The Financial Independence (FIRE) community is filled with people who have hit their financial independence number at a super early age (think 40 or younger).
However for most people out there, that kind of path just isn’t feasible and the journey will take much longer. This could be due to a number of factors, including income limitations in your career of choice, cost of living, having a big family, student debt repayment, and care for aging family members among many other reasons.
If any of the above applies to you this doesn’t mean financial independence isn’t for you! It just means it may take longer to achieve than most of those FIRE stories that hit the mainstream media. Because of this it’s essential to try and make your current life the best you can, while still saving towards this ultimate goal.
So how do you go about doing this then? You can focus on the expense side of things by paying attention to the “Big 3” expenses (Housing, Transportation, and Food). There are hundreds of posts out there on how to maximize savings in these three categories (including a post I had on how I keep my grocery expenses low!) but it’s likely that none of these has as much of a direct effect on your levels of happiness as your current job does.
Think about it: most people spend a majority of their waking hours each week at their job, or doing something related to their job (ie. commuting, checking emails at home, etc.).
Figuring out what you do like, and especially what you don’t like, about your job can have immeasurable benefits for your present situation, as once you determine this you can hopefully implement a strategy to create a better situation which leads to less stress and more life satisfaction.
Below are a few common grievances that people have about their jobs, and some thoughts about how they could make their situation better.
“I don’t like the pay/benefits”
This is probably one of the more common complaints that people have about their job. Either they are paid too little, or the benefits aren’t good enough.
One big reason people may not like their pay is that they simply are underpaid relative to what they should be making. This is especially the case if you’ve been working at the same company for more than two years.
In a world of corporations looking to squeeze out every bit of profit they can, employers are banking on the fact that you will be okay with a 3% raise (or less) every year instead of knowing your true worth and testing the job market.
If you find yourself in this scenario, you can do a few things: figure out what the average salary in your area is for someone with your job. You can do market research via Glassdoor or Indeed, among others. If you’re below this range, and want to stay with your company, use this data to ask your boss for a raise. Show in detail how much value you bring to your company and why you deserve to be paid more. You never know, sometimes all you need to do is ask!
If you are denied, your best shot at getting paid more may be searching for a similar job at a different company. In a very tight labor market employers need to pay more in order to find the talent they need, which could be your best bet at getting the better pay and/or benefits you’re looking for.
If you don’t think this advice applies to you, it may be that your current profession simply does not pay enough.
We can talk for hours on how unjust it is that certain professions are paid less than they deserve (teachers, caretakers, social workers, etc) but the hard truth of the matter is that until there is a radical policy change these professions will likely continue to be underpaid.
Since you can’t control when a policy change will occur (though by all means you can be politically active and vote for candidates that support your profession), if you are truly looking for a more immediate pay increase, it will likely have to come via a career change. We’ll talk more in a later section about changing careers, but if this is your biggest gripe about your current job, you should at least be open to the possibility.
“I don’t like the location/commute”
This is another common grievance from people about their job. With the average American commute coming in at a staggering 27 minutes one way, it’s no wonder this is a major pain point.
A vast majority of Americans commute via automobile, which requires them to sit in traffic and expand a great deal of mental energy just to get to and from work in one piece. Studies show that long commutes lead to a wide range of negative consequences, most of all unhappiness among workers.
While the reasons for the skyrocketing commute times are numerous, we’re here to try to figure out how you can create a better situation for yourself.
If your profession allows, one way to ease your commute would be to request a remote work arrangement. This doesn’t have to be a permanent thing, you could request to work remotely for one or a couple days a week to allow you to avoid the dreaded commute on some days.
One way to convince your boss would be to suggest a trial period, to show how it won’t affect your productivity or availability, with it becoming a more permanent solution if all goes well.
Another potential improvement could be to request an alternative work arrangement. Most offices operate on a 9am-5pm Monday through Friday work schedule. Because of this, the commute times are usually the worst around this schedule.
In order to make your commute better, you could propose to adjust your work schedule to avoid the worst of the traffic. Perhaps you could work from 7am-3pm, or 10am-6pm, allowing you to avoid the worst of the traffic in most cities.
