Over the last 3 months, I’ve had the opportunity to interview incredible people in the personal finance community who have made intentional decisions to live better, more fulfilling lives along the path to achieving their financial goals.
The commonality amongst all of those I’ve interviewed so far is that each person has made a decision to restructure their work AND forgo income. They are now happier for it and feel like those decisions have been worth making.
However, I also know that not everyone is at a position in their life or financial goals where they can or would like to make less money.
Even if this is your situation, there are still options to improve your life.
I was recently speaking with Chris Roane from Money Stir. Chris shared with me an interesting story where he decided to take a “step back” in his career after figuring out what kind of work would be a better fit for his skills and personality.
When he initially made this decision to switch jobs, he took a fairly substantial pay cut. Less than two years after making this decision to find a job that was a better fit for him, he advanced his career and is now making more money than before.
When he shared this, I, of course, wanted to learn more about his story, so I could share it with all of you.
Let’s get into the interview.
1. Tell me about you.
My name is Chris Roane. I’ve been married to my wonderful wife Andrea for 14 years, and we have two children. We are in our mid-30’s and live in Montana.
To be honest, I don’t remember much of my childhood before the age of 16. My home life was very difficult. My mom was emotionally and sometimes physically abusive.
I’m still working through this damage from my childhood and how it impacts me today.
The biggest struggle I face is low self-confidence and my overly excessive nature. I push 150% with everything I do.
This drive has worked out well for me in my career. However, as my income grew, I would constantly go into and out of debt. This cycle continued until a few years ago when we decided to make a change.
Given our relatively high income, and our focus on getting rid of debt, we were able to pay off $50k last year. We became debt-free (outside of our mortgage) earlier this year.
We also started a salon business at the end of 2017, that my wife Andrea manages.
2. What deliberate decision have you made to slow down and improve your life? Why did you decide to make this decision?
I often feel like I don’t really have a “slow down” mode. I just published a post that talks about how I struggle and am working through my driven nature.
That being said, I have simultaneously slowed down and advanced in my career.
Three years ago, I found myself pretty miserable at work. At the time, I was working remotely, I was managing the full development team, and working on large projects and pushing internal initiatives.
I enjoyed everything I did, but there was too much involved. I felt like I couldn’t do anything well because I constantly had too much on my plate.
During this time, I was hyper-stressed and was sometimes working 50-60 hours per week. I tried to communicate my struggles with the company, but they didn’t know how to decentralize my work.
There seemed to be no solutions.
So I decided to look for another job.
I knew the company valued my contribution because when I turned in my resignation, my manager actually cried. I stuck to my plan and left the company.
I took a job as a dedicated developer at a different company. I still had the opportunity to work remotely, and this role paid about 13% less.
In this new role, I focused on one large project. While it was still challenging, my time was focused on one thing, and I only worked 40 hours/week. The team was fantastic, and it was a great learning experience.
About a year and a half later, I saw my old colleagues at a conference. We had a great time and they brought up the idea of having me come back to the company. I knew I didn’t want to go back into the same situation, so we spent a lot of time figuring out how we could restructure the work to avoid making the same mistakes.
I feel very fortunate that the company worked with me to determine a structure that would work. They offered me a dedicated developer role with a salary that was more than what I made when I left the company.
My days now are much more focused and easier than before, and I’m also making more money. I was able to slow down in my career and have more work-life balance, and I was advance my career and increase my income.
My wife, Andrea, also changed her work situation recently to work better for our lives. Previously, Andrea had been working Tuesday through Saturday at the salon. We thought this was necessary because many clients wanted to come in on the weekends when they weren’t working. The problem was that this was eating into our time together as a family.
Therefore, Andrea decided to shift her schedule, so that she could take Saturdays off at the salon. She now works Monday through Friday, which gives us two full days together as a family and has dramatically improved our family life.
Surprisingly, we haven’t noticed a significant decrease in income from the salon.
For some people, slowing down has meant reducing work hours. For Andrea and me, it has been more about making our lives more enjoyable and focusing on what brings us the most joy and limits the stress that we experience.
We’ve found that we can do this by adjusting our work schedules rather than reducing our hours.
3. How did this decision to change roles impact your quality of life?
These decisions have had a huge impact on the quality of our lives. We are both less stressed, and we have more quality time to spend with our family.
We are still at a place in our financial independence journey where we want to increase our income. We are learning what ways we can slow down and which areas we can amp up.
We know that having more money is not worth it if we risk our sanity, mental health, or our family. Just as in mindful spending, we consistently do a cost-benefit analysis to ensure we are focusing our time on what matters most to us.
4. How did it impact your financial goals or timelines?
For us, the decision ended up being a temporary slow down. Since I am now making more money as a dedicated web developer than in my previous job, our life better and our financial progress is on track.
This year, we will have a full emergency fund for the first time, be able to pay for to replace our roof in cash, expand the salon, and begin heavily investing.
Most of my adult life has been playing “financial catch-up.” Now we’re on a solid financial footing and about 10-to-15 years from quitting our day jobs.
