If you have a job you hate, prioritize what is important to you and align your career accordingly

Seven years ago, I worked for an economic research firm as a public relations executive. I made excellent money, and I was good at my job. I even liked my boss. Every second I was at work, though, I wanted to shove a hot poker into my eye. When I would sit in bed at night, in those moments before sleep, the phrase “unfulfilled life” continuously looped through my mind. I still can’t tell you exactly what it was that was so awful; I was just in the wrong job, on the wrong path, and every ounce of me knew it.

Fast forward to the present. I don’t make close to what I used to, I work longer hours, and some days I’m downright awful at my job (see the comments to my Semi-Homemade Cooking post for proof). The difference is that I’m now in the right job for me, and at the end of every day I am thankful for this blessing. I get to write full time about a topic I love and interact with incredible readers and an amazing staff.

Somewhere along the way, my husband and I sat down and talked about what were the most important things in our lives. At the top of the list was our relationship. Also on the list, and in no particular order, were our family, friends, pets, food, shelter, spirituality, happiness, and being able to save money for our future children and our retirement. We agreed that we want careers, we are passionate about working, but believe that our careers should match our priorities and not the other way around.

My husband quit the job he had seven years ago and started a company. I quit the job that made me miserable and eventually started working at Unclutterer. Both of us manage staffs across the country, but telecommute from our home office. Our desks are literally seven feet away from each other. We ran the numbers, and this decision to work side-by-side results in us spending 2,200 more hours together a year. And, since our top priority is our relationship, our working arrangement is in line with that priority. Would I love it if someone wanted to give me huge bundles of cash to do my job? Of course I would. But, right now, a massive salary isn’t my top priority.

I’m glad that other people choose to live differently than we do. The world would be an incredibly boring place if we were all the same. (Additionally, I think many couples would hate it if they spent 24 hours a day together.) My point is that a person doesn’t have to remain in a job he or she hates just because the pay is good. There are always other options. Think about what you would do if you were downsized out of your current position, and follow that path. Consider a career that aligns with your life priorities. Apply for a job in a field that interests you intellectually. Or, if spending more time with your family is your priority, look for a job closer to your home so that you don’t have to make a two-hour commute every day. The change can be lateral, it doesn’t have to be for less money. But, if it is for less money, look for ways you can reduce your expenses. Only you know what changes you could make and how you would make them. Just remember that your career doesn’t have to be a punishment, and, if 40 percent of your life is spent working, it should at least reflect your life’s priorities.

If you have children, you may be interested in following the blog Zen Habits. Leo has six children and made a career change in much the same way I made mine. He talks about this decision on a pretty regular basis in his writing.

Also, if you need to stay in a job you hate on a temporary basis, you might want to check out the post How to Keep a Bad Job from Affecting Your Home Life that I wrote for RealSimple.com.

Speaking of careers, you also may be interested in my post today on RealSimple.com about the possessions of a long-haul semi driver. It’s titled, Simple living, trucker style.

30 Comments for “If you have a job you hate, prioritize what is important to you and align your career accordingly”

  1. posted by Lisa on

    Thank you for this. I’m facing that realization myself, that I really don’t like my current career path and I’m taking steps to rectify the problem. It will take time, but it’s a start.

  2. posted by Colin on

    Bless your heart for being able to spend that much time with your husband. I’d drive my wife insane in under a week under the same circumstances.

    You’re quite right about it not being worth staying in a job that you hate, but I don’t have a calling to follow. On that basis, I find that my “meh” job allows me to do things that aren’t related to the nature of the work and wouldn’t be possible if I went for something that was perhaps more socially valuable.

    For instance, even on a good day, my job isn’t terribly interesting, but management is really good about flexible work locations so I can be home to put the kids to bed every night. And, to be crass, it means that we can afford for my wife can be at home with the girls now and do something that interests her for work as they get a little older. She loathed the corporate life, and if my having to do deep breathing exercises a couple of times a day makes it possible to send the kids to a good (public) school and for my missus to transition from full time child-wrangling to something she finds genuinely interesting rather than something that balances the books, then it’s worth it to me.

