When Jateria Pittman took her first international trip for a study-abroad program seven years ago, she was on a path to a corporate career in the mortgage industry.
Then a marketing major in her senior year at Appalachian State University, Ms. Pittman, the first person in her family to attend college, qualified for a six-month study-abroad program in Johannesburg.
Initially, she wasn’t sure she should go, telling herself to “just sit down and be grateful” for making it into college. But ultimately, Ms. Pittman decided to go to Johannesburg, rationalizing that it would be an important part of her college education. The experience was life-changing.
After graduating in 2015, Ms. Pittman quickly landed a job as a mortgage processor at a company in Charlotte, N.C. But she quit after a year, finding the job a letdown after her transformative time in South Africa.
“The trip just really opened my eyes up to a different quality of life,” said Ms. Pittman, who is 28, lives in Atlanta, and is the first in her family to have a passport. After the freedom of traveling, the confines of her first desk job made her second guess her career choice. “This is what I’ve been working so hard for, for so long, to be sitting here in an office and having to ask ‘can I take time off to go to the doctor?’” she says. “This isn’t the dream that I wanted to live at all.”
About six months into her job, Ms. Pittman started to make plans to move to South Africa. She took a second job as a hostess at a country club and drove for Uber on weekends to make enough to pay down her debts, including $13,000 in student-loan debt plus credit-card and car-loan balances.
“I saved all my bonuses from my mortgage job, all my checks from the country club and Uber money and reselling clothes income to save for my move,” Ms. Pittman said.
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The hustle to cobble together enough money for her trip gave her an epiphany about how she could make traveling a sustainable lifestyle. “I would really need to pay off my debt, not just lower my expenses,” Ms. Pittman said. She concluded that she probably wasn’t the only young woman trying to balance personal finances with a love of travel. In 2016, Ms. Pittman started a blog discussing money-saving tips and travel advice and left her mortgage-processing job.
She took a year off from working in 2017 to live “like a global citizen,” she said. Living on her savings, Ms. Pittman moved to South Africa and traveled throughout southern Africa and Europe. “I didn’t go there with a job, I didn’t go there to look for a job, I didn’t go there for school or to start school, I literally just went to live,” she said.
Ms. Pittman moved back to the U.S. later in 2017, settling in Atlanta and unsure about her next professional move. She considered law school, but her wanderlust nagged at her. The bills and expenses to afford traveling nagged, too.
Ms. Pittman developed a plan to reward herself with a trip every time she paid off a debt. Then came the idea to transform her blog into a business that offered financial coaching to young people like herself on how to afford travel. Ms. Pittman began coaching clients locally in the Atlanta area and then expanded her reach by coaching virtually, too.
Acknowledging that it would take some time for her business to fully support her, Ms. Pittman took a job as a personal loan specialist at a debt-consolidation company. Then she returned to the mortgage industry, taking positions that built up her income and gave her financial-education skills like preparing people for homeownership.
When Covid hit, Ms. Pittman decided to prioritize her business. She hired a business coach, took an online course to hone her virtual coaching skills and registered her business as an LLC. She targets young women of color who are “first-generation wealth builders,” she says. Ms. Pittman still maintains a remote mortgage-processing job but ultimately wants her own company to fully support her.
Ms. Pittman said launching her company during Covid lockdowns made sense. Clients were willing to work with her to prepare their finances for when they could finally book trips again, she said. Now, as travel resumes, Ms. Pittman expects business to pick up.
The Career Journey
Name: Jateria Pittman
Education: Bachelor of Science in Business Administration Marketing Degree, Appalachian State University
Former job: Mortgage processor
New job: Financial educator
Aha moment: Taking on extra jobs and selling old clothes to afford travel inspired her to start her business.
Most important piece of advice for changing careers: You can take your own life experiences and interests and live a life that makes you excited to jump out of bed every day.
Write to Ray A. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org
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