Illustrated by Ammiel Mendoza.
Branden, 26, Associate Investment Banker turned English Teacher
Until just six months ago, Branden was a financial analyst for an investment bank in Manhattan. It seemed as if his entire life had led him to that very point. "Growing up, I always wanted to make a lot of money. I came from a middle-class family in Massachusetts. My parents owned a restaurant, and I had relatives who were self-employed. I wanted to be like them — financial independence and entrepreneurship always appealed to me." And, Branden did just that. He attended NYU's venerable business school. But, as many 2009 college grads found, getting a job wasn't easy. "[That] was one of the worst times in history to be looking for a job on Wall Street. The economy collapsed, and Lehman Brothers, where I had interned, went bankrupt the fall of my senior year. Recruiting dried up." Still, Branden managed to land a gig as a financial-research analyst in Westchester, just outside the city.
Almost immediately Branden began to feel bored — and disappointed he wasn’t making more money. "The job paid well, but I found it boring after a while, and I wasn’t getting the big bonuses that my friends were getting at investment banks. I looked at my student-loan balance and realized if I stayed at that job, it would take me 10 years to get out of debt. I didn’t want to live my life like that." So, after a year, he quit and got a job at an investment bank in Manhattan. He progressed quickly, rising from analyst to associate in just three years.
Though Branden reached a true milestone in his career (and was making a healthy six-figure salary), he felt unfulfilled. "I worked a lot of hours, ate a lot of dinners at my desk, and was paid very well for someone just out of college. They gave me a lot of responsibility, and I got promoted pretty quickly. I was traveling around the country, going to client meetings, and managing all the numbers for the deals we were working on. The experience forced me to grow up a lot." The challenges and opportunities Branden faced were satisfying, but ultimately didn't allow him the social, mental, and creative fulfillment he craved. "I was working all the time. When I first joined, my group was small, and I didn’t have many peers — we lacked the camaraderie among junior guys that I think other banks have. I struggled with that. After a while I got tired, and eventually I got burned out. Although my job was challenging and sought-after, I didn’t love it.
"After a while, I hated that I was spending so much time doing something that I wasn’t in love with. I looked at others who had worked in the business for many years, and I felt like I didn’t want to be like them." But, as with any career change, it's not so simple as quitting and moving on. And, for Branden, the decision not only involved leaving a career he had worked so hard for, but abandoning serious financial security. "I had no clue what I would do instead. I had invested a lot of time there, had gotten promoted, I was making good money. Did I really want to leave that behind? Everyone told me to go to business school, but that didn’t appeal to me. Neither did industry jobs, which seemed less stimulating and paid less. The question of what to do next ate away at me for a long time. I obsessed over it, and it paralyzed me for a while. I started seeing a therapist to cope with the stress."
When thinking about what to do next, Branden thought about what he liked in college. "I did better in my liberal-arts classes. I didn’t switch [majors] because the business program offered the best chance to get a good job after graduation. At the time, I saw it as choice between a career that paid well and one that didn’t. I chose money." Now, he felt it was time to choose something else. "I wanted to get out of New York. Really, I felt like I had nothing to lose. I thought about traveling for a year, but I dismissed it because of the cost, and because I think I’d get bored after a couple months. For some reason, I got inspired to teach English. It seemed like it would be rewarding, and completely different from what I was doing." And, that's just what he did.
Branden left New York after giving his notice in June 2013. Now, he's teaching English in Santiago, Chile at a local institute for business professionals. In his spare time, he's taking Spanish classes and enjoying the alternative side of life that Chile offers him. "I’m learning about a new culture, traveling to new places, meeting interesting people, and making new friends. My Spanish has improved dramatically in just a few months. I have free time to pursue my other passions." Namely, Branden's begun writing. "It’s a great opportunity to try new things, to figure out what I like and don’t like, and to kind of think about the course of my life."
Working up the courage to leave such a high-paying job wasn't easy. "It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do. I remember giving my notice on a Friday in June, waiting until after lunch because I was so nervous. I remember the look on my boss’s face when I told her the news that I was moving to Chile, to teach English." But, much to his surprise, he found his colleagues were supportive — even envious, in some cases. So, how is he faring in Chile? "I won’t lie, I miss the money. Teaching English doesn’t pay well in South America, and Santiago is expensive. I make enough to get by, but often I’m digging into savings. That being said, I feel great. I think I always knew I wanted to do something like this."
You can follow Branden's experience in Chile by reading his blog