  3. posted by Adam on

    I just wanted to say thanks for posting this Erin. While I don’t suffer from the same desire to shove a hot poker into my eye, and I do enjoy my job, I think many people have those moments where they wonder if this is really what they’re meant to do.

    I think your comments about what you did to realign your life with your priorities are something that more of us should do, and perhaps something I’ll have to bring up to my fiancee.

    Thanks again!

  4. posted by Ann at One Bag Nation on

    Recognizing the discomfort is a great first step. Often the wrong job is like the wrong relationship, and just as hard to let go. Even a job you loved when you started can run its course.

    I’m thinking about hiring a coach to help me move forward with my career. Many life and career coaches will do a free first session so you can both decide if the fit is good.

    You can read more about coaching here:


  5. posted by me on

    There’s a really good way of figuring out if it is time to quit your job:


  6. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Colin — It actually sounds like your job perfectly matches your life priorities!!

  7. posted by Joy on

    Thank you for writing this article! I gave my two week’s notice at a full time job I have disliked for some time. I started a small business and want to do that part time, but am searching for a part time job with some regular income. It’s so hard to let go of the security of a regular paycheck to follow your heart. But your article is giving me the courage I need, thank you!

  8. posted by Michele on

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I couldn’t stand my job as a corporate financial analyst and downshifted to working with clients at a social services agency. The pay was much less and there was much less earning potential, but I was so much happier. I’ve never looked back. I found I “needed” a lot less money and activity once I started spending the majority of my waking hours on something I loved.

  9. posted by lionel on

    That’s a brave and tough decision you and your husband made. But it works for you, so congrats. Maybe if more people were as brave, there’d be less angsty blogs. πŸ˜€

  10. posted by desperate on

    I can’t tell you how fortuitous it is that I read today’s post TODAY.

    This morning, I walked out–left, but didn’t quit… yet–of the job that I just can’t stand. I was a complete mess because I hate it so much. It’s not the job that’s terrible, it’s that my responsibilities are so unrealistic (my bosses haven’t a clue), I have WAY too much to do. Even though I work nights and weekends to keep up, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. My eye is twitching from the stress, my home life is suffering… and today really felt like a nervous breakdown…

    When I ask for help at work, I’m told I complain too much and then asked why I’m not getting my work done. I’m accused of not earning my salary. It’s like I work in the twilight zone. Today, it just got to me–I have a great work ethic, I work HARD, but I can’t work any harder at this job, and now that I’m being told I’m not working hard enough… well, it makes me just want to walk out and let them discover how hard I’m “not” working.

    I have a dream project, for which I’ve already formed an LLC. But for the last 2 years, I’ve been trying to do both jobs–the day job and this one, mostly b/c we have the usual issues–new home, student loans, etc. It never seems like a good time to make the leap from the horrible career to the dream one that’s just waiting in the wings.

    Well, I forwarded this blog to my husband. Tonight we’re having the priorities talk. But it seems clear to me–what’s more important: my sanity or my job? hm…


  11. posted by Gette on

    This post came as a rather apt time… when I’m thinking over the very issue. I’ll take it as a sign. πŸ˜‰

  12. posted by el on

    I don’t even know what I want to do with my life.

  13. posted by Adam on


    This isn’t necessarily a problem. One of the important things is to figure out what is important to you. From here, you might be able to gain some insight into what you might want to do.

  14. posted by Beverly on

    Since I found out with a recent posting that I’m one of your older readers, let me just say that I’m glad you are having this conversation NOW, and adjusting your priorities at younger ages and times in your lives. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life is, you don’t have to do the same thing all your life. And it doesn’t have to be what you went to college for. Who knew, when you were choosing a major, what life was going to throw at you, and what you were going to find interesting later on? And no matter how much money you make, if you hate the job it’s not enough.

