My financial history, and stop whining about your job

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I tell people all the time to change their job if they don’t like it, and people tell me this is totally impractical advice. A lot of people write to me to say that my advice only applies to rich people. Or they tell me that single parents, families living paycheck to paycheck, people in debt, cannot use my advice.

I think these people are in denial. Of course, there are exceptions, but usually these people are really saying that the things they have in their current standard of living are more important than being happy in their job. That’s fine. But don’t complain that the advice doesn’t apply to you. It does. You choose to have an expensive lifestyle instead.

I want to tell you a short history of my financial life. It is so unstable that when I told my brothers that I was writing for Yahoo Finance, they thought it was a joke. And then they got concerned for me that Yahoo would find out the real me, and I’d lose my job.

My bank account looked very good when I was running my own companies. They were well funded, and I extracted a large salary from investors — on top of equity — because it used to be okay to do that. The year my husband and I moved to New York City, I earned more than $200,000.

I had never lived in New York City before. But I had seen photos of John and Carolyn Kennedy coming out of their Tribeca loft, and I figured that’s where I would live with my husband. It was a harsh reality when I discovered that our combined income would need to be in the millions in order to have a loft in Tribeca. So we moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn that was so small that I had to buy storage for all my books. And just about everything else, too.

Then the World Trade Center fell. I was there, and my being there changed me and my husband. We both realized we wanted kids right away, and we wanted to change careers: Bye-bye big paychecks.

My husband started volunteering at human rights organizations. I became a freelance writer and had a poverty-level income for New York City. Then we had a baby. I want to tell you that we lived off our savings for a while, but we didn’t. It lasted about nine months in New York City.

That’s when we realized we had to totally shift our lifestyle to accommodate our work choices. We made big decisions. We stopped being friends with people who couldn’t stop ordering $70 bottles of wine at dinner. We didn’t go to the beach because we didn’t have a car to get there, and besides, beach passes were too expensive.

Soon, we found ourselves making almost every decision based on money, and we didn’t want to live that way. So after a lot of research, we moved out of New York City. We moved to Madison, Wisconsin. I write a lot about how we chose Madison, but the bottom line is that we looked for the city with the lowest cost of living that we could be happy in. (Other runners-up, in case you’re interested: Minneapolis, Portland (Oregon), and Austin.)

Once we got to Madison, things changed. Money was not nearly such a big issue. We became more flexible, we have more freedom in our decision making. I’m not going to tell you that Madison is a bastion of culture and innovation. It’s not. But if you want to live in a bastion of culture and innovation, it’ll cost you. In personal flexibility.

If you want personal stability, flexibility to find fulfilling work, and meaningful personal relationships, that’s about as much as you can ask for in life. That’s a lot. All the other stuff is secondary. Great if you can get it, but not as important as this stuff. I am not positive, but I have a feeling that I do not need to live in a major city in order to get these three things.

If you want to have the ability to change careers and quit jobs you don’t like and try out new things, then you might need to make huge life decisions to accommodate that. I have friends in San Francisco who had only one kid so they could afford to keep their low-paying jobs. This is a big decision. I have friends who are moving from the center of Portland to the boondocks of Portland so they can afford for one of them to be a stay-at-home parent.

I’m not saying you have to live in rural Alabama or forgo having kids. I’m saying you need to be an adult, and realize that adults make big decisions. Things don’t just happen to you. You have power to decide what your life will be like.

And if you set your life up so you can’t change jobs, take personal responsibility for that. It didn’t just happen to you. You are making decisions about that.

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  1. RM
    RM says:

    Thanks for sharing the insights. I am not sure how many of us have the courage to write so candidly about the choices we make. It comes at risk of being called cheap at the least. Also as you mentioned you have to stop associating with friends (if they really are one) whose lifestyle does not match you. We make these choices unconsciously so often. Well written article.
    Currently I am reading Brag-how to toot your horn without blowing it. Nice read, thanks for the suggestion.

  2. Tom Morgan
    Tom Morgan says:

    Thanks for reminding us that we have the power to make choices in life.

    I appreciate your forthrightness in pointing out that being adults is all about taking responsibility and making tough choices.

    As a friend of mine likes to say “how many of us would wish that we had spent more time at work on our 70th birthday”.

  3. Lea
    Lea says:

    Posts like this are why I love your blog so much: You aren’t afraid to make people take responsibility for their actions. In this case, you actually sound like my therapist. :) I’ve learned through experience that what you say here is correct. I’d like to tell my story as an example that illustrates your point.

    As I’ve mentioned previously, I spent more than a decade as a newspaper journalist. I was doing very well financially, but by the time I turned 30, I knew that it was time for me to get out. I was (and remain) unhappy with the state of newspapers today, I was tired of writing for a living, and most of all, I was overwhelmingly bored with my job and frustrated with my managers. On the flip side, I was just finishing up coming out of debt — it took me from the age of 18 to 27 to figure out that I had to pay off my credit card debt someday — and I had a lot of friends who were impressing on me the need to have savings and to own a house.

    For about a year, I let myself feel trapped by my salary. I knew I couldn’t get out of the newspaper until all of my bills were paid (with the exception of my car and my student loans), and I was very angry about having to stay there just for the money. Even when those bills were paid off, I was going to have to keep earning at least 80 percent of my current salary, and how could I actually change careers if I needed that much money? Grad school was a financially uncomfortable idea for me, and even though I didn’t want to keep writing, I decided that had to use my strongest skill set to keep my earning power. So I saw a career counselor and spent another year applying for jobs in my area. (I didn’t want to leave my city, which is Richmond, Va.)

    In March 2007, I finally left newspapers, which made me happier that I had been in several years. I became the assistant to the CEO of a small advertising firm. It was fun to start with, but it soon became incredibly stressful, for two reasons: We had a lot of work that was always done at the last minute, and I really dislike doing everything at the last minute all the time, particularly when a little bit of planning in the beginning would have prevented the emergency. I did not fit into the culture. I spent seven months as a square peg in a round hole — I did so well that I earned a big raise after the first three months — and then I couldn’t take it anymore. I realized that I was choosing to remain in a bad situation for the sake of money, and ironically, I was working in worse conditions than the newspaper for $10,000 a year less than my newspaper salary.

