I lost my six-figure income and Iโ€™m much happier

Published August 2, 2017   Posted in Lifestyles

Trust me when I tell you that six-figure jobs aren’t always what they are cracked up to be. I had one and quickly demoted myself. So did the blogger that I’m about to feature in today’s post – only, this blogger wishes to remain anonymous. So, no links back to their blog.

And without further ado – tell us about your story of a successful demotion!

I sat in my one-on-one meeting with my boss Megan*, internally telling myself, “Don’t cry! Don’t cry!”

I pictured Tom Hanks from, “A League of Their Own” yelling at me, “THERE’S NO CRYING AT WORK!”

I did manage to hold back the explosion of tears that wanted to flow like a river, but I knew Megan could see that I was on the verge of a full-blown meltdown, and she didn’t care one single bit, and instead continued on berating me for the next ten minutes about how bad I was doing my job.

The Job Jackpot!

Beautiful Seattle at sunset

When I got hired almost three and a half years ago, I thought I had hit the job jackpot.

I live in Seattle, and prior to this job I had driven a grueling 40-miles each way in horrible traffic to a low-paying and soul-sucking job as a Marketing Specialist. What the hell is that anyway?

Then I got this job, which was a glorious 10-minute commute, and I was hired as Director of Marketing, getting the opportunity to build a team from the ground up. And it paid over six-figures! Halle-fricken-lujah!

What Went Wrong?

The first couple of years were stressful (let’s re-frame that – challenging) but manageable. Sure, my stomach was in knots, wondering if I had gotten into a situation that was over my head, but those are good knots, right? The kind of knots that resemble fear.

So I looked fear in the face and said, “FU! I’m going to be successful at any cost!”

My annual reviews were excellent, and as much as I sometimes doubted myself, apparently (at the time) my boss thought I was doing a good job.

At first, I was an all-hands-on-deck kind of marketing director. I was one of “the people,” taking part in campaigns, having lunch with my direct reports, i.e., being the “cool boss” who would invite my team over for tapas and wine.

As time went on and my team grew, I started to float away on a managerial island by myself.

Like all offices that ever existed, politics infiltrated our team, driving a wedge between myself and “my people.” They would go to lunch without me and I could hear them giggling back and forth at their desks while they IM’d each other.

In the meantime, reporting to Megan was becoming increasingly intolerable. She had gone from being a tough but fair boss, to completely insane and irrational.

I had heard through the grapevine that she was having some personal problems. I can’t confirm that that was the reason she became so mean, but there was some reason she would send me berating emails just about every morning. Even if I wasn’t doing a good job, the way she spoke to me was completely devaluing me.

I also was no longer part of the creative process anymore for our campaigns. I felt like all I was ever doing was creating PowerPoint presentations, reports, and spending the rest of the time in boring but “important” meetings.

Losing oneself doesn’t happen overnight. It’s death by a thousand cuts. It’s putting a frog in tepid water and letting it boil slowly. You don’t even realize that you’ve become a shell of yourself until you look down one day and realize you have third-degree burns all over your body and you think, “something has to change!”

The Turning Point

I ended up requesting that I take a position with lesser responsibility and also requested that I report to someone else. Although it was risky because I could have easily lost my job if my new position was considered redundant, it ended up being the best decision for me, even though I took a nearly $20,000 pay cut. Nope, that wasn’t a typo.

In the weeks and eventually years that followed, I found myself bouncing around the office feeling incredibly happy. The migraines that I had been getting just about every day were going away, and I was able to reconnect with my team in ways that didn’t seem possible before. I also got to take on more creative tasks for marketing campaigns,
where I felt most at home.

Some of the questions that a couple of my friends asked me when I told them about my voluntary demotion were, “how are you able to handle that big of a pay cut?” And, “do you feel bad that you got demoted?”

I think that brings up many good points that I’d like to address, and after reading Steve’s post called, “The Awesomeness of Not Being Important“, I knew this was the perfect platform because I could relate so much to what he wrote.

The Pay Cut

Most people, when they receive such a huge leap in pay (mine increased $63,000 from my previous job), increase their standard of living. I did not.

Because I made such low pay at my last job, I had learned to really stretch my budget and become frugal. It used to be because I had to, but when I got my new job, it became by choice (Steve here: This is why establishing sound financial habits is so important!).

Instead of living it up, I saved over 50% of my income each month, mostly because I had lived so lean for so many years, so I was used to it.

So while the pay cut decreased my savings rate, it does not in any way affect my standard of living.

What’s worse: Having a job for years that paid a lot but affected my health and sanity? Or making a pretty decent salary where I could be happy and still save quite a bit?

Getting Demoted

This did not, for one second, make me feel bad, especially because I feel so much better now and I’m so much happier.

It helped that I never wrapped my ego up in my job title. I didn’t feel part of the big leagues because again, I didn’t upgrade my lifestyle. It’s not like I got kicked out of the country club because I became an individual contributor again. Me? Country Club? I barely even miniature golf!

Take This Advice With a Grain of Salt

In conclusion, I’d like to say that just because being a director-level employee didn’t work out for me, as well as the cushy six-figure salary, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a goal for you if that’s what you want.

I would say, however, that not going crazy upgrading your lifestyle if you do get a significant increase in pay, is the smarter way to go.

If I hadn’t had such a huge financial cushion, I would have never had the balls to go to my boss in the first place with my decision.

I knew I could have been let go on the spot, and I was OK with that decision if that’s what it came down to.

I think it gave me the confidence to speak up, whereas people who are living paycheck to paycheck might show up to work every day feeling miserable and stuck, or job hop left and right, as I see so many people doing these days instead of thinking about alternatives, especially if there are so many factors about your job you do like.

I’ll also say that don’t worry if you don’t ever reach the “top of the ladder.” It can be really lonely up there. Work with what you have and set goals that are within your wheelhouse and do the things that will make you most happy, not what society expects of you and your career.

*Not her real name

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54 responses to “I lost my six-figure income and Iโ€™m much happier”

  1. Thanks for sharing! Glad you had the strength to stand up for something that just wasn’t working for you.

    • Steve says:

      Personal demotion definitely isn’t an easy thing to do. Losing that title can be a big deal, but especially to those who want to spend four or more decades building a career. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Desirae says:

    This resonates SO deeply with me as a marketing person, haha. Thank you for sharing the story!

  3. brian503 says:

    Good for you! I made a similar move when changing jobs a few years back. I took a step down in my role, responsibilities, and pay. I could not be happier! Friends asked me why I didn’t try and go for the same level position or something bigger and I just said I wanted my life back.

  4. DadsDollarsDebts says:

    The beauty of making good financial decisions- saving, saving, saving…oh and frugality. Buy frugality leads to saving. Nice work. I think having the ability to demote yourself or taking a lower paying job is amazing and unfortunately rare for many in our society.

    • Steve says:

      It is rare. Many of us are too caught up in our titles to think about how those jobs are effecting our lives. It’s way too easy of a trap to fall into. Those jobs might be right for some people, but I’d say not all of us. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. GracefullyExpat says:

    Great post. I really think stories like this one will become far more common in the near future, as more people realise that endless upward career progression at the expense of a happy life just isn’t worth it. It’s also a great example of how keeping living expenses in control, and keeping ego in check, gives you so much more power and leverage.

    • Steve says:

      I think you are right. Stories like this are getting more common, and that’s great to see. More and more people are choosing alternative lifestyles and living arrangements, too. RVing, for example, is getting super popular. Seems everybody has one these days!

  6. Go you! It’s all about what’s right for you. And there’s no way in hell that I would trade my happiness, mental health, and physical health (I used to have a job that gave me migraines too) in exchange for a paycheck. No matter how big it is. I’m really impressed that you were able to handle the situation and stay at the company after taking a lower position. Many people would have just quit. Great job navigating your company and doing what’s right. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I wish there was a link to this post that was mentioned: โ€œThe Awesomeness of Not Being Importantโ€

    My last full time corporate gig was also a 6-figure salary by the time I left. When I started, I was in heaven…. I was being paid a really nice salary to do work that I actually did as a volunteer! Then, there were too many organizational changes and within 3 years, it quickly turned into a nightmare job that came with health problems. It wasn’t worth it, so I quit with nothing lined up. I agree, it is so important to be in a position, where you don’t have to rely on a big salary.

    Now, since I work part time, I have to be in a lower position with less responsibility, and I’m so happy that I am. I have very little stress and I love the people and company I work with. I have tons of flexibility also. No more climbing the corporate ladder for me!

    • Steve says:

      Oops! Good call, link added. I think your situation speaks so clearly to the wisdom of achieving financial independence even if you have no real desire to retire early. Things change, and not always for the better. Your part time position sounds perfect, too.

    • I had a similar situation before I FIREd.

