How To Quit Your 9-to-5 For Good

Most of us call it a nine-to-five job, others talk about the rat race, and some speak of wage slavery. These three different terms all mean the same: Working within specific boundaries that others have set up for us and that the majority of working people are unhappy with but for some reason never question. Is this all there is to life? Working from morning to evening, day in and day out, to pay the bills for things and services we often don’t even need? The truth is that we are free to break out of this hustle, and leaving it behind is easier than you might think.

This post is a part of the work-life balance series which focuses on crafting a life filled with just the right amount and kind of work to make us feel good about the life we’re living. We should work to live, and not live to work, and it’s up to us to look out for ourselves and make sure we’ll reach that goal.


: How I Escaped The Rat Race :

My journey to breaking free from the grind started a year into working my first full-time job after high school. I found myself sitting on the couch of a psychologist’s office, bawling my eyes out and feeling utterly hopeless. I was diagnosed with a persistent depressive mood and sent home to figure things out for myself.

Today, I am happy to report that I did. It took me 20 years, but the heck with it. I’m happy with where I am today, and in the end, that’s all that matters. That, and the exciting trial-and-error phase I went through over the years:

I worked in different positions
I started out working as a data typist, became a project assistant, switched to being a producer and editor, dabbled in freelancing as a translator, moved on to become a quality assurance manager, and finally ended up as a product manager and team lead. (And in case you’re wondering: No, I don’t have a college degree.)

I changed my work environment
My first job was at a tiny start-up, and I gradually moved on to big corporations only to find out that I felt most at home in medium-sized companies. I worked in numerous industries including manufacturing, media/publishing, consultancy, and IT. I spent 90 % of my work life in noisy open-plan offices until I eventually called it quits and found myself a remote job.

I reduced my working hours
I worked 40+ hour weeks for more than 2 decades without ever questioning it. When I finally did, I realized I made more money than I needed, and I was willing to give it up in return for having more free time. I was tired of living only for the weekends and putting my life on hold in between.

Today, I work 3 days a week in a remote job that I enjoy, and I’m happier than I ever thought I would be. I am writing this post for everyone who struggles with fitting into the regular 9-to-5 system.

Creating a working environment for yourself that lets you thrive and be happy in life IS possible. It might not be what other people dream of or expect, but who cares? You’re the one who matters, you’re the one who knows best what you do or don’t enjoy.

So be the one to take action to get to your happy place.


: We Can Choose Our Work :

We’ve been told from an early age that once we’re done with school, working life follows and continues until we retire. It’s a fact we never question, and of course, there is some truth to it. We all need to work to cover our living expenses. What we DON’T need to do, however, is work a job we’re unhappy with just “because everybody else is doing it, too”.

:1. It’s Our Life And Our Decision:

This is our life, and it does not belong to the people we encounter in our personal or work life.

Our parents wanted us to go down a certain career path, friends aspire to certain professions, and authors and business coaches recommend a certain way of working. What they all have in common is that they don’t know us. And just because something seems right to them doesn’t mean it’s a good match for us.

Nobody truly knows what’s going on inside of us and what our hopes and fears are except for one person: ourselves. Consequently, we should be the only ones we’re worried about and listen to when making work-related decisions.

As long as we take care of ourselves financially, it’s nobody’s business how we earn our money (provided we don’t do it on the backs of others). We don’t have to be accountable to anyone, and if it’s good enough for us, we shouldn’t care what others think.

We have to become the leading actor in our movie again. This isn’t somebody else’s life, it’s ours, and we shouldn’t lead a miserable existence as a supporting actor.

We probably have only this one life, so shouldn’t we make the best of it while we’re here? When we consider how much of our lives we spend working, it would be crazy to not adjust our work life to our needs the best we can.

:2. How Much Do We Really Need?:

Many of us work according to the motto “The more the merrier” – mostly in terms of money, sometimes also in terms of working hours.

It’s important to question whether this “more” is our own goal or something others have set up for us. All too often, we live by the ideas and wishes of other people while neglecting our own. We listen to family members, friends, coworkers, and even strangers, but far too rarely to ourselves. And that’s a true shame.

Helpful questions we can ask ourselves are the following:

  • What is important to me (people, ventures, situations)?
  • What are things and activities I enjoy (even if others I know don’t)?
  • What work goal am I currently chasing after, and is it even what I want?
  • Do I maybe already have enough in my life?

The lockdowns a few years ago were an eye-opener for many of us. All of a sudden, we were unable to do a lot of what we were used to. We couldn’t go shopping, movie theaters were closed, and traveling was prohibited.

And so people naturally turned to alternatives. We cooked together at home with friends, we moved our exercise routines from the gyms to the parks, and we explored places in our neighborhood we had never been to before.

