Why Many People Are Leaving Six-Figure Salaries – And If You Should Consider It

Stress and anxiety six-figure salaries

Does Money Buy Happiness?

This is one of the “big” questions we constantly ask ourselves. If you stood on the street and conducted a random poll to determine if more money leads to better well-being, I’m willing to bet you would get an overwhelming “yes” response.

But even the research is conflicting. One famous study from Princeton in 2010 demonstrated that emotional well-being plateaued at a salary of $75,000 (likely more today with inflation). Then last year, a new study contended this line of thought by finding that well-being increases with incomes over $80,000 annually.

So with that in mind, we are seeing the “Great Resignation” where many people are leaving their jobs for better pay, better work-life balance, and better opportunities. This effect is even seen among those with highly-sought out, six-figure salaries. As someone who recently left her high income, I’m part of the wave of Millenials that have reprioritized life goals.

With that being said, I can personally attest that the big paycheck isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Although I knew I was fortunate compared to so many, I wasn’t living in the future I imagined. Instead of looking like the picture-perfect career woman and mother I wanted to be, in reality, I didn’t even get to kiss my kids for the first time every day until nearly 6 pm. 

Living in a sunbelt city with inflation, we were living paycheck to paycheck due to my six-figure student loans and the cost of childcare for two toddlers. Every day was a race to get ahead, only to be left falling one step behind. In a nutshell, we weren’t happy.

While not all six-figure income positions are created equal, here are some reasons that may indicate that it’s time to leave those six-figure salaries behind.

six-figure salaries

Why Your Six-Figure Salary May Not Make You Happy

1. High-Stress Levels

With great salaries come great responsibilities and a whole lot of stress. Six-figure positions often carry an unrelenting weight of meeting metrics and performing to leaders’ and clients’ expectations while maintaining a game face day in and day out. Over time, this certainly takes a toll on your mental well-being. 

Not to mention, the late hours and lack of time to create a healthy physical regimen significantly impact our physical health. Lack of exercise and unhealthy, fast food options can leave you with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. The blood pressure spikes throughout the day from the workplace don’t help either. 

2. Your Time Doesn’t Belong To You

When you work for someone else, you’re doing just that: giving up your time for somebody else. 

In those high-salaried positions, it’s not just a 40-hour workweek. Often, you head in early, stay late, and when you’re home, you have a hard time mentally clocking out of work. I was never able to fully unwind after a long day. 

The limited benefits and vacation time don’t help either. Unlike our European counterparts, our three weeks of vacation get used up by children, personal errand days, or doctor appointments.

Most importantly, working the 9 to 5 grind strips you away from feeling a sense of control over how your time is spent. Maybe you’re stuck sitting through an unproductive meeting and daydreaming of living a digital nomad lifestyle. Or perhaps you just don’t want to miss your daughter’s dance class for the tenth time. It may be time to move on if you’re missing the little moments that actually become the most important moments in life.

3. Keeping Up With the Jones

I don’t know about you, but when you’re working at all hours, giving up your time and mental and physical health, many people resort to the one thing that makes us feel great: retail therapy.

You work hard. Surely you deserve to have some nice things to show for it? And that’s how easy the lifestyle creep happens when you’re making a good salary. You start comparing yourself to those around you and feel like you need to spend more money to keep up appearances. A bigger house, slightly nicer cars, happy hours at that trendy new restaurant. 

And it all adds up so subtly that you barely recognize it happening until somehow you’re living paycheck to paycheck with a higher cost of living. It’s best to stop the lifestyle creep in its tracks while you can, but for some, with the cost of childcare, it may not be so easy.

4. You’re Too Exhausted To Enjoy Your Life

Maybe the clearest sign that it’s time to move on is when you don’t enjoy the things you used to. If you find yourself beyond exhausted from the workweek, that getting together with friends or family sounds more like a chore than a joy, it may be time to reassess your situation. 

train your brain

Considerations Before Leaving

Don’t forget: the grass may not be greener on the other side. If you’re on the fence about making a dramatic income change, whether that’s by asking to take a step down or finding a new job with less pay, make sure you’re okay with the sacrifices.


A nice salary comes with security that we often forget about until it’s gone. You may be trading your work stress for financial stress, such as being able to make the mortgage payment, afford a weeknight dinner out, or the ability to send your kids to a great school. If you’re considering leaving your six-figure salary, make sure you have another source of income or savings to cover yourself in case of an emergency.

Challenging Environment

Take time to really ask yourself if you would be content without the chaos of your current career. Do you actually thrive on the challenge of putting out fires? Or could your burnout be better managed by just taking some time away?

Many people have backed down in their careers only to find out that their free time wasn’t such a great idea for their personality type.

The Root of the Problem

Before making your dramatic exit, it’s important to understand what’s causing your unhappiness. Your job may be the final straw, but if there’s something else going on, a pay cut may just exacerbate any underlying problems. 

In the end, I left my six-figure job because I was unfulfilled at work, and it wasn’t worth the cost of missing out on my children’s toddler years. It was an easy decision for me to make, and it’s important to keep in mind that everything in life is temporary. When my kids are school-age, I may be dying to jump back in.

Ultimately, weigh the pros and cons, know yourself, and what will make you truly happy. Only you can decide if it’s time for a change.

This guest post was authored by Samantha Brandon

Samantha Brandon is a pharmacist, mother of two toddlers, and online entrepreneur who is passionate about giving women entrepreneurs the tools they need to succeed at SamanthaBrandon.com

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.

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