  15. posted by Karyn on

    @desperate: It sounds like you are being set up for a fall. There is a practice called “mobbing” in the workplace, in which one person is the designated target and suddenly finds that she or he cannot do ANYTHING right. I worked in such a place, about six years ago. Suddenly I had the review from hell, and I was subjected to all kinds of mind-*bleep* and manipulation and not knowing from one hour to the next if I was Good Worker or Bad Worker.

    Even so, I thought it was all just One Big Misunderstanding. A communications problem. And all I had to do was dialogue and work through the process, and all would be made clear.

    The breaking point for me was when I overheard my immediate supervisor twisting and misreporting a conversation I had just had with him. It hit me, like the proverbial bolt of lightning: HE’S DOING IT ON PURPOSE! And I somehow held in my anger and got through the day. That night, I went home, calculated my financial situation, including unused vacation time, and called a few people to see if they’d think I was crazy if I gave my notice. Their answer: Hell, no, they thought it was perfectly sane. They could see the job was ripping me up, in terms of physical and mental health.

    To make a long story short: I gave my notice. Bailed out. Got subjected to a bit more crap at the end. Found a job at the local grocery store, where I work to this day–or rather, night. πŸ˜‰ Not rocket science, but it’s union. That helps. You might try that route if you need backup income to make the transition, but if I were you, I would GET THE HELL OUT while it’s still your choice. I don’t think it’s a coincidence, or a lack of apprecation. I think you are being targeted for abuse and/or elimination.

    Good luck!!!

  16. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Karyn — I really like your descriptive use of the term “mobbing” … it sounds like the adult equivalent of high school “bullying.” Very unfortunate.

  17. posted by desperate on

    Thanks. Yes, it does feel that way. My job is full of slackers and passive-aggressive fools who waste more time taking things personally and making life hell for those of us who are actually trying to get something done. I got my first-ever bad review about a month ago. Boss said some pretty nonsensical things that I argued against, but what can I do? It’s my word against his.

    I calculated my bills today and had the talk with the hubby. It looks like I’m going to have to try and stick it out another month, if only to pay off some bills and perhaps find something else in the meantime. I wish I could just quit tomorrow. I just wish they’d fire me so at the least I could get unemployment. How sad, to want to get fired.

    I’m curious–what is life like at the store? Sounds appealing… πŸ™‚ Thanks! You all give me hope.

  18. posted by matt on

    Great post – I love finding information like this JUST when I need it. We’ve been considering alot of things to improve our lives: everything from downsizing from our current home to moving out of state. All in the name of simplification. I admire your fortitude. Great blog, I’ll be back often!

  19. posted by Sue on

    I had reached the “hot poker” point at work–then one of my co-workers quit. I actually look forward to work again because I can be creative and be friendly with clients, and “Eeyore” isn’t around b*tching and moaning and finding fault with everything. My job description is exactly the same, only the atmosphere has changed!!

  20. posted by Sasha on

    I really like the book “Wishcraft” for people who know they don’t like their current job, but are hazy on what else they’d like to do, or how to do it.

    Desperate, good luck. I think that point where you wonder if you’re going crazy usually means there is some abuse or some kind of funny business going on.

    I’m trying to figure out how to do investing for income. Pretty much all resources I come across are geared towards retirement instead.

  21. posted by kadavy on

    It’s good to know that there are people out there who can prioritize. I just finished listening to Seth Godin’s “The Dip,” where he spent 90 minutes telling me about how if you can’t be the best at something, it’s not worth doing. He didn’t seem to acknowledge that being the best at one particular thing has nothing to do with – and is probably a detriment to – ultimately being happy in life.

    It’s great that you have chosen to do something you love over something that you make more money doing. I’m sure that if you stick with it, you will probably make more money than you used to, and since you got there by doing something you enjoy, just think of how much happier you’ll be!

  22. posted by Nancy B on

    Two years ago I left a well paying job in the television industry to become an elementary school teacher. I could relate to the hot-poker comment – I loved the people that I worked with, but the job was soul-draining. Becoming a teacher was a long & expensive process of going back to school and job searching, but it was worth it. I absolutely love, love, love my job, and that love has made everything else in my life more sane. Yes, finances are quite tight with the pay cut that I took, but I have more time to spend with my husband and kids and we have learned to live a simpler life. A simpler life is a much less stressful one, for sure.

