Done with the rat race?
May 2, 2016 1:39 AM   Subscribe

I've been working in a social work profession with the public for ten years. I'm burned out and ready for a change. My spouse is supportive, we have the $$ to go to one income, but I'm hesitating.

I am done with working with the public. I'm just tired, uninspired, and frankly I feel as though I'm just showing up and doing a half-assed job, which is NOT what my clients need. I've switched positions three times in the last 6 years and do not think that my burned-out-ness will be helped with a new location, slightly different job responsibilities, or even a pay raise.

Prior to this line of work, I was involved in the arts and music. These things have been set aside so that I could work on my career. I'm thinking about leaving my stable job to do some soul-searching and figure out what I want to do next. I'm in a fitness instructor training program so at the end of the year I'll be certified to do that; I'm also good with office tasks and would not mind temping if needed. Basically, I want to move away from the 40-hour-a-week drudgery and cobble together a living with several different "side gigs" and lines of work that challenge me, give me a variety of things to do, and are less stressful than my current job.

My husband and I are frugal people: we're in our late 30's and have a low 7-figures in savings. I have a pension through my work as well as an old 401(k) that has about 20k in it. His retirement account is well-funded but I do not know the exact number. I have about 15k left in student loans (paying them off at a very reasonable amount a month, 2.5% interest). We have two paid-off cars that still run nicely. We have a mortgage that we are aggressively paying down and will be done with in 2-3 years. My income is about 40k, my husband makes about 2.5x that. We were planning to "retire" from our stressful day jobs in 2020 anyway.

On paper, this all sounds so good. I guess my struggle is that of not contributing, or giving up a good thing with the solid paycheck and relying solely on my husband's paycheck. Or - perhaps this means that he cannot "retire" in 2020. Or - perhaps something will go awry with our investments (which are relatively low-risk) and I will be out of the game long enough that I can't find a job. Or that I'm out there "living my dream" while my husband continues on at his job, supporting me while I "figure things out".

Does this move - quitting my job with no job lined up, to take some time to "figure things out" and find less-stressful work that might not be full-time or lucrative - make financial sense? How do I get past the "what if the economy goes belly-up" worries?

My husband is 100% supportive of me doing this, but my parents say "no no don't give up your day job and be a kept woman". They're of the '9-5 to 65' mindset and had tough times during the recent recession. Additionally, they also worked in the same field I work in and there's a bit of family pride about me "continuing the tradition". My husband and I have no kids and will not be having any. I do have some health issues - I will need to go on his health insurance or use the ACA, which is one immediate uptick in costs if I am not working a full-time job.

I also think that I'm having trouble getting past myself. I'm proud of the work I've done over the last decade, and I don't want to feel like a quitter. I've been able to support myself AND save for retirement through my 20s and the first half of my 30s and consider myself to be quite independent. I'm struggling with the idea of not pulling my own weight, or prancing about doing my own thing while my husband continues the drudgery of his job. I also am leery of being lumped into the same category of "ladies of leisure" who don't have to work. I really can't square away what my life would be like if I wasn't working full-time for a living.

Thanks for listening, mefi. I appreciate whatever advice or commiseration you may have to offer. Particularly if you are a person who has been through this: either you were the supporting spouse, or you were the spouse that took time off to "find yourself" etc.

PS - I think that relating this to taking time off to have kids is kind of out of scope for my question. Although it would have the same financial ramifications of going from two incomes to one, it's not that unusual for one parent to choose to stay home with the kids. I feel that would be much more socially acceptable for one partner deciding to leave the 9-5 workforce for the kids, than one partner deciding to leave the 9-5 workforce to "find themselves".
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Couple of suggestions.

1) Have some sort of medium-term goal. At the moment it seems like you've just got to a point where you deeply dislike your job and need to leave. That makes sense, but it seems problematic for you that you don't know what you want to do next. Do you want to retrain? Or are there jobs you've got your eye on that might work for you? Make this into a positive step forward, not a passive step back.

