How much is it worth to be worth less?
June 28, 2009 5:04 PM   Subscribe

Have you left a high-paying but bad-fitting job? How and when did you decide to go?

Context: For the last year I've been working in a permanent post as a managerial corporate drone and despite having great pay and benefits it's a bad fit. I want to go back to my former creative, contract-based field. I won't be leaving the job without another lined up and am poised to start hitting my network for leads - but I'm scared that if something comes up I'll regret leaving the salary behind. My former work paid well, just not as well and I can't get any perspective on how much that matters.

I took this job because I thought it would be better to opt for security and a 25% pay rise with the economy about to tank, and at first the pay made a big difference so far. I've saved all of the extra and now have a pension, along with liquid funds of six and a half months living expenses, but the cost in other areas has been pretty high - I don't like the work, or myself very much and have become depressed to the point where I'm bored, frustrated and dissappointed (in myself) a lot of the time. I have hobbies and outside interests but this casts a shadow over everything, and it's becoming increasingly difficult to stay professional. Most days I want to hand in my notice, but some part of me is saying "Dammit! Don't pass up the chance to actually accrue some real wealth for once". I come from a pretty poor background and that voice is strong.

Question: So I know I should leave but how much longer should I stay before then? A month, a year, til the recession is over? Til I'm fired?! Or do I just need to (wo)man up and stay put? If you've been in a similar situation what made you decide to stay or split? Any regrets either way? I'm 33, without debt, kids or a mortgage for the foreseable future (I rent). I'm in the UK, if that matters. Throwaway mail here if need be: Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Look for another job. When you find one that you believe you'll like better and that pays enough to take care of your bills (including a reasonable level of saving), then leave your current job.
posted by decathecting at 5:22 PM on June 28, 2009

If you're not happy within yourself, no amount of money is going to make up for that. This sounds like a cliche, but it's true.

I went through something very similar when I was 31. I was in a job that was paying me more money than I'd ever earned before, but the actual work situation was horrible. Yes, I had money, but I was too depressed to enjoy it. I ended up taking a 50% pay cut just to get out of a bad situation. Like you, I had no debt , no mortgage, and no kids--so the decision was made easier in that I just had to worry about supporting myself. Plus, the economy was certainly better then than it is now. But--when I left that job, I was at the point where it almost wasn't a choice anymore--I had to get out to make myself okay--physically, mentally and emotionally.

I think you need to "woman up" and do what will make you a whole, happy person. If that means actively trying--right now-- to find a job that pays less but will allow you to survive in the fullest sense of the word--survive emotionally as well as financially--then so be it.

One last thing--I have NEVER--not even for one instant--regretting leaving that job.

Feel free to email me if you need to talk further about this with someone who's been there!
posted by bookmammal at 5:44 PM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I waited until the stress affected my health. Way too late, I know, but I had to get to that point before I could do it. Until there really wasn't any other option. Don't wait that long.
posted by raisingsand at 5:47 PM on June 28, 2009

Being a consultant has the one advantage of being high paying and the one disadvantage of being a bad-fit most of the time, so yes, I have left gigs and I did so 1. when I moved to a point of closure or handed off all of my responsibilities as professionally as I could and 2. when my bank account was nice and flush.

I never wait for another gig to come along, because that's an open ended option that dooms me to suffer the hells of the whatever present I want desperately to leave.
posted by foooooogasm at 6:14 PM on June 28, 2009

I left a high paying programming job I'd been in for eight years because the company had become dominated by a clueless marketroid, I could see it heading for the edge of the cliff, I had no reason to believe that the product I was working on had a future, and I was feeling burned out. I didn't have another job to go to. I didn't want another job. I spent the next three years in glorious leisure, living off the money I'd saved while working, and learning to spend less and less of it. The last year of those three was spent travelling around Australia in a Kombi.

Having learned to live on total outgoings of $100/week, I spent the next three years after that in mostly glorious leisure, interrupted by a week of taxi driving night shifts every month or so.

