Updated: May 10, 2019
Alysse Godino. 27, soul surfer
It all started to unravel when I told my boss to go f*ck himself on a conference call with his peers. Yes, I thought I was on mute, but did I really care? Probably not. I immediately pacified the situation by running into his office and telling him that I was yelling at something else (a totally normal occurrence on the trading floor that I sat on). I don’t think he bought it, but no one was going to fire me that day.
I knew this was the beginning of the end
Rewind 5 years ago: I had just graduated from Cornell University and was about to start my investment banking career in San Francisco, where I grew up. I was wide eyed, hungry, and anxious to be “successful”. In those days that meant monetarily. I was the only non-administrative female in my group and one of three (I believe) women in the entire San Francisco office… But I didn’t care. I was determined to succeed in this world at all costs.
And it cost me. More than I thought.
Fast forward 4 years. I had achieved the monetary success that I had strived for, I had achieved the status of having it all - fancy clothes, nice apartment, high end dinners, designer shoes, jetting off to New York in business class for ONE meeting, which in the world of “high finance” is completely normal. My friends and family reveled at my “in demand” lifestyle that afforded me all these things.
But what they didn’t know was that I was a slave. I was a slave to my boss(es), I was a slave to my email. I was a slave to the omnipresent carrot of my coveted bonus that came along every March, which ultimately drove every singly move I made professionally and personally. The problem with the bonuses incentive structure is they are completely discretionary and therefore one hundred percent subjective. Meaning, the only thing that matters when it comes to “getting paid” as we would call it, was (drumroll)… how much everyone likes you. High school all over again, but this time, the stakes could be 6 figures and above, I digress.
And what my friends and family didn’t know was my overwhelming feelings of emptiness and lack of purpose or fulfillment from the profession that had stolen my life for 4 years. Four years of horrendously unnecessary long days, missed holidays, weddings, and family gatherings because I was afraid of being offline for too long. Weekends evaporating away in front of my eyes with one email. Death of friendships from canceling all plans and then just giving up on making them. Constant stress, constant stress in my relationship, no sleep, no sleep, and no sleep. And the worst: constantly being questioned by my boss(es) if I could do the job that I had dedicated my life to. I was a ticking time bomb. And for what? A f*cking bonus.
And don’t worry, the bomb exploded.
I hated myself for becoming another “super important” stressed out business person in a suit. Implicitly deep down, I knew that I had to make a change. Not just a job change, but a complete overhaul to my life. I no longer wanted to be a sheep in the 6am morning commute, I no longer wanted to “live” for the the company conferences in New York or swanky company poker nights where I could get wasted off free $25 plus cocktails, all while being charming enough to help my boss win some business.
I no longer wanted to be a participant in the rat race.
I knew I needed to return to my true self and try to find happiness. But by “knowing this” it wasn’t like there was a sign from the heavens that came down and told me that I needed to leave this toxic world of extreme everything. It was more like having mini “breakdowns" almost weekly as my soul was restlessly trying to escape out from under the investment banker skin I was wearing. These came in different forms like crying in the bathroom at work after receiving another ASAP email preventing me from going home that night, getting into arguments about nothing with my boyfriend, and exploding into tears every time something didn’t go as planned. A pinched nerve in my neck that would flare up under extreme stress. I was 25, not 55. I was so close to a boil at all times that any inch of perceived adversity would send me over. Like traffic, or if the elevator took too long, or when my car got a flat tire at 4am driving to work, or when my mom provided me with unsolicited advice. Literally anything could cause me to breakdown. I didn’t discriminate, and I felt like a 2 year old.
It was bad and I knew it.
Some of you may ask, well then why didn’t you just quit? I couldn’t. I was addicted.
I was addicted to the money and the “prestige” of my job. I was addicted to the fact that money was no object to everyone around me. I was addicted to surprising all male boardrooms every time I walked into the room, and even more so when I insisted they shake my hand when clearly having no idea how to greet me. I would say I was addicted to the power, but I had none.
Enter: a weekend trip to Maui
I was staying at my dad and step mom’s house for a few weeks to regroup from my boyfriend after some irrelevant drama, when they offered me the opportunity to join them on a trip to Maui to visit their friends who lived there. Initially I said no. Actually, initially I was upset that they had the audacity of even asking me if I could take time off from work. But then after looking at my boss’s calendar and finding out that it was actually “ski week” for prestigious San Francisco private schools, I thought this could be an optimal time to slip under the radar and take 1.5 days off and head to Maui for the weekend.
And I did it. Don’t worry - the trip started off with me on the plane panicking because the plane wifi wasn’t working. Then once realizing that I was trapped for 5 more hours with no ability to change any of this, I crashed into a much needed deep sleep. Maybe this was the first step in me letting go and giving into my surroundings.
To make a long story longer, those 3.5 days on Maui did something to me. It changed me, it moved me, it satiated my soul and forced me to question everything I thought I knew. From providing the ability to physically distance myself from my life, it made me realize that we as humans are 100% in control of our lives and what we want to make of them. And at the time, the life I was making for myself wasn’t what I wanted. This culminated with me sitting on a beach on Maui's south shore watching the sunset with my parents and their friends, with my dreaded redeye flight back to San Francisco looming a few hours away, and at that very moment, I knew that I was going to move to Maui.
Inner peace - a remarkable feeling that I wasn’t going to let that slip away.
Seven days following my Monday return, I quit my job, packed my things and head over to Maui. No job, no plan, and most importantly, no health insurance.