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Ask HN: How did you escape your safe 9-5 job?
139 points by amadk 33 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 118 comments
How did you escape your meaningless 9-5 job to work full time on what you wanted to work on[1]?

Did you have a strategy or was it a leap of faith?

Did you regret it later on?

Are you happy with the decision you made?

Where do you think you would be today if you had decided to stay in that job?

If you are currently in a job like that, then do you have any plans of escaping to work on your passion[1]? if yes, then please share your plan.

[1] Your passion may be a dream job, a special course (masters, software bootcamp, course in another field like marketing or airplane pilot etc.) or a startup. It just has to be something you love but are not doing because you think you're job is currently the safest option for you.




I bought a side project from someone else that was doing 2K per month at the time and 4 years later, I have turned it into a 10+ person company (yes bootstrapped so slow but controlled growth and I own 100% of the company). So pretty happy about it. It cost me 60K upfront though which I had saved by working a miserable Wall St. Tech. Job.

I just couldn't figure out how to get out of that routine. I had tons of ideas but could never work on any of them. So I decided to take someone else's validated idea and grow it further. The point was to get STARTED somewhere. Force yourself into it. I forced myself into it by buying that side project and then quitting my job 4 months later. My income went down but couldn't be happier.

EDIT: So a few of you asking how I found the project. It was flippa. Yes, I know it is needle in a haystack. That is where I guess the luck factor comes in. I was just browsing that day and came across that project for sale. It looked perfect for me and I talked to my wife and put a bid. Leap of faith really. I never met the seller but he was an excellent marketer. THe software was crap but he had already built a very small paying audience which I knew could do a lot more.

If anyone is interested, I wrote a blog post on how to buy an online business. Linked on profile.


Literally in the same position (miserable WS tech gig). How'd you get the grit to make the jump?


there is no one way really. I just had enough of it and was lucky to have some money and timing on that flippa project. But I don't consider it just luck. I think of it as me being proactive because I have been browsing flippa type sites for years. So the key is: do something. anything. Even if small. But do it towards your goal.


I've found this is a/the key to being successful in anything. Just keep working at it even if you're only making small steps forward. Each step gets you closer to the goal and also puts you in a better position to take advantage of opportunities when they show up.


These miserable WS tech gigs pay well right?


Yea, the reason most of us stay put for a bit :-/ Typically tech jobs at big IB's and hedge funds pay more than your FB's and Google's of the world, and with way more time off per year.


Mind if I ask you what kind of work that you guys do?

Hardcore Math modelling implemented in C++ or something?


How did youfind whay project to buy? Are you active on the project, or going more passively?


very active. I am not a flipper type of guy. I want to create a real bootstrapped company with hopefully multiple products in the future. This was just the start. I am all in.


What is the product about? People are very secretive about explaining their niche, so i understand if you dont want to share.


I don't mind. It is an ed-tech product. Happy to explain more over email. Just don't like to self promote on HN :)


Can I ask on which platform you bought the project? Would like to do something similar.


flippa.


Last time I looked it seemed almost impossible to find SAAS businesses on those platforms. I’d love to do exactly what you did!


Wow nice. The first time i heard someone doing what you did.

How did you find that project?


> How did you escape

Out the window. I had to back up quite a bit and take a running leap, but I was able to easily shatter the floor-to-ceiling pane glass. Marge from Accounting tried to stop me, but luckily I had begun taking Parkour classes recently and was easily able to dodge her.

> Did you have a strategy or was it a leap of faith?

It was a literal leap of faith. Some banners set up to advertise a corporate conference broke my fall.

> Did you regret it later on?

Well, yes and no. I didn't regret choosing to leave my job, as I was able to take a chance and see what I could achieve. But I did regret the broken legs and fused vertebrae.

> Are you happy with the decision you made?

Yes.

> Where do you think you would be today if you had decided to stay in that job?

Probably not in this motorized wheel chair...


Thanks, I'll make sure to pack some rope.


Should've grabbed some cat-6 cable for a climbing harness first. https://xkcd.com/308/


Cat 5a would do


The whole safe but meaningless job is just romanticization. The same job can be meaningful if you are working on a good project. It can also be unsafe if the workplace is toxic.