A stupidly lucrative job offer, including all expenses paid travel to and accommodation in Germany, put an end to that. And now I'm a respectable home-owning parent with a mortgage and much less time to spend indulging my whims. These days, I work part-time as a school sysadmin for much less than the going rate, and do freelance computer maintenance for beer money. I charge so little per hour that my customers can actually afford to let me spend far more time on what I do than a typical technician would, which gives me the satisfaction of seeing things done properly instead of rushed and half-fixed.

They say time is money. I disagree. Time is way better than money.

Life is too short to waste doing a job you hate.
posted by flabdablet at 7:45 PM on June 28, 2009 [9 favorites]

At the ripe old age of 37, I would argue that money is underrated. You might not think you need it now, but it will come in handy 5, 10 or 20 years from now.

You haven't said what you don't like about the job, or your work-life balance, lifestyle outside of work.

Moving up to management or a higher pay grade is stressful. There are more expectations, and more interpersonal/political challenges. Yet there are people who are successful in this environment. Why not be one of them?

Very basically, you need to determine what defines success in your job. You need to agree with your boss on certain deliverables each month or quarter or year. Meet or exceed those deliverables. This will provide you yourself with something tangible to be proud of, and will also provide a base or platform for you to argue that you are effective in your job.

But reaching targets consistently means nothing if you aren't politically savvy. There is the "likeability" factor. I don't think this means brown-nosing with the boss, because assertive, creative, intelligent people are more likeable.

You mentioned getting fired. If this is a real possibility, you need to find another job fast. If you suspect that at some point in the hazy future you may just wind up being fired, you need to know that these thoughts will affect your performance - you will get fired because you are afraid of getting fired. "No fear" is a good motto to live by.

In my job, I try to focus on what motivates me. I make a decent salary with excellent pension and benefits, but what motivates me is my mission and my own core values. Being firmly grounded like this helps me with the nasty politics of my job.

But like I said, you should treat this as a learning opportunity - you can learn more about yourself, and how to navigate these tricky situations in the future. And don't undervalue earning money, just figure out how to motivate yourself at your job, and don't worry (or be afraid of) the bastards where you work.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:12 PM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's clear from your last paragraph that you'll sabotage the job if you don't quit. Getting fired is worse for both your future prospects and your opinion of yourself than an amicable resignation.
posted by fritley at 8:24 PM on June 28, 2009

It wasn't a big money job, but it was my first job in the US out of college (I'd worked FT abroad) and I was making more than I ever had (just north of 30K). I quit without something lined up, temped for a few months to pay the bills and went to Australia six months later for work. Best decision ever.
posted by TravellingCari at 8:34 PM on June 28, 2009

I left a somewhat high paying job (for me) that I hated (boring, boring, stressful, boring, stressful, boring, completely not interesting in any way to me). It's taken me three years to make back the salary and now I make more. My job now is extremely stressful, but not boring. I'm really happy I left, but I stayed for 6 years. The only payoff at the job for me besides the salary was that I worked with some people that I really got close to and liked. I regretted the money for awhile after I left, but NEVER the job.

On the other hand, if you haven't found a dream job, the longer you can stick with it and save money, you might as well. Just break it down in your head - I make this much an hour to do these tasks. If it was me, I wouldn't leave until I found a somewhat more interesting job.
posted by gt2 at 8:41 PM on June 28, 2009

I left a fairly high paying job doing sub-contract work for the govt about 4 years ago. I now make almost tens of dollars a week working for a comedian. I LOVE MY JOB. Totally worth the severe pay cut.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 9:08 PM on June 28, 2009

How long should you wait to leave?

Coming from an ambitious, career-minded, near-thirties individual in a similar situation, I would say this: not much longer.

I quit a 6 figure job back in December without a plan and have been enjoying time off since then. This was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make in that my income allowed me to save and invest and plan for my future, and for the time being I can't. It also afforded me a certain lifestyle that I worried about having to give up for a paycut / NO job. Admittedly, since that point I have not saved a dime but had been living off cash reserves (emergency fund + one or two mid-term savings funds).

