Trading money for happiness

Why I quit my job in the middle of COVID-19

Estimated reading time: 7 mins


 It might sound crazy.

The world is facing one of its biggest crises. Millions of people are losing their jobs. Economic uncertainty and political instability have everyone worried about the future.

And here I am, quitting my job.

A job that gave me financial security for the first time in my life.
A job that allowed me to work from anywhere in the world.

“This guy must be out of his mind”, you might be wondering.

May be. 

But this job has also made me miserable pretty much since I started it, nine months ago.

  • I had to deal with stressed clients in stressful situations every day. Which meant high stress for me.
  • I often had to work at nights, which I hated.
  • I didn’t enjoy the job and did not find it meaningful.

During the first few months, at least, the thrill of learning kept me motivated. I also thought that I could use the role as an opportunity to train my stress-tolerance and face my fears (such as fear of conflict and fear of being judged negatively).

Quickly, as the learning curve flattened, the thrill went away. My tolerance for stress improved over time, but not as much as I wanted it to, and I still did not like the role. So about four months in, I went looking for other opportunities, applying for other jobs and interviewing.

Then COVID-19 happened, and the companies I was interviewing with started a hiring freeze.

I found myself stuck:

Either I stay in a job that’s making me unhappy, or I take a leap into the unknown.

Deep inside, I knew that taking the leap would be the best choice.

Happiness should be the main guiding principle for the decisions in my life, not money. 

Financial stability surely contributes to feelings of security and satisfaction. Yet, after a certain threshold of security, it is not worth sacrificing happiness today by doing something you despise, just for more money.

From a long-term career standpoint, I realized that it would not make sense for me to continue “wasting” my time doing something that I am not passionate about.

I found it useful to think about the “explore vs exploit” algorithm. As a young person, it’s good to still be in the exploration phase, trying different things looking for what I love.

Found something I don’t’ like? Ok. Time to move on to the next one…

Once I find it, I’ll go all-in on that (exploit).

On top of that, thanks to the internet, the world is full of entrepreneurial opportunities looking to be discovered. I am confident that, if I go about this in a smart way, even without a regular job, I will be able to support myself financially.

Ideally, by doing something I enjoy.

Forces pulling me back

It was clear to me that I should leave. At the same time, I found myself unable to “pull the trigger”.

It’s funny. I had heard of people stuck in similar situations and I was always surprised to hear that they stayed in jobs they hated, even when they didn’t “really need” the money. When talking to them (from an outside, uninvolved perspective), it seemed so obvious that it doesn’t make sense to do something you hate just for the money(Gary Vee puts it well).

Yet, here I was, doing the exact same thing. Going against what I believed in.

I was choosing money and security over freedom and happiness, and that created a conflict within.

Digging deeper, I realized that there were some powerful forces pulling be back:

  1. I had a hard time letting go of the security of my monthly salary. I had gotten addicted. Confirming Nassim Taleb’s quote:.

“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.”

– Nassim Taleb

  1. I realized that I had self-doubt and external pressures that wanted me to stay safe.
  • “Will I really be able to make a living?” 
  • “What will my friends and family think about me if I quit the job and then can’t manage to support myself?”
  • “Am I going to look like a fool, or will I regret quitting a “good” job in such uncertain times?”

Becoming aware of what was holding me back was valuable.

At least, now I would be able to address my doubts and fears directly, hoping that by doing so, I would get the strength and courage to quit.

Preparing to take the leap

To break out of the salary addiction, I had to accept that I would have to live more frugally and get rid of the unnecessary. I also needed to feel that it would be somewhat “safe” to quit.

So I made a detailed budget that, if followed, would allow me to support myself for a year, assuming no income (to err on the side of safety). Cutting expenses actually felt good, as I was earning my freedom. This gave me the confidence to not worry about money too much. 

This quote from Alan Watts’ epic speech What If Money Were No Object resonated a lot with me during this time, helping me to finally let go of my “salary addiction”.

 “Forget the money, because if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You will be doing things you don’t like doing, in order to go on living, which is doing things you don’t like doing. 

Which is stupid! 

Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing, than a long life spent in a miserable way.”

Alan Watts

To deal with my self-doubt, the most important part was becoming aware of it.

After that, I simply had to willingly move against it. 

I realized that the only way to get rid of self-doubt is to act despite it, and prove the doubter within wrong over and over.

I had to “just do it” and prove to myself that I’d be able to support myself doing something I enjoy.

Another part of dealing with doubt was figuring out what I want to do with my life (right now).

If I found the answer, it would not matter whether I succeeded or failed. It would not matter whether my friends or family thought I am a failure.

As long as I’m doing what I love, I’m winning.

So I asked myself:

  • What am I truly passionate about?
  • What is something that I would do for its own sake, rather than for some external validation (status, money etc..)?

They say that suffering is a teacher. This experience confirms it. 

I had considered these questions before, but was never able to come up with a clear answer. This time though, the pain caused by the job forced me to confront myself as I never did before. This process took time. I did a lot of journaling.

At some point it hit me. What I love doing the most is learning.

I also realized that I could create value for others by sharing what I learn along my journey.

As a result of that, here I am, writing this, feeling a lot lighter. I also have a few other ideas of projects I want to start.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I trust that in the grand scheme of things, everything is going to be ok.

“You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

– Max Ehrmann

Life is now. We don’t even know if we are going to be alive tomorrow (shit happens). Postponing happiness to some future retirement or vacation simply doesn’t make sense.

Final Thoughts

I wanted to share my experience struggling to find the motivation and courage to quit a job that I despised.

However, I want to make something clear.

Quitting a job or changing other “external” circumstances (spouses, friends etc…) is not going to solve all your problems.

We might be tempted to think that way, because changing external circumstances can seem easy sometimes. Our mind may fantasize that if this issue is solved, everything will be better and easier.

But it’s important to admit that many of the “problems” that keep us from being happy are internal for us to work out.

How to do that is a whole another topic that I may write about someday.

However, it is also true that in some situations (toxic relationships, miserable jobs etc..) changes in external circumstances can make a huge difference in increasing our base level of happiness.

In my situation, I feel like this was the case. Now I’ll have more time to spend with my loved ones, work on myself, and do things I love.

If within a year I haven’t figured out a way to support myself, I can go back to the job market and find a job that fits my personality.

If you are struggling with a similar situation and have any questions feel free to reach out! I’d LOVE to help if I can.

Much Love!

If you liked this article you can follow me on Twitter, where I will continue to share my journey and the things I learn.

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