How $60K/yr and a Side Hustle Changed My Life.

Yep! You read that right. I willingly took a ~60% pay cut. And I've never been happier, more wide-eyed, focused, and appreciative of "the little things." For the past three years, I've preached the word about maximizing your salary, being a MEGA or badass or superstar, low-key forcing yourself into Boardrooms in an effort to command/demand respect, blah blah blah. And while I do believe you must advocate for yourself, demand equal pay when there's obvious inequity, seize opportunities when they present themselves, and be at your very best each day you walk through the door of your office, I believe my message has been coopted as some sort of rallying cry and false motivation by those looking for the type of validation that should come from within, not some loud-mouthed, Black, gay, quasi guru that most people see me as. Like Anthony Robbins says, "I'm not your guru." I have less than zero desire to be. I don't have the expertise. I don't have the sociopathy. I don't have the balls. And I certainly shirk the responsibility. However, what I do have is years of experience on my side and tons of scars, bumps, and bruises as evidence of a life lived fearlessly and without reservation. That's what makes me a unicorn and mine a message that actually carries weight. Some of y'all out here claiming expertise, waving your expensive-ass parchment around, and regurgitating every cliche' known to man wouldn't last a month in my shoes. Old or new. That's not an unzip. That's a fact. I digress.

The last 3 years as a highly-tasked, highly-paid Executive Assistant to CEOs (and side hustle CEO myself) kind of f*cked me up. After a horrid 2016, I low key decided to punish every subsequent CEO who hired me by making them pay up. I increased my salary that year by over $45K with each move being incrementally more expensive to score me. It wasn't even about the role or the CEO anymore. It was about the game I'd concocted in my own head about #winning and proving/validating my worth in dollars and cents. And, for the most part, I achieved my objective. I made more money over the last 2 years than I've ever made. But then I took a step back and realized that I wasn't happy. I was supporting CEOs who were nice enough, but not really my jam. I had roles that were great on paper, but were really only glorified servant roles that devolved into less glory and more servitude. There's nothing less gratifying than making $150K/yr and being asked to clean your CEOs keyboard or being flamed for a misspelling assumed to be a tacit lack of attention to detail but actually caused by a pervasive spellcheck feature preferring besos (kisses) to Bezos (um, Bezos) the email's recipient. (oopsies!) After looking at my resume and really absorbing the fact that I'd tapped out of my last 2 CEOs at the 7-month mark because I'd grown to despise the role and all of the anxiety, accountability, expectation, and constantly reconciliation of the fact that I would never be respected at the same level or in the same way as the CEO I supported, I decided it was time to switch it up. DRASTICALLY. So I quit and decided to do more with less.

Mo' money. Mo' problems.

What most people fail to realize is that the more money you make the more implicit expectation is added alongside all those new zeros. This boom in HENRYs (high earning, not rich yet) created by this economy is being painted as the greatest thing since PacMan and pretty much every Executive Assistant and Engineer I know are trying to one-up their peers by scoring a salary a tick higher. What's sad is that many of these kids missed the memo about all those new expectations and accountabilities, 24/7 availability, and unlimited-but-don't-even-think-about-taking-it vacation that come with the exorbitant salaries. Many struggle with the new expectation level and find themselves having bitten off more than they can chew. Others roll with their new normal but quickly find themselves living at the office, not actually living. I was one of those. Until I decided to do something about it.

I accepted a role that pays me less than half of what I previously made but allows me to actually utilize the plethora of skills acquired over 27 years every single day and turn a side hustle into a career as a prolific, published author. Sure, kissing ~$100K goodbye was, at first, a very hard pill to swallow. But what I realized was that it was mostly ego I was letting go of. I was humbling myself immediately and conspicuously with a salary that's actually less than I made in my late 20's. Let's keep it real, tho. I still have aspirations of being a multimillionaire. I still love fancy things. But they're no longer my motivation. And I no longer crave those articles and trinkets that are supposed to somehow validate me in the eyes of my peers. Um...they don't. I, alone, validate me. My work ethic, my empathy, desire to do good things, to help people, and create a legacy of service to those less fortunate and my Higher Power...that's what validates me. Not a fat salary supporting CEOs who allow their relationships to crumble #becausestartup, their focus to narrow and exclude the beauty just outside their window #becausemetrics, and their health to deteriorate #becausepeerpressuretosucceed. I've chosen to live. And do it unabashedly with LESS.

The unexpected beauty of less.

I'll admit, I was expecting to freak TF out and run screaming back to the comforts of a cushy, high-salaried EA position with some hotshot CEO within weeks of becoming what most consider cash poor. I've received numerous, lucrative offers to join teams, completely run shit, and give up "my little life quest" to live on less and keep my integrity intact. And I've turned them all down, except for the role I currently have. This role, though new, has taught me to really understand and appreciate every dollar I make. It has given me an entirely new respect for those making the same amount or less and managing to keep it all together seamlessly. And it has made me realize the importance of doing work you absolutely love regardless of the salary attached.