In the process, we realized how much we already have in our life that makes us happy and how little we missed the familiar we thought we couldn’t live without.

:3. Living According To Our Values:

It is important to pause now and then and challenge our beliefs. Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the right way for us.

The first thing to ask ourselves is whether we work to live, or whether we live to work. Is our job something that pays our bills and we could theoretically also work a different job instead? Or is our job our true passion and we cannot imagine ourselves ever doing anything else?

Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re probably not a passion-driven workaholic but someone who values other things in life much more than work.

Since we cannot stop working altogether and expect to live off others, the ideal solution is to turn our job into something we enjoy by making sure it matches our values.

Is it important to us that we are independent? Do we strive after knowledge? Are we the most content when we’re creative?

If you’ve never put much thought into what your core values in life are, you can start by taking the 16 Personalities test – it’s free and fun and gives a good overview of what matters to us in different areas of life depending on our personality.

Matching the work we do to our values is important, and I would even go so far as to say that we cannot become happy as long as we work a job that’s not aligned with our values. We might not be aware of it on the surface, but it’s extremely exhausting to have to act contrary to our convictions all the time. So let’s do our best to make sure we don’t need to.

:4. Time Is The Greatest Good:

Time is the greatest good and the only thing we cannot buy in life. It is also the only thing we cannot force to stop or will into existence if we decide we need to have more of it. In the end, we are all the same, and even those with a lot of money cannot buy their way out of death

Time is fleeting and it starts passing through our fingers from the moment we are born. Most of us just aren’t aware of it or do our best to banish any thought of it from our minds.

We must think about it instead of suppressing it, though. This is the only way we can make sure that we don’t wake up one day and realize that we’ve wasted our entire life away.

Let’s take a long hard look at how much time we spend working. And we’re not talking about the time between clocking in and out again. We also need to take into account the time we spend

  • getting ready in the morning
  • commuting to the office and back
  • preparing our takeout lunch
  • winding down once we get back home
  • buying clothes we only wear at work

Work occupies most of our waking hours, and it is legitimate to question whether this is really what we want. If we factor all of the above in and then calculate our true hourly wage after taxes, what can we buy in return for an hour’s work, and is it really worth our lifetime?

Michael Ende’s Momo was (and still is) one of my favorite children’s books, and there’s one quote in particular that has stuck with me ever since I first read it before I was even old enough to truly grasp it:

Life holds one great but quite commonplace mystery. Though shared by each of us and known to all, seldom rates a second thought. That mystery, which most of us take for granted and never think twice about, is time. Calendars and clocks exist to measure time, but that signifies little because we all know that an hour can seem an eternity or pass in a flash, according to how we spend it. Time is life itself, and life resides in the human heart.”

:5. Security Is A Fallacy:

Many of us shy away from taking unknown paths and choosing something that doesn’t conform to the norm. We tell ourselves that people from all walks of life work in secure employment relationships even if they’re not happy. They make compromises and settle for less, but in return they get security. Or do they not?

The truth is that no job is ever crisis-proof. When the going gets tough and regardless of our period of employment, we can be let go and replaced anytime. Neither our work ethic nor our loyalty can protect us from this, and planning for all eventualities is unrealistic to begin with.

This is not a bad thing, though – if anything, it’s a reason to be relieved and happy. The fact that nothing is one hundred percent certain gives us the freedom to focus on the here and now instead of something that might or might not happen in the future.

Opting for or staying in a job that at best doesn’t fulfill us and at worst we hate means we’re wasting our life away. So since it’s not secure anyway, we might as well exchange it for something that actually appeals to us.

But what if the pay is worse and we end up having less money once we retire?
Well, there is no guarantee that we’ll even live long enough to retire. Fate could have other plans, and before we know it, we’ve been carried off by a disease or run over by a car. Or maybe there will be no pension system anymore once it’s our turn. In that case, we would have been miserable for nothing.

But what if we jump out of the frying pan into the fire, and our new colleagues or our new tasks turn out to be horrible?
Of course, there is no 100 percent certainty that the new job will be our dream job. But there’s no reason why we shouldn’t or cannot change jobs again. Just because it didn’t work the first time, doesn’t mean it won’t work the second time.

Only one thing is certain: If we dare nothing, we can gain nothing. And wouldn’t we rather take the plunge with the realistic chance of becoming happy instead of staying put in fear of the wrong kind of change?

It’s a rare moment when we take a break from the tribulations of the daily rat race to reflect on assumptions and values that we casually accept as gospel.