    So I quit. Without a job in hand, without much of a plan beyond going to temp agencies and doing anything I could to pay the bills. I made a choice: Even if I needed to work two jobs to make ends meet, it was going to be better than what I had right then.

    Two weeks later, my mother told me that she has terminal lung cancer. I took three months off from working and took three long trips home to see my Mom in New York state. I wouldn’t have done that had I still been wedded to my salary. (I borrowed money from my IRA to do it. It was the best option I had, and I don’t regret it.) The fact that I had the ability to have that time with my Mom tells me that I absolutely did the right thing by leaving the ad agency.

    Now I’m working at a temp job, manning the front desk at a CPA firm through tax season. I’m applying (and interviewing) for permanent administrative assistant positions, in part because I’ve found that I love the work, and in part because I’m not looking for a whole new career just yet. All I want to do is pay the bills, and I’m doing my best to keep those as low as possible. My Mom’s health is the most important thing on my mind right now. She’s still here, going through chemo and doing better than I had expected. The doctors have given her 1 to 2 years, depending on how the chemo goes; we’re already 5 months into that timeframe.

    I honestly don’t know where I will go from here, but I do know that if I take a job I don’t like, I will leave it. Making that choice gives me power over my life, and that’s the way it should be.

    * * * * * *
    Lea, thank you for telling your story. I think we all learn best when we learn from each others’ stories.


  4. MyNameIsMatt
    MyNameIsMatt says:

    I wish more people would say this. I’m all too often frustrated by friends that seem to like complaining more than they actually want to do something about job or life problems. That doesn’t get very far with me having made a big life and job change moving from my cozy NYC investment bank job to the Bay area with no job, family, or permanent living situation waiting for me – just my first used car and anything I could cram into it. But that doesn’t seem to keep friends from making up tons of imaginary barriers to exit, and reasons why they should maintain their less the optimal situation. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one willing to stand up and say, “bull, you do have a choice,” which is why I like your blog so much because you’re another voice of reason.

  5. Jenny
    Jenny says:


    I love reading your blog and agree with taking responsibility for one’s life choices. HOWEVER…

    Life is not as simple as you make it out to be. Maybe it was workable for you to just pick up and move halfway across the country to a cheaper location. That simply isn’t an option for everyone.

    As Lea pointed out, she had an ill family member to take care of. I have also been in that position. I am my mother’s only family in the area. If I move away, she will have no one to help her. That wouldn’t be right. You talk about meaningful personal relationships, well, that’s a big one for me.

    And by the way…speaking of making choices, I already live a pretty modest lifestyle. No such thing as cutting out fancy dinners or expensive bottles of wine. I never had money for that to begin with. Heck, I rarely even order pizza. I bring my lunch to work, make coffee at home each morning (no spending money on Starbucks), and buy all my clothes at Wal-mart and Target – and even then, I try to buy on sale or clearance. So please don’t smugly tell people how simple it is to economize unless you’ve walked in their shoes.

    Thanks for your thought-provoking column.

    * * * * * * *

    I think we each have to evaluate where we are and ask ourselves if we are at a place in our lives where earning more money really is the most important thing. I know it is not fashionable to say that earning more money is number one. But maybe, in this situaion, that is the case. I read your comment, and while I don’t know everything about you, what comes to mind is that you sound like you have so little money that it is interfering with you ability to meet your emotional needs. In this case, probably the best advice for you on this blog is the advice about changing careers, or getting a raise, or starting something on the side.


  6. Michael Holley Smith
    Michael Holley Smith says:

    When I moved to NYC I lived in a lean-to in a 6th-floor walkup on Eldridge & Grand. Writing resumes on Fifth Ave. & 42nd St., I was offered a job at NBC in their grapics dept. One week’s pay would have covered a month of bar tabs, so it was luring, but it required keeping my mouth shut. I knew I wouldn’t like it, and wouldn’t last. Money can make you wish you didn’t think like you do, and that’s not good. We need to think more like we do, not less, because our inner voice says: search until you find sanity, and grow something (or someone). Your straight-talk is provacative. I wish I could have worked with you instead of the bigshot jerks and total bozos I found myself surrounded by in corporate life.

  7. Erik Mazzone
    Erik Mazzone says:

    Awesome article, Penelope! I totally agree with your take on this.

    Admittedly, as some of the other commenters have noted, it is easier to make decisions like this if you are not responsible for taking care of sick relative, etc. The more competing priorities you have, the harder it is to balance them.

    You hit the nail on the head in your article though — adults make big decisions. Sometimes that big decision might be that you linger in a job you hate because you have prioritized taking care of a loved one.

    As you noted, though, even in making the hard decisions, you can’t lose sight of the fact that you are making a decision. Even the choice to change nothing is a choice.

    It’s definitely not easy, but it may be simple.

    Great post!

  8. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:

    Ooooo, I love the cantankerous tone in this post. It’s personal, and you’re not particularly afraid of stepping on toes.

  9. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    Thanks again, Penelope, for telling it like it is. I found using single-parenthood as an excuse particularly interesting because 1) I am a single parent and 2) I moved myself and my daughter from TX to FL when I was offered a better, higher-paying job in my field. I was looking to make a change anyway having spent 20 years in one place, and having worked for most of my career in crappy jobs for psychotic managers, I knew I was ready for better things, job-wise. I moved away from my parents and friends who made up my support system, and moved to a place where I knew no one. I sold my TX house at nearly a loss so I could be free of paying a house payment and apartment rent. I had to work with my ex-husband to move my daughter out of the state on amicable terms (which meant amending our divorce agreement). My daughter had just started kindergarten and within weeks was being whisked away to another new school with unfamiliar faces in a strange place. The first year was quite hard for both of us. But we got through it and we are both all the happier for it. Granted, we had help — my mother stayed with me for a couple weeks to help transition my daughter to her new surroundings, and I exchanged many phone calls, emails, and IMs with my friends as well. But even so, it was harder to do this than it would have been to just stay put and complain about how crappy life is. That’s just the way it is — doing big-impact things is hard. Learning to do something new and exciting and different is hard. Directing your own course is hard. These are all worthwhile things, and so they are hard. If they were easy, they wouldn’t be worth the effort to do.

