How I Transitioned From Burnt-Out Banker to a Travel-Company Founder Amid the Pandemic

Photo: Jen Tenzer
Sponsored by Treat
Since March 2020, many of us have been "grounded," so to speak—but now it's time to reap the well-being benefits of exploring new places and experiences once again. With Ungrounded, get expert-backed intel all month long to help you feel confident, safe, and energized as you venture outside your front door.

I spent the last decade as a rising investment banker in Manhattan. That means I've worked through multiple vacations, eaten countless late-night dinners at my desk, joined marathon-long calls on Saturday mornings, and canceled more dates than I care to quantify for last-minute "fire drills" at the office. Essentially, my life revolved around work.

I started my career in finance because it challenged me intellectually and surrounded me with inspiring mentors. Also—and perhaps most importantly to my 22-year-old self—it felt like a job that my family wider societal network would support. On a basic level, I, like many, just wanted to feel accepted.

As I rose in the ranks at work in the years that followed, I found it harder and harder to ignore my lack of passion for banking. While I used spare weekends to explore new restaurants or research my next vacation, my close colleague spent his Sundays reading up on the latest London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) trends. He lit up when talking about work, which made my relative apathy that much more apparent.

When my bouts of lacking motivation would bubble up to the surface, I coped by booking a solo travel adventure. Whether it was two weeks spent hiking alone in Patagonia or getting scuba-certified in Bali, escapes always helped me recharge. But eventually, my burnout reached a tipping point and I knew I needed a big, meaningful change.

During what would become the last year of my investment-banking career, when I should have been grinding away and vying for my next promotion, I became hyper-aware of how infrequently my bosses spent time with their families. How exhausted and unhappy they looked walking into the office each morning. How much they complained that their higher salaries were still too low. I'd observed these things before, but their lifestyle now loomed as my long-term future, and I couldn't bear the view. My performance at work started to slip, and my emotional stress started manifesting physically. I developed physical symptoms of burnout with digestion issues, the flu, strep throat, and an ear infection.

My ultimate ah-ha moment that I was working and living out of alignment came during a Well+Good Retreat to Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa in October 2019. I'm not sure if it was my craniosacral therapy treatment, our nightly group sound baths, or the fact that I was surrounded by powerful women invested in being in the driver's seat of their own lives, but something just clicked. I officially wanted to quit my job.

It's certainly a privilege to be in a position to  quit your job—and that's not lost on me. Thoughtful consideration, extensive planning, and a cushioned savings account are all necessary prerequisites. It often takes longer than expected to land a new job—especially one that fulfills you better than the one you're leaving did. Ideally, you're able to replace your current income with a new one in an energizing new role. If not, you've got to have that serious savings built up or an understanding of how our lifestyle may need to shift in order to accommodate a new financial situation. Still, given how much time many of us dedicate to our job, if it's possible to find work that aligns with our life goals, discovering it is a worthwhile pursuit.

If it's possible to find work that aligns with our life goals, discovering it is a worthwhile pursuit.

Within two months of my "a-ha" moment, I broke my apartment lease in New York City, quit my job, and booked a spot on an expedition to Antarctica to commence what I thought would be a career break—or time away from anything resembling a job so I could discover what it is I actually want to do for work. I felt lost, but knew I felt happiest while traveling solo, so that's how I resolved to spend my career break. I planned to hike Machu Picchu in April 2020, and by June, I would be in the markets of Marrakech. Everything was coming together perfectly, except that I chose a particularly terrible time to travel the world.

When the COVID-19 pandemic grounded me in the U.S. after my Antarctica trip, I decided to take a yearlong road trip around the country. I visited all 48 contiguous states and hiked 28 national parks. Endless hours alone in the car meant time for undistracted introspection. Here are some epiphanies that came to light:

  1. Because my life revolved around work, I felt purposeless within a few months of having quit. I didn't miss the day-to-day role, but I missed feeling needed and part of something bigger than myself. I wondered which aspects of my job gave me purpose?
  2. My sense of identity was heavily tied to my work life. I wanted to discover who I was without that banker label. What were my innate skills? When did I feel happiest when?
  3. A lot of my self-worth was wrapped up in the promotions and accolades I earned through my career. Was I worthy and deserving of love and success, when those things were stripped away?

My road trip was a rather heavy and emotional time. It wasn't how I dreamt of spending my career break, but it provided the clarity I needed to pursue my next chapter. All that soul-searching fueled me to start my own business, The Soloist, which I launched in October 2020. The Soloist is a hub for all things related to solo travel, including one-on-one solo-travel planning services, boutique group retreats, and travel blog resources.

Has this entrepreneurial venture been a breeze? Not quite. After all, launching a company during the pandemic, especially a travel company, isn’t necessarily the savviest of ideas. Even so, I've been able to get the operations up and running during this time. (I’ll be hosting a wellness retreat to Costa Rica this November.) But even when challenges in my nascent business stress me out or feel utterly overwhelming, I still feel an all-encompassing peace of mind that I never did in my last career. Knowing this, I have faith that I’m following a path that aligns with my core values and desires.

This past year helped me crystallize what's most important to me and my life. And through the Soloist, I've been able to pinpoint the answers to my three road-trip epiphanies:

  1. What gives me purpose? Helping and inspiring others.
  2. What lights me up? Solo travel experiences.
  3. Do I deserve success, on my own, doing something I love? Hell yes.

From my experience of soul searching, I've found that the greatest form of self-love is to make decisions that align with your authentic values and needs, in any areas of life where you have the privilege to do so. For me, that means choosing a road less traveled (to distant lands) rather than a job that I came to loathe. For you it might mean taking a break for a few minutes every single day to take a walk all by yourself. Or maybe it means sometime else entirely.

Take a break, if you can, from what is draining you and ask yourself what will make you feel most energized and purposeful. Then consider the micro and macro changes accessible to you that will help you realize that vision.

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