It is about finding what you really want in life. Sometimes safe but boring is good enough. But sometimes working on a dream project might feel like a chore because of the circumstances and people.


I love this response so much because it encapsulates a SO style response of "why are you soon X, you should do Y instead". The person asked about how to escape from a job he perceived as meaningless and safe, not a job everyone perceived as meaningless and safe.


To be fair, the only description was "your safe meaningless 9-5 job". There was no explanation at all whether this was a personal feeling and the person's particular circumstance, or a more generic association of any generic 9-5 job with the qualities of meaninglessness and safety. In fact, the wording and explanation seems to lean towards the generic association of 9-5 <-> safe and meaningless. more than the person's personal experience.

I mean, it's not like nobody in HN ever romanticized creating startups and pursuing dreams over "meaningless 9-5 jobs", right?


Well, many times those SO style responses are fine.

"Guys, how much gasoline should I pour to put out a fire?"

"Why are you pouring gasoline on the fire? Use a fire extinguisher or water if it's not an electrical fire!"


But you DO escape a meaningless job by giving it more meaning


It might be better to stop looking for meaning in your job. I don't think real meaning is there.

This does not mean that you shouldn't look for a better job, or one that has more meaning (for you). But ultimately, you need more meaning in your life than a job can provide. If you try to make your job provide meaning, it probably won't provide enough, no matter how good of a job it is.

And though a job may not provide real meaning, it can still be really meaningless. If it's just make-work, if it's just bureaucracy, if it's just pointless, then by all means, look for something better. Full meaning for your life isn't found in a job, but a meaningless job is soul-crushing.


I was product manager for fast growing product, but I was waking up at 5am every morning, just so I can do some coding before work and then do another coding session after I get back from work.

That managerial job was ok and it paid well, but still my morning/evening coding sessions is what I was looking for all day. One day I was like "Cmon somebody will always pay me to write a code." I had some savings, didn't have kids or mortgage, next day I resigned.

It turned out well, I find maintenance contract doing programming job nobody wanted to touch (writing internal application in Delphi) that lasted for decade. I haven't made that much money, but I was able to travel the world few times over, failed few startups, read a ton, play a music and even bought a farm (dont ask).

I am in my 30s, having two small kids, mortgage and that farm. Everything is going well and I am still happy to code everyday and when money get low I go and consult for startups or something. If I stayed at that job I am sure I will have some career going on and more stable live, but I am still glad I did jumped the ship.


even bought a farm (don't ask)

I know you said don't ask, but I guess there is a good story there. so why the farm? :P


I was born in wine making region and basically everybody there have/had small vineyard and winery. I was living abroad at that time and was visiting familly over Christmas. As it goes we went to cellar of my uncle and then second and third and I got a "bit" drunk when they started talking about some land that one of their friend is going to sell as he is too old to continue working on it. It sounded like amazing idea so I told them that I am going to buy it.

Next day was a bit of a blur and then I went back to SE Asia where I was living at that time. In about two or three months later I've got message "So we finalized papers, you still want to buy that land, right?" It took me a while to understand about what he was talking about, but I was actually ready to get back home after 5 years of traveling around and I was burned out of startups and projects that went nowhere.

I was thinking about making it my only source of income, but after two years I realised that if I want to make it I will have to work minimum wage job for quite a few years and I decided to get back to programming instead. I decided to scale down my ambition and I am having semi-pro winery at the moment. I work there for one or two days a week, wines are successful and sold out easily but to get it to next level will require quite a lot of money and a lot of unpaid labor. Maybe some day.


Thank you, nice story. Moral is to not make any decisions while drunk :)


I’m also in my thirties and have a 1 year old boy. I want to wake up at 5, but can’t find the power and energy. What would you suggest me?


I have 9 month old boy and I wake up at 2am, also 3, 4, 5, 5:30, 5:45... Joking aside, it is just hard to keep any schedule with kids that young. Brace yourself, in few months your sleep situation is going to get better.


