Have you ever wondered, ‘What if?’ I have. In fact, I spent all of my twenties wondering ‘What if.’ I wondered every time I turned on the news and watched Christiane Amanpour reporting live from Baghdad; in fact, I wondered every time I watched breaking news in far-flung parts of the world. And this was often because it was my job to keep a keen eye on the news.
Throughout the late 1990s and until 2007, I worked on Wall Street. I was a Foreign Exchange salesperson, and as such it was my job to know what was going on in the world. The trading floor at an investment bank is a fast-paced and exciting environment, but it is also unforgiving. This had nothing to do with the fact that I was a woman working in a man’s world. If anything, senior traders and salespeople took me under their wings. It had everything to do with the fact that, deep down, I knew I wasn’t where I was supposed to be, and I wasn’t committed.
Coming to this realization took place over many years, as well as a few late-night tequila sessions with wise friends. When you’re from Ohio, and your parents spent all of your childhood trying to make ends meet, you don’t up sticks on a six-figure salary and six-figure bonus to ‘follow a dream.’ You make lots of money, put it in the bank, and thank your lucky stars.
Therefore, that is just what I did. For nearly 10 years, I banked my earnings and suffocated my longings—my dream. Whenever my Wall Street bosses would ask about my “five-year plan,” I’d hesitate and then deliver a line about my desire to work my way up the corporate ladder.
Then one day I came across a quote from a famous economist. “How much is enough?” he’d apparently postulated to an audience. He let the crowd ponder this for a moment, and then he answered his own question with a riddle: “Enough is defined as a dollar more than you have.” Hmm, I thought.
At the time, I had been working for several years for Credit Suisse as a Vice-President in “FX,” as Foreign Exchange is called. I had lived in Tokyo, Singapore, and London, and now I was back in New York. I wore Prada shoes and ate out at places like Alain Ducasse. Sometimes I bought expensive art for cash. If anyone had “enough,” it was me. But I didn’t feel that way. True to the economist’s riddle, I thought what I really needed was just a little bit more. “One more bonus,” I repeated to myself every year, failing every year to leave my job after that just one more was deposited into my bank account.
But then my boss signed me up for a public-speaking course. I did everything, and I mean everything, to get out of it. I begged, pleaded, and even tried for a time to feign illness. My boss had grown up in a small town in Canada; he was good at poking holes in feeble attempts to shirk responsibility. So to the class I went. And there, something extraordinary happened.
“What is it that you really want to do with your life?” one of the moderators asked me after class one evening. We had just completed two grueling daylong sessions of stand-up public speaking. The moderators had relentlessly pushed us; some in the class had even cried. I’d been one of them.
“I want to be a foreign correspondent,” I said to her. It was the first time I’d said it out loud.
“Run,” she said to me with so much excitement in her eyes that I did as I was told. “Run, don’t walk, to the nearest Barnes & Noble to buy yourself a copy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.”
Over the next few months, I read The Artist’s Way. At one point, I put it away, and started all over again a year later. Anyone who’s read The Artist’s Way knows it’s a workbook that takes 12 weeks of commitment to complete. By the end of those 12 weeks, the book has midwifed your dream for you. And so it was at the end of those (second) 12 weeks that I made a promise to myself: “I will leave Wall Street by the age of 30.”
Just shy of my 31st birthday in 2006, I kept my promise to myself and I quit Wall Street. As it turned out, I did not leave for good, and you’ll have to read LIVE from Mongolia to find out why I returned and what happened to me when I did.
But leave I did! Finally, I was going to embark on my long-lost dream to pursue a career in journalism. And I was going to do it in Mongolia. A few weeks before I’d resigned from my job, I’d done a Google search on journalism internships in Asia. An opportunity had popped up on my screen, on my work screen right there on the trading floor, to intern in broadcast television in the capital city of Ulan Bator. I applied and was eventually accepted, bought a plane ticket to Mongolia, and left home. In the end, it was that simple. As I would discover time and again over the next few years, the difference between pursuing a dream and not pursuing a dream is often as simple as taking that first step.
These days, hardly a waking moment goes by that I can believe what’s happened to me since I left Wall Street to pursue my dream. And I can’t tell you exactly where I’ll be tomorrow. But, with total exhilaration, I can tell you that I no longer wonder, “What if?”
LIVE from Mongolia is the true story of Patricia Sexton’s journey out of Wall Street, into the news anchor chair in Mongolia, and onto the path of an extraordinary dream. Follow her journey on her blog, Facebook or Twitter @PatriciaSexton.