    Thanks again, Penelope, for highlighting that.

  10. Jenflex
    Jenflex says:

    I so cannot get my father’s voice outta my head after reading this one: “JenniFER, you can do what you want to do, live where you want to live, or make what you want to make, but you CAN’t do all 3.”

    So, I live in Peoria, of all places (not where I thought I’d be!!) and will retire early. I have a 12-minute commute, an unfashionably small ranch amidst acres of McMansions, a half-paid mortgage and no other debt, a half-acre yard, a big garden, and less time than I’d like with my daughter.

    When I am honest with myself, I recognize that I could make some different trade-offs for more time…but for now, maybe I’ll just settle for the likelihood of retiring early, and enjoy my weekends.

    Penelope, thanks as always for your radical realism. Not radical in the sense of being extreme, but in the original sense of being so at the very root.


  11. Heather Mundell
    Heather Mundell says:

    Penelope, thanks for reminding me how to be with clients who believe they’re stuck because of “external” financial constraints. It can be easy to get sucked into their version of reality, and your post will help me help clients see more clearly the real choices they make and the true options there are, out of the box or not!

  12. Corfusian
    Corfusian says:

    Interesting article. However, in my case, I am sorry, but I don’t think your advice applies. I have never had children (too expensive!); the two husbands I did have left me. I am working, as I have for the past 44 years, as a low-level legal secretary, even tho’ I have a degree from UCLA, speak several languages, have traveled extensively, have worked for Congress, etc. But I am STUCK. I was lucky to find the part-time job I have now, where I commute 1 hour each way to and from work to a rat-infested area of the city(ugh). I have no savings, no unearned income, no assets, no moving money, and am desperately afraid of ageism, which is rampant, especially when employers (who are almost always uniformly male) can get cute little 20-year-old undereducated, inexpensive, submissive immigrant girls to do their bidding! I have even been turned down because I was too competent! (“You would make Mr. SoandSo feel inadequate, and we can’t have that.” Quote. Unquote.) I have tried to change careers all my life, but that always meant accepting minimum wage, and if you think minimum wage is a CHOICE in a big city like L.A. where you are the sole breadwinner, you’re nuts. Angelenos spend 80% of their take-home income on their rent or mortgage. And minimum wage doesn’t and never did cut it. So, changing careers is NOT an option. No. Face it. Because of my bad choices in husbands and men, I am cooked. Only with a husband or companion who is paying at least half the living expenses can a woman have any choices at all. Without that second person, FORGET IT! Ain’t gonna happen! I am almost 60, broke, alone, etc., and it’s not going to get much better, I can tell you that. These blogs are for 20 year olds. If one has screwed up one’s life badly at age 60, there are no more choices, no more alternatives.

    * * * * * * * *

    Hello Everyone:

    Normally, I would delete a comment like this because it’s racist. But I am leaving it up because it’s a great example of how the genesis of racisim is so often someone who wants someone else to blame for their problems.


    • vus
      vus says:

      It is normal for people to have ups and downs because of that we have choices. There are many gaps in our life we experience; emptiness, unconditional love, and faith to ourselves. For human kind its knowledge but for the people it is wisdom. To understand the deeper meaning of pathos, logos and ethos we should learn how to shift our choices.”Law of Leverage”

    • xiaoding
      xiaoding says:

      You delete posts you don’t like? What, the truth gets to you? Can’t stand it?

      I see nothing racist in this post. I know personally, of places that use use the hiring practices this post descibes. You need to get out more.

      Thank you, for letting me know, what a phony you are. People who delete posts, have no integrity, can’t stand the truth, and have perceptions that are of course, faulty.


      • EN
        EN says:

        She didn’t say she deletes posts she doesn’t like; she said she deletes posts that include offensive language (and racism, sexism, etc. are offensive language). That’s fairly normal blog behavior. I bet she also deletes spam.

  13. Eric
    Eric says:

    Hi Penelope,

    As usual, an insightful article and you are right, we choose our lifestyle and we cannot blame other people for being stuck in a job… having to sustain the lifestyle. IN Singapore where I live, we do not really have the luxury of moving to another state like the US. Measuring 40km x 20km, not much room for us to move around, we are almost an hour’s drive from anywhere within the country. But we can choose not to have expensive meals, trips and condominiums.

    As long as we are breathing, we can have a choice.

    We can choose to be happy and contented.

    We can choose to remember that there are people who are worse off than us. Just turn on the TV.

  14. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Great post.

    I think we live in a society or culture that suggests we can and should “have it all” without making compromises.

    The reality is, we need to make choices in life (and career) that in many cases are compromises. The key is to make the choices and compromises that maximize your happiness.

    For example, do you live in a smaller house, in a nicer neighbourhood or without a long commute? or do you live in a larger house in a generic suburb with a commute? What do you value more, space to live in or time with family?

    Most of us cannot have it all. This is no one’s fault, it is life. The sooner we accept that we cannot have it all, the easier it is to recognize that we do have control over our choices.

    • Taneja
      Taneja says:

      This is so true: the amount of choice we have is not constant: some have more choices than others. (Perhaps you can look at this probabilistically: there will be outliers who have very little choice and other outliers with massive amounts of choice, but the vast majority of us are somewhere in the middle). As soon as we accept the limitations imposed upon us by fate (God, life, or ), we begin to appreciate the choices we actually do have.