For you and poster above - I have a 6-month old kid and he's sleeping full nights since 3-months old. He only missed two nights (one was sick and the other one just started teething). The resource we used was called "On becoming babywise", highly recommended! (also, knock on wood, I believe we've been lucky with the baby, so far!)


Each kid is different, you might just get lucky. Our first born was heavy cryer till her sixth month, then she was sleeping nicely. Second did sleep very well till 6th month, then teething started and he is just crazy.


Get your kid on a sleep schedule. There are a few books out there how to do that or you can ask a doctor or sleep specialist. The key is consistency. Go to bed at 9pm, maybe even 8-8:30 if possible (if you get woken up at night). Wake up at 5am. If you consistently wake up at 5am your body will adjust. Sometimes your kid can help with that. Usually they are up at 6am.


Most people need 7-8 hours of sleep. So if you want to wake up at 5, you need to be in bed by 10 PM.


Eat well, exercise, avoid alcohol and tobacco and GO TO BED EARLY!


I try to avoid thrash food in general, but would still appreciate if you can be more specific about eating well. Do you have a specific recommendation ? A book for dummies ? Also exercise. I've done 100 push up challenge last August, but I was feeling so exhausted every single day.


>Did you have a strategy or was it a leap of faith?

Complete leap of faith. Got a very safe job in the French administration writing programs that manage pension for public servants and electronically archive documents. So safe I was bored to death and depressed.

I applied for a Canadian work Holiday Visa, got it with a friend, left and never looked back. My boss at the the time was so surprised I left such a safe place he literally told me "You've got balls" ("t'as des couilles"). Truth be told it was a matter of mental health.

I've spent two years in Vancouver, Canada, learned scala in a startup, met people I'm still in contact with. Now I live in the UK and work for the Guardian which is by an order of magnitude the best job I've ever had.

>Did you regret it later on?

Never. It was risky but it also was the best decision of my life. I just miss being closer to my family.

> Are you happy with the decision you made?

Yes

>Where do you think you would be today if you had decided to stay in that job?

Probably still integrating bloatware in order to manage French public servant pension, if not in hospital.


Nice! The Guardian was my dream job for a while... I put together an application, submitted it - and a week later all tech job openings disappeared. open source too - so I found the PR removing the job descriptions on github, it was quite a funny and surreal experience.

Keep up the good work!


A risky, non-9-to-5 job can be just as meaningless as a safe 9-5 job.

The hours and safety of the job are not what give the job meaning; it is you that gives it meaning.

I have worked for large firms and startups (none of them, by the way, were 9-5) and always felt it was a great job to have at the time. There was no "escape" though since the work was remarkably similar. The startups still paid.

To put it another way, I think you're looking at the wrong feature set to make this prediction.


It sounds like you overthink uncertainty, which is something I was stuck in for years. If I just reason it out enough, and have a good idea, and think it all through, maybe I can solve the problem before I quit that cushy job, or so the thinking goes.

It turns out that as long as I'm employed as a factory worker cranking out pointless Jira tickets all day to integrate another A/B testing framework, I don't have any good ideas. Boring works makes people dull.

How to escape: have f-you money. Pay off debts, save ruthlessly. See e.g. Mr Money Mustache [0] or The Simple Path to Wealth [1] for more. Bonus: you'll end up making better decisions at your 9-5 job because _you just don't have to put up with all that_, if the need arises.

My strategy: realizing that having a boring 9-5 job I found unfulfilling would make me insanely unhappy in the long term. You can always get another job if you decide you'd rather do that again.

Did I regret it? Am I happy? N/A. I know for sure I'll regret wasting another day arguing with a project manager that putting a ticket in the "in progress" column isn't actually the same as progress. In any case, others' experience doesn't have any bearing on yours (fortunately!). However, I strongly recommend against discussing this with your coworkers. They've chosen the same path you have, and will demotivate you despite having best intentions for you. If you go on an antarctic expedition, you'll run into a lot of people interested in the South Pole, and may begin to think it's common to spend lots of time thinking about penguins or the aurora australis. Well-intentioned but bad advice is pernicious.

You can't go wrong spending your days doing something that matters to you.

If you haven't read it, I recommend Post Office by Charles Bukowski.

