Life is too short to work a job you hate. You never know when your next breath will be your last. Why spend your limited time working a job you hate?
Steve Jobs famously said:
“I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
I do Steve Jobs’ mortality exercise frequently. Whenever the answer has been ‘no’ for too many days — or weeks — in a row I’ve quit a job I hated even though I really couldn’t afford to.
Below are six steps you can do to begin the process of getting out of a job you hate. Chances are, if you feel like your job is killing you, you might have more options than you realize.
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#1 Define what about your job is killing you
What exactly is it about your job that you feel like it’s killing you? Is it the type of work you’re doing? The commute? The people you work with? Your work environment?
All of these things can impact how you feel about your job. When I started working in Washington, DC, I was dismayed at the inordinate amount of time I was spending doing meaningless tasks like writing emails and scheduling conference rooms. I spent most of my days in old buildings that hadn’t been updated in a few decades and I worked with Baby Boomers who saw the world very differently than I did. Every day I left my job drained and demoralized.
I realized I had to leave my 9to5 job shortly after I completed a 12-week life coaching program that helped me discover who I am. I know that sounds woowoo but hear me out: we live in a society where we never explore who we are as people. We follow a prescribed path of going to college, getting a job, raising a family, retiring, and dying. We wind up living a life society expects us to live rather than living the life we actually want to live.
In the program, I learned how to define my personal values. This was the first time I had ever been prompted to do something like that. This is what I came up with:
- Doing good for humanity
These values are the building blocks of my life. Without them, I don’t function. My job didn’t align with these values, no wonder I was so miserable! Even though I really couldn’t afford to leave my job at the time I knew I couldn’t keep working a job that was killing me.
If you’ve never studied your personal values go ahead and define them. What things do you need to have in your life? Is your job providing those things? There is a reason you feel like your job is killing you. Define that reason so that you can develop an escape plan to get out of it.
#2 Assess your current financial situation
There’s a chance leaving your job might not leave you as financially destitute as you think. Before you make any rash decisions, study your financials. Do you have a baseline of how you’re currently spending your money and what your financial obligations are?
Take a baseline of your current situation. Pull your bank statements or credit card bills and tabulate the following:
- How much money have you spent in the last 6 months?
- How much money have you earned in the last 6 months?
- Where is the bulk of your money going?
We tend to spend money in alignment with the things we value. If you don’t know your values, your job and the culture around it becomes your de facto values. You might discover the job you’re fretting about leaving because it provides your income is the same job where you actually spend a lot of your money.
One of my biggest expense categories is food. I love food. After I realized my job was not in alignment with my personal values, I did a baseline of my finances. I discovered I went out to eat lunch almost every single day, mostly at expensive pay-by-the-pound food bars. I had plenty of food in my fridge and yet I was still spending money on takeout. The reason? Going out for lunch was the only way I could escape from the office.
That discovery helped me see how much money I was spending on myself versus how much money I was spending as a result of my job (a job I hated). Everything from the car I drove to the clothes I wore had to do with my job. If I left my job, I could cut some of the expenses associated with my job too.
What is the state of your finances? How much money are you bringing in each month and how much are you spending? What portion of your money is going towards living a life you want to live? What portion of your money are you spending on obligations related to your job? If you left your job tomorrow, which expenses would disappear?
#3 Create an action plan
Now that you have an idea of what you value and how your current spending aligns with your values, you need to create an action plan. Your action plan should consist of three budgets: one to maintain your current lifestyle, one to get you out of a job you hate, and one that represents the ideal life you want to live. These three budgets will show you where you’re at and what you need to do to get to where you want to go.
Budget #1: The Baseline Budget
Create a budget of your actual expenses by taking an average of your expenses over the last six months. This is your actual current cost of living.
This budget represents your cost of living afforded by your current job. When you leave your job some of the line items on this budget will change. For now, reference this budget as a baseline of the status quo. If nothing changes, this is how much money you will need to earn every month to maintain your current lifestyle.
Budget #2: The Bare Bones Budget
After you create a baseline of your current expenses you’re going to create a bare bones budget. Get rid of everything that you do not need for survival.
Your bare bones budget should include costs for food, living expenses, transportation costs, minimum payments for any debt you hold, medical expenses and insurance, etc. This budget should not include things like Netflix, new clothes, or going out to eat. These non-survival line items are keeping you trapped at your job. The purpose of this budget is to show you how much your lifestyle has inflated because of your job. Be ruthless on this budget.
