Guest post: Where did my million dollars go?

Jooyoung Oh, is the coach for the Design & Tech cohort of Financial Freedom 1, running April 15-June 15. More details and registration here.


I am a private person, and talking about life challenges publicly lies outside my comfort zone. However, working towards financial freedom is a radical act which involves doing things that feel edgy.  

So, here is my story.

If you only looked at my Instagram feed and course introduction to Financial Freedom 1, you might think I sound badass and flawless. My story looks something like this: “Thanks to my incredible ability to manage money, I’m working with a social enterprise to improve the lives of farmers in rural Myanmar.  Then I’m off to Hadong, Korea to learn how to make Woo-jeon tea with a buddhist monk. Let me show you how you can change your life too.”

Design panel at Proximity Designs with colleagues from Google, Airline design and Studio D.  Photo credit: Instagram posting from Proximity Designs, March 21, 2019

Design panel at Proximity Designs with colleagues from Google, Airline design and Studio D.

Photo credit: Instagram posting from Proximity Designs, March 21, 2019

The truth is, my new relationship to money began in a moment that went something like... “Oh shit, I am nearing menopause, and there is little time left to make a baby. I gave up my cat/soulmate of 15 years in order to move in with my boyfriend and start a family, and he just dumped me with little warning.” A raw moment like this kicked off my new relationship with money a few years ago when I turned 40.     

In the same month, I learned on Facebook that my close colleague and friend JaeSang’s suddenly died at age 44. One year prior, he had visited me on the way to Seattle to attend an award ceremony for IDEA (Industrial Design Excellence Awards) for his portable projector design. He loved working in tech and couldn’t slow down even after he fell seriously ill. His two-year-old daughter barely got to know him.


In the same year, I had left my full-time job, started a consulting business and my two-year training in counselling, and began an expensive garage conversion project.

Heartbroken and stressed, I would wake up in the middle of the night with a jolt in my body. This went on for several months. Lying in my bed, I’d question every aspect of my life that I’d been taking for granted.

I thought I’d always be working happily with little break. But in a moment like this when I felt lost, I wanted to pause. At the same time,  like many of us, I felt I had little choice but continuing to push myself to function fully.

I had a mortgage to pay, client projects to deliver, a construction team to manage, and classes to teach.

What would happen if I got sick and couldn’t keep up with all these responsibilities? My financial health felt fragile.

I realized that I needed to make radical changes and take control of how I spent my time.  

This realization drove me to make some big changes in my life to address financial fragility.


I took Financial Freedom 1 two years ago. One of the first lessons asked, “If you were in a long-term relationsship with money (and you are), how would you describe it? What would it say to you? What would you say to it?” Here was my answer:

Money: “When you are here with me, you are all over me like you are obsessed, and then I don’t hear from you for months. I don’t trust you. I don’t think you care about me.”

Me: “I care about you, but sometimes you overwhelm me and it is easier to focus on other things in life. You seem so powerful, kind of intimidating and scary. And sometimes I feel embarrassed to be seen with you in public. But I do care and I will stop ignoring you. I want to be a better partner.”

Then came a shock that could be summed up as, “WHAT HAPPENED TO MY MILLION DOLLARS?

In the course, we had to calculate our lifetime earnings. I realized that I made over one million dollars in my career. I was in shock for two reasons: First, I didn’t realize that I had made so much money. Second, I didn’t have one million dollars in my bank account.

Growing up with financially conservative parents in Korea, I was raised to be minimal and frugal, and I inherited their fear of spending money. But in order to fit in when I moved to the States, I did what other people did around me. To me, belonging to the elite creative class meant spending money in ways that would have shocked my parents.

I rented a two-bedroom apartment all for myself in the first few years of my career, leased a brand new car, and bought expensive outfits for work, thinking it would influence how I was valued. The list goes on and on.

I spent what I earned and I spent more when I earned more without realizing the consequences: I had to keep working in order to keep the lifestyle.

It took me time to digest these lessons and apply them to my finances. My path to financial freedom has included reducing spending by simplifying my life, moving in with friends and turning my home into an asset rather than a money pit, creating and regularly reviewing my budget, managing my investments on my own, developing side hustles, establishing a weekly habit of studying money and talking about it with close friends. The biggest gain here is how I feel about my finances.  More on all of this as we get into the class!


I spent last two months in Myanmar and now I am on my way to South Korea. In Myanmar, I took on a research project to improve the lives of sesame farmers partnering with a local social enterprise. Our team from Studio D and Proximity Designs wrote a book together that provides a foundational knowledge of sesame farming. In South Korea, I will be living with a tea monk who makes beautiful green tea and learn the ancient craft of tea processing. I couldn’t have pursued these rare opportunities if I didn’t address my relationship with money.

jyo photo - facilitator .jpg

If you ask me how my relationship with money is these days, I’d say, “We are a healthy couple. We are good at accompanying each other with a healthy distance. We check in everyday briefly, but we are both happy to do our own thing. When we see each other once or twice a week, we really get to know each other more.”


Those of us in the design/tech field face similar challenges. If you are like I was, you are a creative thinker except when it is applied to your own relationship with money. How fun will it be to learn with other creative minds and design our own lives? In our cohort, we’ll apply human centered design principles to our finances. We start with understanding our experiences with money and identify our patterns and challenges. We then surface opportunities that address our financial fragility. Let’s find your million dollars.

Take a look at the course; join the cohort and add your unique voice.