MARK RIEPE: I'm Mark Riepe, and this is Financial Decoder, an original podcast from Charles Schwab. It's a show about financial decisions and the cognitive and emotional biases that can cloud our judgment.
Have you ever thought about what job you would want if money were no object? Do you have a side project that you wish were your primary job? On this episode, we're going to bring you another real-world story.
Instead of going through one financial decision with one of our Schwab experts, we're going to hear from someone who has faced a series of crossroads in her professional and personal life.
MARK: This is Jodi.
JODI MORRIS: My name is Jodi Morris, and I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was born in Milwaukee, pretty traditional childhood, you know, two parents, one of two kids, lived in a suburb, and my dad worked. My mom was stay-at-home.
MARK: Jodi's parents divorced when she was young.
JODI: I think one of the impetuses of the divorce was a decision my mom made to go back to college in her mid-thirties. And, you know, my dad was the breadwinner, hadn't been to college himself, and I think he was a little threatened by that. So here's my mom, a single mom going to school, right? She had to take all these classes from high school. High school, at that point, was 18 years ago, and raising two kids on her own. And I think that was really influential for me.
MARK: Her mom saw education as the pathway to a better job, a better salary, and a better life. Jodi took those lessons to heart and understood that an important aspect of a better life was financial independence.
JODI: One, the power of education, how important it is at any age. And the second part was money, right? Just understanding she knew that education was important to her earning more money. And, also, it was a lesson to me as a young girl. You know, she had no power in this marriage without earning her own money. And so I kind of made a vow to myself that that's going to be something that is going to be a part of my life, you know, understanding money and earning it on my own, because in the end, you know, it just might be me to take care of myself.
MARK: When she went off to college, Jodi wasn't sure what direction she wanted to take in life.
JODI: I went to Northwestern University. It was in Evanston, Illinois. It's 90 miles from my home. I called it a world away. One of the reasons I chose Northwestern was because I didn't exactly know what I wanted to do. I had a lot of interests. I was really good at math. People kept telling me I should be an engineer. I thought maybe I could go into business. Didn't really know what that was. I really loved to write, and so I considered being a journalist, as well. So I ended up getting accepted to this really neat math program called Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences, which I call "math for the real world."
MARK: With her education and her interests in business and math, Jodi was able to get into a prestigious training program for a job with a large financial services company in New York.
JODI: I thought I'd stay in Chicago. I really loved Chicago, the big city. Again, it was a world away from the environment where I grew up. And New York was really a stretch. I think I had, you know, jokes among my parents, my family, you know, when I'd get mugged in New York, or something. But I said, "Why not take a chance?" You know, I took a chance on Chicago and really liked that.
MARK: But Jodi was already looking ahead and thinking about what's next.
JODI: Worst-case scenario is it doesn't work out, and I have this fabulous experience living in New York City in a training program in a fabulous job, and I can always make a change and do something different after.
MARK: Jodi's mother was a bit skeptical of her daughter moving off to the big city.
JODI: Yeah. She didn't like it until she came to visit. She had a great time, you know, when visiting New York, of course, and having a place to stay, and somebody who could show her around. But, yeah, she was definitely hesitant.
MARK: As a young person in New York, Jodi really tried to make the most of a pivotal life experience.
JODI: It was great. And I think I did New York well, because I did also have this mindset that, "Hey, I might only be here for two or three years." So, you know, I just really made sure I could find all that New York had to offer, you know, every month, like to make sure I went to a Broadway show or some sort of performance art, tried a new restaurant.
MARK: With things going well and her career seemingly on track, Jodi considered her next move and found that sometimes the best move is to not move at all.
JODI: I ended up staying seven years. So that was the surprise. I loved New York. I really liked my job. I thought I'd work for two or three years and then go to business school. That didn't happen, because I loved my work. A lot of new things were happening at the time, so I was involved in some new initiatives from the get-go. And seven years flew by living in New York.
MARK: When Jodi started out in the world of finance, though, she was a true beginner and had to learn fast—a skill that would be valuable later on.
JODI: I knew nothing about investing. I had a bank account, right? I remember when my mom took me to the bank, and I got my passport, you know, bank account when … somewhere, I don't know, maybe like 12 or 13 years old. Investing was foreign to me. I remember joining the training program and somebody gave a presentation on 401(k)s, right? So that was my first time I had heard about them, what they were, what I had to do as an individual to make these decisions.
MARK: Jodi's job in investment management required her to travel a lot for business meetings.