  15. Rambler
    Rambler says:

    Hey Penelope,
    I totally agree with you, I being once such person who whines about his job. Your risk taking is admirable. But unfortunately all people are not strong enough to make this choice, or even string enough to think they can face all adversity by making such big decisions, and easiest thing to blame in such occasion is the other resposibilities.
    In my case, even though I blame my job sometimes, most of the time I am kind of happy because This is what I wanted to do all my life. I am frustrated at times, but, I think, that I would be at any job, because all of it has some drawbacks.
    It all depends how much disappointed you are at the job.

    One question though, Do you think one should try to change the job, in this situation?
    Not so happy with the job, not disappointed either, you are not sure what your new job is going to be, it might be worse or better, it might get you more money and also make you work harder and even less personal time. At the end of the day you might find out same frustration once in a while. But on the possitive side, you will be out of comfort zone, and may discover something new about yourself.

    What do you say?

    * * * * *
    The question here is really, how do you know when to change jobs? Sometimes, of course, it’s very obvious. Many times, though, you can look at the rest of your life and see if that’s the problem, and not your job. Work cannot fulfill all our needs. Be careful not the change jobs in order to get something that you don’t need to get from a job. Like someone who cares about you, for example. If that’s really what your life is missing, changing jobs won’t help.All jobs have bad parts to them.  I love to blog, but I hate that I end up staying up so late. It doesn’t mean I should change jobs. It means I should get better at time management. Ask yourself if you can fix your job before you change. Also ask yourself if you will have the same trouble at another jobs you choose.


  16. Lewis Green
    Lewis Green says:

    Great post Penelope. For my wife and I, in our 32-year marriage it has never been about money: Instead we live to enjoy our lives in ways that don’t require lots of the green stuff.

    Of course, there are sacrifices–we don’t eat out much, we can’t afford season’s tickets to the ballet, and we go to far fewer concerts than we would like.

    In exchange, we are free from corporate jobs, determine our own schedules and do what we want, when we want, and find ways to afford those things, such as a trip here or there, a night out in Boston or NYC, dinner parties and so on.

    Thank you for this insprational post. And, yes, life is about choices that we make for ourselves, not about choices that others make for us.

  17. Simon Clay Michael
    Simon Clay Michael says:

    another great post and heartfelt comments too.

    Having been the struggling new employee back in 1987 I was earning $50 per week income and my rent was $15pw, and also a credit card debt to pay off, it was a tough time.
    I can see how the “Golden Handcuffs” take control as we, little by little, tighten them over our own wrists.

  18. Steven Grant
    Steven Grant says:

    Note to self: own your choices and be grateful.

    Great post. It’s all about choices and owning your choices. There are many people in the world who have *very* few choices, or food, or clean water. As a white middle class American male I have more than my share of opportunties and I really should not *ever* complain (oh, my diamond shoes are *too* tight!).

    * * * * * *

    I like that you turned this into a gratitude topic. I want things around here to focus on gratitude. I think it’s really important and I try to think about it a lot myself. It’s a discipline, I think. To look at the world that way.


  19. Zandria
    Zandria says:

    This post really hit home with me, Penelope. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about people who stay at a job they’re not completely happy with because they feel like they “have to.” I did that for too many years when I worked in technical support at a call center, and promised myself that I’d never get stuck again in a job that I disliked so much. I recently wrote about a woman I admire who did just what you described:

  20. Jason Alba
    Jason Alba says:

    me too, me too – I love the post, and this is one of the reasons why you are a favorite of mine.

    It is about choices. And the choices are hard (as you say, they are adult choices).

    I left a “great job” to take an internship – everyone thought I was nuts.

    I moved, I went to a different school, I took different career paths. And now I (heaven forbid) own my own business.

    There have been lots of naysayers. I just needed to know in my heart (and have the support of my wife) that it could be done, and we moved forward. It hasn’t been cookie-cutter, nor has it always been easy, but its been fun (stressful, yes, but fun).

    I feel for the people that can’t do it – some have great reasons (like tending an aging parent, etc.) – others just … aren’t … ready…

    One thing I love about this post (and its true Penelope-style) is that you aren’t sitting there telling us what to do. You are telling us what YOU did. It’s a testimonial. It’s your real life.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Jason Alba
    CEO –

  21. Joe C
    Joe C says:


    I totally agree with the post. We recently made the decision to leave Boston (which we enjoyed) for Austin.

    The decsion was simple. We both had good jobs, lived in an easily commutable area of town, and found that we had no ood long term plan for dealing with a growing family. Home prices, commuting time/expense, and day care expenses literally pushed us out of town.

    And about the post you deemed “racist” – She needs to get out of LA and realize that she’s still got lots of time on this Earth to make a happy life for herself.


  22. Jaerid
    Jaerid says:


    I totally agree – fantastic post. Those who are so eager to point out that they are different are just excuse makers and likely miserable because they haven’t lived the lives they want. Ultimately it is you that are responsible for EVERYTHING in your life and I mean EVERYTHING.

    While I want to have sympathy for those who claim they can’t change their lives, I can’t do it. If you live in a developed, democratic country then it is up to you to seize the opportunities at your feet – you are not entitled to them simply for being here. So many other people in this world do not even have access to healthcare, clean water, or shelter but people here (living like kings compared to the majority of the world) still complain. I don't understand it.

    Great post!

  23. MyNameIsMatt
    MyNameIsMatt says:

    There are always exceptions, and there are no silver bullets. It’s also tough telling someone who’s in hard times or a complicated situation that they’re thinking too small, but that’s often the case. We tend to think small when things pile up on us and we shift into a “deal with things now” mode more than we’re in a long-term planning, plotting mode.

    Having parents who have changed their lives from where they live to what jobs they do through a range of ages from 20s and up, I’m not so inclined to accept the ageism argument for not changing. Also, my family has gone through these changes in both poor and not so poor situations – we’ve never been rich, although I’ve always been happy. When people say, it can’t be done because they’re too old, I think of my parents in their 40s changing jobs and locations, and then again in their 50s (and while putting two kids through college). My parent’s certainly are special to me, but there’s nothing special about them in general.