Alternatively, you could suggest to change your weekly work schedule as well. While 8 hours a day, 5 days a week is standard, perhaps you could suggest working for 10 hours a day, 4 days a week which would give you an extra day off each week.
Another popular schedule is called “9/80” which essentially means you work 9 hour days Monday-Thursday, then you work 8 hours the first Friday, while the following Friday you take off completely. This means over a two week period you work 9 days, but still put in the full 80 hours required (hence 9/80).
While these are some immediate solutions, keep in mind that should you be able to afford it, you can always try to move closer to your work which would lessen your commute. If you own a home, this could be tougher, but if you are a renter, you could wait for your lease to end and find somewhere close where you could potentially even walk to work and ditch the car commute altogether!
“I don’t like the time commitment”
Jobs can be stressful and extremely time-consuming. This is especially the case in the modern age when employers expect more and more that their employees are available at all hours.
Whether those hours come physically in the office, or outside the office when you are home doesn’t matter. It is a time commitment either way, and when you are thinking about and dealing with work matters, it is taking up energy and mental bandwidth that could be serving you better in other matters, whether that be with family, hobbies, side hustles, and much more.
Working 50, 60, 70+ hours each week can certainly take its toll on someone, and that kind of time commitment over a long period can lead to burnout.
Jobs with a big time commitment can be tough to navigate, as oftentimes it is simply in the nature of the job to work long hours (think Investment Bankers, or others that work on Wall Street). In these types of jobs, there likely isn’t too much you can do, other than leave to find a different, and less time consuming, job elsewhere.
For those who aren’t in those fields, finding the right balance between meeting deadlines and working late can be a tough one. In many cases where you aren’t rushing to meet a deadline, the work is going to be there the next day. It may be easier to stay late to finish something up, instead of pausing and resuming the next day, but many can end up choosing that every single night, and eventually you end up burnt out and disliking the time commitment (there will always be more work to do!).
If you happen to manage people, delegating work out to others on your team could also be a solution to this issue (so long as you aren’t just making them work late instead of yourself!). If you aren’t a manager, but work as part of a team with others of a similar skill set, you may be able to ask for help from your coworkers who may not be as busy as you. You never know what help they could provide, or show you an easier way to do things!
The solution to the problem of the time commitment isn’t an easy one, and largely varies based on your situation, but hopefully this provided some ideas to think about.
“I don’t like the work I do”
If you don’t like or enjoy the work you do, it can leave you feeling unfulfilled in your life. This can be a major cause of stress, anxiety, and general unhappiness.
If you’ve identified that this is truly what bothers you about your job, I’d suggest evaluating your options ASAP! However, before you make any drastic moves be sure you know where you stand. Plenty of people may not necessarily enjoy or like the work they do, but they can tolerate it, and you may have other benefits to keep you around with such a job (like a good salary/commute/etc).
If you truly don’t like your job and have to make up or create reasons (excuses) to stick around, this could be really detrimental to your health and it may be best to plan your exit strategy.
When you don’t enjoy the work you do, you first need to figure out, well, what is it you actually enjoy and want to do? If you can find a way to make a career out of what you like doing, that is clearly your best option here!
Unfortunately (as is largely the case for me) what you enjoy/want to do may not be a money maker or be able to pay the bills. In this case, you may have to make some sacrifices. What would be a job/career that you could tolerate, while giving you time to do what you enjoy on the side? Switching jobs/careers is not an easy task, but it is a move that could be well worth it when you look at the long term picture.
Next, you would need to figure out how to make the transition into that new career. Reach out to everyone you know in your network (ie. friends, family, old coworkers, etc) that may have a connection to that job field. Even if they can’t help you directly, you never know if they could utilize their own network to set up an informational meeting with someone!
If this fails you, don’t hesitate to use professional networks, such a LinkedIn. You can very easily reach out to people in your area in your desired career field to ask for advice on how best to break into a new career. Ideally, you can get a first hand account from someone in your desired profession about what exactly you would need to switch careers.
