How I Walked Away From A $200,000/Year “Dream Job” At 31 To Live My Life

Could you leave a prestigious $200,000 a year dream job if it meant living a happier life? Here’s the story of one engineer who did just that.

They say that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

In my own case, the path to early financial independence did indeed begin in 2012 when I first decided to take the simple action of starting a blog and declaring to the world:

“I desperately desire to be unplugged from the Matrix.”

Knowing definitively what you want out of life is oftentimes more than half the battle.

For me, once I was able to hone in and figure out exactly what it was that brought me the most happiness in life (absolute freedom), the rest, as they say, came easy.

Freedom = Happiness

I learned in my mid 20s that I valued a nice hike on a bright, sunny day infinitely more than I did owning a brand new, luxury sedan. Further, I realized that I cared very little for accumulating lots of toys (junk), and that I actually greatly preferred living the simple life comprised of owning as few possessions as possible.

When I moved to Newport Beach and then back to the Bay Area again for a new job, it was quite the revelation for me to see first-hand that it was indeed possible for me to pack all my belongings into my vehicle!

I distinctly remember on the drive back to Silicon Valley, muttering to myself, “This is just about all the stuff I ever want to accumulate in my life.”

The Quest For Freedom

When I first embarked on my new quest, I was dying on the inside (day-to-day monotony can do that to a person), but as far as other people could tell, I was living the “dream”. I had a comfortable, good paying, white collar job, working my days as a professional engineer in the semiconductor industry.

Yes, the “rat race”, as everyone likes to call it, did require employees to commit long hours and make certain sacrifices from time to time. I had to attend late night meetings and come in to the office on the weekends/holidays, but there were definitely perks to be had as well — yearly bonuses, RSUs, stock options, ESPP, 401k matching, etc.

In our society, when you repeatedly throw enough shiny objects as someone, for the most part, they will keep coming back for more.

I was no different. Throughout my career, that carrot that’s constantly being dangled in front of you is often times too enticing to turn away from.

The Steady March Towards Financial Independence

From 2012 and onward, I made the biggest leaps in terms of financial progress. Saving money and investing regularly just became something that was ingrained into the very fabric of my being.

There was no going back now — I detested wasting money, I knew that I wanted out of the system, and I started spending a lot more time indulging in the activities (mostly cheap or free) that really did make me happy.

With direction, everything kind of just fell into place. As I advanced in my engineering career and earned: pay raises, bonuses, stock options, etc. I was never once tempted to waste away any of those windfalls. No, instead, I kept aggressively investing and buying up assets: index funds, dividend growth stocks, and especially real estate.

From 2012-2014, I had acquired an ownership stake in 7 rental properties, and my retirement accounts (401k and Roth IRA) had compounded to ~$180,000.

How Do You Quit A Dream Job?

Looking back, everything seemed to have happened so fast. But no, I didn’t do anything special. I just stayed persistent and kept right on saving and investing, rain or shine.

By the end of 2014, I had secured my “dream job” in high-tech. As someone who had always worked for more mid-tier companies throughout my career, I will confess and say that I was most excited and pumped up to be joining one of the most prestigious, and recognizable engineering juggernauts on the planet.

For me, once I got accepted in, I kind of knew deep down that there would really be nothing more for me to strive for — this was the upper echelon and pinnacle of my engineering accomplishments.

Yes, the new job came with a cool title and high salary; of course, that’s something to be expected. They threw lots more carrots at me and I took the bait yet again. But like most everything out there in life, there would be no free lunches.

During the first few months, I worked like a mad man… Not only were the stakes high, but I also realized that the company was paying me a lot of money, so I set some pretty high standards for myself to live up to. Although I was no longer young and spry like I was in my early 20s, I was still only 30 at the time, and like I had done so many times before in the past, I dug in deep and ran that extra mile.

Only for me, by this stage of my career, I had very little gas left in the tank. Not very long into my new career, I reached a critical inflection point in my life when I woke up one morning and felt more ill than I had ever felt before in my life.

Something was not right…

I was not sure what I had done, but all the extra stress and strain (whether self-imposed or not) of the new job had done a number on my body and mind (although the final outcome was most likely due to accumulative damage over many years).

Right in front of me, I could see myself breaking down… During the Christmas holidays, I vacationed to Miami and experienced the first panic attack of my life. At that moment, I knew that I no longer had many miles left in me…

Taking The Leap

In early 2015, I went on short-term leave, and the time off from work really gave me a chance to re-analyze my life again. In some ways, realizing that I could very well be on the way out of engineering and jobless made me appreciate the fact that I had fought so hard for early FI even more. Worst case, I knew that even if I were to lose my steady, active income stream, I would have a backup plan!

By mid-2015, I had achieved a net worth of $1 MM, and I had about $2,000/month in rental income coming in each month.

Throughout 2015, I kept on battling, knowing that the end of my engineering career was just around the corner. I mean, I always kind of knew that I wouldn’t be doing this type of work forever, but I really did believe that I had maybe 2-3 years left in me when I first signed up for the new job. But getting sick really forced me to re-assess the situation more closely.