    I think the key in each situation was changing their needs and wants, and not only fulfilling of those needs or wants. Sometimes life is simple, and just filling a want is enough. However, there are plenty of other times, especially those really hard times, when you need to think creatively and be willing to not only make changes, but change what you want and need directly, and changing locations or jobs forces this type of situation.

    So, I sympathize with some of the commenters, but I don’t buy the argument that age or money is as big a deal as they say it is. Usually the easiest way to tell if you’re serious about a problem or not is whether or not you have plan for fixing the problem. I know too many people that just like to complain, but don’t like dealing with the hard part of changing (and sometimes get offended at suggestions). But, that’s life, and you choose your situation.

  24. Lea
    Lea says:

    To Corfusian: OK, so you made some not-good decisions about men. But it sounds like you’ve left them behind. Why not leave behind your anger at having made those decisions and see what you can do now to change where you are in life. You’re concerned about ageism and racism in hiring practices in Southern California; why not leave? Use and and to find a job in a part of the country that doesn’t have the same age or immigration issues. I’m finding that here in Richmond, Va., the ads for administrative positions often require at least 10 years of experience, sometimes more. If you find a great job, they company might even pay for you to move; that’s how I got from New York state to Virginia. You can’t say you will fail if you don’t try at all.

  25. Phil
    Phil says:

    Interestingly, or not so depending on your point of view, I too live in Richmond, VA (see Lea’s post on 3/14) and left my job without a job in hand.

    Financially, it was a dumb move, and I should have explored more opprotunities in my old company. But, I had had enough of the politics, the “pigeonhole” mentality, and my wife and I made the decision for me to leave. We were lucky in that we had her income as a safety net. Such is not the case for all. We had the option to use her salary, and single people whether they be parents or not can’t always afford to make the choice I made. Like it or not, finances are a factor in lifestyle decisions.

    The above being said, my decision to leave my old job without another in hand has paid off in many other ways. I’m a happier person, less of an anal-retentive jerk, and in general more fun to be around. I made the decision to leave on my own (after working out the details with my wife). I took control, and I make no apologies. I regularly speak to my colleagues from the old company, and they are unwilling to do anything about their own situations. My choice is not recommended for the faint of heart or checkbook, but sometimes one must take that leap of faith.

    While my pocketbook has suffered, I’ve learned more about myself in the last year than I ever could have learned at the old job. What did I lose? I lost 25 pounds, 50 points on my cholestoral (sp -5) level and the many, many nagging headaches associated with a dead-end job that made me miserable. I now work for peanuts at a 3 person company, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m still looking for something “better”, but my definition of “better” is a whole lot clearer than it used to be.

  26. idahoblackberry
    idahoblackberry says:

    My mother always thought that I would be the one kid of her three to stay in the area because I was so connected with the small town I grew up in. But after working as a reporter for three years in said town and living in my childhood bedroom because rent would have eaten up more than half my take-home pay, I moved to a much more rural, less-expensive area 600 miles away so I could continue to work at a small paper. Traveling home now eats up most of my vacation time, but it’s worth it to stay in a field I love without mortgaging my future.

  27. finance girl
    finance girl says:

    Could not agree more!! In order to keep options open, one mustmustmust keep finances in order and live well below one’s means.

    We have no kids, but (as you know) I left paid work last January (jumped the big M mothership) and love every minute of it!!

    Hubs and I love having the time and the life now that we didn’t have when it was full throttle for boht of us.

    Having actual evenings and weekends that are unstructured and relaxed are something totally new to us!!

  28. Aparna Paul
    Aparna Paul says:

    You’re awesome. This post is awesome. You rock.

    But just to play devils advocate for a sec:

    Also, I’d like to say more about the comfort part of this. I believe that your blog is empowering, that’s why it helps me to get through. But also, human beings really do have a hard time making changes. It’s almost better to stay somewhere comfortable to than to venture out, but obviously that is just detrimental overall to a persons best interests.

    When is it OK to stay where you are in case there might be hope for things to improve. Can you tell if things will improve? Do you think that patience is a virtue or a complete fallacy?

    Am I making any sense here?


    * * * * * * *

    When you wait for things to improve you have to weigh how bad things are now, how good things will be in the future, and what is your ability to leave and make things better right now.

    I think making this decision is more about knowing yourself and what you want than about what a company can give you.

    I thin also, that a good rule of thumb in both a relationship with a significant other and with a company is that people do not change. What you see is what you get.


  29. Fran
    Fran says:

    It would be great if you like what you do. You can’t just stay on your job and whine about not liking it and keeping it because the pay is good. I think it’s not worthed. You are just depriving yourself of the things you want.

  30. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    What on earth is a beach pass?

    * * * * *
    Ha. I guess there are no beach passes in England :)

    You have to pay to get on a lot of beaches on the east coast and on the Great Lakes. I think the west coast beaches are generally free.


  31. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    I don’t think you have to pay for the beach in England but there aren’t really that many beaches worth speaking of – a lot of the shoreline is cliffs, rocks or wetlands. I’ve been to the beach in Cornwall and there were no beach passes there.

    I’m from Australia originally and we are surrounded by coastline. The very idea of paying to go to the beach is simply un-Australian. It would be a national outrage! Not to mention impractical since it would be completely impossible to police – there being many, many access points and thousands of kilometres of coastline.

    I don’t know about in America but I know in Europe they have ‘private beaches’. There’s no such thing in Australia – I think it’s against the law to own a beach. There are a few semi-private beaches where there is no public access by land but people are still free to come by boat if they want.

    Just out of curiosity, how much does it cost to go to the beach on the East Coast and where does the money go? Is it purely for upkeep of facilities and payment of life guards or is it a profit making enterprise? For whom?

    If you were cutting it out for budgetary reasons, it sounds like it’s more than a few dollars, which is very sad.

    To me, the great thing about the beach is that it’s a great equaliser and it’s entertainment that is equally available to rich and poor. As an Australia I am quite passionate about this!

    But I know some things are different overseas – Australians don’t pay to use of our national parks either. We pay for it through our tax but again, it means it’s equally available for all.

    Often, at both the beach and in the parks, you might have to pay for parking. But not always and most beaches are well served by public transport anyway.