I was initially worried about not being able to save money and not having a job lined up, but in retrospect, for someone who is very future - conscious, this has bothered me much less than I thought. I simply consider the money lost during this period of my life as a "tax" that I need to pay in order to be happy, healthy and to have the time to do whatever I want. Life is about trade offs and I would second the individual above who said that time is worth WAY more than money.

It sounds like you have more of a plan than I did. I simply couldn't handle my job. Long hours, ridiculous deadlines, childish clients, no respect for a work-life balance. I was going to wait until I had a particular amount of money in my cash reserves before leaving, but I wanted to leave my industry completely so I had no real plan. I was depressed at work and found it hard to carry out my responsibilities. I realized I was not working up to my own potential and that it was time to rather than take a long vacation that I had planned, I simply told them I quit.

I had about 10k in cash reserves which I have admittedly almost burned through (lasted me about 6 months). I supplemented that with small freelance jobs and am even considering cashing out some stocks to fund some travels (an idea that still makes me cringe...but really, time off has been great.) is my advice, from experience, for someone with no debt, and no overhead when they want to leave a high-paying, low satisfaction job.

-How is the current market for the type of work you'd like to get into? Being a lawyer right now is pretty hard, being a graphic designer is easier. The economic climate affects industries differently. Do you want to jump back into the workforce soon? Are you open to the idea of taking extended time off? Do you honestly think you could get a job, albeit with less pay. If the answer is yes...quit now.

-Get your ducks in a row with regard to cash reserves, 6 months living expenses sounds great...I had way less. If you have this, quit now.

-Plan to take at least a month off to decompress - if you are looking to get back in the workforce, use this time to hit up your network.

-Prepare mentally for some anxieties that will arise. People will tell you you are crazy. We live in a workaholic society. At times you will second-guess yourself. Money may get tight. You will be able to handle all of this.

-If you are truly unhappy - how much money would you pay to be happy and whole? Usually the answer is far more than you would be giving up. Reframe your new lower pay as a "tax" that you have to pay in order to live a happier, more content life. Life is about trade offs. Rarely does a life of private and personal fulfillment come with a huge monetary payoff. Psychologically, however, the payoff is huge.

-If you ARE INDEED giving up a lot of money, make sure you are gaining time in its place. Time is worth far more than money in living a happy and healthy life.

-Are you ok with opting out of the power and status game that so many of us play? A big paycheck and a nice car are very tempting...I even find myself tempted back into that life. That being said, a work-life balance at a job I love is always worth more when I examine my priorities.

-Be prepared to cut back on costs in your life. This is actually a skill set that may even change the way you look at money and material things. This has been a huge benefit to me (to the dismay of my girlfriend :) )

-You can and will handle it. Leave that stupid job! Less pay, brighter day!

That's pretty much it.
posted by jnnla at 11:12 PM on June 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

I did this in my late 20's.

I was a middle-management corporate drone for one of the largest management consulting firms on the planet. I had great pay and benefits, and my work was pretty much making me hate myself. I got sick of the travel and the stupid hours and never being able to really stop and enjoy life.

Then one day I was reminded, in a somewhat subtle and interesting way, of something someone had told me very early on in my post-college life: "Work is good, but its not that important."

It once again became my mantra. I stopped working so hard / long, and found that a) I was still getting my job done and was still well appreciated by my superiors, peers, and team members. And I had time to start figuring out where it was I wanted my life to be arcing, and, in particular, what it is that really *mattered* in my mind, and how I could use my remaining days to blend the two of those.

I settled on humanitarian work in the 3rd world. That's on the more extreme side and its not for most, please don't take my story to be suggesting you should look into it. But it is awesome. Its the hardest work I've ever done in my life - harder than my days in consulting, I'm constantly worn out. But I love where I am and what I'm doing. I see the end results of my work and I feel good about it. I never had that before.