      I started out as a Software Developer, then became a Development Manager, and then a VP with regular trips to India. The VP thing broke me – panic attacks, difficulty sleeping, and constant stress from crazy meetings. I eventually downshifted back into just being a plain Software Developer and I was much happier.

      • Steve says:

        I can’t imagine the excitement, then the dread, of a VP position. I’m sure the money was good, but if it shortens your lifespan by years because of the stress, it definitely ain’t worth it! It probably didn’t take you long to realize what it was doing to you, either.

  8. Oldster says:

    Happiness has to be the goal for all of our decisions in life. We can get lost and start believing that it’s money, but it’s not. It’s happiness. I know people who thrive in high stress “hair on fire” type of jobs, and I know people who just get immolated in those types of positions. You have to find your bliss (Joseph Campbell idea), and be willing to understand and accept that what makes me happy may make you miserable. Different strokes . . ., and that is ok.

  9. AdventureRich says:

    Oh man, thank you for writing about this! I am an individual contributor, but have often thought about what my career path might look like. I am no where near ready for a management position, but I have taken part in leadership prep training following my manager nominating me and suggesting I look into it. Who knows what will happen, but from the outside, I’m not sure if I’d enjoy managing a team. I think I would run into many of your struggles (manager vs. the people, stress of work, etc).

    ~Mrs. Adventure Rich

    • Steve says:

      In my experience, you can’t be “taught” to be a good manager. Good managers are natural managers. Those classes might be able to shore up any deficiencies in things like documentation, project management mumbo jumbo and things like that…but, I bet you’re a lot MORE ready than you might think.

      If a management position is for you, that is. And many of us – me included – don’t truly know that until you get the opportunity.

  10. Thanks for sharing. That’s a gutsy move to ask for less responsibility. There are so many things that could go wrong with that move.
    Congrats for finding a nice balance. That’s tough in many jobs.

    • Steve says:

      Balance is absolutely key, isn’t it? Enough responsibility that you feel like a positive contributor, but not so much that it begins to take over your life. A fine line to walk!

  11. Dollar Habits says:

    I’m glad it all worked out so well for you! Thanks for sharing this, Steve. This is a testament to the power of not inflating your lifestyle as your income increases and to the options that being in a solid financial position can afford you.

    • Steve says:

      Totally! Lifestyle inflation is an absolute killer. It killed me. It set me back YEARS because of the stupid spending I did back in my younger life. But as a whole, I’m definitely glad I got that out of my system earlier on. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Wow! Interesting point of view.

    While working as employee, I would personally be seriously looking at move to other job, if I were to be demoted financially for much less than $20k. Just $500 would drive me crazy…. Once I even changed jobs just because the company gave me a poor year bonus!

    My line of thinking was always that while I was an employee, I was just a full time slave, donating “blood” to provide a nice income to someone. The “happiness factor” never was a deal breaker for me. The most important is to earn enough to invest in assets, and get out of the rat race asap.

    • Steve says:

      There is definitely wisdom in that. Basically, you know that you’re gonna live a less satisfying life while you’re working full-time, but the more you pull in, the earlier you can call it quits.

  13. Andy says:

    My wife recently had a similar experience. She was working a job that paid very well, but was making her quite unhappy. At the same time, she had a side gig as a gym instructor. A big part of the unhappiness was in working the long hours of a full time job and a part time job. So, she ended up switching to a part-time position with her main employer and ramping up her gym coaching hours. The result is a little bit less pay, but it’s no big deal since we were already living well within our means, and she’s also significantly happier.

    There’s definitely real power in living frugally and having enough money to be able to make these sorts of leaps without fear. Thanks for sharing the interesting story anonymous blogger!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for the comment – switching from full-time to part-time has definitely shown to be a huge boost to many people’s happiness. I’m hearing about that happening more and more, in fact. It’s good to see!

  14. In some ways I took a step down in my current role going from manager to top level individual. I did get a pay raise but leaving the mgmt track probably stunts my future income growth. So be it though, I’m happier for it and that matters alot.

  15. Mr. Tako says:

    Good story anonymous blogger! I once lived through a similar at work. It was a complete hell for about a year.

    Ultimately I learned that chasing money rarely leads to more happiness!

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Steve says:

      Appreciate the comment, Mr. Tako. Spot on – chasing money rare leads to more happiness – even if you DO end up getting that money.

  16. aGoodLifeMD says:

    Strong work avoiding lifestyle creep. It’s all about options. The more the better!
    I like your frog in tepid to boiling water analogy, so true about so many things at work and with money.
    I also relate to death by 1000 cuts – it’s how I got physician burnout. Thanks for posting of these and keeping us aware that the demons exist.

