5 min read
I recently received an email from a reader named Kat, who wanted to know if I thought she should keep her stressful high-income job to reach F.I. as fast as possible.
Here’s the full email:
I have been reading your blog these past few months and I’m really inspired with your journey. I’m also a twenty-something employee in a third world country, and I’m currently torn between two jobs. I’d like to hear your thoughts about it.
I’m currently working as an Officer in a government agency, and I’m earning a high salary. I’ve been in this job for 1 year and 5 months now, and I have been blessed with a lot of opportunities that I could not have experienced in other jobs (at least compared with my previous jobs).
However, I feel that my creativity has been zapped by this job, as evidenced by my zero creative outputs (which are published journal articles in my own definition) since I started this job.
The job entails a lot of work travel (2-3x per week), a very stressful one, and I have zero work-life balance. I am required to be online/on call 24-hours and I don’t get to have a vacation with my family. If I do, I’d really feel guilty because my colleagues are not using their vacation time for years.
I have been looking for a job, and I got accepted in a university as a staff. On paper, I’ll be demoted to an office-based position with a low salary. But I get to receive a full PhD scholarship, and my job has zero work travel. I also get to enjoy other university benefits such as free library resources and lots of vacation (semestral and christmas breaks).
However, this will really delay my FI target as this job will provide me with LESS THAN HALF of the salary that I’m currently getting from my government job.
I’m really torn right now. I value creativity most of all in my work, but I also like to achieve financial independence as soon as possible.
What do you think? I’d really like to hear your thoughts about it.
Here is my condensed response to Kat:
If your current job isn’t that bad, stick it out for a while, build up your savings, and pursue your creative interests outside of work.
If the job is truly miserable, it’s not worth sacrificing your well-being for the money.
Keep in mind the grass is not always greener on the other side. The worst-case scenario would be switching to a low-income job you dislike.
No matter what you decide, prioritize saving money, building skills, and working on your creative interests.
Here is my extended response…
The Income-Happiness Matrix
Imagine there exists an income-happiness matrix that describes every job in the world. This is grossly oversimplified, but entertain me.
Kat is currently in the bottom-right quadrant. She has a high income, but isn’t very happy with her job.
She has four options.
Option 1: The Immediate Switch
Kat could quit her current job immediately and transition to the less stressful, lower-income university position. Effectively she would be moving from the bottom-right quadrant to the top-left quadrant.
The advantage of this approach is that she would immediately gain a better work-life balance. This would likely make her happier in the present moment. She would have more time to spend with friends and family, as well as more time to actually enjoy life.
The drawback of this approach is that there’s no guarantee she would actually like her new role. The demands of jobs can change without warning. Management changes. Projects change. Coworkers come and go. Just because a job is less stressful on paper doesn’t guarantee that it will be an enjoyable job.
The worst case scenario would be if Kat switched jobs and didn’t like her new position as much as she anticipated.
This would leave her in a low-income, unhappy situation. Worst of all, she wouldn’t have enough savings to be financially flexible.
Option 2: The Delayed Switch
Kat could delay her transition and stick with her current job for a couple more years. This way, she could build up her savings quickly and potentially reach a financial launching point. At that point, she could transition to a less stressful, lower-income job, and still pay the bills.
The downside to this approach is that she would be stuck with her current job she dislikes for a couple more years.
Conversely, at the end of those two years she would have a decent chunk of money in the bank. This would give her the freedom to pursue a lower-income job she enjoys and not be so concerned about paying the bills. It would also provide her with a more optimistic future, knowing she has money in the bank if she needs to switch jobs or take time off.
This could be the fastest route to financial flexibility and an enjoyable work situation.
Option 3: Stick it Out
Another option is to simply stick it out at her high-income job for a longer period of time. One way Kat could make this option more enjoyable is to do more creative work she enjoys outside of work. That way, she could satisfy her creative itch and still bring in a high-income through her day job.
This may or may not be doable, given the fact that Kat said:
“The job entails a lot of work travel (2-3x per week), a very stressful one, and I have zero work-life balance. I am required to be online/on call 24-hours and I don’t get to have a vacation with my family.”
Being on call 24 hours per day isn’t ideal for pursuing creative endeavors outside of work. However, I would ask Kat if there are certain times when she is more likely to be called than others. Perhaps there’s a time window each day where her employer rarely calls that she could designate as time to work on her journal articles.
Something else to consider is the fact that she may gain more flexibility and seniority the longer she sticks with her job. Typically job satisfaction and freedom increases as one moves up the ladder. It’s possible that Kat could grow to enjoy her job as she gains experience and younger employees move in to do more of the grunt work.
Option 4: Find a Less Stressful High-Income Job
The last option would be to look for a less stressful high-income job. Perhaps there are other positions she could apply for that are less demanding and have a similar income range.
I’m sure Kat has already considered this option, but it’s still worth pointing out. If she could land a high-income job that has a better work-life balance, she would be in the rare unicorn scenario where she could save money for the future and still enjoy the present.
Considering all the Variables
There are so many variables to consider here that will impact Kat’s final decision. This is ultimately why I can’t tell her exactly what she should do; I can only point out some things to consider.
For example, a full PhD scholarship sounds like a pretty good deal if she wants to pursue a teaching or research position in the future. Does she have to accept this offer immediately or could she wait another year or two and still have the full scholarship?
Also, I have no idea what the economy is like in her country. Will a PhD open up a significant amount of job opportunities for her that she couldn’t otherwise access?
Lastly, there are more ways to achieve a good life than through complete financial independence. Saving up enough money to never work again is only one path to happiness. It’s entirely possible to have a long enjoyable working life without ever achieving F.I.*
*please don’t kick me out of the personal finance community for saying that.
These are all variables to consider.
Do These Three Things no Matter What
No matter what decision Kat makes regarding her job, there are three things she should always prioritize:
Whether she has a low income or high income, she should try to save at least some of her earnings. This will give her financial flexibility in the future.
No matter what type of job Kat holds, she should always strive to improve her skill set. This way, she can demand a higher salary and land more senior positions.
Whether Kat ends up in a stressful time-consuming job or a more laid-back role, she should pursue her creative interests outside of work. This will give her both a happiness boost and a body of work that she can show potential employers. Also, her creative work could turn into a side business that she eventually pursues full-time one day.
Best of Luck, Kat
I wish Kat all the best in her financial journey. The fact that she is even asking these questions in her 20’s is a pretty good indication that she has a bright future. 🙂
Zach is the author behind Four Pillar Freedom, a blog that teaches you how to build wealth and gain freedom in life.
Zach's favorite free financial tool he's been using since 2015 to manage his net worth is Personal Capital. Each month he uses their free Investment Checkup tool and Retirement Planner to track his investments and ensure that he's on the fast track to financial freedom.
His favorite investment platform is M1 Finance, a site that allows him to build a custom portfolio of stocks for free, has no trading or maintenance fees, and even allows him to set up automated target-allocated investments.
His favorite way to save money each month on his recurring bills is by using Trim, a free financial app that negotiates lower cable, internet, and phone bills with any provider on your behalf.
His favorite micro-investing app is Acorns, a free financial app that takes just 5 minutes to set up and allows you to invest your spare change in a diversified portfolio.
His favorite place to find new personal finance articles to read is Collecting Wisdom, a site that collects the best personal finance articles floating around the web on a daily basis.
Full Disclosure: Nothing on this site should ever be considered to be advice, research or an invitation to buy or sell any securities, please see my Terms & Conditions page for a full disclaimer.