    Also, in Australia, the life guards are called lifesavers and it’s a 100% volunteer service, which is something we’re nationally very proud of. Of course, there are also many, many wild beaches (eg. in the national parks) that are not guarded but all of the ones in and near cities have life guards.

    Another source of national pride, is that our beaches are generally very clean. I’ve been appalled at the litter of some beaches abroad, especially in the Mediterranean. It’s almost considered sacrilege to litter on the beach in Australia and the beaches are a big focus on Clean Up Australia Day (a national, annual day when thousands of Aussies head down to the beach, park or harbour and volunteer to clean up litter for a few hours).

    Anyway, I digress… This is a career blog and here I am talking about beaches. I find the cultural differences interesting though. I genuinely didn’t know you had to pay to go to the beach in the US (and I still want to know how much!) and I’m a little sad about it.

    • mysticaltyger
      mysticaltyger says:

      Paying to go to the beach is not a normal thing in most parts of the US. New York City is a different animal from the rest of the country. I’m sure they probably charge for beach passes in New York because of the sheer numbers of people who live there. But New York is by far the most densely populated US City, so it isn’t representative of the US as a whole on many different measures.

    • EN
      EN says:

      Where I live (not NYC but also in the Northeast), we pay about $7 or so to go to the beach if there’s a lifeguard on duty. Since you don’t pay if there’s no lifeguard on duty, I’d assume that the money goes at least partially to hiring one.

  32. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    >>especially when employers (who are almost always uniformly male) can get cute little 20-year-old undereducated, inexpensive, submissive immigrant girls to do their bidding!

    I’m not sure that Heather’s post was really racist. I’m surprised that you focused on the race element since her comments are at least as much about age and gender as race. I agree with you that she is blaming others and maybe that isn’t totally healthy but I think she is bitter rather than racist. She is describing her reality and the truth is that she is 60 and she lives in LA where there are plenty of immigrants (a factual, not a racist term) and plenty of younger people. I’ve no doubt that she does lose jobs to who she describes as “cute little 20-year-old undereducated, inexpensive, submissive immigrant girls”.

    I’m totally with Joe when he says that maybe she should get out of LA. Heather complains in her post that Angelenos spend 80% of their income on rent. That’s not the case in other parts of the country so if she’s 60 and trying to focus on preparing for her old age, maybe she would be better off living elsewhere. That’s a decision that only she can make but it ties in with what you were saying about choices.

    * * * * * *

    I am still on the fence about to delete this comment or not. But I am trying to not delete comments in principle. However, to repeat, in another comment, a sentence that I have already said I thought is offensive, strikes me as mildly offensive. But whatever. I want there to be discussion.

    In the sentence in question, immigrant is an adjective. An adjective must describe attributes of the noun. In this sentence, immigrant necessarily is a negative atrribute because it follows in a list of negative attributes, to make a negative point.

    Caitlin you suggest that the word immigrant is merely informational in this sentence. However if it does not convey negative information, then there is no information it conveys. So we have to ask why the person put it in the sentence.

    To describe someone as an immigrant suggests nothing relevant about their work behavior, which is what this sentence is about. If someone says, “What is she like as a worker?” and the reply is “She’s an immigrant,” that is racist becasue it implies that there are attributes to the word immigrant that imply how someone works. This would be like saying, “What’s she like as a worker?” and the reply is “She’s [insert race].”



  33. forgot what i used last time
    forgot what i used last time says:

    Hey now, leave “rural Alabama” out of this :P I’m actually just teasing–rural Alabama is suffering on several fronts and there’s no denying it. But I’d like to plug for my two cities of origin: Birmingham and Auburn. Well, the various suburbs of Birmingham anyways. These are two regions that I *know* have good school systems, good white-collar job markets, good shopping and decent amounts of culture. Housing costs are also reasonable in these areas in comparison to wages; one also doesn’t have to live in an upscale area to have access to said good school systems and other amenities of middle-class living.

    Ironically, one of the more popular things to do in Alabama is to hold a white-collar job in an urban(ish) area and commute to it from a “country estate”. One pays the price in terms of limited state resources, such as living in an impoverished school district, but many people apparently place greater importance on owning a mini-mansion.

    The only thing that I view as a definite draw-back to the state is that the political lowest common denominator is a die-hard Conservative Republican. This is slowly changing as the size of the middle-class continues to grow (bringing along with it certain liberal impulses) but since the overall state is still predominately lower-class, don’t expect a Democratic vote to count any time soon. (And don’t think that a Democratic governor here holds the same platform as one somewhere else. :/)

    Ok, let’s relate this jabber back to the original topic. ^_^ What you have here is a microcosm of the choices alluded to previously. Do you mind living in a state with immense social challenges if your particular suburb is actually quite nice? Is it more important to have a big house or to send your child to a good school? Would you rather have an inexpensive upper-middle-class lifestyle or active political discourse? Most of these “dilemmas” resolve themselves into conflicts between physical and mental comfort. While in theory we each must decide for ourselves which we value more, on the whole, people are happier being warm and well-fed.

    My friends at the university frequently complain about the lack of “culture” in our small town. By this they mean that there’s only one indy coffee shop, no indy bookstores (but three chain stores), no indy movie theaters, and no indy record stores. I used to join in until I figured out that I wouldn’t frequent these cultural icons even if they existed. The complainers generally work at the coffeeshop, don’t read many books, and download all their media off the web. So what does it matter that there’s “limited culture”? It doesn’t.

    My point is that people need to figure out what is actually important to them. Too often we just buy into a preset notion and build up a lifestyle wishlist around that. Its ok to just want cheap Chinese take-out and reliable cable internet. Its ok to want a 36-hour job, a small mortgage and decent schools. Its also ok to want no kids and lots of expensive toys. But you need to figure it out and once you do, BUILD YOUR LIFE AROUND WHAT IS IMPORTANT! (Sorry for the all caps; I don’t know how to use italics.)

    Dang, I might need my own blog.

