Do you love your job? I mean really love your job -- so much so that if money weren't an object, you would be doing exactly what you're doing for a living right now at exactly the same place?
Not many people can answer "yes" to that question. In fact, less than a third of Americans admit to being very satisfied with working for their employer.
But imagine what an empowering feeling it would be to wake up in the morning, head to the office, and spend a large chunk of your waking hours doing work that truly invigorates your mind, body and soul. After all, the more you enjoy what you do during the huge chunk of your life (40-plus years) you have to earn a living, the easier it is to enjoy your life in general.
But to get there, you may very well need to be willing to fire your boss.
Prepare to Make the Leap
When you need the money, it's very tempting to hold on to a lousy job, in spite of a bad boss, incredibly long hours, and work that simply doesn't motivate you. That paycheck is important, especially in a job market like the one we're in now, which hasn't exactly completely thawed.
So unless you're already prepared and have the perfect role to go to, don't quit your job -- yet.
Instead, start working toward that ideal situation where you love what you do and are able to earn a living doing it. If you put your mind to it, you can probably get there within 10 years. Yeah, that's a decade away, but if you don't actively move in that direction, how much longer were you willing to sacrifice your happiness for a job that pays your bills but sucks away your life?
What Exactly Are You Working For?
Your first step toward work-life harmony is to figure out where your money is going today. Debt service? Convenience items? Taxes? Housing? Gas? Food? Clothing? Medicine?
Ultimately, that's what it comes down to, after all. If you're in a job you don't love, and you're just working it because you need the money, figuring out what you really need and what you could live without will go a long way toward helping you turn down your current paycheck for your dream job.
You need to track it all -- every penny. Personal finance software like Quicken or sites like Quicken's Mint.com can help. But even a simple spreadsheet or good old fashioned pen and paper can do the trick.
What Are You Willing and Able to Give Up?
Once you've figured out where your money is going, your next step is to ask yourself what's holding you back. Which of your expenses are so worth sacrificing for that you're willing to stay in a bad job? Are you spending money on things out of necessity or habit? Is that spending filling a void with material things that could instead be satisfied through more enriching work?
The next step, of course, is to get rid of those expenses that are anchoring you. This is no easy endeavor. It can take a while -- perhaps even years -- especially if a big chunk of your costs are related to debt service.
But cut back everything you don't absolutely need, aggressively snowball down your debts, and even consider moving if you have to, in order to drop your living expenses enough to take that leap to your ideal job.
When your debts are gone and your other costs of living are down to the bare minimums you're willing to accept, you'll find that you'll have cash available to save and invest. Here's where the dream of firing your boss and the reality of earning a satisfying living meet.
When you've freed up cash and whittled your expenses down to the essentials, it's time to get to work. With the money you're saving it's time to build up a "freedom fund" -- a pre-retirement nest egg that enables you to pursue your dreams.
In that freedom fund, save up enough cash to have a decent three-to-six-month emergency fund and enough seed capital to cover the cost of switching jobs. Also in that freedom fund, build an investment nest egg that may not cover your total costs of living but will cover the costs that your dream job won't.
When you reach that point, you won't be totally ready for retirement, but that's not the point. What you will be is financially prepared to work only at a job you love. That can be just as good, if not better, than retiring.
Again, getting to this point may take time. But while 10 years may not be enough time to go from zero to fully retired, it can be enough time to go from a job you have to work at to one you want to work at. When it comes to your quality of life, that can make all the difference in the world.