Because I was tired of only living for the weekend….
I sat on the trolley every morning and evening commuting to and from work. To a job that required a Master’s degree. A job that took six years in school with a 4.0 GPA and six months after graduating with my M.A. to get. A job that I moved and bought a house for and was very excited to begin. A job that quickly sucked the life out of me, yet I continued to work at for over four years. So, for over four years, I sat on that trolley and looked at the fellow commuters. They all looked miserable. I would sit there every day thinking I do not want to be riding on this trolley for the remainder of my working years. Nevertheless, I sat there year after year and never made a change. Often my co-worker and I would talk about the businesses we would want to open and how fun it would be to live a life other than one where we dreaded work each day. It always seemed like a nice dream to fantasize about but one that never seemed in reach. I remember telling my supervisor in grad school I just wanted a job I looked forward to working each day and she scoffed at the seemingly naïve comment. It seemed I always had this feeling there was more out there but I did not know what it was.
It was not until I moved to a new city that a shift began. I moved for a new, happy life but soon fell back into old routines, applying for jobs I was not passionate about for salaries far beneath what I wanted. A simple discussion with my boyfriend, in which he stated there should be more pet stores in our dog-friendly area, prompted my mind shift. I love animals. I had money from selling my house and I could be the one to open this pet store!
I began to explore opening a bricks and mortar pet boutique. The neighborhood I lived in was full of dogs and I was confident it would be a success. I went to the library and started to search for books about business. They all seemed so boring and dry, until I found one that drew me in. Through reading this book, I learned that people from all walks of life, with different passions, have been successful opening their own businesses. This gave me a boost of confidence.
I found a local non-profit that offered business classes for those interested in starting their own businesses (). I went through a 6 week course and was excited about continuing on this journey. To get experience in management, I became a manager at a coffee shop and also a dog walker while I continued to plan and look for store locations. I found out quickly, that I did not like managing. I was always on call. I remember taking a weekend trip and getting 5 calls on the way up from employees. This made me begin to question what it would be like if I opened up my own place. It made me a little uneasy to think about not having the freedom to enjoy a weekend away when I wanted. While this was happening, I was also not having any luck finding a location for a store in my area. In talking with my business mentor, I decided it would be a good idea to look into starting an online store while I continued to look for locations. I began to research this a bit further and realized it would be feasible. I had to, however, make an entirely new business plan. I began this process planning for a physical location but online was a new beast.
My online pet boutique was up and running within a few months of me making this decision. It is not initially easy to drive traffic to an online business but I began to see the potential of having a business based online. There was freedom in this. I could work from anywhere and make my own schedule. Every single day, I read tons of information, watched YouTube videos instead of TV, and listened to business podcasts in the car, instead of the radio. I also began a personal journey that involved intense work on my anxieties and mindset. I learned about manifesting and subconscious reprogramming, and applied the techniques. I became very honest with myself about what I truly wanted, and what personal traits and thoughts were holding me back from this. In the course of a year, I completely transformed.
I loved to tell my friends and family all the things I was learning and applying. I had some hiccups with my online pet boutique, due to manufacturer issues, and during this time re-evaluated what I truly wanted to do. Selling adorable animal products is fun but I wanted something more. Many online entrepreneurs have several businesses and I began to ponder what I could do next. I kept hearing about people fulfilling their “life purpose” and contemplated what that would look like for me. With my background in Psychology and Counseling, I felt compelled to help others. What a waste it would be for me to spend hours every day learning and developing all of these business and self-improvement techniques and not share them with anyone. Then I received a sign.
I was doing dishes, binge watching YouTube videos, when a video came on about writing and publishing books. I have always loved to write. I sat down and watched the video and I was filled with excitement. I then searched for more free information online. I found Facebook groups where I learned from others doing this. I purchased several courses before beginning on this adventure. Everything about it just felt right. I can help others, use my formal background and education in Psychology, all my experience in starting and running a business, and do something I felt passionate about.
