Here’s what happens when you go from earning $80,000 a year to $12,000

Michelle Summerfield 
d3sign | Moment | Getty Images

I did what most people do — I went to school, I got the grades and then I went searching for a corporate career ladder to climb. And I climbed, believing along the way that success, happiness and validation came with earning a high income.

Then, at 40, at the higher end of the pay scale, I lost my job. It's still shocking to me that a 16-year career ended so fast. Just like that, I was thrust into the world of a career change, and it had me seriously considering whether I really wanted back into the rat race that earned me $80,000 Canadian dollars (CAD) a year.

When I started looking for my next career move, I struggled. I battled with my intuition. Every part of me screamed, "Please don't go back."

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So, I would need to take a minimum-wage part-time job that would be relatively stress-free while I built my writing business.

Here is my story of what happens when you go from earning $80,000 a year to $12,000.

My relationship with money changed

I became mindful and intentional about how and where I spent my money. I tossed my old money beliefs and began to understand that money is a tool. The blinders came off and I started to see all the abundance I had around me already. I became grateful for simple things, like having a roof over my head, healthy food in the fridge, a comfortable bed to sleep in and clothes to put on my body.

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I learned to manage my money differently

As strange as it may sound, taking a $68,000 pay cut didn't seem like a big loss to me. It simply meant I had to get better at managing my money and make smarter decisions about how I spent it. I began to prioritize what was most important to me.

The decision to not go back to corporate and instead pursue my dream of being a writer forced me to sit down and look at how I could make every dollar work as hard as possible for me. For example, I cut my home phone and relied only on my mobile phone. I called providers, told them I had a major life change and renegotiated my monthly rates where I could. I also looked at all the ways I could save; which meant living with family for longer, reducing bank fees, walking or biking instead of driving whenever I could and using the library for all its free services. Most importantly, I cut back on my Starbucks habit and openly told friends I could no longer afford to go out as often.

I checked my ego at the door

Previously, I had the "traditional" mindset, in which income equals success, and that climbing a corporate ladder would somehow be more fulfilling than following what I really wanted to do. After the career change, I altered my thinking. I told myself that a change in my income didn't mean I was a failure or wasn't good at what I did. I worked on accepting the fact that, regardless of my current income, I was worthy of financial success and any salary I wanted — but on my own terms.

I had worked all my life believing that my income validated me. I lived to work. After taking a pay cut, my mindset changed and money became simply a tool that served me. It became the means for me to do things I loved, like travel. It was no longer a symbol of status.

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I realized I was not a failure for taking a pay cut

Losing a high-paying job and taking a pay cut is a huge blow. It changes your life. But instead of letting this get me down and keep me down, I focused on the fact that I was now moving toward a career I loved and that having a part-time job at lower pay allowed me to pay my bills and follow that dream.

I'm surviving even though I still have debt

Sure, having debt on a super low income can feel suffocating, but you learn to work through it. I stopped worrying about my drastic pay cut because I was still alive. I was keeping up with my bills and payments. Sure, I'm not making the progress I'd like to, but ultimately, it is a huge motivator to make your dreams happen.

This whole process has been a learning experience. I've learned more about myself, my finances, and what abundance and success really look like. I've learned that my income doesn't define who I am as a person. And a higher income certainly does not equal happiness.

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.

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