2) Why not register with some temping agencies immediately on handing in notice on your current job? You don't have to do it full time, but it will keep you in the workforce. You're going to take some drop in income, but it seems like that would be manageable without any real increase in risk, from your numbers.
posted by howfar at 2:28 AM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm leaving the social work field after a decade for - I have no idea at the moment, and the only way I can begin to wrap my head around the change is taking a month to work. I wrote two months and deleted it to a month to be more truthful because there is no way in hell that I will be able to not work for two months. Some people can just hang out and be with the flow, and some people wind up repainting their house a second time in three months because if they don't get a job they will go mad (me).

When I knew I had this big change coming up, I started a list to write things I wanted to do but had been putting off for ages, short and medium term. Some of the things are a reading list of books, some are day-trips and some are very short courses. It's a super long list, and I've started editing it down as the end-date comes closer to force myself to have time to just think and have space, choosing time to reflect and think.

For money, I would meet with a financial planner together with your husband and separately if needed, and have a bunch of honest deep conversations about your joint and separate finances. Think about setting up a "fuck you" account of your own, money that is under your name and is under your control and lets you decide when and if you want to work and without having to consult your husband.

Part of that discussion needs to be about the household work - if you're going to be at home for more than a month of holiday, you need to seriously talk about who will do what at home and socially, because two working partners share tasks differently from one at-home and a working partner. An at-home partner can decide to take on a lot of the work that was outsourced or previously shared jointly, but then they should be either directly paid for that (beyond a household budget, with an actual reasonable wage) or given shared financial control over the joint income.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 2:47 AM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Part of that discussion needs to be about the household work - if you're going to be at home for more than a month of holiday, you need to seriously talk about who will do what at home and socially, because two working partners share tasks differently from one at-home and a working partner. An at-home partner can decide to take on a lot of the work that was outsourced or previously shared jointly, but then they should be either directly paid for that (beyond a household budget, with an actual reasonable wage) or given shared financial control over the joint income.

i started working half time a year or so ago, and one thing that i hadn't expected was the degree to which i am expected to become the person who maintains (more than before) the house - cooks, cleans, shops, etc. if you are hoping to do something else with your time then it is definitely worth having this discussion, because i really needed to push back to find time for myself. obviously this also depends on how your partner feels about work - are they going to feel like they are working to support you, or are they working because they love it and are choosing to do it? in the former case then there's more of an expectation that you will take on a larger share of "domestic things" (imho).

(see the domestic labour thread, although in my case gender roles are reversed which makes everything a little more complicated and uncertain)
posted by andrewcooke at 3:06 AM on May 2, 2016

ugh. emotional labour, not domestic labour, sorry.
posted by andrewcooke at 3:10 AM on May 2, 2016

Major life changes are scary, but you can give yourself a trial period on this one. Assuming you won't be immediately unemployable, can you give yourself a timeline, say, six months, and a plan B? If by the end of six months you don't have a plan worked out that you feel comfortable with and regret giving up your stable 9-5 (or whatever other goals you think are reasonable), you can go back to job searching in your current field (or some other acceptable alternative).
posted by chickenmagazine at 3:13 AM on May 2, 2016

ps also, working half time made a much larger difference than i expected in my relationship with work. almost all the stress went - not just half. so you might consider that.

and another way of making the point about emotional labour above, that might be easier to understand, is to treat your finances as a shared resource that should let both of you live the life you want, to some degree. you get to choose together, but then you have to be wary of no longer having "but i have an emergency at work" to fight for your time in the everyday back and forth. whatever you choose to do instead has to have a "value" and not be pushed aside by the other person just because they are the one earning money (if that's what you want).
posted by andrewcooke at 3:26 AM on May 2, 2016

We live in a society that really underestimates the power of rest. And really, it sounds like you need to give yourself the right to rest. Guilt-free rest.

I would approach this as a sabbatical: a time to rest and rejuvenate. The purpose of a sabbatical is to gain new insight on what you want out of the time you commit to work. Here, part of the purpose if figuring out where and if you want to work in the first place. And it's okay that you don't know the answer right now because this is the whole point of your sabbatical. (It sounds to me like you want to know the outcome of taking a break straight away, when the whole point of taking this break is to allow yourself time to let go of all the expectations you and others have for yourself).

So the first thing: give yourself a timeframe. A sabbatical is usually a year.

