My Story From Here To There

Back in 2006, I worked on Wall Street.

Every day I wore a crisp white shirt, designer suit and sat in the middle of a 300 person-trading desk at Bank of America in Manhattan.

I spent my days figuring out how to make the rich richer. But then I did something unheard of in my profession.

Instead of heading to the beach for my annual 2-week vacation, I travelled to a town called Houtbay in South Africa, just south of Cape Town, to do social work in their slums.  

And that’s where I met Kiara. She lived in a ramshackle home on an old fish mine where they used to clean and store the fish. When I entered her house I was overcome by the stench of rotting fish that came out of the walls and floor. I was barely able to control my gag reflex.

I may have been uncomfortable, but I wasn’t repelled – I was compelled. Compelled because I wanted to understand this person who had created a home for her 2 small children and because she had invited me to discuss how the organization I was volunteering for could help her children get a better education.

But it wasn’t until I returned to New York City and I was sitting at my desk that the stark contrast between these 2 worlds really hit me.

I was working my socks off doing a job that that I did not care about whilst the people I’d just met were living in destitute poverty. I became desperately aware that I was misdirecting my energy and I hit a crisis point.

And in that moment, I was ready to give up my lucrative job. 

 I could no longer sit by as poverty, suffering, and injustice inflicted pain on so many people.

I wanted to use my financial know-how to enact social change in the world.

And then I got lucky…really lucky.

2 months later I was caught up in a round of layoffs or else I may have remained stuck where I was indefinitely. I had been given a get out of jail free card and I knew right then I wasn’t going back to the jungle. Oh, I was tempted by interviews and job offers from other firms, but I was determined to stay the course.

As the economy slumped and Wall Street buckled from 2007 to 2009 my persistence and bank account were feeling the pain. I burned through lots of cash, but I was like a dog with a bone.

In 2009 I accepted an assignment to the island of Samoa in the South Pacific. I lived there for 2 1/2 months and worked at a microfinance bank that gave small loans to women in poor rural communities. I took my chance and was hired full time back in NYC for the same company and spent the next 5 years as CFO building and operating microfinance banks throughout the islands of the South Pacific.

I had discovered a world in which everyone has a singular focus: to help poor communities and people lift themselves out of poverty. In my order of loves the number #1 spot was solidly occupied with helping and serving people. Money had been demoted far down the list.

Yes, this journey may have sacrificed my bank account, but I had gained back my soul.

Now, I have my own business Vanreusel Ventures LLC and I continue to work with companies that aim to have a social impact on the world, that care about the same things I care about.

If this area of work resonates with you and I love what I do, I’d like to hear from you.

Today, we’ve barely scratched the surface

Whatever stage you’re at in business, you need to be all over the numbers. In posts like this, we aim to offer bite-size food for thought – but in a few hundred words, we can only do so much.

If you’re ready to build your financial muscle, how about a FREE copy of James Vanreusel’s (highly-acclaimed) book for CEOs?

The #1 Key to Creating a Thriving Business takes you through the challenges of growing and scaling your company, from first to last. And you can request your copy here – no hidden fees, no strings.