“I Make $130k Per Year But I Hate My Job. Help!”

4 min read

I recently received the following email from a reader:

“Hi Zach,

I came across your blog a few months ago and have been really enjoying your content lately. Both your personal financial journey and your discipline in your own life are inspiring! Keep up the amazing work.

I’m reaching out because I’d like to get your thoughts on my own situation.

I’m 29, I work in software engineering and earn $130k per year. I have a wife who is an art teacher. We’d like to have kids in the next 1-2 years and we plan on becoming a one-income family at that point so she can stay home with them. We have no debt, a net worth of about $300k, and live in an apartment. We spend about $60k per year. Life is good for the most part…except I hate my day job.

I enjoy coding but the management above me is awful, the hours are long, and I come home most evenings exhausted. In addition, I am not a manager myself but I have several coworkers below me whose work I supervise and review. I never wanted to go down the management route in my career but I seemed to have accidentally stumbled into an informal one.

Here’s my question for you: Do you think I should stick it out for a couple more years just to pad our net worth? How do you think about the general concept of earning good money at the expense of hating your day job? Any thoughts you have would be appreciated. – Guy

Here are a few thoughts I have regarding Guy’s situation.

Short-term Moves

First and foremost, if your day job has a serious negative effect on your mental health, it’s almost never worth it to “stick it out” just for the income. This doesn’t mean you need to quit your job altogether, though. Here are some potential short-term moves you could make to improve your situation:

Negotiate a less stressful work-from-home situation. One coworker I personally know was able to negotiate a situation where he could work from home two days per week and come in the office the other three days. This has had a clear positive impact on his mental health. If you work in software and you don’t have to interact with customers or clients on a regular basis, this could be feasible. 

Take more time off. A mental “reset” can often cure headaches from work. If you’re a valuable employee (which it sounds like you are if you’re informally managing several coworkers), there’s a good chance that upper management would let you take more time off if you can make them see that it would help your performance.

Pivot to a new position within the same company. Before taking the leap to a new company, consider the possibility of moving to a different team or department within your current company. It’s possible that you may fit well in a similar role with different managers and coworkers. 

Medium-term Moves

If none of the above are feasible, consider a potential medium-term move:

Apply to a new company. If you currently work in software engineering and earn $130k per year, you clearly have a skill set in demand. You could likely transition to a new company quickly.

While this could be a longer process than simply switching roles in your current job, this could give you some negotiating leverage. With an offer from a different company, you could either accept the new job or use it as leverage to improve your situation at your current job through asking for more time off, a better schedule, etc.

Long-term Moves

Move to a new location. I assume you live in a fairly high cost-of-living area if you earn $130k per year and spend $60k per year between just you and your wife. One long-term option is to move to a lower cost-of-living area. This way you could accept a lower paying, less stressful job and not be crushed financially since your living expenses would likely be lower.

Start your own business. Another long-term option would be to start your own business. Software engineering is a great field for consulting, which you could leverage to earn high consulting rates and also cut back on your hours. Or you could consider starting a business where you teach people how to write code. Your options are fairly wide open with your skill set if you’re willing to pursue the entrepreneurial route as opposed to being an employee for a company. 

Some Thoughts on High-Income High-Stress Jobs

High-income jobs tend to be high-stress jobs. The more successful you are within your profession, the more a company rewards you with increased income and responsibilities. And while the extra income is great, the extra responsibility can be more than you bargained for. 

A couple days ago I had the chance to catch up with Accidental FIRE at FinCon. As someone with more professional experience than myself, he shared with me that it’s not uncommon for a company to push high-performers into manager-type roles without actually giving them a formal title of manager.

This means the people who excel the most at their day job are pushed into positions where they oversee the work of others. Inherently this means they have less time to do the type of work that got them noticed in the first place.

In essence, it’s common to enjoy your job at first and begin to dislike it more and more as time goes on simply because things change. New management comes in. Coworkers come and go. Responsibilities increase. This in itself is a good reason to pursue some level of financial independence. The more money you have in the bank, the more you have the ability to walk away from a situation you don’t enjoy.

Parting Thoughts for Guy

Guy is in a much better financial situation than most people. Him and his wife have a few hundred thousand in the bank, no debt, and a bright future for earning income. 

Guy, if you’re reading this, I advise you to take a long-term view of things. Be aware that you don’t have to achieve complete financial independence (25x your expenses) by a certain age to have the financial means to live a life of freedom. You have several decades ahead of you and plenty of time to earn more money.

One potential route you could take is to earn income in a less stressful way and slowly pad your net worth more and more over time. This way, you can enjoy more time with your wife and future kids without sacrificing your mental health and sanity all in an effort to hit some net worth number as fast as possible. 

Best of luck on both your personal and financial journey 🙂

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8 Replies to ““I Make $130k Per Year But I Hate My Job. Help!””

  1. I could have written that letter two years ago. Similar income, stage in life, net worth, timeline to have a baby, etc. I’m an accountant.

    I had none of the short term options available to me. I ended up taking a seasonal job with a great firm for tax season for some baseline income while I expanded my side hustle into full time self employment.

    Best decision ever. It’s not easy, but it’s wonderful. We make a lot less money than we used to, but we were able to plan and save and love on less. And our net worth is still inching (albeit slowly) upwards, and my little girl celebrated her first birthday last week. I’ve gotten to be around for a lot of the milestones.

    1. Awesome to hear, Karl. I think many people could also be in a happier situation through taking a pay cut and simultaneously reducing their expenses. Congrats on making the successful transition!

  2. Great advice. Guy’s options make so much sense once they’re broken down into small steps. I have made similar lists before when I was in a less than ideal situation.

  3. Great response, Zach. I’m honing my data science and programming skills to work on my own projects and as solid career to work in if not all is well.

    Having an in demand profession allows you much more leverage. It’s tough trying to make money without money.

    Get a big wad, then go in business. Kids are really hard on your time too, so if your employer can pay for you to be a partial zombie during those first couple years, well worth it.

  4. Excellent advice there, Zach. I really like how you have given most precedence to peace of mind over money because I honestly believe the latter is more important. Building the net worth can wait.

    The breaking down of the issue as well as available options gives a clear picture of what one can purse. Sharing this with my co-workers who fit into the same type – financially secure but professionally stagnant.

    1. Thanks, Jerry. Peace of mind is incredibly important and should rarely be sacrificed for income. I think breaking down the issues and analyzing the options is useful – glad you thought so as well.

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