We are excited about the progress we’ve made over the last few years.
5. What enabled you to make this decision (i.e. what financial or social context helped)?
My mental sanity (or lack thereof) drove me to make a change. It was scary to take a 13% pay cut when we were also trying to pay down debt. From the outside, it didn’t look like a smart financial move.
What helped me most to make this decision was having a supportive spouse. Andrea understood why I needed a change and was very encouraging.
Looking back on it now, it was one of the smartest career moves I’ve made (financially and mentally).
Sometimes, when we slow down and do the thing that is right for our situation, we don’t realize that things could end up better than before. I had no idea that this opportunity to go back to my old company would present itself and that I’d be able to continue to advance my career within that company.
I feel very fortunate to be in a situation now where I’ve increased the value to my employer through having a more focused role. However, even if it did mean less money in the long-term, I think the cost would still have been worth it to improve our lifestyle.
6. Were there things in your life you adapted to make it work better so you could continue to work toward your goals?
There were a few things that I did.
First, the process involved figuring out how I work best.
I realized that do my best work when I am able to focus on problems one at a time. If you give me five problems with enough time to solve them, I will do really well. If you give me 30 problems to solve that need to be done in a short-timeline, my mind goes into “freak-out” mode.
I learned to use this knowledge about myself to ask for what I wanted and set better boundaries. While my company offered me a 19% raise to come back, I decided I would only accept it if I knew things were going to work better for me.
I wanted to enjoy my work, and I didn’t want to work more than 40 hours/week. Once we were able to agree on the terms, it was clearly a win-win situation.
Ultimately, I was willing to take a pay cut to ensure a change in my situation. This gave me power in the negotiation process which has worked out incredibly well.
7. Why and when do you think someone might consider “downshifting?”
Asking yourself these questions might help you to figure out if you need to downshift:
- Am I constantly over-stressed?
- Do I enjoy what I do?
- Would I rather jump off a cliff than go into work on Mondays?
- If I filled a different role, could I improve my output?
- Am I working too much? Is it affecting my mental health or family life?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, I’d encourage you to consider downshifting.
[Note from Jessica: If you’d rather jump off a cliff than go to work, please also consider seeking out professional help from a therapist or other mental health practitioner. I provide tips on finding good mental health care in this post: Overcoming Severe Anxiety]
This could mean working fewer hours. It could also mean finding a different job that would work better for you.
You might even find that you make more money in the long term. Even if you don’t, a career move might still be worth making.
8. How did your pursuit of FI help or hinder this decision?
For many years, I dealt with my job situation, even though I was burnt out and overly-stressed. I was paying off debt and having a higher income helped to speed up that process.
Looking back, I wish I made this move earlier in my career.
I now see that there is no amount of money worth being miserable.
I’m more passionate about financial independence than ever before, and I’m also learning that I’m not willing to sacrifice what matters most to me.
The perfect balance for me is figuring out ways to maximize my income and my happiness at the same time.
There is no reason you have to be miserable in order to reach FI.
9. What advice do you have for someone considering a similar decision?
I encourage you to take a close look at your job situation and how it adds to or takes away from your life.
You might have a high income, which is helping you make quick progress towards financial independence. Only you can decide if this cost is worth it and how long you are willing to withstand these conditions.
I would challenge you to think about how much misery is worth getting to FI a few years earlier. Time is the most valuable thing we have, and we should try to enjoy our lives as much as possible – even before reaching FI.
Who knows? There might also be ways to advance your career by having a job that is a better fit for you. As you gain experience and knowledge with your expertise, you never know what might be out there unless you look.
Chris, thank you so much for sharing your story!
One thing I loved about Chris’ story is that for him, downshifting didn’t mean he needed to completely disrupt his lifestyle. It meant restructuring his work so that it was a better fit for his personality and skills.
Sometimes, it seems like people in the FIRE community retire early because they hate their job. After reaching early retirement, some even look back and realize that it wasn’t that they hated “work,” it was about their particular job or career choice at the time. Joel from FI180 recently returned to work after retiring early for similar reasons and said that he wished he’d quit his previous job sooner, rather than waiting to retire early from it.
If you are struggling to get up for work in the morning, have a bad boss, or do work you don’t enjoy, I encourage you to take Chris’ advice. Maybe you don’t need to push through. Maybe it’s time to reflect on what kind of work (and work environment) would be a better fit for you and find a new job.
Another thing I love about Chris’ story is that he set effective boundaries when going back to his previous employer. After figuring out what work he’d like to do and what work environment would work for him, he stuck to those boundaries and did not let them erode over time. I have personally found that people often have a higher level of respect for me when I set firm boundaries.
There are tremendous benefits to financial security that do not include early retirement. After a certain level of financial security, the goal of financial freedom can also encompass building a better life for ourselves along the journey to larger financial goals.
As Fioneers, we say that the journey is as important as the destination. Chris and his family embody the Fioneer philosophy. They are on a journey of self-discovery, big goals, re-engineering their lives, and finding joy along the way.
If you’d like to learn more about Chris, you can do so in the following ways: