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This is what it’s like to take a pay cut for a more meaningful job

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In 2015, visual artist Vanita Lee-Tatum was feeling burned out after 12 years building a lucrative banking career. “I reached the VP level in my career and felt like all my dreams had come true,” she says. “I traveled the world; I was making lots of money. But I started to feel this nagging emptiness, and I just couldn’t shake it. And I was like, why am I not happy?” By the following year, Lee-Tatum had given up her banking job and taken up painting. “I just had this overwhelming need for change,” she says.

Nine out of 10 Americans say they would give up a significant portion of their paycheck–up to 23% of their lifetime earnings–if they could swap their day job for more meaningful work, according to the Harvard Business Review. Employees who find that meaning are more likely to work more and stay loyal to their employers.

Many people I talked to about taking a pay cut echoed that sentiment. Most of them don’t regret their decision, but making such a change isn’t always financially within reach. For some, childcare expenses were a major consideration; other people I heard from underestimated the impact their pay cut would have on their wallet. Those with a spouse admit they couldn’t have done it without the security of a dual-income household.

As an ex-banker, Lee-Tatum had some measure of financial security going into her career change. Since she worked in sales, she was also taking home commission. “I was able to essentially retire from banking at 36,” she says.

But at the time she was a single mom. Quitting her job meant she could spend more time with her daughter and offset some of her childcare expenses, but it also required her to make lifestyle changes–say, getting rid of her Benz, which she had driven for years, or cutting back on travel and food expenses. (She has since gotten married, and Lee-Tatum admits the support of a partner has also been helpful through the transition, as has having a strong coparent.) “I had to reorganize and rearrange all of my expenses from top to bottom,” she says.

When she started painting, Lee-Tatum was making barely one-third what she made in banking, so she relied on savings and investments. She also found other ways to bring in money–teaching art classes, for example. Now, she works as a consultant for small businesses while also pursuing her art. (In fact, she says her earnings this year will likely exceed what she made as a banker.) “I’m getting paid in many different ways, not just my paycheck, and I really enjoy that,” she says. “That’s what I really admired in my small business clients when I was a banker–the creativity and the bandwidth to monetize what you love and figuring out creative ways to do that. So the financial education in that part of my background translated really well; it kind of gave me a blueprint for what I could do in my own business.”

For Ana Wagner, accepting a lesser paycheck was a small price to pay for a more supportive employer and better work........

© Fast Company