Budget #3: The Ideal Life Budget
The goal of leaving your job isn’t to live like a penniless pauper. Create a third budget that represents your ideal life. When you create this budget let loose. Do you want to live on a homestead? Research and itemize the costs of doing that. Do you want to travel for most of the year? Plan a budget around that.
Use your ideal budget to point you in the direction you want to go. In your actual budget you’ll see expenses related to your job that are keeping you tethered to it. It’s an interesting paradox: your job makes you feel financially safe but it also requires spending more money to maintain it. Your ideal budget should align your spending habits with your values.
Once you’ve created these three budgets, lay them out in front of you. Place your bare bones budget to your left, the ideal budget to your right, and your current actual budget in the middle. Your job is affording you the ability to meet the expenses laid out in your actual budget, but it’s a barrier to you getting to your ideal budget. The goal is to get you out of a job that is keeping you stuck, preventing you from living the life you want to live. These three budgets create a clearer picture of what you need to do to get there.
#4 Make short-term trade-offs
By this point, you’ve identified things you value, assessed your current financial situation, and created a few different budgets to point you in the right direction. The secret to getting out of a job that is killing you is being willing to make a few short-term trade-offs.
Your bare bones budget shows you where you can make trade-offs to immediately cut your cost of living and thus the amount of income you need to keep yourself afloat each month. These trade-offs might be a little uncomfortable but if your job is truly killing you, these are trade-offs you’ll be willing to make.
For most people, housing and transportation are two of the biggest monthly expenses. While some people advocate cutting lattes out of your budget, I’m going to suggest you start here instead. The Pareto principle says 80 percent of your expenses come from 20 percent of the items on your budget. Thus, you’ll see the biggest impact when you make trade-offs in transportation and housing.
Trade-Off #1: Transportation
To get out of a job that’s killing you, you need to rethink how you get from Point A to Point B. Owning a car is the most convenient option, however, it’s not necessarily the best option when it comes to leaving a soul-sucking job. Here are a couple of trade-offs you can make:
- Sell a car if you are a two-car household
- Take public transportation
- Become a bike commuter
- Trade-in a luxury car for a cheap commuter car
- Negotiate work from home days
Before I left my corporate job in 2019 I traded my Audi A4 for a bike. One of the benefits of bike commuting that I never considered was the impact biking would have on my mood. I’m an angry driver, especially in gridlock. Driving to and from work every day was emotionally exhausting. When I studied my expenses I discovered my commute correlated with how much money I was spending on food. Instead of cooking dinner when I got home, I started going to the hot food bar at Whole Foods. I was too tired to cook.
There might be expenses like this in your current budget that you have no idea are related to your job. Changing how you get around will not only save you money on owning a car and maintaining it, but it will prompt you to rethink conveniences like going through the drive-through or stopping for dinner on your way home from work.
I didn’t realize how my commute impacted my finances until I started biking. In the mornings I got to watch the sunrise along the Potomac River and in the evenings I got to efficiently run errands along my route home. I didn’t feel as angry and started cooking dinner at home again. My only regret with bike commuting is that I didn’t start sooner.
Biking is my favorite bare bones commuting option. It will have the biggest impact on your finances, your mood, and your health. When you factor in the time you spend commuting to a job you hate, your commute is actually costing you way more than just the cost of owning a car.
Trade-Off #2: Housing
The average homeowner spends $800 a month on housing costs (slightly less for renters). If you no longer had to worry about housing, how would that change your relationship with your job? Would eliminating your housing costs allow you to quit your job immediately?
There’s a belief in America that you need to own a home to be “successful” but this comes at a cost. Many people who own homes do so by working jobs they don’t like. They continue to show up to work every day simply because they have a mortgage.
If your job is truly killing you, there are some short-term housing trade-offs you can consider:
- Downsize to a smaller house or apartment
- Move in with relatives
- Sell your home and live in an RV
- Become a housesitter
Over the past three years, I’ve made a few different housing changes. Here’s how I progressively eliminated my housing expenses over time:
- 2019: Moved from $1,200/month studio apartment to $600/month shared house
- 2020: Moved from $600/month back home with my parents
- 2021: Moved from my parents’ house into my Subaru Outback
I lived in Washington, DC because that’s where my job was located. Once I decided to pursue a new career path I realized I no longer had to live in DC and thus no longer had to pay rent. Rather than being a monthly obligation, my housing costs became a choice.
I have not paid rent since January 2020. This means I no longer have to work a job out of fear that I won’t be able to pay the coming month’s rent.
Making a drastic change to decrease your housing costs gives you more power to walk away from a job that is killing you. My friend Renee moved her family into a smaller home, the Rieckens family moved in with family to pursue financial independence, and a quick Google search will show you countless families who live in school bus conversions and RVs.
