In my role as a Business and Career Strategy Coach, I hear stories of frustration and work with people age 40 and better, who’ve reached a fork in the road. One path represents more of the same frustrations. The other path represents more happiness but no guarantees. I recently heard from a manager of a major organization who is utterly, completely, hopelessly miserable in his job. Miserable to the point where he has panic attacks every Sunday night. Miserable to the point where his life feels dark and desperate. Despite this, he’s still hesitant to get help or leave.
A recent change in executive leadership that brought increased pressure and expectations have left him burned out. He’s had enough of the rat race, especially managing in it. He has dreams for his life and would love to pursue them, but ‘reality’ beckons, so he chooses to stay stuck in a job (and career) he’s outgrown, and completely hates from the depths of his soul. Why won’t he leave? The same reasons many miserable high-income earners won’t. If you’re like him, you:
1. Won’t let go. For this manager, quitting would mean he’s given up. That he can’t handle it. Despite hating his job, it still feeds his ego at some level. He knows he’s still essential and he’s protective of that. He also fears someone coming in and doing a better job if he leaves. If that happened, he’d feel like a failure. Despite the panic attacks and depression, he refuses to let go. He keeps telling himself he can handle it. He needs to be right, even at his own expense.
2. Carry the weight of the world. If, like him, you’re the breadwinner for your household, the sole health insurance provider, AND you have no other sources of income, you’re carrying a tremendous burden. You’ve put all your eggs in one basket. Each day you carry that stressful load, your basket gets weaker. Add to that the responsibility of solely providing the health insurance, and maybe even covering certain expenses for aging parents, and you’ve set yourself up to believe breaking free is impossible.
3. Don’t want to be judged. Sharing your problems and dreams with friends and family who earn much less than you can leave you feeling judged and guilty. Insensitive remarks like, “If I made YOUR money, I wouldn’t complain.” and, “Good jobs are hard to find. If you don’t want it, I’ll take it!” Further isolate you and keep you stuck. Those close to you may not make the connection that, for the same reasons they may hate their jobs or outgrow their careers, you may feel the same. Only your higher salary makes you feel even more trapped and uncertain to leave.
4. Think it’s too late to “start over”. You may feel you’ve invested too much time and too many years to change course. You tell yourself it would take years to establish a consistent livable income and major credibility doing work you love. Besides, where would you even find the time to try and change direction? You’re convinced those fantasies are for people half your age and with half your financial burden. For you, it’s just “unrealistic”. Like most miserable high-income earners, you wish you found your passion earlier in life.
5. Need an identity. After decades of growing in your field of expertise, you may have no other professional persona. When meeting new people and the question, “So, what do you do?” is asked, having your title makes you feel legitimate and respected. It’s both a security blanket and badge of honor.
6. Have no time to think. When your work makes you really miserable, your energy is so focused on surviving and recovering from each day, you have nothing left in the tank to think about anything else. The anxiety never quite goes away. You find it hard to fully enjoy your free moments because you know it’s only a matter of time before you have to go back. Taking time out to create a workable plan to reclaim your life seems exhausting and impossible.
7. Fear getting “left behind”. The thought of leaving your high-paying job in favor of a happier life scares you and makes you feel like you’ll be losing ground. Your contemporaries will all suddenly earn more than you and have greater buying power. Each bonus and pay raise they get will seemingly widen the gap between their lifestyle and yours. You find yourself comparing your life to theirs and you can’t imagine earning less. Even temporarily. Never mind that your work feels like prison.
8. Need EVERY dollar. When I ask most high-income earners how much of their salary they really need, invariably, the answer is a defensive, “All of it!” You’ve likely built a life that reflects your level of income and you’d like to keep it that way. You’ve allocated almost every dollar for a particular necessary purpose and can’t imagine living on any less.
So, what now? What do you do when your high-paying job, or maybe even your entire career, makes you utterly, completely, hopelessly miserable? Hint: staying hopeless is off the table. Here are some steps you can take now:
1. Start asking different questions: If you hate your work, what are you holding onto? Ego is a crafty thing. It tells us to prove ourselves right at all costs. In the name of ego, we’re willing to “fall on our swords” for a corporate bottom line or to prove that we can handle the situation. Ego keeps us so focused on being right, we miss the obvious signs that it’s time to move on. Ask yourself right now:
“What if “letting go” meant freeing myself up to start living like I want?”
“What if each day I refuse to let go is another day I can’t grab on to something better?”
2. Reevaluate your load: If you’re really the main one carrying the financial burden, ask yourself right now:
“What weight am I really carrying?” If you have an able-bodied spouse or partner, under what circumstances did you agree to bear full financial and healthcare responsibility? Are those circumstances valid now? What’s your “Plan B”? What’s theirs? It’s a tough conversation to have, but I’ve spoken to too many high-income earners who are stuck shouldering the full burden of their family’s life because their partners won’t step up. The reasons started off valid (childcare needs, a spouse in school), but circumstances have since changed. What about yours? Has your partner grown comfortable not working? Has he or she lost confidence? What are you really carrying? Your ego? Your guilt? Their fear? Both of your excuses? Stop being a martyr. Time to ask for help. Time to have that talk.
“What feels the heaviest?” What’s most stressful about the thought of leaving your miserable job? Is it being responsible for losing the health insurance? Is it having to temporarily change your lifestyle? Is it the money? Start planning. Do this now:
- Understand how your money flows out of your home, money leaks and all. Money leaks are the little things we forget to track, but add up: Recurring monthly membership and service fees; take-out and eat-out meals; convenience fees like ATM transactions from other banks and pay-by-phone fees; interest on credit cards, late fees, movie rentals, etc. Money leaks can also come in the form of wasted food, weather-inefficient windows and doors, and toilets that run.
If every dollar you earn is truly spent, you have no other income sources or significant savings, you’re playing a dangerous game. Use this simple online budget worksheet by Kiplinger to estimate what’s needed to keep your family housed, clothed, fed, mobile and healthy. Cut everything else until there’s alternate income to cover it. Be willing to do this, and you’re halfway there.
- Explore your health insurance options: With uncertainty surrounding a replacement of the Affordable Care Act, it’s hard to know what’s coming down the pike. In addition to discussing how you and your partner may share the burden of providing the family’s health care (remember to have that talk), here are some possible health plan options to explore should you leave your job: https://www.healthinsurance.org/
3. Make a “Financial Disaster Plan. Whether you’re a single parent with no other income sources, or have a partner who earns less, having a “financial disaster” plan (aka, a “Plan B”) is critical. After learning how your money flows and what it will take to keep you afloat, start considering ways to grow your income using your unique life experience and value.
Think it’s too late to change course? Subscribe for access to my new FREE online video series, “Breaking Excuses”, which features regular mid-life people who decided to push past their miserable excuses and do the work to make their dreams happen! Hear their stories, learn their lessons, and get their valuable advice. See how they’re making it happen NOW!
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