I quit a high-paying job to be poor but happy

Kelly had a secure job with a good salary, but she felt miserable every day. She tells us how a breakdown at work made her realise it’s more important to do something that makes you happy, even if that means taking a pay cut.

True Stories

girl happy on phone

"I love my new job, even if it pays much less."

How could I be 20 and already stuck in a rut? I remember thinking that as I struggled to get of bed to go to my boring insurance job. I’d been working there for two years. The money was great, but I was so miserable; just the thought of another day made me feel like I was trapped in a box with no air. Customers would shout at me on a daily basis and my boss didn’t even notice me.

Was this really what working life was all about?

Not going to university

After finishing school most of my friends went to university, but to me the idea of three more years of studying just seemed crazy. I’d only just recovered from the stress of my A-Levels. I didn’t want to get into so much debt and preferred the idea of going straight into a full-time job. I wanted to be independent.

So when my friends started packing away their things and moving to their new unis, I started applying for jobs – trying not to think about how much I’d miss them. Although working in insurance wasn’t my ideal choice, they didn’t ask for university qualifications, so I accepted a job working as a Claims Handler.

Living the high (and low) life

Within a year I was earning over £28,000 and living in a nice one-bedroom flat in London. I should’ve been happy, but I really wasn’t. I spent all day dealing with claims. Many of the customers would shout at me. One woman called me an ‘evil cow’. I never received any praise or recognition for my work. I was just another cog in the machine; it was soul destroying.

I tried to cheer myself up by going on shopping sprees and buying designer clothes. I’d also regularly go to Paris or Barcelona for the weekend and stay in nice hotels. However, it just made things worse. When I came back and had to go back to work, I’d disintegrate.

My misery started to show. One morning I broke down at my desk and had to take the rest of the week off sick. It didn’t help. I felt so low — doomed to work in a boring job for the rest of my life.

Should I quit?

It became obvious that I had to quit. But what would I do? I’d helped out my friend who worked for a pop-up events company in London. I really enjoyed it and thought I was good at it, so I called her and she offered me work. But I had a dilemma. Walk away from a comfortable salary and start living hand-to-mouth, or have money but be utterly miserable?

I hated my job, but I would miss eating in fancy restaurants and buying nice clothes. And the thought of dipping into my overdraft to afford rent scared me. Was I being stupid to throw away a job for one that was half the pay?

Realising what’s important

After much agonizing, I quit. I moved out of my one-bed flat into a house share with five other people. I was dreading sharing a bathroom and washing machine, but I actually really enjoyed the company. We started having movie nights in, or would all go to the pub together.

The first day of my new job was frantic but so much fun. I was organising a pop-up street fair, liaising with chefs and DJs and helping set up the stalls. I really enjoyed it.

I was earning nowhere near my old salary, but the more events I did, the better I got at juggling my money. I worked as a barmaid to earn spare cash and I didn’t even miss my expensive shopping sprees – I was just too happy.

Never look back

Since leaving insurance, I feel like a new person. I’m still working on events and keep myself afloat through bar work. But not only is living on less money easier than I thought; it’s actually better. I value the small things in life now and enjoy every minute of my job. Some people think I’m crazy for giving up such a good salary (if I’d stuck with insurance, I’d be earning £32,000 by now), but it’s not worth the unhappiness.

I want people to know that you’re never stuck in your career, especially when you’re young. And doing something you love is more important than earning big money. Don’t rush a big change though – be sure to go through all of your options and really think about what you want. It may be daunting, but I definitely changed my life for the better.

Next Steps

  • Looking for a mentor to help boost your knowledge and skills? Find a youth zone close to you.
  • Reveal your skills with Define Me and find the right words to tell employers.
  • Download Motimator - an app that helps you get the career you want - by giving you a gentle kick up the ass each day when motivation is running low.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Daisy Phillipson

Updated on 29-Sep-2015

Photo posed by model and from Shutterstock