then used the power of Google to find the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York.  They offer an online certification for health and wellness coaching and I knew this was the next step that I needed to take. I also started to spend most of my time on weekends writing my business plan and materials for my own practice. It took me one year to finally enroll in IIN, thanks to a huge push from a friend of mine, and then it took another six months to convince myself that I could actually do this.  I starting practicing on coworkers and friends, using my own health forms I had created and my personal knowledge I had built over 10 years of how to formulate a diet of whole foods without restrictions, calorie counting or portion control.

I started an Instagram account for fun to document the food I was eating and to share with friends. This is when things started to change. I met an amazing group of like-minded individuals who cared about the real food movement as much as I did, and for the first time in a while I felt understood by my peers.  In banking, I never felt wholly accepted or comfortable in a world dominated by men, long hours and unhealthy habits.  Whenever I brought a green smoothie into work with me in the mornings, or ate a kale salad at a group luncheon, I always received strange looks and back-handed comments disguised as jokes. Another huge reason to move on from your current career, is when you start to struggle with how to relate to your peers.

 Me in my office on my last day of work, can you see the joy radiating on my face?!

Me in my office on my last day of work, can you see the joy radiating on my face?!

One of the most important things, and what I always tell others who are trying to leave their career and start a new one, is to immerse yourself in a community of others who are currently in your dream career. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, for advice and for lunch dates to pick someone’s brain.  People who are equally passionate about what they do, will open up and share their stories and offer you amazing advice and help. I am truly thankful for everyone who has been my supporter on this journey.

Having support is one thing, but believing in yourself and that you have the ability to create something out of your passion is what is most important and key for making the leap. At first, I was so fearful of not being able to be successful in another career. I was questioned by those close to me how would I make money and support myself? I second-guessed myself for leaving what others thought was a great career. I began to question myself and self-doubt reared its ugly head for the first few months.

The I remembered what an older female colleague and mentor told me once, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” So step one, BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. If you are good at what you do in your current job, imagine the possibilities in a job you love.

Step two, here is my full list of what to do before you jump:

1.     Write a business plan. Don’t make it complicated, mine was one page. You can only plan so much before you actually DO IT.

2.     Find your people – put yourself out there to meet new people who are currently doing what it is you would to do. Go to events, plan lunches, coffee dates, etc.

3.     SAVE MONEY. I would say you should put away at least six months of monthly living costs before making the leap.  If you are leaving corporate America, it is safe to assume that you are already receiving substantial paychecks to build a good nest. 

4.     Adjust your living costs. Where you save biggest are living expenses and food. I have lived alone and moved in with roommates when I left the bank, which cut my rent by one-third. Your monthly budget should consist of 50% living expenses, 30% wants, and 20% savings (of your gross income). Write down your monthly income goal for your new venture and calculate based off of this.

5.     Don’t burn bridges. Even if you are fed up with your current career, continue to treat your peers, manager and executives with respect. You never know when things will come back around.

And with that I will leave you with a quote from Mr. Steve Jobs: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you will know when you find it.”

Molly Alliman