When I first told my mom I was leaving my high-paying government job for a career in nonprofits, she thought I was crazy. When I said nonprofit, she heard “no profit.”
Let me start from the beginning.
Growing up, I wanted nothing more than to be a journalist. I had aspirations of becoming editor-in-chief of a teen magazine to empower young women. But seven years into a successful journalism career, I had a change of heart. On paper, I had a glamorous job as the digital content editor for a major Black publication: selfies with celebrities, passes to movie screenings, phone calls with Idris Elba (OK, that only happened once and it was a conference call, but it counts). But on the inside, I was burned out.
My goal had always been to help young women through my writing, but I started thinking there was a way I could do that without being a journalist. So I began brainstorming nonprofits that helped girls and made a short list of my dream companies.
There was only one teeny, tiny problem: Although I volunteered with organizations for girls, I didn’t have any professional nonprofit experience. Following a slew of emails, networking events and coffee dates, I landed an interview with Girl Scouts of America. It came down to me and another candidate, and I didn’t get the job. But I kept in touch with the hiring manager who mentioned another position that might be a better fit.
Meanwhile, I kept applying for jobs and eventually received an offer from the local public school system for a communications strategist role. It was a significant financial increase, so I said yes. Make more money and get communications experience? It was a no-brainer.
Five months later, I received a call from Girl Scouts of America about a media relations manager position. This was it. This was the moment I’d been waiting for. I aced the interview, charmed the CEO and received the offer. There was just one small problem: The position meant a $30,000 pay cut.
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Although I consider myself philanthropic at heart, I’d read enough career advice articles to know not to accept the first offer. So I tried negotiating… twice. But there was simply no budget room for anything more. I went back and forth in my mind. I wrote multiple pros and cons lists. I enlisted the advice of friends and family. I ended up turning down the offer—and regretted it almost instantly. A few weeks went by and the decision was still weighing heavily on my heart. So I made another pros and cons list and realized the only true con was the financial one.
As the daughter of a retired firefighter, I never equated a six-figure salary with success. My sister and I grew up watching our dad go to work and love it, which is rare for a lot of people. But it doesn’t have to be. Happiness and helping people—that, to me, was true success.
As the late Maya Angelou so eloquently said, “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it.” So I swallowed my pride, called the hiring manager and told her I was still interested in the position. I know people don’t often get second chances in life, but I told her if she hired me, she wouldn’t regret it.
I realize now that you can’t put a price on waking up every day knowing you’re making a difference in somebody’s life, or the lives of many. For the first time in my adult life, I can honestly say that I love my job. I might never be “rich” but at least I’ll be happy.
A journalist turned nonprofit PR pro, L'Oreal Thompson Payton is also a blogger and freelance writer with a passion for empowering women. When she's not busy writing, she can usually be found reading, dancing and eating her way through Chicago. Learn more about her at LTintheCity.com or follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @LTintheCity.