You did it. You got the title, landed the salary, and all the perks you thought you wanted. But what happens when it’s not all it’s cracked up to be? Corporate life can be draining. While it is possible to find high paying roles that fulfill you, certain jobs and fields are known for being extremely demanding on your time. The “fulfillment” part can start to wane in these jobs and I’m seeing this trend in quite a few of the clients I work with. Yes, you can afford to outsource stuff in your personal life, but sometimes we just want to be able to get home on time to cook our own meals, get to the gym, or spend more time with loved ones in our life.
If you get to that point where the job becomes unfulfilling or impedes your ability to do the the things that are most important to you, it’s time to do something. But the next thought will probably leave you wondering how it could be possible to let go of all the perks and break your “golden handcuffs.” If you find yourself in that place, here are some creative ideas on where to start creating change.
Hang on as long as you can, it could buy you options
I’ve talked a lot before about “lifestyle creep” — the idea that as we get raises year after year, we find a way to keep spending more. What if you stopped this process dead in its tracks. Consider giving up on buying “things” and start planning to buy yourself a better life. Give every dollar you earn a job to do.
To start, what if you started looking at raises and bonuses as “options”? For instance, the next bonus buys you the option to take a 1-month break from work in between jobs. The next raise buys you the option to take a two-week “unplugged” vacation at the end of the year. The bonus after that might be seed money for a business idea. How does it feel to try these ideas on?
Sometimes this effort to try and give every dollar a job helps provide some motivation to keep going. It gives us perspective to set more boundaries with our time, or at the least make sure we recharge periodically. The fulfillment can begin to come from places outside work and in the meantime you’re working toward investing in a better life. Only you can figure out what you want your options to buy.
Over the years I’ve helped clients act on creative ideas they came up with themselves to make their work life better. Here are some examples:
- Negotiate reduced hours or a part time work schedule. Many companies are open to negotiating on work schedule. You will likely have to take a pay cut, but for some of us the decrease in pay is more than worth adding back flexibility in our schedule. This can range from negotiating a 4 x 10 schedule (working 10 hours per day, 4 days a week) so you can have Fridays off to dropping down to 1500 billable hours from 2300 at a law firm.
- Can you take a sanctioned sabbatical? Often sabbaticals are “earned.” The longer you work at a company and are already part of the benefits package. These sabbaticals can be paid or unpaid. Other times, companies don’t have a formal policy on sabbaticals, but are willing to offer a leave of absence for various reasons. The sabbatical in this case will have a start and end date and will likely be unpaid. The positive, is that you have a job to return to when it’s over.
- Plan to take a break between jobs. This is similar to the sabbatical idea, except you leave one job and wait to take another. You could have your next move ready to go – like setting your start date a few months later than the end date at the old job. Or, you could have it be more open-ended. Perhaps you know you’re going to need time to unwind after a particularly challenging year(s) at your last job before making any decisions about going to work for another company or starting a business. Planning and saving can buy you this option.
- Work on a special project. In the federal government, it’s called getting a “detail” to another agency or department. In the private sector, special projects and assignments can also be negotiated. Maybe you have an idea you can pitch? Or maybe someone else already has an idea and they need help?
- Intrapreneurship – that is, using your skills, network and passion to launch a new product, idea or group within a company – is a great way to get back some purpose in a job that makes you feel overworked and burnt out.
- Negotiate for your employer to cover some or all of the cost of a degree or a certificate program. Part of the negotiation may be to reduce hours so you can study or attend class. Think about the end-game here. When you’re done, if you hope to stay with your company, try to pre-negotiate a title change, raise, career shift, or department change that reflects the new skills you’ve earned.
These are just a few ideas. I’m sure your own imagination can come up with a few more.
Make a plan
If you’re sure you want to leave your current role, as long as you save rather than spend in to raises and bonuses, within a relatively short amount of time –less than 12-18 months — you will begin to have enough to buy the option to pursue your next moves. It’s time to start getting clarity on what you’ll do next.
- Do you want to go out on your own and start a business?
- Work in a more fulfilling career?
- Switch to a company with more work/life balance?
- Stay in your industry or learn something completely new?
Each is going to come with its own set of financial needs and uncertainty. This uncertainty is something that can be planned for but you have to set up some SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-oriented. This process will help you understand how long you will have to wait to get there (i.e. how long it will take to save).
You don’t have to figure it all out at once. You can experiment. And you don’t always have to break out the big guns (i.e. financial commitment) until you’re sure.
If one of your ideas is to go back to school, is there a shortened or online version of a class you can test out? Can you speak to someone who has finished the program and learned what job prospects and changes awaited them when they finished?
If your idea is to change fields, can you volunteer or apply for an internship in that field or talk to three people to get the real scoop about what it’s like?
This is the time that talking to others is going to pay huge dividends. A lot of people come to me saying they want to start a non-profit and they’re really excited about it. But when I ask what the non-profit is about they don’t have a lot of details and don’t even know is there are other nonprofits that do similar things. Can you start by researching what’s already out there? Is it a path you can join in or learn from?
Sometimes exploration can only happen once you’ve left the job because the current role sucks up so much time and energy. In that case, deciding can wait. I’ve written extensively about how taking a sabbatical to explore and think creatively may be the best path forward.
While you’re waiting to leave or change your current role and saving up to buy yourself options, it’s a good idea to check in with yourself at least once per quarter.
Review where you’ve been, your goals, and where you’d ultimately like to be. Measuring progress is an unbelievable motivator and “If you measure it, it gets done” is a really good motto here. It’s smart to use a special savings account to measure up your savings growth month by month. You may even be able to game-ify the process by getting excited when you find a little extra savings here and there.
Sometimes we set down a path and find out, by talking to others, that it’s no longer the path we want. That’s ok – your savings is still there to buy other options and opportunities.
And if you’re wondering where you should put the money you’re saving for your next moves, the answer is, “It depends.” Typically you don’t want to invest money you’re going to need in the next three years or so due to market uncertainty. However, a basic savings account may also not be the right if it’s not earning enough interest. Make an informed choice, do some research or reach out to an expert when it makes sense. An expert like a Certified Financial Planner® can help you get clear on your goals and the realistic cost estimates of those goals.
What to Avoid
I hope this has inspired you to think a little bit about what options your savings could buy you. There’s a lot of grey area between working all the time and quitting your job. There’s also not necessarily an inverse relationship between finding the passion and pay you want. The important thing to remember is to stop being reactive to your circumstances or finances. Stop spending into raises and bonuses. Make sure you take a step back and review successes and where you want to go.
Can you dream up some other big things you could do to adjust your current work arrangement to make it more meaningful and manageable for you?