[0] https://www.mrmoneymustache.com [1] JL Collins: The Simple Path to Wealth


I was deeply unhappy in my job as a web developer. My co-workers were great but our department (attached to an IT support company) was treated as an afterthought. Our manager had no development experience and had bounced around from department to department. He was basically one step away from the door but the owner of the business didn't have the heart due to personal reasons.

A friend who owns an ecommerce business said that he would create enough work for me full time for my first 12 months if I set up on my own, as well as paying me the same as I was earning at my previous employer. My first job was to build him a new website which involved not only building the site but migrating all of his product and order data, which kept me occupied for the first few months. I jumped at the chance, splitting my time between home and his office at first.

This was 8 years ago and while growth hasn't been explosive, I've been consistently employed since then and now have 2 full time employees to help me out, with revenue slowly increasing year-on-year. I still have the original contract (he started another ecommerce business in the meantime which has grown to be the biggest in their sector) and have picked up a couple of others along the way, expanding into industrial software and interactive marketing. It's a mixed bag, and a lot of fun getting to pick and choose which projects we want to take on.

I honestly couldn't be happier with the way things went. My life is relatively stress free and I (and my employees) earn good money off the back of a very small number of stable long-term contracts. We have a nice office and nice working conditions. Everything I ever wanted and never got in my old job.

As far as what would have happened had I stayed? The company was acquired and the web department was eventually dismantled after years of sitting around with nothing to do. I hear the redundancy packages were half decent, at least.


I spent years working on side projects. They were always these apps that didn't really exist yet, and by the time I finished making them and trying to market them, I'd realize I had no idea why someone would pay for it. Then I'd throw it on the trash heap and start the next idea. After far too many years of this I decided to be more practical about it. At the same time I also cut my living expenses in half and started saving all the money I could. Once I released the app a major multi-national company signed up on the first day, saying they had been looking for something that did what the app does for a long time. Unfortunately, they were using it in a completely different way than I had anticipated, and the amount of usage it was getting right off the bat was way more than I thought it would get when I released it. Keeping up with the bug fixes and feature requests was too much, and I couldn't stand my job anyways, so I just gave notice. It's a bit strategy, a bit leap of faith.

This is actually all happening right now, but I am currently very happy with the decision. I enjoy the risks and the unknowns. They are huge motivating factors for me, rather than a source of stress. I honestly don't think I could be happy working for someone else. Every job I have worked at, people justify bad behavior as just being "good business". I simply can't accept that, and don't want to be part of it. On top of that, I can't stand giving someone else so much power over my life. I understand a certain amount of that is inescapable, but a 9 - 5 just feels oppressive to me.


Got laid off. Started taking contract gigs. Found I preferred it. Partnered w/ a collective of consultants founded by a friend and former colleague. Established my S-Corp and committed to consulting. Now I make more $ and have more autonomy than ever before. It comes w/ some uncertainty and some downsides, but what doesn't? I don't expect ever to go back to traditional employment.

I haven't yet reached the point where I only ever work on projects that are particularly meaningful in terms of impact on the world, but I have more time w/ my wife and daughters and dogs and guitar, and I take every July off to go sailing... so it's a lot closer to "dream job" than anything else I've yet come across.


P.S. The "safe" job might not be as safe as it seems. Stuff happens. Acknowledging this reality and being prepared to adapt and move on is crucial, and much harder if you're complacent and stay put based on the illusion of security. There's a huge opportunity cost in basing life decisions on risk avoidance.

As for "meaning", one can find purpose and merit in almost anything, it's more about mindset than circumstance!


> P.S. The "safe" job might not be as safe as it seems.

It's been my experience that if you can get one 9–5 job, you can get another as long as you have a nontrivial amount of experience.

For example, I last got laid off in March of 2016. In May of that year, I applied for a job that I ended up starting in June (and I'm still here two and a half years later).


Just be careful that you don’t use your job as a proxy for life. Understand what you want first, then figure out where work fits.


I wouldn't say that I quit because I wanted to work on something that I wanted to, but instead, I quit and then came up with something that I would love to work upon.