In regards to finances, nothing changed. I didn’t skip a beat and kept on saving and investing aggressively. I acquired my eighth and final rental property in 2015.

No More Carrots

Finally, in March 2016 at the age of 31, I made the very conscious and cognizant decision to walk away from my corporate job for good. I had no more miles left in me… I was done. On the surface, perhaps it might have seemed like a difficult thing for me to do, but it really wasn’t.

After all those years, I finally concluded that I wasn’t much a fan of carrots anymore… Go figure. I was content. I was at peace with my decision. Bottom line, I chose health and happiness over stability and money.

Really, when it comes down to it, I think far too often in our lives, we over-analyze the hell out of everything. For those of us aspiring for early FI, we get trapped into playing the “one more year” game all too often; I’ve done that plenty of times myself.

But really, at some point, you’ve just got to step up to the plate and do it. You’ll always be able to come up with a million excuses as to why NOW is not a good time. For me, frankly, once I put my life into the proper context, I realized that I was in the perfect position to walk away.

I’ve now reached a point in my life where money is no longer the most important factor affecting my decisions. No, thanks to the progress I’ve made on my quest to early FI, the tables have turned, and chasing true happiness now carries more weight.

And that’s what life is really all about.

I walked away from my corporate engineering job because it was no longer a good fit for me. I wanted to try something new. I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to travel the world. I wanted to come and go and I pleased. I wanted to grow as a person.

Most importantly, I wanted to live my life on my own terms.

Not society’s, or anyone else’s…

“Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

– Andy Dufresne, Shawshank Redemption

I chose to live.

And I’ve never been happier!

10 Comments

  1. Allan Liwanag @ The Practical Saver

    March 26, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    This is a great post.

    Working constantly and monotonously does burn you out easily. Even when you try new experiences, you may still end up getting burnt at and with word. I’ve known a couple of people who are burnt out from their jobs but can’t seem to quit right away because of not having enough money in the first place or haven’t secured their future yet. Kuddos for doing it so early in your life.

    What you’ve done is brave and inspiring. Thanks for sharing your story. It gives hope to a lot of people who want to escape the 8-5 day life and have the financial freedom that they want and need in life.

  2. Charlie

    March 28, 2016 at 12:06 am

    What an inspiring story! Yes the deeper you get into the corporate game, the more “carrot” baits you accept, the harder it is to get out. If I am offered 200k salary, will I walk away from it? Not sure. Probably not. But I’m glad everything turned out great for you and most importantly you became happier and healthier. Congratulations. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Xtian

    March 28, 2016 at 10:02 am

    Congrats on exiting ! Super inspiring and refreshing. I am in a similar position to you, though I’m now approaching 43. I also recently had my first panic attack, following my mid year performance review from my VP. The blur of work continues into every weeknight, weekend and public holiday, and the somewhat vile appraisal I recently didnt really help. Yes, the stock options, RSUs, 401K matching, annual bonus are all good. Have been saving like crazy these past 5.5 years as I’ve seen how people who start losing the energy to keep up, are managed out. Like a corporate hunger games 😉 Ive quietly accumulated 17 investment properties with US18K/month cashflow but some of them needed renovation work, which has sucked in some cash. I’ve picked out June 2017 as my date to exit… if I can last that long. Thanks again for sharing.

  4. Delivery Boy

    March 29, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    I like your new format. Much easier to read. Good job!

    • Nate Tsang

      March 31, 2016 at 1:04 pm

      Thanks, glad you’re enjoying it! =)

  5. Cece

    March 30, 2016 at 10:10 am

    Reading the story and the time frame , I thought you wrote my own story. The leave of absence and the realization of health and happiness more important than anything else in life. I want to walk away from my 6 figures income as well but life responsibilities keep me in the rate race. I am trying to escape as soon as I can.

  6. No Nonsense Landlord

    March 30, 2016 at 8:08 pm

    You have more guts than I have. Congratulations!! I am getting close myself, only a few more days. Unfortunately, for me, I am a bit older (but I will have more spending).

  7. theFIREstarter

    March 31, 2016 at 4:01 am

    Nice post FI Fighter!

    One thing I would say…:

    Bottom line, I chose health and happiness over stability and money.

    Stability is not a high paying job along with a high spending lifestyle. Which is what most of your cohorts would have been choosing (whether consciously or just because they were going along with the majority). I would argue that you are now in a much more stable position with no job than you would have been if you didn’t question the most common lifestyle.

    Cheers and enjoy your new adventures!

    • Nate Tsang

      March 31, 2016 at 1:03 pm

      This is a great point – its not an either-or situation. You’re a lot more stable than a lot of high income earners
      because you’ve been saving and investing for so long.

      No job also means the opportunity to work on projects you’re actually interested in, which may also lead to more money down the road as well – not that it really matters if you’re already happy.

  8. Norman

    March 31, 2016 at 11:19 am

    Thanks for the inspirational post! I think your attitude on work, life, and freedom reflects a lot of the views of people in our generation. It’s great that you let others know that there is another way.

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