JODI: We had some funds run for clients in the private bank, but I was part of the group that took these mutual funds and was working to distribute them to different types of clients. Could be individual investors, financial advisors, institutional investors. And so I kind of had my hands in all of that. So, obviously, that required a lot of travel.
MARK: Jodi grew to love the travel part of her job. It was a challenge but also invigorating.
JODI: I've traveled to every state in the continental United States, and most of that was related to my work. If I could, I was, again, young and didn't have a family and kids, and so I would extend the travel to the extent I could.
My first international business trip was to London. So I had never been out of the country at that point. I flew business class, which was quite nice, over to London. My first time experiencing jet lag. I remember landing, taking a nap, having a dinner that evening with other clients that were from the United States, and we were meeting with our international investment team in London.
So that was all new, kind of navigating where to go, right? We didn't have Google Maps back then, so there was a lot of, you know, printing things out and putting them in your briefcase to take along with you. We didn't have cell phones, so making those plans, right? So even something as simple as meeting for dinner, I just remember that being really complicated. And then, of course, just wanting to make sure that that introduction between my client and that team, which I had never met in person before, went well, and it did.
MARK: As she began to travel more for pleasure, she would usually seek out the lesser-known destinations—and try to keep her expenses down.
JODI: How I started traveling internationally was more actually working for a big bank. We were required to take two weeks of vacation per year. And a lot of my friends would say go to Hawaii, right? And enjoy that for two weeks. And that was quite expensive. At this point, I wasn't earning that much money. And I remember thinking, "Well, I have to take two weeks off. I want to go somewhere." And so I found different things to do that were maybe a little more off the grid. You know, I would go trekking in Thailand. And a couple of years later, I went to Africa, not on necessarily, you know, expensive safaris, but started doing it a little differently, you know, kind of trekking and hostels, etc. So I really did it as a financially smart way to fill and learn, you know, during my two weeks' vacation.
MARK: By her late 20s, the idea of making a change in her life started to creep into her mind.
JODI: So New York for seven years, and suddenly I felt like I needed more trees and grass and water around me. New York is lovely to be in Manhattan, but it's hard to get out of it. So I felt I needed a different environment around me. I was at that stage. I was almost 30. A number of my friends were leaving the city, you know, maybe getting married, having kids. And so I just felt that, you know, this is a time for a change. I had a friend, my first roommate in New York, who had moved to Northern California. I was out on business. I stayed for the weekend with her, and I thought, "I could live here." And so I decided … I proposed my boss to make that change. I had a lot of clients in California, and so that just made sense business-wise for me to be out here, but it also made sense for me personally.
MARK: With her move to California, Jodi started to feel like she had more opportunities in her personal life as well.
JODI: So I was still in my same job with those same clients. I feel spending more time with them, because now I was closer to them. And, you know, my personal life just became more balanced, as well. I remember being in New York, and I was single. I was dating. And there was a gentleman I went on a date with, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to do a second date or not. But he followed up, and he said, "Would you like to go out again?" And I said, "OK. Well, I should." And I looked at my calendar, and I said, "How about four weeks from Monday?" And I thought as soon as the words came out of my mouth how ridiculous that sounds. So something as simple as going out on a date—you know, where I was just traveling less, I had more time to myself—became easier living in Northern California.
MARK: It turns out that Jodi would meet her future husband in Northern California, too.
JODI: I did. About a year after being in California. And he was … he was an East Coast transplant as well. We met, and we've been together ever since.
MARK: Throughout her 30s, Jodi continued to travel extensively. But she wasn't content just to be a tourist.
JODI: I have the travel bug. I think what was most … it was, for me, less about checking boxes and counting how many countries I had been to. It was more about the experiences that I had and the friendships that I had formed and sharing that with other people. I mean, I remember I would bring those stories into my work, you know, particularly when I would be talking to clients about international investing. I was able to weave in my travel stories. So, really, the more I did it, the more I wanted to do it. And, you know, I started to build this community of people like me that traveled in this way, which brought me more and more ideas.
MARK: As she built this community of fellow travelers, she was particularly impacted by the number of young girls she'd see around the world. And she was acutely aware of the fact that while Jodi had some barriers to overcome to get her education, the barriers for many of these girls were much larger.
JODI: Yeah, that was one of my huge learnings from my international travel, was the role of women in the world and the importance of education and how … I mean, education for me … going to college, it was not a given. I mean, I really had to figure out how to do it. I didn't have any guidance in terms of counselors at school that could really help me achieve those goals. I had to figure out how to pay for it, you know, I had to figure out how to do financial aid. Again, not a given. So I'm very grateful that I figured it out, and then I had the educational opportunity that I did because it changed my entire life.