It was a leap of faith and within 10 days came up with Draftss. 9 months later we've achieved 8k MRR. (http://draftss.com)

Very much happy with the leap of faith. At present, I wish I would've done it sooner.


I was laid off in 2008 during the recession.

I always wanted to start a business but preferred the safety of a salaried position. When that was taken away and no one was hiring I had no choice.

I bought a laptop on my way home and started calling my professional network. Within a day I had signed my first web design client.

5 years later I sold the company.

Both starting and selling my web agency were incredibly rewarding for my professional growth.


Depends. Do you have a family? A spouse? Debt? Do you need meaning in your work or just a paycheck to get satisfaction out of life. You create your own meaning or lack of it - the job doesn’t inherently have or not have it. If you want a more fulfilling life find thing that give you that and do them. they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.


Remember that your job doesn't define you.

If you think of a job as just a tool to make money, lots of the pressure of having a "meaningful" job goes away. The job has meaning because it allows you to feed yourself and your family.


That's some any-time-previous-to-the-late-20th-century shit right there. Only a few decades ago did we start to have the luxury of even thinking our job should be "meaningful". I often think of a caveman or a child working in a textile mill or the lead dude in "The Jungle" screaming out "My job has no meaning!" as they're trying to just not die of starvation. I often find myself too thinking that I would like my job to have more "meaning", but the truth is, my boring corporate job provides me creature comforts that most of the world present or past will never know, and me deeming it meaningless really points to the fact that I lack volition and drive to make it or my life outside of work sufficiently(existentially?) meaningful. Still, fuck corporate bureaucracy that keeps me writing TPS reports instead of using my trade skills.


This. Especially fucking the corporate bureaucracy! I always enjoyed my work before I joined my current company and, with just how _corporate_ it is, it’s opened up the “where does my meaning come from if not work?” can of worms for me. I had quite a negative emotional reaction to the workplace at first but now I realise I have an opportunity to grow by finding meaning somewhere else in my life.

For reference I work at a large bank, so I suppose the availability/features of our systems/applications is not meaningless for our customers. That said there’s no way I can see my professional experience moving forward here. Maybe experience surviving in a corporate environment counts?


I wrote a longer version of this before[1], but here it is in short form:

> Did you have a strategy or was it a leap of faith?

It was more of a loose plan. I'd been reading Patrick McKenzie's articles about consulting and knew I wanted to try it. When my 9-5 (more like 8-10) job pushed me to the edge, I decided to put in my notice and give consulting a shot.

I had about $30k saved up from four years of 9-5 work which helped A LOT because I made zero dollars for a few months. But that cushion was a result of good personal finance decisions, not because I knew I'd quit some day.

> Did you regret it later on?

No, never.

> Are you happy with the decision you made?

Absolutely. I still have challenging moments but they're the good kind of challenges; interesting and rewarding.

> Where do you think you would be today if you had decided to stay in that job?

Miserable. No way my mind or body would survive that long in that environment for that long.

In short: I made the right decision for myself, but it wasn't a rash decision. My savings cushion helped me survive for the first few months. Even if things didn't work out as well as they did, I would have no regrets for trying.

[1] https://www.gkogan.co/blog/how-i-learned-to-get-consulting-l...


I found a meaningful 9-5 job.


I agree with this. When I had to look for work last, I asked myself what was the biggest problem I wanted to contribute to fixing (for me it was climate change). Then, I started researching and networking with people who worked for companies in that area. Eventually, I got a job in renewable energy. So far I've loved every minute in this field because I feel it is so meaningful.

There's lots of 9-5 jobs that are meaningful. They may not pay as much as a meaningless adtech job, but if you're in software engineering, they still usually pay pretty well.


This is exactly the path I'm on, software eng in ad tech would love to help the cause for addressing climate change - any advice?


Sure! Check out this post (and posts like in my comment history).

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15127154

Also, if you're in the bay area, start coming to events on my bayareaenergyevents.com calendar. Software engineers usually have no issues finding jobs once they come to a few events and learn who's hiring.


I’ve switched from a meaningless 9-5 job to a meaningful one at a different company. And when that became a soul crushing death march affair, I switched to yet another 9-5 job within the same company (but a totally different department.) I’ve been with that one for almost 10 years now and it’s by far the best I’ve ever had (and I don’t see how it could ever be matched by something else.)