  23. posted by Dee on

    just an FYI for those who would like to take some time to possibly explore job satisfaction through job coaching . . .Oprah.com currently has a web class dedicated to job coaching to find satisfaction in what you do – its called “I Hate My Job Interventions” with job coach Marcus Buckingham and Oprah opens it by saying “Don’t waste another second in a job you hate.” Timely advice for this post :-)!

    While I find my job fulfilling, I have conflicting priorities (wanting to be home with my two small chidren and making money) I was contemplating taking it just to see the possibilities.

    heres a link to a blog (escape from corporate) that discusses it:

    and heres the link to take the online course:

    Happy soul searching everyone!

  24. posted by Karyn on

    @ desperate: Yes, it sounds like an abusive set-up situation. Stick it out if you can, but be prepared to bail if it gets unbearable. You’ll find the money somehow. Your mental and emotional health is priceless.

    E-mail me at karynmilos AT yahoo DOT com and I’ll be happy to correspond in more detail about my own hellcorp experiences without cluttering Unclutterer’s blog. πŸ˜‰

  25. posted by Allie Orange on

    At the risk of having the mob gather again, I just wanted to let you know that you’ll have to find another post besides the semi-homemade one for an example of a post that was a complete flop. I enjoyed it and I love Sandra Lee…entertaining family and friends in a spectacular but attainable way…she even has a season pass on my TIVO. I won’t say “what’s not to like?”, because we already know!

    My husband and I also work together in adjacent offices. We met in college and not at our agency, so we chose to work together. It is by far, the best part of our jobs. What we produce is certainly better because we really can see ourselves as a team in a way that most other coworkers just don’t seem to be able to. And we have each other for company. He’s been out sick for over two weeks and boy, was I glad when he came back today!

    We’re looking forward to retirement in five years and at least we know that we’ll be able to be around one another all day, which is something a lot of couples seem to have trouble adjusting to.

  26. posted by Mario on

    I’m amazed at how you decided to trade cash for family time. In our modern, rat-race, materialistic world is hard to find enough people that can really understand that what matters most is what you can’t buy. Don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s even more amazing, that more and more americans are realizing this everyday.

    I made this choice several years ago – do I want to make a ton of money on a job that will allow me to see my family 1 or 2 hours a day? Or do I prefer to stay away from the rat race and dedicate more time to my family? The choice was obvious, and we live without the luxuries, but oh, is our family time so good!

    The job – still not what I love, but it pays the bills and it doesn’t manage to stress me more than a couple of weeks per quarter.

  27. posted by Karyn on

    @Erin: Yes, mobbing is basically another term for bullying, applied specifically to the workplace. I just composed a nice, detailed (some would say “ends in ‘retentive'” :-D) post about this, including a few links, and it appears not to have appeared. I’ll try again, but apologies if you get this as a duplicate.

    (I still seem to be having trouble posting today.)

    A few links yielded by a quick Google on “mobbing”:

    Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobbing

    “Warning: Mobbing is Legal, Work with Caution” http://www.counselingoutfitters.com/Housker.htm – I especially noted the observation that it is precisely the people who are conscientious, fair-minded, and slow to engage in office politicking that tend to be targeted. Might explain a thing or two about American productivity and the economy… πŸ˜›

    “The Workplace: It’s called mobbing” http://www.iht.com/articles/20.....kcol06.php

    Web site for “Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace” http://www.mobbing-usa.com/ – This is the book I heard/read about which introduced me to the term “mobbing” as a descriptor for what I had gone through at Hellcorp. Out of 31 Amazon reviews, 29 are 5 star and 2 are 4 star, so it’s probably worth a read. I admit I haven’t read it yet, but I’m adding it to my list.

    Finally, there used to be a site called Bully Online, which had some excellent articles about workplace abuse, but it appears to be down–hopefully only temporarily.

