- Diane Lam is a business consultant who left the corporate world in 2018.
- She said working in finance had exhausted her and taught her to set boundaries in her life.
- Here is his professional journey, told to the writer Robin Madell.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Diane Lam, consultant in Seattle. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I worked long hours in finance. I was told that if you had to stay until 2 am to finish, you would because you are a real professional.
I once worked on an electrical fire on the floor above me to finish the job as firefighters came up the stairs wondering what I was still doing there during an emergency. I got a pat on the back for that the next day when my boss said, “Nobody makes a million dollars running at the first sign of fire.” It does not matter I wasn’t the one making millions.
I worked evenings and weekends several times. I was constantly exhausted and did not take care of myself.
Everything changed when I decided enough was enough. Today, I’m a business consultant who made over $175,000 in revenue last year while only working five hours a day, four days a week, less than half the time I used to. .
If we are technical, I make more in my company than I made in company salary because bonuses were a big part of my compensation. So while I often ended up with bonuses that increased my earnings, they weren’t guaranteed.
It seemed like I had it all working in finance, but I hated everything about my life.
I justified it by telling myself that I was living the dream life. I was earning a generous salary a few years out of college and working on investment vehicles that people twice my age didn’t get to work on.
One morning, after spending the weekend curled up in bed, I said to myself, “I’d rather kill myself than go to the office today.”
It was my first warning shot. I had never thought of it before, and it scared me.
I made a few changes, like switching to less intensive finance work, but fell back into the same pattern of burnout. Tired of my constant complaints of wanting to punch something, a friend took me to a kickboxing class to help relieve the stress. This was the first step in a chain reaction. Through the gym, I met other professionals whose only goals were work-life balance. It opened my eyes to the fact that my way of working was do not Ordinary.
I ended up quitting my job and spent the next six months traveling. I’ve met tons of digital nomads, entrepreneurs, and small business owners. They included people who had the “work for a living” mentality that I admired and those who were on the verge of burnout as they managed their growing businesses.
I realized that burnout was not limited to the corporate world
Corporate escapees seeking freedom may be locked in a burnout cage of their own making. I saw myself in them and knew I could help.
I started my consulting business in 2018 with a focus on building systems to turn the business into a machine that doesn’t need equity to power it, by implementing software and tools to make these systems easy to manage and by creating teams to run the business for them so that they can have the entrepreneurial freedom for which they created their business.
One of the first things I did when I was considering quitting my corporate job was to start accepting barter and discount projects in exchange for testimonials. I left my job at the end of April 2018 and took the summer to recharge my batteries.
This summer has been important to me. I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until my schedule was open and I was free. This contrast made me realize how overworked and exhausted I was.
The biggest difference in my days is that I have the freedom to flow with my energy and focus
I know I start to lose focus around 2pm. I know I’m more creative and productive in the morning. I know I need a day between calls and appointment days to recharge, and I know I can’t have more than four client appointments a day.
So I built my schedule, boundaries, departments, and how my work is delivered around how I perform best. It’s something I’ve never been able to do in the corporate world, and in retrospect it was a big factor in burning me out because I had to show up every day in top form, whatever let it happen.
I don’t work weekends, and if I have to work “late” because of a special project or a launch, that means 4 or 5 p.m. Evenings are always reserved for activities that bring me joy or nourish me in some way. I was constantly traveling before COVID-19, taking off for Asia, South Africa and criss-crossing the United States because I could and wanted to. There are no limits or restrictions on my days off or travel.
When I started my business, I felt guilty for not working a full day
Now my fixed hours are 9 am to 2 pm, Monday to Thursday. I sometimes work on Fridays, and if so, I’m usually done before noon.
My team knows my schedules and there is no pressure as I have intentionally built my team and my operations to be able to take off in the afternoon. Our deadlines are therefore reasonable and our deliverables are always manageable.
Last week I had an intense therapy session at the start of the week. It shattered me emotionally and energetically. Instead of forcing myself to work, I rested. I took a nap at 12:30 I read. I took long walks and sat in the park without feeling compelled to recover and return to work. I let myself do what I wanted to recharge my batteries. I turned on my computer on Thursday morning and was totally refocused and productive. I would never have been able to listen to my body and mind and rest if I was still in the corporate world.