When your planning to leave because you can’t take it anymore, you suddenly have a lot more freedom to tell your existing employer what you really want. And if they still want to retain you, things can work out great.


If you're a Malaysian, it's a no brainer.

A senior tech job pays about US$1000-$2000 per month. Maybe $3000-$6000 for managers/VP of listed companies. Conditions can be poor. Long hours at work, long hours in traffic, 14 days of vacation. Aggressive people. Pay is often late with startups, and the norm is paying on the 5th of the month.

The trick is to work foreign jobs. I make about US$35/hour freelancing, which is a very comfortable amount for me personally, and also well below the usual rates internationally. I can live in a comfortable area away from the city with good food, good traffic, and fast internet.

If I can just make an international SaaS thing at $1000/month, that should be enough spare change to buy a family house.


I did not escape in the physical sense, but I picked up side projects to keep building out my skill.

I make it a priority to try to find more interesting work and projects that will add value to the company.

I have tried for many years to create a profitable side project, but I am still trying. You have to be careful about survivorship bias when you hear about successful startup. I am not saying you should not try, I am saying you have to consider that there are far more failures than successes. Keep that in mind and try to learn as much as you can along the way.


Never had one. Straight into startups right out of college. Never looked back.

The fallacy is, that a corporate job is safe. One startup got bought by Dell, then we got laid off. Hadn't been laid off before.


How did you escape your meaningless 9-5 job to work full time on what you wanted to work on[1]? I assessed the 'worst case scenario' vs current scenario vs best case scenario and threw a reasonable probability at each. Next I looked at my potential happiness with each. It was quickly apparent that staying where I was at was the dumbest thing I could do. (also consider how 'safe' your job really is, every company and gov't changes direction from time to time)

Did you have a strategy or was it a leap of faith? Of course you have to have a plan or an idea, but then it is just a leap of faith, not much in life is a guarantee.

Did you regret it later on? Nope.

Are you happy with the decision you made? Yup.

Where do you think you would be today if you had decided to stay in that job? In that same job, doing the same thing, reasonably happy, but slowly dying.

Background: I am from Canada where the social systems and job prospects are good, therefore my 'worst case scenario' is not that bad, so YMMV. I also have an engineering degree to fall on. However; I do have a wife, 3 kids and mortgage. Honestly, the kids are the only thing that concerned me. Wives can work too if need be, and mortgages are easy to get rid of.

Worst Case Scenario: Don't let fear of failure (ie Pride) get in the way. Where is your pride when your dying and full of regrets?


I'm delivering my notice today, in Brazil it's 30 days of notice and then I'm free :)

My plan is to work on my projects, blog, study in both specializing and generalizing, get in touch with the developer community, do Open Source, seek remote & independent work, I've saved enough for about a year on a budget.

I also plan to take the opportunity and take a very good care of myself, I skate and I'm taking up calisthenics, at 31, I'll skate everyday! Small-scale farming & getting a masters is also planned.

I've been trying to conciliate my actual interests with job unsuccessfully for about 7 years now(subtracting some 2-3 years from the beginning), I've been considered above average generally and almost always the employer wanted to talk me out of quitting but I think I've reached my tipping point, the cost of this salary is just too high for me. Feel free to get in touch anyone.


good luck on your ventures! you sound excited


Thanks man!


I ended up retiring from the military. It wasn't 9-5 and it wasn't meaningless but it was soul sucking at times. I originally planned on getting into information security/ cyber security but a good opportunity popped up to own a franchise that does stretch therapy and I took it. Right now I am able to make a difference in other peoples lives by reducing pain and increasing mobility thru stretch therapy. Running a business has also been extremely educational. Especially coming from a military background.

For the information security side of the house I am just doing my own thing learning pentesting and reverse malware analysis. It is still fun but I have less time to do it as I would like.


There are two outlooks. I like to think of them as theory vs practice.

In Theory: "Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life."

In Practice: "It's not about where you work, it's about who you work with."

The theory is achievable, but it ignores working with people. The practice can tend to avoid obtaining your ideal work to perform, but can lead to more satisfaction among most people.