Second: start with a work-free vacation. I have been told it is good to include a timeframe for rest. A part of your sabbatical would be your usual yearly vacation: 4-6 weeks. Sleep. Do things that you love. Do all of this guilt free. And whenever you start feeling guilty about taking an actual break, remind yourself that rest improves creativity.

Third: spend some time "trying out" or developing new skills. Likely, you will have gained some insight into what motivates you during the vacation part of your sabbatical.

I think your question is two fold: do I have the right to take time for myself? The answer is yes. You can afford it and you need it. The other part seems to be: what will I do with this time? Here, it feels like you're equating "taking time for yourself" with "oh no maybe I will always feel this exhausted". This carries a lot of guilt. It sounds like this guilt is making you jump the gun: "I can only take this time for myself if I already know what the outcome of it will be." A "sabbatical" could you give you time to figure out what you really want to do guilt free.
posted by Milau at 3:59 AM on May 2, 2016 [9 favorites]

Here's my wacky suggestion. Start with looking for a job with the Federal Government. (I'm assuming that you're in the US here.) My Dad was an MSW and that's where he spent the last 15 years of his career (he always like the public part.) I'm not suggesting that you continue to do therapy or anything like that, but there are all kinds of jobs there that you can either train for or are currently qualified for. Policy jobs for example, where you're researching Social Work issues (SNAP, Education, Labor, etc.)

Here is an example of such a position.

Federal Government has fantastic benefits including lots of vacation time. And it's a straight up 9-5 gig, where at 5, you pack up all your shit and go home.

If that doesn't appeal, check out other openings in your area. There may be a job there that is so unique to the feds that I can't even imagine it.

I feel you. I left sales when I was at my peak. You just get to a certain point in your career and you say to yourself, "I'm tired of this." It didn't mean I wanted to stop working, it just meant that I was fed up with that one particular job. I had golden handcuffs, it paid a ton of dough. Circumstances dictated, and I retrained in something completely different, and now I'm a very happy consultant.

How easily could you find another job? Perhaps as an administrative assistant, or something like that? Having a 'jobette' can ease your concerns and take the pressure off of your husband. While you're being a receptionist you can center yourself and decompress from your current gig.

I'd be pretty nervous about quitting without a plan to replace at least 2/3s of your income. But I might be projecting my issues onto you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:05 AM on May 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Not sure what your cost of living is in your area but this sounds totally doable to me. Getting on your husband's insurance should be easy, since leaving your job would count as a qualifying event (99% sure, please check). You have an appropriate amount if savings, some of which is presumably liquid. I don't see the risk, financially.

But I would say you do need a plan. Quitting with nothing else to fill your hours will inevitably heighten your feeling of being lost. I think coming up with a plan for what you're going to do for the next year or two would minimize your anxiety.
posted by deathpanels at 4:58 AM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me as if you are struggling with the permanence of a decision, and I can tell you that you really shouldn't worry. Leaving your job is usually permanent, yes, but only concerning that particular job. You are not looking for a career end, but instead you are searching for a career change. And you are taking some time off to clear your head and figure out what that change might be. People do it all the time. It's a healthy decision, not a shallow one. Here's your script, for yourself, your parents, and anyone else who asks:

I'm not happy with my job and I need a change. This is how I'm going about it.

And then get excited about the possibilities!
posted by raisingsand at 6:33 AM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Maybe set yourself a time limit after which you re-evaluate? For example, after three months, if you wanted to, are you in a field where part-time work is an option?

Agreed about the housework, too. I'm a teacher, and if I am 'home' in the summer---even if I am taking a course or something---husband definitely starts feeling like I can just throw in some laundry for him or something. I don't always appreciate this expectation :-)

Think, too, about how much time you'll be able to spend outside the house. Is there work/projects you can do elsewhere? I find during the summers, I tend to not do so well if I am home all the time. But then I don't get a bus pass so I find myself rationing the tokens and not going too far. It's a vicious cycle :-)
posted by JoannaC at 6:48 AM on May 2, 2016

Check out It's a blog and forum about early retirement. He focuses on the financial aspect in a lot of the early posts, but since then has written about what to do after you retire and how to handle your finances during retirement. The forums are particularly helpful, with people posting their after retirement updates and how it affects their families. You'd be surprised how many extended family members seem to take one's early retirement as a personal affront.
posted by domo at 6:55 AM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

[sorry. posted in a rush earlier and muddled emotional and domestic labour. in short, without competing "responsibilities" your partner's job can expand and you can end up supporting that. you get all the labours. maybe that is ok. for us it opened up a can of worms about the "value" of paid work, unpaid work, self care, etc.]
posted by andrewcooke at 7:13 AM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you're burned out, it makes total sense to take time out to figure stuff out. Nothing wrong with it.