Often times you’ll need resume builders if you are switching to a brand new profession. You can get these by going back to school (expensive), taking courses/certifications (varies, but usually less expensive), or using some of your down time to intern (ideally paid, but potentially unpaid) or work part time to try and get your foot in the door.
Again, none of this is necessarily an easy task and it could be costly depending on the route you take. This is why you need to be committed to making the change so as not to waste your time/money if you have second thoughts. It sometimes goes unsaid, but switching careers is certainly easier for someone to do if they have support behind them (ie. a spouse or partner that can help pay the bills during the career transition).
Despite this, you need to ask yourself, would you rather be unhappy in your current job for the next 10-30 years just hoping things get better? Or would you rather try to switch up careers into something better for your lifestyle and health?
“I don’t like my boss/coworkers/company culture”
There are many people out there who work in a toxic work environment, where either your boss, coworkers, or overall company culture just does not mesh well with your working style, principles, or values, among other reasons.
A bad boss, or a toxic work environment can make your life extremely miserable and make you dread going to work, even if you like the overall aspects of the job itself.
Everyone is different and has different standards on what they’re willing to work with, but some common complaints are that a boss can micro manage too much, be unavailable when needed, expect you to work long hours or always be available, not support you to upper management (or “throw you under the bus”), among other things. These are just job related, but obviously a boss can make your life very stressful if they curse or swear at you, yell, make lewd remarks or say things that make you uncomfortable, the list goes on.
A bad boss can be a large part of a toxic work environment, but there are other ways this can occur as well. If a workplace has poor ethical standards, this could clash with your own values and cause stress. In addition, you may have coworkers that you work closely with that make your life difficult, or act similarly to how a bad boss would as I described in the prior paragraph.
If this is the biggest complaint with your job, there aren’t too many options here. Obviously there is the nuclear option of leaving your company, which we’ve covered in other sections. If your overall company is a toxic place this is probably your best bet.
However, in many cases it could just be a group, or department within the company which is toxic, while the rest of the company is fine. In these incidents you could try to request a transfer to a similar job with a different group. This works better at bigger companies which have many similar jobs to choose among.
With a bad boss requesting a transfer could also be an action to take if you don’t want to leave your company. If you don’t mesh well with a boss it can make your life a whole lot easier to simply try to get a new one.
If you don’t want to leave your company, and don’t want to transfer or can’t request a transfer, you can always try to talk with you boss/coworkers about your issues with them, and see if directly addressing your concerns could help alleviate the situation.
In cases where this is too uncomfortable, you can also air your grievances to the ethics office (if your company has one) or bring your concerns up to the level above your boss (though be careful doing this, as it will almost certainly sour your relationship with your boss even further, if it isn’t bad enough already).
Situations like these can be tricky and your resulting actions may vary on a case by case basis, but the important thing is that you take some kind of action to make your job better for the present and don’t act as if the poor behavior of others in the workplace is “business as usual.”
When it comes to jobs it is fairly rare that you will find the perfect job and be 100% alright with every aspect of it. There are going to be pros and cons no matter what you do, that’s just the nature of it.
That being said, that doesn’t mean we can’t strive to get rid of the most cumbersome aspects of our job and get as close as possible to that ideal working situation.
This is where saving up for Financial Independence comes in handy. When you can get “F-you Money” you all of a sudden can flip the script on your employer and attempt to craft your ideal working situation. Since you don’t need your employer that gives you much more power and can give you more confidence in asking for more perks to make your job better (ie. salary bump, more remote work, more interesting projects, etc).
In no way does this post cover every possible solution to the common complaints people have about their job(s). However, the hope is that by starting to think about what makes you unhappy about your job, you can hone in the multitude of paths you could take to better improve your situation and ultimately enjoy your job.
After all, why wouldn’t you want to try and make the thing you spend most of you time at the best it could possibly be!?
What bothers you most about your job? Is there any obvious solution I missed to one of the common complaints? How easy do you think it is to switch careers?