“Oh shit, we’re going to get sued aren’t we?”
The room was silent. We all stared at one another, unsure of what to say. It was both our greatest and worst year at our branding agency. Our billables were high that year, but one of our projects had encountered a problem, a setback that could cost our client hundreds of thousands and in return might be something we would be partially blamed for.
Situations like those weren’t frequent, but they still happened enough to make me think, reconsider whether or not it was all worth it.
It wasn’t the money, it wasn’t the setbacks. It was the stress.
When I started the branding agency, it was just me and one other client. Stress was relatively low, almost non-existent and I actually enjoyed the work. Design was something I had picked up and was unexpectedly good at. As the months rolled by, I started getting more clients — from the internet, advertisements I had posted, word of mouth — eventually, I had to expand in order to keep up.
The company grew. First it was me and one other guy, then it became five. Then ten, then twenty. Within three years, it became twenty-six. And along with the number of employees and the number of clients that grew, the stress grew as well.
What had started off as relatively low stress and somewhat enjoyable had turned out to be my greatest nightmare; I would wake up getting chills in the middle of the night, constantly worried something bad would happen. On some days I’d wake up, wishing it were all a dream, not wanting to go to work and wondering if it would all end.
But it never did. The stress just got increasingly worse; it was an endless cycle that ate at me, gnawed at me until I’d find myself in therapy, broken down, exhausted. I always felt a little better after my sessions, but it never lasted long. Within a day, the stress would come back, worse than it had before.
It wasn’t until years later when I quit and decided to travel around SouthEast Asia that I realized that what people said had been true:
“Anybody who thinks money will make you happy, hasn’t got money.” — David Griffen
I grew up in a family that wasn’t well off. My dad would often work long hours, well into the wee hours of morning and my mom would often struggle between raising my brother and I while going to school for her doctorates. My brother and I didn’t have the opportunities that the other kids had — we had no console games, no Christmas presents, no birthday presents or any kind of toys growing up. We had to work our way through high school and college just to support ourselves.
So for the longest of time after college, all I cared about was how to make money. It was the only thing on my mind, the only thing I believed would bring happiness.
I was wrong. At the highest point of my then-career, I was making six-figures a year. The money came easy, but so did the stress, and as I sank deeper in my addiction to make even more money, I lost the one thing I had been chasing for the entire time: happiness.
Money is important. It’s helpful and it makes life easier in most circumstances and situations, but is it really worth it if it makes you unhappy, if it makes you lose sight of the things that are important to you, if it makes you neglect the people you care about and give up on the things you’re truly passionate about? It’s not. It’s easy to want money and believe it’ll bring you the happiness, but when you’ve actually made the money by doing something you lack the passion for, you’ll realize that despite actually having money, you’re no longer find the happiness you were once seeking.
“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” — Henry David Thoreau
The point isn’t to abstain from making money, it’s far from that. It’s to realize that there are more ways to make money than to do something you hate, that you’re not passionate about, that stresses you out continuously. If you’re making money at the cost of your physical and mental health, you’re not actually making money, you’re trading your life for it.