So when I traveled and I thought how hard it was for me, and then I saw some of these girls in India, in Africa, where barriers to education were much more than, you know, not having parents helping with advice or money to pay for it. It was cultural. It was you are expected to marry, right, at age 13 to 14. You know, that is the culture. That is the family expectation. It is … education isn't needed for girls, right? We reserve that for the sons in our family. If you're just going to get married anyway, you know, why would education even be a priority for us? So that was jarring for me as somebody for whom education was everything, to see that girls who really wanted to be in school didn't have that opportunity.
MARK: For many of us there comes a point in our lives where we feel called to do something else besides our chosen career. That happened to Jodi as she started to see that her passion for girls' education and her love of travel were leading her away from her career in finance. That's a big decision, and she wasn't sure if she was ready to make that kind of career switch just yet.
JODI: I had these multiple interests. So I've always looked at my life as there are all these things I want to learn about and explore. I can't just spend my life in one career, right? That's too … that's too monotonous for me, even as interesting as that career was.
MARK: Fortunately, for Jodi, she'd been thinking that a career change might happen, and she planned for it early.
JODI: So I did have visions of doing something different. I didn't know what. I didn't know when. I told myself maybe my mid-40s. You know, I was thinking two to three decades into my career, maybe I would do something different. And that meant early on I had to think about life and money, right, how I spent my money. I had to really make sure I was … I knew about investing, and I was really diligent with my investing, because I knew at some point I was going to do something different. I was really privileged to work in financial services where I made good money. But unlike a lot of the peers around me, I had to be a little bit different, right? I didn't necessarily, again, take the expensive vacations to Hawaii. I didn't spend, you know, my bonus on fancy clothes or shoes. You know, I was really much more frugal because I had this bigger goal longer term.
MARK: Her willingness to save as much as she could and plan for the future allowed her to figure out what it was she really wanted to do with her career and her life. But a second career isn't just about being able to make the leap financially. You also need to understand yourself.
You need to answer questions like:
What do I want to achieve?
What skills do I have to make this happen?
How do I want to structure this new job?
JODI: For years, I was thinking I would do something different, and I was really focused on the financial aspect of it. I had also worked with a number of coaches along the way, which really helped me think about my values, my strengths. And so I wasn't thinking, again, about what I would do, but I was really working on those fundamentals of me. I call it the research on me. And so with that homework having been done, you know, I knew if I ever hit a point that I was just unhappy with my job, I was feeling like my work, it was not in alignment with my values, it would be time to move on.
I wanted to work at smaller companies. I really loved growing businesses, that was … that was my thing. And I also had pivoted my career to working with international investing. And so for my last eight years of my career, I was working with an Asian-focused mutual fund company based in San Francisco and leading our whole U.S. business.
I worked a lot. I was exhausted. That was out of line with my values. I remember having trips where … and I had a trip to Asia, kind of trekking and mountain biking in China right around the time of the … our global financial crisis, and, you know, canceling that trip and thinking, "When am I ever going to be able to travel again?" And so I was feeling out of alignment a little bit with my values. And then I knew, like this was time, this was my mid-40s moment that I had been preparing for financially and emotionally my whole career.
MARK: Jodi took the leap into a new career, a new path in life, and she knew that giving back would be part of her daily routine.
JODI: Giving back is important. I've donated to my school. I've donated to other people's causes, but for many years I really actually didn't know what was that important to me. And when I traveled and I was struck by the role of girls and the lack of educational opportunity that was afforded to them, I knew that was my thing. I didn't know what to do about it, and I was busy, right, with my day job.
MARK: Finally, the moment arrived when it all came together. When opportunity met preparation.
JODI: And one day I read an article in my alumni magazine about a gentleman who had founded a non-profit organization called Room to Read, which was all about literacy. And they had a whole program for girls' education in developing economies where I was spending all my time. And I, literally, got goosebumps reading this article, because it was what they did, right, support the needs of girls to get an education.
Which by the way, the reason I love that is because it's the best investment that you can make with any dollar, because a girl gets an education, she earns more money, she invests that in her family, her community, and, ultimately, that's good for the country, right? So I love that, but I also love the way that the organization was run. It was run like a business. That really resonated with me. They spoke in different words. They didn't use the word "charity." They used the word "investing." And that … I felt like I was … through this non-profit, I was investing in the future of girls around the world. So that was … that was my a-ha moment, and then it's grown from there.