Sure, I'm making less money now, but I am still paying down my student loan, have no other debt, and have a good chunk of change in the bank (thanks to great timing - my company was paying out optional lay-off packages for those who wanted to leave at the time I left). I realized I was making a good deal more than I needed, given that I had no other financial commitment besides the student loan. In fact, after the pay cut, I still have more than I need (I don't pay taxes now, given my expat working status).

Work is still good, but its still not that important. For me, helping some of the world's most desperate became a really important thing. And then I found work doing just that. Best decision I ever made.

I recommend you try and find a way to step back and focus on where it is you want to be, what it is you want to be doing, and then start thinking about potential stepping stones in that direction. It may not be easy, but once you get there, you'll be glad you stepped outside your comfort zone. Trust me.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:15 AM on June 29, 2009

Work and ancillary committments (commuting, OT etc) typically take up half of your waking life. Life is too short to spend so much of it on something that makes you miserable, if you have the option to do something else. You have no dependents and no debts, so you have no obligations. I have quit a very good job before in such circumstances without a new job to go to, and have never regretted it. Rich and miserable is still miserable.
The difference with your circumstances is that the economy was in a lot better state at the time I quit. I always said to myself that I could always get a job at Asda or behind a bar or somesuch, but that's not a given right now. If I were you, I would try to hang on in there long enough to find a new job of some description, with the proviso that you don't screw things up in your current job. You may need to return to your current industry/company at some time in the future, so if you feel like you can't do a professional job any longer it's better to quit if you have some savings to tide you over for a few months.
posted by Jakey at 2:33 AM on June 29, 2009

I disagree with almost everybody here. Life is too short to not have enough money to enjoy it. Poor and unhappy is still unhappy, and you'll feel a lot worse about yourself if you just give up a well paid job, because there are plenty of people out there willing to take it.
posted by anniecat at 5:13 AM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

i left a very high paying job after eight days with no safety net, except a place to crash and a very good resume.

what made it not worth it? two of my employees quit my first day thanks to the abusive behavior of MY boss, being told that i was required to wear heels to work every day (in chicago), that if i wore a ponytail it had to be sleek and straight (i have curly hair), being on call 24-7 as a personal assistant to my semi-celeb boss (i was hired to launch the company's website, not be a PA).... the list goes on and on.... a year later, i'm still in semi-recovery, but 8 days of that job nearly sent me to the mental hospital, so all in all, i consider it a pretty decent turnaround.

the question you need to ask yourself is: if you are unable to get another job in your field or of the caliber you desire, are you willing to go work at starbucks until you DO get that job?
posted by unlucky.lisp at 11:15 AM on June 29, 2009

I did this. I was making a lot of money as an attorney and I hated every 6 minute increment of it. I LOVED my paychecks, but the work... good lord. Who knew it was possible to be so incredibly stressed out and bored all at the same time?

It sounds like this role is not a fit for you, but unfortunately I cannot answer your financial questions on your behalf (and I don't believe anyone else really can). What I can tell you is that while practicing law I was horribly miserable all the time. I was questioning myself, my skills, every motivation I had. And then one day I stepped out of that box and the whole universe became a million times larger. Now I find myself in a job I didn't even know existed before, it's fun, and I'm very good at it. And guess what? There's pretty good money to be made doing something that fits you like a glove.

In terms of figuring out what that thing is, I'd recommend completing the workbook section of What Color is Your Parachute? Spend a weekend working on it in a coffee shop & you'll be amazed at what you learn about your professional self. That's what helped lead me in the right direction.

Also, I recently had a disturbing nightmare that the law firm was trying to bribe me to return... egad! So, um, I've never really regretted leaving. But that's me. Good luck to you! I'd be curious to hear what you end up doing...
posted by ohyouknow at 11:03 PM on July 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

Oops, sorry. Just read a little closer (uh, one drink too many tonight?) and realized that you know exactly what you want to do. Apologies.

Go for it. You only have one life.
posted by ohyouknow at 11:06 PM on July 2, 2009

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