I Took A Pay Cut to Build The Career I Truly Wanted

by Taylor Bryant

I don’t want to become them. 

This thought came to me as I worked on a board presentation with directors and vice presidents at a Fortune 100 company. Don’t get me wrong. These were phenomenal people who I looked up to in many ways, but I finally felt a certainty that their path was not for me. 

I wasn’t unhappy with my role in the Leadership Development Program. It was comfortable, with a hint of claustrophobia. Things moved slowly. Ideas often lived in a state of purgatory. But I had a 401(k) with a match, an exorbitant amount of paid time off, and fantastic work-life balance. 

Surely things will improve as I move up the ranks, I thought.  More autonomy and less politics. Instead, I watched tenured professionals scramble to meet the whims of higher level executives who were at the mercy of a board. The situation didn’t get better as titles improved. They were simply better compensated.

Once I understood that the future I envisioned, full of innovation and impact, wasn’t possible where I was , I made the decision to leave. I had to rip off the band aid fast before I succumbed to the siren song of retirement plans and more paid time off. 

I had a series of internal conversations. 

What did I want in a company? Agility, a faster pace, opportunities for greater impact. 

Where did I see myself long term? Owning a business or helping to run a business I had a hand in building. It was clear: I needed to be working for a startup. 

How much of a sacrifice was I willing to make in order to transition to an environment that better aligned to my goals? I crunched the numbers, going so far as to create a hypothetical budget, and drew a mental line in the sand. I could afford to take a pay cut, as long as my salary did not dip below a certain number. The role had to develop specific skillsets, and the company had to be poised for growth over the next few years. Those were my non-negotiables.

Ultimately, I found a role that checked every box on my mental list. Startup life has its own challenges. There are far fewer resources. The infrastructure and processes change frequently. It is by no means comfortable, and I prefer it that way.  My current job is preparing me for the career that I want.

No amount of salary could compare to the feeling of knowing that I am exactly where I need to be.

LeadKaren Spears