Working on a dream project can feel like bore or a nightmare due to the people or dependencies. Sometimes safe but boring is awesome because it still might challenge you and the people around you are amazing, they pick you up when you are down, support your failures, and celebrate your success. Ultimately it's a balance that we all have to find.


Started my own company with a couple of partners.

Lots of risk and hard work, but it can pay off. It did for me. Not really that company, though it was successful, but companies I started after that which were more closely aligned with what I love to work on.

My plan was to become my own boss, or at least a boss. Turns out it's not that black and white, but it defined my career for the better.

I will say this:

Taking calculated risks is as important, or more, than any other factor in what you'll accomplish in your life. I've seen many otherwise very talented people get stuck in local maxima because they're afraid of failure.

Listen to your instincts. Take risk.


Read Mastery by Robert Greene, great resource that talks about this topic widely.


This was me at my last job. I was there for 10 years, stuck for 5. As other's have said here it is as simple as just quit, but go deeper than that. I'm sure you have come to the same conclusion on how to escape, but you should since down and ask yourself, "Why haven't I quit yet?". Are you simply scared of failing somewhere else, knowing that your current situation is guaranteed? Are you not confident in your skills? Analyze the reasoning for your reluctance, and then working on your confidence. This is at least what worked for me. Good luck!


I had a "plan" but it was still a leap of faith, leaving a 8-5 steady job with no income. My enabling factor was a good amount of savings and low debt. I had around 1 year of comfortable living to figure it all out.

Staying at my last job wasn't an option so I'd have a different job for sure, but not satisfied with what I was doing with my time. I find running a business and developing my own products much more rewarding. 7 years later I don't have any regrets although running a business is a whole new set of challenges.


It was part strategy in that I kept my day job (web developer at a university) and split my paycheck with my two co-founders so that we could start our business/product. I would work on the idea on nights and weekends.

Luck and faith came into play when we applied to YC and were accepted. At that point I quit my job to move to Mountain View.

There are no regrets today, but it was a difficult decision at the time. Keeping my day job allowed me to still feel secure while also pursuing something ambitious.


By taking a massive pay hit over my potential, and teaching 2 days/week in China. I'd honestly rather die than getting stuck in a make-work 9-5 in America.


Earn that much that you can afford to work just 80% or 60%. 60% would be ideal since it gives you a 4:3 ratio of free days, which is more than half the week.



I switched to management role in game development couple months ago. Now I’m broken and miserable and sending applications to get back to sofware development. Managing others just isn’t my cup of tea, no matter how cool the project is.


I've been having the same questions which led me to so good they can't ignore you. The concept of career capital really resonated with me. For me it's about bringing more value to my current organization and to myself to stay in my current job and role, current job new role, new job or on my own.


Those questions seem like they’re a part of a course assignment. Ie the replies here will be reproduced in an essay.


> Your passion may be a dream job, a special course (masters, software bootcamp, course in another field like marketing or airplane pilot etc.) or a startup. It just has to be something you love but are not doing because you think (you're) job is currently the safest option for you

Hopefully it's not part of a course assignment otherwise the instructor may need a course of their own.


> If you are currently in a job like that, then do you have any plans of escaping to work on your passion? if yes, then please share your plan.

I wouldn't really call my current job 'meaningless', it's nice to work on something that customers actually value (I get to say "someone wrote a book about the product I helped make" which is pretty cool) and isn't adtech or analytics tech, but it is annoyingly safe and I've been thinking it's probably time to look into a different environment. 3 years ago I estimated a 55% chance I'd still be here, it drops to 35% chance in another two years. What keeps me? Part of it is I've done the math on early "retirement" (having enough investments to live off a % of interest/dividends) and if I stick it out a few more years into my early 30s (I'm 28) I'll be at a spot with a nice buffer to be fine even in years like 2018 where the final 1YR ROI for the S&P 500 was negative.