Graydon Carter

Help this ugly duckling turn into a swan.
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: Leaving Wage Slavery Behind :

Leaving the rat race behind or quitting our 9-to-5 job is not about giving up work altogether. It’s about carving out a niche for ourselves that will let us live happily even though or possibly because we’re working. Wishing for that lottery win or the inheritance we know is unlikely to happen won’t get us anywhere. Working on our terms, however, is bound to change things for the better.

:1. Calculate Your Fixed Costs:

Very few people ever question whether they work as much as they should – which should actually mean “as little as is enough”.

Starting in our early school days, we’re molded and trimmed like dough with the help of cookie cutters. There is a standard shape and size that we all have to fit into. But we’re all so different and unique that it’s no wonder it’s not working out as expected.

The first step in finding the job that suits us best is figuring out what our monthly fixed costs are.

What bills do we need to pay under all and any circumstances?
Rent, electricity, food, phone and internet, gas or public transport ticket, pet costs, medicine, etc.

What else would we like to consider because it enriches our lives?
Streaming subscriptions, restaurants, movie theaters, drugstore items, donations, etc.

Pure luxury:
What are we willing to work additional hours for to be able to afford it?
Traveling, gym membership, fancy clothes, make-up, fun items not essential for survival, etc.

If we sit down and analyze our bank statements for an entire year, we’ll easily notice what we spend our money on and how much we invest in each of these three categories. With that knowledge, we can then calculate how much we really need and possibly realize that we already have more than we need to be happy.

:2. Reduce Your Job’s Significance:

Granted: Some people have found their passion and pursue a job that is their absolute dream. If you’re one of them, congratulations, you can stop reading right here and now.

To the rest of us who are not so lucky and who are struggling with our jobs, I would like to give the following advice:

Since your job isn’t your passion, there’s no need to make it the center of your life. You’d be wise to move it out of the limelight and into the shadows. Reduce the importance your work has in your life.

Why? Because it works the same way it does with any other problem. When it’s no longer the center of attention, it suddenly becomes smaller.

I always smile remembering this one dialogue from Ally McBeal that I thought was brilliant in its simplicity and so true at the same time.

Georgia: “Ally, what makes your problems so much bigger than everybody else’s?”
Ally: “They’re mine.”

We may not be able to control what situation or problems we are exposed to, and the ones that are ours will naturally always be bigger than the ones that belong to someone else. But we can control the size we allow them to grow to, and sometimes that alone is enough to solve things.

As soon as we find something bigger and more important than work, our job will take a back seat, and we’ll be happier for it. Everything seated in the second row, automatically upsets us less, gives us fewer sleepless nights, and doesn’t dominate our thinking anymore.

Only you know what that something could be, and it’s worth taking the time to figure it out. Maybe it’s caring for a person or a pet that is dear to our hearts. Perhaps it’s picking up a precious hobby in which we can fully immerse ourselves. Maybe it’s a long-desired goal that we’ve finally decided to work towards.

Whatever it is, it will shift our main focus to something positive, and everything else (even our dreaded job) will pale in comparison.

:3. Shorten Your Working Hours:

Banning our job from the center of our life to the sideline is also possible by reducing the time we spend working. Just because everybody else is working 40+ hours per week doesn’t necessarily mean we need to follow in their footsteps.

Do we maybe work more than we need in terms of money? After deducting fixed costs, is there money left over each month that we spend thoughtlessly or accumulate somewhere for a rainy day? If so, it may be worth thinking about reducing our working hours instead.

Since we have already calculated our fixed costs, we know exactly how much we have to work to cover them. How about reducing our working hours in favor of more free time which cannot be compensated with money anyway?

Working in the same job, but no longer to the same extent as before, can give us strength again. And if our current job doesn’t offer a part-time option, it might be time to look for a new one. Whatever is in demand in general is in demand part-time – we may have to search longer and have more competition, but the jobs do exist.

So let’s decide what our ideal part-time working schedule would look like:

  • Working 5 days per week, but less than 8 hours per day?
  • Working 8 hours per day, but less than 5 days per week?
  • Starting and finishing early or starting and finishing late?
  • Having a day off at the beginning, at the end, or in the middle of the week?

If we pick our schedule wisely we can work towards having a long weekend every week, or maybe a small mini break in between regular weekends. Either way, there is no right or wrong, there’s only our personal choice that’s entirely (and solely) ours to make.

:4. Change Your Environment:

Speaking of looking for a new job in case the old one won’t allow for any changes: Sometimes a change of scenery is enough to discover or bring back the joy of our work.

Doing the same work but in a different environment or with different colleagues can be enough to make us enjoy our work. Not because it’s a breath of fresh air (even though it undoubtedly is), but because it’s a better overall fit for us.

There are different ways in which we can change our work environment. It’s up to us to decide which one works best for us.