    • mysticaltyger
      mysticaltyger says:

      I resent the comment that implies the lower class are mostly Republicans. Penelope should have called you on your stereotypes as she did the other poster on the racist comment. But she’s a liberal herself, so I’m not surprised she didn’t.

  34. forgot what i used last time
    forgot what i used last time says:

    Sorry to follow up on the comment-essay, but I believe that the term “immigrant” was largely intended as a synonym for “vulnerable” or possibly “illegal” (hence the inexpensive). It’s also playing on the typical male pseudo-fetish for “foreign” or “exotic” women (hence the “uniformly male”).

    Of course, being an immigrant is not (in my experience) incentive for employment, since there’s extra paperwork involved in the process. It also limits involvement in permissible government work, which may or may not be a problem for a law firm. (Its definitely an issue for the international grad students.) So it probably is more a scapegoat/excuse than anything else.

    I agree with the other posts, however. If you can’t afford to live there: move. Use the internet or order newspapers from another city. Legal practices are in even the smallest of townships. Since you have a lot of experience and good qualifications, maybe you just need to invest in getting someone to write you a better resume.

  35. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Okay, I took ‘immigrant girls’ to be a compound noun and the others to be the descriptors. But I concede that it’s ambiguous. Maybe Heather IS racist, I don’t know. She certainly has a chip on her shoulder.

    It’s not language that I would choose and I would hope that I would never be so bitter about life either. Interestingly, the words I found most offensive in her comment were “cute”, “little” and “submissive”. It’s hard to tell whether those adjectives go with being an immigrant, being 20 years old, or being a girl.

    I would argue that the evidence for sexism and ageism is just as good as the evidence for racism. So, maybe it’s a mix of all three. Or maybe it’s more about her and it’s just reflective of bitterness and envy (wishing she was 20 again and hadn’t messed her life up).

    I agree with you that we all make choices. I do, you do, and Heather does (and has). I agree with you that we should own our choices and not whine. But I can also empathise with how it must feel to have made the wrong choices and how much worse it must be at 60 than 30 (my age). Heather might have made choices that took her where she is but she still has my sympathy.

    I appreciate the fact that you have chosen, so far, not to delete comments. I completely respect that you don’t want racism and other prejudice and abuse on your blog, since it could reflect on you as the blog owner. However, I think there is a difference between abuse and discussing issues involving race. These issues shouldn’t be ignored and discussing them in a proper manner is healthy. My comments are not intended to condone racism or downplay its seriousness. I’m just trying to discuss the issues in good faith, the same way you have in your various posts on managing diversity. If you ever have a problem with anything we say, please let me know as it possibly just needs editing or clarifying.

  36. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    If you would indulge me for a moment longer, I would like to add a few more thoughts because I find the cultural attitudes between the US and other countries to be quite interesting. (Maybe I should study cultural anthropology?!).

    NB I originally started to write this as part of the above comment but decided to separate it into two comments in case you feel the need to delete or edit either one.

    I suspect that the USA has a unique focus on race issues because of the reality of black history in your country. As an outsider, I condemn racism in all its forms but I am probably equally aware of sexism and other ‘isms’. I’m hypothesising here so if you agree or disagree, I’d be interested to know.

    I have travelled a lot and I have lived in two countries, Australia and the UK. There are interesting differences between the two, both in the make-up of the population and the attitudes.

    The UK is about to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It didn’t have much of a black population until after World War 2 when people from the colonies and former colonies came to live in Britain, from the West Indies, Africa, India and so on. I am reading a very interesting novel right now called Small Island by Andrea Levy about the experience of Jamaican immigrants. It includes some interesting chapters on the difference in attitude to black servicemen between the British military and the US military. Now, there is quite a large black population and also quite a large Muslim population. I think there are more race problems in the UK compared with Australia and there are probably many reasons for that. One reason is that it’s a much bigger population (60 million on a small island, compared to Australia’s 20 million on a whole continent). Another reason is that the Uk is a more unequal society; there are more poor people (of all races) in the UK than in Australia, so disadvantage tends to get reinforced and amplified.

    In Australia there is a small population. There are a large number of people of British and Irish descent, however in the past 60 years it’s become a very multicultural society. The initial post-war immigration was from Eastern and Southern Europe (Poles, Slavs, Italians, Greeks etc). (Did you know that Melbourne is actually the world’s second biggest Greek city after Athens?). This is no longer as apparent as it once was as they are now a few generations on and highly integrated – but we do have great coffee thanks to the Italians! The next wave was from Asia (mostly East Asian – Vietnamese, Chinese etc – but also people from the Middle East and the Indian Sub-Continent). Australia has not been racism-free and each group encountered initial difficulties but eventually integrated (I don’t mean that in the sense of losing their identity, I mean it more in the sense of being a cohesive part of society. At the moment, the War on Terror is making it tense for people of Middle Eastern, particularly Muslim, backgrounds, but I hope/believe this too shall pass.

    Indigenous Australians (Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders) are around 1% of the population. There are relatively few people with African backgrounds since Australia never had slavery.

    I remember when The Matrix movies were being filmed in Sydney, it was reported in the media that Laurence Fishburne complained that Australians were racist because there were no other black people around and that made him feel weird. He also said that everyone was friendly and polite and that no one ever abused him or said mean things or looked at him funny. So, by the sounds of it, no one was racist at all; he just felt strange because he wasn’t used to a lack of black faces (in which case he was the one focusing on skin colour). I believe that I know how he felt because I’ve travelled to parts of Africa and Asia where there have been no other white people around. It’s sad that he took what he was feeling inside and decided that other people were being racist.

  37. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Jenny, you are making a choice to be there supporting your mother in her time of need. You are not the victim, you have chosen to your family first. I believe you are making the right choice and I respect you for it. It’s still a choice. Own it. Be proud.

  38. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    I am proud of my choice, Caitlin. I was simply pointing out that family obligations can prevent one from having other choices – such as relocating or changing job/career.

