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Why I Left My Job In Finance, Turned Off My Phone and Started Living in the Now

4 minute read

For 35 years, I lived in my head. I focused on to-do lists, skill development and hustling. Professionally, it got me far. But emotionally and spiritually, it was hollow and confusing. There was heaps of knowledge in my head, but my heart was clenched and untended to. After 14 years in finance, when I felt I had enough money in my savings account to take a pause, I decided to leave my job to try to close the gap between my head and my heart. That was a year ago; I’m still on that journey, but here are a few steps I’ve taken so far.

1. I set my intentions to recalibrate my internal compass
I like to write these in the form of a two-part manifesto: First, write down your personal values. Second, lay out how you want to be spending your time. It may sound a bit silly, but very few people take the time to write these intentions down—or even think about them.

If you’re truly tuning into what your heart is telling you, you’ll likely notice that none of these contain money or status. These markers are byproducts of the journey but not the actual goal themselves. When I left my finance job, one of my goals was to build and sell a company for more than $50 million just so that I would “know that I could do it.” In hindsight, that’s such an arbitrary goal—and I can now say that it was very ego-driven. Now, when I look at my manifesto, three of the items on the list are: “Be around self-aware and talented people,” “Pursue a mission in my work” and “Create the flexibility to be a good father/husband.” Making money becomes a mere byproduct of my goals rather than the focus of them.

Having your goals on paper will give you a true north to help guide your decision-making.

2. I developed mindfulness speed bumps
While I encourage meditating, telling people to do that without any further guidance can be intimidating—which is why I recommend taking smaller, more actionable steps to give yourself a mindfulness break.

Here are a few speed bumps I’ve employed: First, I’ve gone “analog” and do most of my journaling and to-do lists with pen and paper. Second, I force smartphone breaks into my daily routine. These include not checking my phone during the following circumstances: In the morning before I’ve achieved my most important tasks (exercise/meditation/journaling); on the weekends when I’m with my family (I target six- to eight-hour blocks when I can avoid my phone) and for 10 additional minutes after any long stretch away from my phone (e.g., a meeting, subway ride or movie). That last speed bump helps me savor whatever I’ve just experienced while unwiring my Pavlovian reflex to check my smartphone immediately.

3. I leaned into my fears
We don’t like living in the present moment and just being because it forces us to confront unpleasant feelings and fears. I have two primary fears: My own death and being broke. I’ve found these are both pretty common amongst my peers. Once you recognize your fears, you will notice how they subconsciously trigger your behaviors. For example, fearing death made me frame life through a scarcity mindset as opposed to an abundance one. There was never enough time, money, opportunity, love, praise and possessions. You can quickly see how that mindset can lead to an unfulfilling existence.

Read more: How to Prevent Career Boredom

Leaning into your fears requires three things: Acknowledging them, listening to the conversation in your head and mitigating (to the extent possible) the fear with deliberate action.

For my fear of being broke, I moved a conservative amount of living expenses into a separate account and had a deal with myself: If that amount got to zero, I’d course-correct and either start consulting or return to a more traditional job. As a result, I’ve quieted a lot of my anxieties and am able to be truly present for my loved ones.

Khe Hy spent most of his career at BlackRock and is now the creator of Rad Reads, a weekly newsletter focused on self-inquiry, leadership and innovation.

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