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!
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?
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
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.