    I hope you find these resources helpful, perhaps for future posts about work-life balance. A healthy work life is definitely a key component in living a focused, uncluttered life!

  28. posted by Andamom on

    Hmmm I think you’ve read my mind – or you’re connected to me on Facebook. I work in a stressful professional organization. When people ask if my job is stressful, I just say where I work and they say ‘say no more’. This week I commented to my husband that I should be a Park Ranger — but realistically, I’m not sure what I should do long-term. It is hard to have these thoughts now – with two kids, graduate student loans, and currently health issues. So, I’m just looking for an epiphany right now… I’m just hopeful that I can figure things out eventually. And yes, I am asking the necessary questions … but maybe I need inspiration from those bloggers you mentioned…

  29. posted by M (Australia) on

    The company I worked for for nearly seven years as a senior manager went through a tough couple of years to do with poor choice of CEO and I became totally burned out. When a new CEO started and restructured the organisation effectively demoting me I finally lost all confidence, motivation and joy in my working life. A removal of my primary task focus meant I was asked to do tasks for which I wasn’t qualified, and when I was slow to get them moving due to an incredibly high day to day taskload I lost more and more confidence and motivation.

    One Monday morning last September I sat at my desk calculating my potential redundancy payout as the CEO had indicated at one stage during the restructure that if I wasn’t happy about the effective demotion we could consider a redundancy package to ease my way out of the company. However, I did not have the courage to approach the CEO to ask for this to happen (not sure if you have redundancy provisions in your country but here if you are made redundant you get a certain amount of pay for each year of service, plus after five years an entitlement to pro rata long service leave if you are being asked to leave, as opposed to resigning).

    Thursday of the same week I met with the CEO to discuss my projects and by some strange coincidence he pretty much said he wanted to make me redundant. I was shattered (having been with the company since it started, set up its office, procedures and processes and as HR manager recruited every staff member in the place) but on the other hand it was like a huge weight lifting off my shoulders.

    I agreed to stay on until a position designed to replace my existing position could be filled by an appropriately qualified person, and ended up finishing up in the first week of December. I got a very generous payout, equivalent to roughly four or five months pay.

    I have not been looking for another job. I am not interested in returning to the corporate nine to five life, the office politics, the frustration at having no control over a huge chunk of my life. I had a “holiday” until after new year and in January sat down and developed a strict budget. This budget will enable me to not bring in any income until at least the end of this calendar year. I went from a six figure salary that was slightly higher than my husbands (meaning our household income has effectively halved) to bringing in virtually nothing. My husband and I love the material things but somehow now I don’t need them – I value my life not having to go to work far more than any “thing”.

    Being made redundant is the best thing that ever happened to me. I don’t think I would have had the courage to leave of my own accord, plus by being asked to leave I received a generous pay out that has meant I don’t HAVE to work just yet.

    So what’s next? I’ve always had an interest in investing in the sharemarket (the stockmarket) and I had been reading up and learning about making an income from it some months before I finished work, with the idea of making that my major source of income one day – but again I did not have the courage to make the leap.

    And now I am continuing to read and study this topic, and I hope to make a real go of developing this as my “job”. It allows me to work from home, have flexibility to do things like go to the gym during the day when it’s quiet, to spend time with my cats and look after my husband.

    This is a really long post and I apologise for that, but I really wanted to convey to anyone that is not happy and thinking about making the leap to something else – maybe there will never be a “right” time but sometimes you just need to do it. I was pushed and it worked out well for me but if I hadn’t been, would I have ever done it? Or would I have been more unhappy as the months and years went by, meaner and nastier to my husband because of the stress, living a life that held little joy?

  30. posted by CV on

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful article. I have been unhappy with my job for nearly a year and a half now, and I’m finally taking the steps needed to rectify the problem. Your story gave me the added boost of confidence I needed. As twisted as it may sound, I feel comfort knowing that others are in the same situation as I am but also taking measures to improve their lives.

    Happy writing.

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