I understand that becoming an entrepreneur is about overcoming internal barriers as much as it is overcoming external barriers. My goal is to teach others how to overcome both. I have written several books and am in the process of developing a Life Purpose Course. I love it! And I have seen more financial success in this than my last business that I wasn’t nearly as passionate about.
I created a Free Resource to help others take the plunge, without all the mistakes haha! You can get theby clicking here.
PS. I am super excited about my latest book,In this I go through a step-by-step process to take everyone through this journey, without all the mishaps and learning curves I dealt with.
In 2015, I made $200k in my headhunting job at the age of 27.
In 2016 Jan, after I came back from vacation, I handed in my resignation and quit. Here are a few reasons why I willingly and happily chose to leave my high-paying job to become an entrepreneur.
#1. Because I can afford to is the first and foremost reason. I worked my butt off my entire career as a headhunter, making great money from the outset, but I knew, this was all a facade. To truly succeed in life, making enough isn’t enough. Saving, but more importantly, leveraging savings into investments is the best strategy to have your money work for you. Thus, I invested heavily into real estate, plowing all of my savings into properties.
I didn’t go out and buy a Porsche although I could afford to with all cash. I didn’t go out and start renting a beautiful apartment on 5th ave although I could afford to pay for the whole year upfront. I rejected the things I could afford for the life I want, which is a life of sustainable wealth (not temporary high-life), with no reliance on an employer! Now, I have multiple investment properties working for me, so I don’t need to worry about income. Yes, things are tight for a bit before all my tenants are set up, and there are risks with real estate, but it works! My margins are locked in, and my passive income gives me the freedom to reject a 9–5 role. Sure, the market can crash, I can find a terrible tenant, and I can lose all my money, in that case, I can pick up a 9–5 job any day and make the money I used to b/c sales prowess doesn’t go away and it’s not replaceable by technology.
#2. Because I want ultimate freedom to use my time as I please while I’m young, not tied to a working construct that is constraining my other desires and pursuits. I’m not OK with stressing out on how to get from the gym on time to work so that I don’t get yelled at for being late. I never got yelled at in college for being late, and I don’t want to be a grown person being scared of others’ reprimanding. I don’t want to meticulously count and portion my vacation days, and worry about corporate objectives being met if I take an extra day or two off.
And I’ll be damned if someone else tells me I have to suck up to so-and-so to further my career and play office politics. I believe in Results-Oriented-Work (ROW), and I can care less about looking busy or being all chummy with the man at the top (and yes, it’s usually a man at the top). I don’t want to feel like I need to “stay late” to prove that I’m “working hard”. I also can’t be bothered to start studying football and sport statistics in an effort to “build rapport”. No thanks, I’m old enough to work to my own pace and schedule.
#3. Because I don’t like to take other peoples’ orders when they’re neither as accomplished as I’m gunning for thus unable to contribute to the learning I’m interested to pursue. After learning everything I needed from headhunting, I didn’t need their training anymore because there was nothing they could tell me that I didn’t know already. Especially since I was actually building our business hands-on, I knew much more than my management did, yet, here I was, giving away 60% of my commission earnings to a business that was no longer providing anything to me past monthly payroll service, administrative support, and an office space to work in.
I realized: The student became the master. And in my business of headhunting, I don’t need a corporate entity to survive or a “brand” to operate under. Headhunters break away all the time from their original employer. In fact, the most successful headhunters often take the leap to build out their own firms. I had the financial wherewithal and the client relationships that IF I wanted to, I can take a year off and wait out my non-compete, and go right back into the business, this time, keeping 100% of my earnings.
I’m thankful for my life now. Although I’m not yet making as much as I did as a headhunter, I can honestly say, how much you make truly doesn’t matter past being able to eat and acquire basic living quarters. It’s about what you do, how you do it, how passionate you are about it, that really counts!
Dandan Zhu is a NYC-based entrepreneur, Founder and CEO of, headhunter turned career coach, feminist, and go-getter businesswoman.
Check outbased on her expertise as a headhunter, teaching the DANDAN Method to job search!