One of my exes used to pull down a $45K annual salary for years but still managed to purchase his dream car, a Mercedes C-Class, in cash. I was such an asshole to that kid, constantly in his ear about demanding more money from his employer, interviewing at another company to leverage a counteroffer, quitting the company he'd given 14 years of his life to, for what? To appease MY need for him to make more money because of some expectation and judgment I was placing on him based on my reality, not his. I wrote him off as unambitious and eventually broke up with him for it. Biggest mistake of my life. No one has ever fought harder for me or our relationship than he did. And no one has since.

The upside is I learned a ton from him by watching him live well and squarely within his means. I've since stopped upgrading to First on domestic flights and opt for exit row or just behind exit row seats (they typically can't recline into you.) I book well in advance and on Tuesdays to save money. I overachieve on my HotelTonight app and am in the top 1% of hotels booked, consistently netting some incredible deals on hotel rooms all around the world with unexpected upgrades in the last 3 locations. I've taken up saving and micro-investing in Bitcoin. I'm paying off debts with all of my extra spending money with the goal of being completely debt-free by the end of the year. Yep, on a $60K salary, plus the money from my side hustles and my new book.

More importantly, I'm spending more quality time with friends. I'm making time to call them more regularly when I travel. I started running again so I'm experiencing the nuances of neighborhoods in cities I travel and making friends with fellow runners in those towns. I'm eating the local cuisine and doing it on the cheap which is actually a lot of fun. And I'm spending more quality time with myself in a park or a coffee shop either reading a book or writing the two new books currently in draft form for release in 2020.

New Narrative Time.

It's time for a new narrative. Money truly isn't everything. It's nice to have it, don't get me wrong. But having it doesn't make you, you. It doesn't validate anything about your character, only your chutzpah. It doesn't make you superhuman, or better, or protect you from getting the same black eye from talking shit to the wrong person. I believe money as the overwhelming motivator and validation of a "good life" is OVER as a narrative. We make all this money but are some of the least self-aware, over-medicated, overweight, self-aggrandizing pricks on the socials, who are barely keeping their shit together walking into their empty apartments with no friends to call.

Life is about living. And the commodity we all need to covet now is time. Instead of spending all of it behind a laptop making someone else's dreams come true while willingly shelving our own, we need to start making the bold decision to forgo the cash and choosing situations that allow us time to live and truly experience life. Go out with friends. Take your kids out to ice cream. Take numerous Fridays off and snag a cheap flight or road trip it for another 3-day holiday. Finally finish that book you've been writing forever. I did, and it's revealed a whole new passion, creative outlet, and revenue source.

How much money do you actually need to live well?

This was the biggest ah-ha moment for me at my new salary. I didn't realize how much superfluous spending I was doing, much of it self soothing for the lack of quality relationships and friendships in my life as a result of immersing myself and my identity into the work I did for almost three decades. All of the expensive dinners, bottles of champagne, designer clothing, VIP concert tickets, were all just a foil for a very unhappy dude. Instead of expensive dinners, I put that $100 per week into therapy that has changed my life. I have a pricey apartment that I'm about to share with ex who travels just as often as I do so we'll both emanate from there and split the rent on a luxe apt in a dope-ass building with every amenity under the sun. I'm selling my motorcycle and probably getting rid of my car to join the Uber/Scoot/GetAround masses who've figured out that owning a car is a bit of an "old timey," unnecessary expense, especially for someone who is rarely home. I've figured out how to snag a super healthy, delicious dinner at expensive-ass Whole Foods for $15 a pop. Plus, I'm OMAD now (one meal a day) so I'm essentially eating well (with my Starbucks venti Pike every morning) for around $22 per expensive-ass Downtown Los Angeles. I'm only quoting pre-made food here because I'm a bachelor with no kids, no honey, and no time/energy/desire to make my own meals. If you're a great cook, meal prep and a Nespresso machine on you counter could drop your per day food expense closer to $15 per day. Show of hands: How many of you paid about $75 per head at your last 3 fancy restaurant meals that left you less than satisfied and beating a path to 7Eleven for a bag of Doritos and a Diet Coke? My only real splurge these days is my weekly Thursday bro date with a dear friend that includes the same two rounds of Old Fashioned (him) and Moscow mules (me), with a tipsy trek to Chicas Tacos for a round of their insanely good vegan nachos, still exponentially less than a pricey dinner for two at a top restaurant and much more fun.

In Conclusion

I know a lot of you are perplexed by this seeming change in messaging from me. Don't be. I view life as an opportunity to learn something new every day and, often, completely change your outlook on things in order to live your best life, specifically for where you are at that moment. I believe we're all in for a rather big shift in our focus and realities. The economy is going to tank. The signs are already there. And this typically throws people into crisis mode where they cut out all superfluous spending, save like misers, and somehow feel that life kinda sucks. What I've found is that by being proactive in cutting expenditures dramatically now, before there's a crisis, and learning to live on less and even leaving jobs that require too much of your time, will make the impending recession seem like a Wednesday vs. a financial catastrophe.

You don't need a lot of money to live well, kids. Living well is about perspective and allowing yourself enough time in the day to truly experience your life and share yourself and your time with others. High salaries come with higher expectations and demands. And those expectations create anxiety. And that anxiety creates health issues. And those health issues rob you and those around you...of YOU. It's time to get clear on all you're sacrificing for that six-figure salary. Is it worth it? Like, really worth it? For me, it wasn't.

Choose well. I did!

Phoenix Normand