Some issues I see with this as a *long term* plan... The main one is, this plan depends on the status quo continuing indefinitely. Anything could happen - your husband could, potentially (fortune forbid), get fired or fall ill, or something unexpected could happen between you. Then you'd be stuck making a go of it one your own, as a fitness instructor or temp, at 40 or 45... not ideal. In that case, you might well be able to pick up your old line of work at that point, or not, it all depends. Time out of the workforce - i.e. time out of a decently paying line of work - would hurt you, if any of that came to pass.

I also think you might be underestimating the level and nature of the stress involved in low-level office work. (Boredom, being the low person on the totem pole - just, being subordinate, professionally - with little control over your processes, office politics [or even if you like your coworkers and supervisors, just seeing the same 5 or 10 people, day in, day out, day in again] - not easy. Maybe on a part-time basis, if you have good and strong alternate sources of value.) Fitness instructors work early mornings and evenings, and cap out at certain salary level; also, the ones who do it for money have to hustle. Your health isn't great, you say, so I'm not sure it's a good bet for the long haul. No matter what you do, hustling for two+ gigs at a time and balancing possibly competing schedules is stressful.

I think yes, definitely take this time off, no guilt! And do whatever you need to do to reconnect with yourself.

But, longer-term, consider picking up a higher-paid and more specialized skill-set that pays well and will allow you to work on a part-time basis, continuously, over the next 10-30 years. You could totally still make things on the side.

If you're not in a weird market, I am going to suggest real estate. People are still probably going to be annoying sometimes, but in a different way - you're not going to feel responsible for their fundamental well-being, in a system that's opposed to their well-being. It'd be people being particular about kitchen counters or whatever, but also, excited and positive about making a home. And you'd maybe use your people skills to help them through those decisions, and maybe walk away - walk away! - with a nice commission, and go home and paint or write. Can be as part time as you want. And you could do that into your 50s and 60s. Just an idea, there are lots of other things you could do.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:54 AM on May 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Low 7-figures in savings is over a million dollars. Did I get that right? You're not counting the decimal places?

In some ways I'm a little jealous of you. Sometimes I'd like to just quit my job and chill but it's hard -- in part because I like my job and in part because the opportunity cost is too high. 40k a year is -- not to insult you or anything -- not that much money. It's less than I made in my first job out of college with a humanities degree 10+ years ago. The opportunity cost of you quitting your job is pretty low and you have a no kids, a husband who makes 100k/year, and million dollars in the bank. Yeah, if you want to, you should quit your job and not look back. You have the Internet's permission.
posted by phoenixy at 9:28 AM on May 2, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm actually wondering if some of the exhaustion might not relate to pursuing an aggressive savings plan. Late 30s on a combined $140K or less a year and having saved a couple of million dollars plus a "well-funded" retirement plan--that's aggressive savings, and probably some very lucky investment timing, or else the husband has recently taken a big cut in salary (or someone's gotten a significant inheritance). Anyway, that's not a criticism, but you do need to think about how such a change will affect that aspect of your life. Normally I'd say a person in your position is reasonably enough secure to survive taking a little time off to sort out what she wants to do next. But if everyone retiring at 2020 has been your family's big goal, with everyone funneling a lot of effort towards it, yes, you are increasing the risk that it won't happen on schedule. That's just a fact. Can you deal with that? Can your husband deal with that? And...well...with that date four years off, have neither of you thought of what you want to do after you retire? It seems a little strange to me that you could be planning to retire in less than five years and apparently not have any idea what you want to do with the rest of your hopefully long lives, because, if you're considering taking time off anyway, why can't you (at least) do now what you planned to do then? Also, any choice now would need to fit into that plan, e.g., if your husband wants to travel the country in an RV, that affects your job options.
posted by praemunire at 10:02 AM on May 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

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