My Journey So Far

Posted by: Joseph Kuo | January 3, 2022

I am often asked, “Why did I give up my successful corporate career to start my own business?” 

Once upon a time, I was the senior director of finance at a high tech company in Silicon Valley. On the surface, things seemed just great. I was climbing the corporate ladder on my way to becoming a VP or maybe even a CFO one day. However, on the inside, I was stressed by a job that strained my family and health, no longer excited me, and constantly left me frustrated with a feeling of emptiness.

That is, until one day I reached a profound realization that I was living my life in a place of deep fear and quiet desperation. This realization helped me find the courage to upend my life and reach for something more.

My Old Life

Having grown up in a family with a successful business, I’d studied hard in school but was fortunate to not have to work to pay for my education or provide for the family. The only real question was whether I would go into the family business or venture out on my own.

Unfortunately, this ideal situation came to a crashing halt in my late 20s when a significant recession hit much of the world and took out the family business. The bigger shock was that my parents never imagined that this could happen, and had been reinvesting everything they had  back into the business. So when they lost the family business, they also lost all the family wealth.

Scared for my future and not knowing what else to do, I took the first available job I could find when I finished school, which happened to be in corporate finance. While I previously didn’t have a serious interest in finance, I was consumed by the fear of a suddenly uncertain future and resolved to win back a semblance of stability and wealth. As a result I dove headfirst into the job by working 12+ hour days seven days a week.

Focused Fear

It’s amazing how fear can motivate a person. The singular focus on getting myself- and by extension, my family- back on our feet further justified in my mind the tradeoffs and sacrifices I was making. At the very least, the work took my mind off of the fear, and there were tangible results. I started moving up the corporate ladder and started making enough money to enjoy some material luxuries.

The other thing about fear is that it can feed upon itself. It didn’t help that I worked in a corporate environment where we all took a perverse pride in complaining about how long and hard we were working. Thus, when my daughter was born during the Great Recession, my “paternity leave” was taking one day off from work and cutting back my work to “only” 10-hour days for about three weeks.

What I couldn’t see clearly was that while my economic status improved, everything else in my life was falling apart. My health was strained and I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. My relationship with my family was almost non-existent. Although I had two children who got all the material items they needed, I missed most of my kids’ events because I was working all the time. I rarely saw my friends unless they were friends from work. I had no life outside of work, and yet I was not fulfilled by my work.

Discovering My Choices

After the Great Recession, I hired a financial planner because I no longer had the time or mental energy to think about my own finances. What I didn’t realize is that I had hired a financial “life” planner.  The difference between a financial life planner and a regular financial planner is that a financial life planner integrates the client’s values and life’s vision into the financial planning process.

My advisor and I sat down and had one of the most significant conversations I’ve ever had. She guided me on a journey to uncover the roadblocks I’d built for myself and to clarify the future that I wanted. I realized that I did what I was doing because I felt I had no choice. I’d come to believe that, to feel safe, I needed to have money. To have money, I had to work hard. To work hard, I had to sacrifice other things in my life.

My choices were all based on fear; fear of loss, fear that I’d been lucky, and that I wasn’t good enough to do anything else. I was living my life in a prison made of fears, and I was keeping myself in that prison. If I did nothing, I would live my entire life in that little space never having found out what sparks my fire, what excites me, and what would fill me with joy.

I saw that there are always choices. Perhaps not all the choices are good and certainly not all are easy, but they are there if I am willing to see. With this newfound realization, my world changed and the prison melted away.

My New Life

As a result, I decided that I would become a financial life planner myself. I resolved to help others who were experiencing struggles similar to mine.

Today, I work with clients in the realm of money. While it may seem like I’m just managing assets and projecting future cash flows, I’m really helping people live better lives. Much of my time with clients is spent discovering what brings them joy, what needs to happen so that they can experience this joy, and what resources they have – internally and externally – to head in that direction. There is a freedom, passion and purpose to this work that not only energizes my work life, but also my personal life.

I have devoted myself to being a better father and have become much more a part of my children’s lives. I visit my parents more often and now have a social circle again. I have learned a lot about myself throughout the process. Most of all, I am excited about my life like never before; realizing that finding joy in the present is also a choice I make.


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