  17. An interesting perspective, something I deeply agree and resonate with.

    Satisfaction is key! What’s the point of earning all that, if that doesn’t make you happy or satisfy your ambitions..

  18. Amy Blacklock says:

    I so agree your happiness and health needs to be a priority over a title and income. Congrats on figuring that out and do what was best for you. Such valuable lessons here, thanks for sharing!

  19. Sometimes the extra stress and just overall crapiness that comes with a pay increase just isn’t worth it! Sucks to have to learn it first-hand, but at the same time if you didn’t try you’d never have known perhaps. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’m thankful to have a job I like, even if I’m a bit bored at times right now. It’s stress-free though and that makes it a pretty good fit!

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Steve says:

      It’s true that if you didn’t try you might not realize where your true calling is. I think it’s wise to try new things, but definitely, to keep at something that actively makes you upset and frustrated for the sake of money is probably outside the bounds of that wisdom. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Good on you for having a job that you like. Too few people can honestly say that.

  20. Adam and Jane says:

    Thanks for sharing that story!

    Sometimes, It is just not worth the extra responsibility. 15 years ago I recommended a team member who was one level lower than me to lead a team of seven people. I hate managing and I told my boss that she was a good candidate. I rather just manage another team of 2. My boss asked if I was sure because I had more experience and I told him no thanks. I mentored her for several months. I knew she was technical and has the ability to lead when I recruited her to our team 18 years ago. After two years in her new role, she was promoted to my level, director, and she got an 11K raise. Everyone was happy. My boss was happy with her performance. She was happy with her new responsibility and her new promotion. I got to keep my salary and damn happy to avoid the extra work.


  21. A work life balance is super important and part of this post I thought you were talking about my husband. We’re in Seattle as well (not sure if you are currently or not) and Jared does 12 hour days at Google. We can both grind it out but I definitely don’t want this 12 hour thing for the next 30 years. Shudders

  22. Dave says:

    I never took the leap into senior management. I have witnessed other people do it and it was not all it is cracked up to be. Most jobs that pay over $100k per year are very stressful and demanding. If your team does not respect you, they can ruin you. I saw that happen before. For me, I have made slow and steady progress and just do my job well. I only have one direct report and she is enough. I have a good relationship with my boss, but do not want his vp title. I just won’t tell him that.

  23. financeswithpurpose says:

    I’m impressed that your author went to her own employer and sought a demotion: bold and smart move, which apparently paid off.

    I haven’t written about it yet, but I walked away from mine too. Best decision ever. Like your anonymous blogger, it’s simply not worth the money to trade your health, well-being, and so on. I could live on pennies and be FAR happier and more fulfilled…and, it turns out, that jumping into something I enjoy more led to more and more pennies rolling in. Still not six figures again, but who knows where it’ll end up…

    • Steve says:

      Yup, you never know. Some management positions might be just right – a lot depends on the organization. I’m doing things that generate pennies compared to what I used to do, but strangely enough, I’m FAR, FAR happier.

  24. […] Last week we talked about the relationship between money and happiness. This week, ThinkSaveRetire offers another perspective on that point in “I Lost My Six-Figure Income and I’m Much Happier”. […]

  25. Miss Mazuma says:

    I really like this anonymous blogger. I know a lot of people don’t like the idea they have to work but they shouldn’t also HATE going there because you have to walk on eggshells. He/She did the right thing in taking the pay cut and gaining some sanity in the process. ๐Ÿ™‚

  26. It’s tough managing people. I did so for about five years, made some good money, and then left. It’s simpler being a manager of yourself!

    It’s a good deal to just get paid and have minimal stress I say!


  27. My favorite quotes here:

    “Not going crazy upgrading your lifestyle if you do get a significant increase in pay, is the smarter way to go”

    “Iโ€™ll also say that donโ€™t worry if you donโ€™t ever reach the ‘top of the ladder.’ It can be really lonely up there. Work with what you have and set goals that are within your wheelhouse and do the things that will make you most happy, not what society expects of you and your career.”

    Not all successful people are happy, but most people who are happy with what they do for a living are successful. A higher income doesn’t always require setting a higher standard of living.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Oliver. Lifestyle inflation is a huge killer of retirement. But like you said, a higher income doesn’t necessarily always require setting a higher standard of living. Those who don’t let that happen put themselves in a position to retire whenever they damn well please.

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