I don’t expect you to move into an RV tomorrow but I hope I’ve at least planted the thought into your mind. These options don’t have to be your forever home but they can be a trade-off you make for a year or two to be able to quit your job and move closer towards living your ideal life.
#5 Work to meet your needs
I had a toxic relationship with the idea of work. I used to believe my job — the thing I did to make money — defined who I was as a person. This mindset limited me to taking office jobs because I believed that was the type of job I was supposed to work. I read Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin which radically changed how I view work.
You are more than what you to do make money to meet your needs. If you can meet your needs flipping burgers at McDonald’s you aren’t less of a person (in fact, working a part-time job like this is commonly referred to as Barista FIRE). Once you realize that how you earn money does not define who you are as a person, you will see different types of work opportunities that you might not have known you could pursue.
Now that you’ve created your bare bones budget, and contemplated a few major lifestyle trade-offs, you should need less money to keep yourself solvent. That means you can work different types of jobs that give you more freedom and flexibility to align your life with your values.
What if your job isn’t killing you but the hours are? Working on a part-time basis can be one option to consider. Talk with your manager and see if you might be able to reduce your hours to bring more balance to your life. With your new budget and a few trade-offs, you’ll be able to take the pay cut.
If shrinking your full-time hours isn’t feasible, consider taking a part-time job at a place doing something that you enjoy. I love coffee shops and spend a ton of time in them. During different periods of my life, I’ve taken on barista jobs. If you love coffee, beer, wine, or bread why not work at a cafe, brewery, winery, or bakery part-time?
Depending on where you live, leveraging the gig economy could be another way to make ends meet. Delivering food with Doordash or dogwalking with Rover allows you to work around your life rather than live around your work.
Here are some gigs you can try:
You can use the gig economy to patch together work around your life. I’ve met van dwellers who spend a few weeks doing food delivery gigs in major cities to save up enough cash that allows them to spend a few weeks hiking and camping. Gigs are great ways to earn money when it’s most convenient for you
Read More: 15 ways to make money from anywhere
I’ve spent much of 2021 visiting national parks around the country. Most of the national parks hire a seasonal workforce to run things like the Wawona Hotel in Yosemite and the ice cream stall near Old Faithful. Seasonal employment like this isn’t really a thing on the east coast. I hate to admit it but I had no idea working a seasonal job in a national park was even an option!
Employment doesn’t have to be an annual thing. If seasonal employment suits your lifestyle better, why not pursue a seasonal job? Hospitality workers and adventure guides do this in the summer months, ski instructors work during the winter, and some accountants only work during tax time. While American work culture suggests you need to work a full calendar year, that doesn’t have to be the case.
Freelance or Self-Employment
You can also consider working on a project basis rather than trading your time for money. If you have a skill that is in high demand you can leverage that skill to make more money than you’re probably making in your full-time job right now.
If self-employment appeals to you start pitching prospective clients today. Once you land your first project and prove to yourself you can do it, it’ll be a lot easier to walk away from your job.
When you focus on working to meet YOUR needs rather than working to keep up with society’s expectations of how you should work, you piece together jobs and income streams that best suit you. None of these jobs have to be done independently. If you want to take a seasonal job working in Yellowstone while taking on freelance clients, there is nothing stopping you from doing so except yourself.
#6 Submit your two-week notice
By this point you’ve defined your values, evaluated your spending, created a budget that aligns your life with your values, made a few trade-offs, and identified work opportunities that can meet your living expenses. You have a plan of action ready to go, the only thing standing in your way is actually implementing it.
Leaving your job is the hardest part of this whole process. Again, I will reference the Steve Jobs quote above: if your next breath is your last, will you be satisfied with how you’ve been living your life? If the answer is no, consider taking a leap of faith.
By the time I left my last 9to5 job in 2019, I had significantly reduced my expenses by moving to a shared house and getting rid of my car. I had begun ramping up my eBay side hustle a few months before I actually left my job. I realized I could meet my bare minimum expenses by flipping stuff on eBay. When my client finally announced they would not be renewing my company’s contract, I knew it was time to leave the 9to5 workforce once and for all.
My departure from the 9to5 workforce took several years and spanned two different employers. Change happened progressively as my mindset evolved and my outlook matured. You probably won’t be able to cut your living expenses immediately or quit your job tomorrow, but you can begin taking action to make those outcomes a possibility. Stay patient as new ideas germinate in your mind. While living in an RV or quitting a “safe” job may seem impossible today, it could become a real possibility tomorrow.
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