One possibility would be to adapt the size of the company we work for. Does working for a small family business sound more appealing than working for a corporation? Or would we rather leave a start-up for a solid medium-sized company? They all have their pros and cons, and being unhappy at one end of the scale might mean that it’s time to take a closer look at the other.

A second option would be to change industries. Whatever it is we do for a living, very few job positions only exist in one particular sector. So if we’re not mentally restricted to a particular line of work, it might be worth casting our net wide. There are so many interesting industries out there, which ones would we be interested in learning more about and looking into more closely?

A third way would be to switch from working in an office to working from home. Not all of us are cut out for working in open-plan or multi-person offices. We simply thrive best in different environments. Most extroverts recharge their batteries by being around people, while most introverts need time and space to themselves to do the same. Moving our work to our desks at home where we’re not constantly interrupted can be life-changing and is worth a try.

:5. Utilize Your Strengths:

Having to deal with our weaknesses day in, and day out saps our strengths and drains our self-confidence. So if we’re stuck in a job where we constantly need to compensate for our shortcomings (and trust me, we all have them), it’s neither good for us nor our employer.

Instead of constantly comparing ourselves with colleagues who are better at something than we are, the wiser choice would be to look for a job in which we can play to our strengths.

Let’s think about it for a second: What is more likely to yield a good result? Having someone who isn’t ideal for a job try his best? Or having someone who has a knack for a task do what comes naturally to him? Exactly. The first one will not be good enough no matter how hard he tries. The second one will be great without even trying.

So given the choice, wouldn’t we rather have fun at what we’re working at and be able to rely on our knowledge and skills instead of constantly having to cover our back and double and triple check our work?

Employers who deploy their employees according to their abilities are rare, but they do exist. Finding one of these rare gems is worth every effort because it allows us to be healthy and grow.

Speaking of skills and abilities: Working in job tandems (also known as job sharing), where two or more people share the work responsibilities and working hours of a single full-time job, is becoming increasingly popular as well. So that might also be something worth looking into.

:6. Look For Something Flexible:

Last but not least, flexibility can improve our work life immensely. Flexibility concerning our work is as flexible and versatile as the term suggests.

It can mean that we get to choose our working hours the way we do when working via services such as Doordash or Uber Eats.

It can also mean that we can choose freely where we want to work, whether it be from our own home, a coworking space, or a café around the corner.

And finally, it can mean choosing the type of work or job content which we can do by using platforms such as Upwork or Fiverr.

However we define flexibility for ourselves, choosing a flexible job gives us room to breathe, to be creative, and to spot new opportunities whenever and wherever they arise.

Certain professions have even created (albeit involuntarily) special positions whose key competencies involve flexibility regarding time and location – think of travel nurses and substitute teachers.

Of course, there is also the ultimate flexibility in the form of being self-employed and our own boss, but that is another story altogether and shall be told another time and in a separate post (I will link it here once it’s written).

Being flexible in the way we work not only gives us the feeling of freedom, it sets us free by letting us determine how and under which conditions we work. To some, there might be a downside of a certain uncertainty, to most, this is a small price for the independence we gain in return.


: Questions To Ponder Over :

  1. If you had to do your job for the rest of your life how would that make you feel?
  2. What drains you the most – the time investment, the environment, or the tasks?
  3. How would switching to part-time affect your working and private life positively?
  4. In what way would a change of location improve the way you feel about your job?
  5. How could you alter your work responsibilities to better match your strengths?

I’d be thrilled to hear from you in the comments below.
Don’t be shy.


: Information For Research :

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You can be as detailed as possible or write a one-liner – either is perfectly fine.
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: Key Takeaways From This Post :

Finding the job that suits us without being a regular 9-to-5 is possible no matter how often and vehemently people tell us it’s wishful thinking. We might have to kiss many frogs before we find our prince, but fairy tales do come true if we’re willing to put time and effort into it.

We have the power to shape our career path (and that’s coming from someone who never received formal training and doesn’t have a college degree), but we need to stop being too afraid to take risks. If we’re unhappy with the life we’re living, why are we wasting our time sticking to it?

The strategy that worked for me was trying out the following steps to see how they resonated with me:

  • Reducing my job’s significance so work wasn’t the center of my life anymore
  • Shortening my working hours to prioritize personal time and overall well-being
  • Changing the work environment and trying out different industries and work locations
  • Utilizing my strengths to leverage skills instead of struggling with weaknesses
  • Seeking flexibility in terms of hours, location, and job content to find a better fit

It’s time to forget about what society dictates and focus on what brings us genuine happiness. If our work aligns with our values, everything else will fall into place.

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1 Comments How To Quit Your 9-to-5 For Good

  1. Avatar for AlexAlex May 6, 2024 at 1:50 PM

    Dear special someone who is reading my blog,
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