With my first novel hitting bookstores today, you could say I’m a messy jumble of emotions.
There’s that pinch-me glee and also that oh-no-what-have-I-done terror at putting something so personal and precious out into the big, scary world.
But underlying it all, there’s gratitude for this dream come true. And also for the role that money has played in allowing me to design such a beautiful life – one that I’ve imagined since I was a little girl.
In first grade, we had to write down what we wanted to be when we grew up. An author, I said.
When I was eighteen, I wrote my first 450-page fiction manuscript to help me through my parents’ divorce. In the years that followed, I wrote four more books that never got published.
Writing has always felt like a calling, a way to express my oversized emotions and touch hearts through the magical power of words.
But as we grow up, the idea of discarding our childhood dreams is normalized. Society encourages us to “grow up” and “be realistic.”
Part of me adapted to that way of life as I graduated college and embarked on a finance career. But the whole time, that creative voice was still speaking up. Still urging me to write.
So I kept trying to break in as an author, even as I was working a demanding Wall Street job.
Waking up before 5am, I wrote at the Starbucks across from my office every morning. On weekends, I camped out in Brooklyn coffee shops and attended book events to network with authors and agents.
So many times, I called my mom in tears after an agent rejected me – or more likely, just never replied to my query letter asking if they’d read my work. “What if it never happens?” I’d wail. “What if I’m stuck as a cog in the corporate wheel forever?”
The gap between where I was and where I wanted to be seemed impossibly large. I felt trapped in a job that marked me as successful in the eyes of the world, but was so detached from my soul.
Battling burnout, I had to overcome my perfectionist, people-pleasing mindset to reorient how I thought about my day job vs. side hustle. My goal wasn’t to be the very best Wall Street employee. It was just to be a good enough at work so I could be exceptional at writing.
With this reframed perspective, I began to see work more as a monetary transaction and less as some all-consuming life track.
Gratitude started to push out resentment. Rather than keeping me from going after my dream, my job could actually help put me in the financial position to be able to pursue writing full-time.
So I invested over half of every pay check, plus the full amount of every bonus. My apartment was the size of a large closet, and I ate nearly every meal from Trader Joe’s groceries.
I still went to friends’ birthday dinners and splurged on some trips. But overall, I lived frugally so that I could give my investments enough of a base to start working for me and generating passive income.
What might sound constrictive was actually incredibly liberating.
I was building up the financial base that would enable me to leap off the conventional track and cultivate a life of greater freedom and fulfilment.
As I was getting my money situation in order, things were picking up with the manuscript I was working on – modern love story about a Wall Street woman figuring out life and love in her twenties, leaning on her friends to keep smiling through all the volatility in the dating market (cue the finance puns).
I landed an incredible agent during covid, and for the first time, I had someone other than my friends and family on my team. After some revisions and rejections, we secured two book deals through an NYC imprint that’s sold through Penguin Random House. The book also got noticed by one of Hollywood’s biggest talent agencies, who are now pitching it for film/TV.
I was getting closer to that dream life that my seven-year-old self had believed possible.
But even with two books coming out, I wavered about quitting my corporate job.
Book royalties don’t exactly pay the bills. (For a retail price of a $17 book, I make only about $1 per book. The rest goes to the publisher, and a small cut to the agent.)
I debated staying at my job and keeping writing as a side hustle. Or I could bet on myself as an author, finding ways to monetize my passion beyond the royalties themselves.
It was no longer just my heart telling me to leave. My bank account told me that quitting wasn’t a crazy choice anymore. I could give myself at least a year or two without making much money and still be okay.
So I turned in my notice and went all-in as an author.
I could feel my little kid self cheering me on, so grateful I didn’t abandon her. Her awe and imagination continue to lift me up on the good days and the bad ones (yes, even dream jobs have bad days).
There are trade-offs involved, lifestyle wise. I’m back living with my mom at age 28. I don’t eat out at restaurants, and I’m staying on friends’ couches on my book tour.
But I’m more than willing to give up some material things for the fulfilment that comes from following my passion and turning it into a purpose.
I always used to say that writing was my calling. But I’ve started to understand that writing isn’t the calling in itself. The calling is to spread love and light during the short time that I have on this earth. Writing is one expression of that.
And I think that relates to our discernment about what money really is, too. It’s not our key to happiness or success or worth.
But it can be one tool that helps liberate us to pursue our dreams and design our most holistically beautiful lives.
And what a gift that is.