MARK: Jodi's perspective on the idea of retirement has also changed over the years.
JODI: I don't believe in it. I think it's a very outdated … I think it's an outdated concept. I think it worked for my parents, right? It worked for people that had a pension who would collect Social Security. I have grown up my whole life knowing I wouldn't have a pension, right, trying to do a good job and saving with my 401(k). I still am not sure I will ever collect Social Security. I'll assume I won't. And I love working, right? I do believe, though, we can work in different ways than the, you know, one company for 40 years, you collect your gold watch, and, you know, you go off into the sunset.
MARK: Jodi's unique perspective has taught her to look at her second career more like a group of activities that each tap into her strengths and provide a diversified set of rewards. In fact, it's kind of like a portfolio.
JODI: So with my job, again, I'm a very multifaceted learner, I knew I wanted to do different things, just not one thing. And so I thought about this idea of a portfolio career, and that is where I'm doing various things which bring me in money, right? It could be consulting and coaching. Now I'm also leading international travel, right, so that is part of my business. And then, of course, there's my investment work. I've really gotten involved in impact investing globally. And so it's really looking across your work, across your career, and then across your financials. I don't get one W-2 from a company anymore. I'm getting 1099s. I'm getting investment income, right? I'm collecting funds in different ways. And it's a very … it's a diversified portfolio, right, similar to my upbringing as an investment professional. That's the way I look at my career and my money going forward.
MARK: The main part of Jodi's new career was a business she started that combines her passion for travel and her desire to make a difference. She called her company Connecting Growth Globally and started by curating trips for likeminded people who wanted to travel to Africa and make a difference while they were there.
JODI: So one thing that has grown from my work under Connecting Growth Globally, again, the coaching, the consulting, and the travel that I do and the investing that I do is a particular interest on gender lens investing. And what that means is investing in companies that are started by women, women founders, women management, launching products and services that are uniquely needed by our gender, and finding them all over the world, right? I mean, you can … I have a number of impact investments like this in Africa. But one thing that I've changed on is doing more in the United States. I've just found such a need here in seeing many of my friends who are female founders and the difficulty that they have in raising capital. So I've done more in that.
MARK: And with her ability to support multiple causes, Jodi found a way to fund the causes she believes in while still taking an investment-based approach.
JODI: I want to give, but I'm also looking for ways to maximize my money, right, and in this case, maximize my giving. So years ago, I learned about the idea of a donor-advised fund. I set one up through Charles Schwab. And the idea is that I can take investment assets of mine. The best one that I've used is low-basis stock, right, where I can transfer it into a donor-advised fund. And if it's stock, and I've had, you know, lots of stock in my portfolio over the last couple of years that's had some gains, I can move it into the donor-advised fund. It's technically a non-profit. So they sell it. No gains are paid by them as the non-profit or by me as the individual. And now I am the steward of this pool of money that I can use to make grants to organizations, to other non-profits of my choosing.
MARK: Jodi's been pleased with the results so far.
JODI: So that's been huge for me because it's allowed me to maximize my giving, right? I have this now pool of assets that's bigger than it would be because I've been able to save on those capital gains taxes. And it's this great means for me to give going forward. And so I have my Room to Read and a handful of these different organizations that are partners of mine. And just every year, right, I can do my giving from my donor-advised fund.
MARK: Jodi Morris is the founder of Connecting Growth Globally, a provider of curated travel experiences. She lives in New Mexico. I have links to Connecting Growth Globally and more about Jodi in the show notes and at Schwab.com/FinancialDecoder
Stories like Jodi's are increasingly common these days. We're seeing people switch jobs later in life, pursue their passions, and rethink the idea of retirement entirely.
When it comes to investing, we talk a lot about planning on this show. And you can see from Jodi's story that she spent years planning for a big career change. And if she didn't start saving and investing at a young age, she never would have been able to turn those plans into reality.
But the thing about plans is that you have to be open to changing them. Jodi's first career in finance allowed her to travel, but it ultimately wasn't what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. If she hadn't been willing to entertain changing her whole career plan, she would have never been able to leave her stable job and start her own business.
If you've thought about making a change yourself, I recommend listening to Jodi's advice: think deeply about your values and your strengths; ask other people who have been through the process for their advice; and take a long-term approach to planning that still allows you some flexibility to take calculated risks.
To learn more about donor-advised funds and how, like Jodi, you can best give with impact, check out Schwabcharitable.org.
Thanks for listening.
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For important disclosures, see the show notes and Schwab.com/FinancialDecoder.