    Additionally I would like to address Heather’s post. I don’t know if she’s racist or not but certainly her choice of words was inappropriate. Perhaps she was trying to exaggerate to make her point?

    In any event, putting aside that issue, I do understand where Heather is coming from. Older workers absolutely do have a tougher time in the job market. I agree that being young and attractive gives you more options.

    Also, being married to a working spouse (or being young enough to live with your parents) makes it a whole lot easier because you have financial support to fall back on. Single, older people are working without a net.

  39. Marie
    Marie says:

    That’s a good advice. I use to tell that to my friends who doesn’t like his/her job. For them, it’s better to do something with a good pay even if they don’t love it, than to do things they like and get receive almost nothing. They don’t know that in the end, they’re still the ones who will suffer.

  40. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Hi Jenny, I’m glad that you are proud of your choice. I just wanted to remind you that it was still a choice, which is quite an empowering thought. You didn’t choose for your mother to be ill but you chose to be there for her.

  41. Mark
    Mark says:

    If I make judgments about you based on whether or not you have a penis, I am a sexist.

    If I make judgments about you because you are Indian, Italian, Arab, Athenian, or Hebrew; I am a racist.

    Some Indians are Hindu, some Italians are Roman Catholic, some Arabs are Muslim, some Athenians are Atheists, some Hebrews are Jewish.

    If I make judgments about you because you are Hindu, Roman Catholic, Muslim, Atheist, or Jewish; I might be following the tenets of my religion, but may not be following yours.

    The object of Heather’s hatred is not:

    “cute little 20-year-old undereducated, inexpensive, submissive immigrant girls”

    it is:
    “when employers (who are almost always uniformly male) can get


    to do their bidding!”

    Heather is a sexist. We are all sexist.

    This is not why Heather does not get hired.

    Heather is bitter.

    Heather could not get a decent job her when she was young and bitter. She cannot get one now that she is old and bitter. Heather is not being treated differently due to her age. If she was, she would have difficulty finding those great jobs that were offered to her when she was young.

    Heather is an ageist. Aren’t we all. Damn old fogies and young punks, anyway.

    If it’s not racism, religionism, sexism, or ageism, what ‘ism’ it?

    It is ‘bitterism’. I am a ‘bitterist’. I would discriminate against Heather because of her bitterness. Luckily, this is legal.

    * * * * * *

    Oooh. Mark, I really like this comment. It makes me a little nervous, but how can you not love the new term: Bitterism. It is so true that we discriminate against that all the time. It is so awful to be around.


  42. Leets
    Leets says:

    I think this post misses a HUGE issue in this whole discussion. Sometimes there really is no job to leave for, and while taking a pay cut is a financial risk that may pay off in the long run when it comes to your mental health, quitting without having another job lined up is just stupid. I hate my current job and I am coming to realize I am not cut out for this profession, but my graduate degree doesn’t translate very well to other industries. I’m applying like crazy for jobs that would cut my pay by up to $15K and I STILL can’t find a new job (and I’m not exactly raking it in, so $15K is a huge deal). I’m not afraid to quit, I know I need to, the work environment is toxic. But what do you do when there are literally no other jobs to take? Most people truly don’t want to hire someone with a master’s degree to work as a secretary or doing data entry because they know you’re much more likely to quit sooner and will probably feel the work is too tedious. I do all the financially responsible things, don’t live outside of my means at all. I WANT to quit, but I’m not 19 and can’t depend on my parents to pick up the slack. Life is not always so cut and dry.

    * * * * * *

    Leets. I’m sorry you feel like you’re in such a tough spot.

    I think this is a good time to use a network instead of a resume. You are looking for someone to give you a chance. The times people give you a chnace is when you are part of their network.


  43. forgot what i used last time--let's try Stacy
    forgot what i used last time--let's try Stacy says:

    oo, Leets raises a point (albeit indirectly) that I’ve been wondering about. Is it acceptable (as in “not fraudulent”) to leave off a portion of one’s educational history? Such as if you have a Master’s that would “over-qualify” you for a position?

    * * * * * *

    I think it’s fine. Think about it. We leave out all kinds of stuff. We get educated all kinds of ways that we do not report. The world does not ask for every little thing about us. So we get to choose which, of all the things that are true, we will say.


  44. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Mark, you are right that Heather commenting on the employers being ‘uniformly male’ is also a mark of sexism, though I don’t think it’s any more so than the comment about ‘submissive… girls’. They both are, to a degree.

    The word ‘victim’ is yours, not hers, so it’s interesting that you equate ‘cute little 20-year-old undereducated, inexpensive, submissive immigrant girls’ with victimhood.

    I love your term ‘bitterism’ – who wants to be around bitterness?

  45. JD
    JD says:

    Caroline was his sister, Carolyn (Bessette) was his wife.

    * * * * * *

    Thanks.  I updated…


  46. Mark
    Mark says:

    Caitlin, I took a chance that the markdown syntax would allow me enter fake html tags…oops.

    I used opening “insert victim” and closing “insert victim” tags with the text “victim” in the center.

    Alas, my fake tags were stripped, leaving me with the naked “victim”.

    (P.T. – a preview button would keep me honest)

    I was hoping to show that “victim” could be replaced by any text, “victim” being not essential to the argument that Heather was making.

    Penelope made the comment that this was a racist remark.

    I was attempting to show that removing race from the argument did not change the argument.

    Heather is not a racist.

    While I may be a sexist:

    “All women are some daddy’s little girl and need to be treated with the same love and respect that I have for my little girl.”

    the use of the word “victim” doesn’t prove it.


    P.S. My job stinks, too! I work with almost all ISTJ’s and I am an ENTP. The ISTJ’s are all worried about getting the paperwork right and I’m thinking “What if I turn this switch and that machine just up and bursts into flames?” Usually I get chastised because my paperwork is not perfect.

    Every once in a while, I put out a fire.

  47. Shyam
    Shyam says:

    Thanx for the great insight. i’ve been unhappy with what i’ve doing over the last few months.Now that i’ve read your advice i think i know what i’ll do: I’ll quit my job right away!

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