Lucy Puttergill worked for Citi and JP Morgan before quitting the banking industry at 30.Puttergill said her job felt like “golden handcuffs,” and she disliked her relationship with money.She said she feels a greater sense of purpose having quit banking, but she’s stressed about money.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Lucy Puttergill, a 34-year-old based in South Africa, about her time working at a high-paying job at JP Morgan. It’s been edited for length and clarity.

I never intended to go into banking. When I finished university, I wanted to travel. I got a job in client services at Citi, a global bank, in 2011. I thought it would be temporary.

I started working in a towering office building in London, and I felt completely out of my depth. My salary was £45,000. That was pretty good for a recent college graduate. I thought, I might as well make more money and then I can travel.

I knew from day one that banking wasn’t for me. But I kept putting off leaving.

I felt like I had to prove myself

I tried to resign in 2013 to travel for a few months and work in consultancy. But Citi offered me a different role on the trading floor instead of sales. The role seemed to be the pinnacle of the “boss lady” I imagined myself as when I was younger.

I accepted, partly because I felt the need to prove I was clever enough to do it, even though I had no interest in financial markets. I don’t know who I was trying to prove that to.

In 2016, I was about to move into an area I didn’t want to work in when JP Morgan headhunted me. I left for a role there in equity derivatives.

My career masked my insecurities

I like the prestige of banking. I worked in great teams, and I thrived on the stress. I enjoyed having money to spend on posh restaurants and taking clients for meals. At JP Morgan, I’d start at 7 a.m. and finish at 6.30 p.m. I had an incredible boss and team, I enjoyed the work and I was earning six figures.

But I was young, insecure, and had very little romantic luck. My career inflated my ego and my sense of myself as an important person. It was a mask for those other insecurities. I was crumbling inside.

I was obsessed with spending money

I realized I was becoming someone I didn’t like. I became obsessed with buying expensive items to numb how unhappy I was. Some days, I’d order £500, which is about $625, worth of clothes online before I even got into work. I wouldn’t want them and would send them back.

I was grateful. I had lots of support, and I was getting paid a lot. But I didn’t have any meaning in my job, and I felt like I was moving away from my true self. I couldn’t admit that to myself for years because I’d always been told by the world that the life I had was aspirational.

I snapped and resigned from JP Morgan

When I was approaching 30, people around me started getting married and having children. I thought to myself: “If I don’t get married, for example, is this career enough for me to feel like I’ve lived a full life?” The answer was no.

I went on a yoga retreat in Italy in May 2019. The day before I flew home, I found myself in a café in floods of tears. I thought: “I can’t go back to that life.” It was crushing.

I asked for a sabbatical. My manager was amazing, and they let me take four months off. I traveled around South America, where I met lots of people who helped me see that there are different ways of living.

I was surrounded by people who weren’t impressed by my attempt at being impressive. When I told one person about my career, they responded by saying: “You wasted your 20s by working.” I realized I’d missed out on so much fun because I was working so hard. It was brutal.

I went back to work in January 2020, but it was difficult.

I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. I resigned in February and left in May. It was terrifying. I was so worried I would end up without a roof over my head.

I moved to Mexico

I spent a few months figuring things out. I spent less money, partly because of the pandemic but also because I had less desire to buy random clothes. I started feeling I had a deeper sense of purpose and stopped linking money with impressiveness.

I had been stuck in golden handcuffs, but I was lucky that I didn’t have some of the financial pressures other people have, like children. My expenses were lower because I wasn’t doing much during the pandemic, and, then I moved to Mexico City in 2021 for a few months, which had a lower cost of living than London.

I moved to Cape Town, South Africa, in October 2022. The city revolves around the mountains and the sea, and there’s a much better work-life balance than in London.

Money is a worry

I posted about my experiences on LinkedIn in July 2020, and many people messaged me about my work, asking for coaching. After that, I decided to train in trauma-informed coaching with Gabor Mate and started coaching people who reached out to me.

I’m earning nowhere near what I was in banking. I feel much more stressed out about money than I used to. But I get much more of a sense of purpose from my work and feel like I am supporting people. In banking, I used money as a way of feeling like I was living, but now I’m much more fulfilled, I don’t need to go to fancy restaurants.

I’d never go back.

If you left a high-paying career and would like to share your story, email Ella Hopkins at ehopkins@businessinsider.com.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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