Alternatively I could try switching jobs to another bigco that gives out more stock in annual compensation and maybe cut that need-to-work figure by a couple years. As another alternative I could join various kinds of startups. In the worst case for that (at least given what I would settle for, e.g. especially now startups can band together into group insurance policies I'm not going to accept a role without some sort of advantaged medical insurance plan vs paying for one all myself) I just pay my current cost of living and don't raise more savings until I have to get another job, so that extends the time frame of "retirement". Perhaps in a close-to-average case it doesn't change the years-to-goal line too much as startups with funding can at least pay semi-competitive base salaries. In the best case it cuts the years required by a few years (like another bigco job) due to a quick IPO or acquisition. So ultimately on the financial front there's not a strong reason to change right now. I can afford to be picky and wait to see if something comes along that stirs the "I actually want to do this for its own sake" feeling (due to technology, the nature of the problem, or the people I'd get to work with). Perhaps that thing will be my own thing and I'll make a startup for it then. "Retirement" I often put in quotes because I do think there's a strong possibility of continuing to work, just not in the traditional sense. My dad just actually retired, I don't think I could last until I'm 60 without a much stronger external driving influence (e.g., a kid, or a mortgage).


I had an extremely easy gov contractor job that paid really well, used my skills, and I worked with great people. I still was living for being off work.

Decided to pursue a PhD, which requires about 20x effort but I like coming to the office every day to work. Huge difference for my mental health.


I worked in a support position w/ the DOJ for several years. After my pay was frozen for two consecutive years, I realized I hated what I was doing anyway and quit. Attended a coding bootcamp and have been a paid dev for about five years. Best decision ever.


before you can get something in your life, you need to have space for that. the trick is to know yourself enough, that way, you can choose what you actually want. if it feels like a leap of faith, then probably you have too many unanswered questions (about yourself)


I don't particular the implication that a safe job should also be consider as not meaningful. Would you continue doing a job that is meaningful but unsafe (kinda like a lot of the US public servants now due the US gov shutdown but I digress)?



I got laid off. Twice. And decided, fuck it, the world was a garbage fire, I was going to go do the PhD program and academic career I'd always wanted.

Seems to be working so far, though I'm super tired all the time.


You need to find autonomy somehow. More info here http://www.paulgraham.com/boss.html


Just quit.

Really, that's it. Just quit, and go do the work you enjoy.


Sorry, but this is terrible advice. Do not quit until you have something else lined up. Quitting with no plan for the next day will leave you out on the street. Go part time if you want more time to set something up.


Well, obviously you need to have either money or a plan so you don't end up homeless.

The OP edited his question after I replied. When I wrote my reply the question was a oneliner: "how do I escape my meaningless job"


Find meaning in your 5-9. That's the best I got at the time. Once I escape the 9-5, I'll let you know :P

But for most people, the best way is probably FIRE.


it was a leap of faith and the best decision i ever made.

i left my cushy consulting gig for a small startup that was acquired a year later. if i had decided to stay there, i would likely be doing the same meaningless projects for about 5% more than I was the year before.


Is a safe 9-5 job inherently "meaningless" now?

I am good at software development. I help a company with software development 8 hours per day and they pay me for my time. They take care of hardware, air condition, desk space, social stuff, cleaning, internet connection, tax pre-deduction and regular payment transfers. I get to focus on what I'm good at.

My colleagues are pleasant and my work tasks are challenging.

In the evenings and weekends, I spend time with my family, make things for myself, or play games alone or with others.


Hey, thanks for taking the time to respond. Apologies for the misunderstanding. Safe and/or 9-5 jobs are not inherently meaningless. My question was directed towards people who find their jobs to be meaningless, but these jobs also happen to be safe which makes it much harder for them to leave.


> Is a safe 9-5 job inherently "meaningless" now?

I didn't read it that way. Two sets of ppl whose 9-5 jobs can be 1. meaningful 2. meaningless. OP's question is for second set of ppl. Wans't implying that set one doesn't exist.


OP wasn't talking about objective meaning, but subjective meaning. They sound like they want to move on to doing something that fulfills them.


OP didn't claim safe jobs are inherently meaningless nor did he allude to the claim.

OP is trying to find a state where he's happy, you seem to have already found one, so good for you.


Is it not in the title? " How did you escape your safe meaningless 9-5 job?" - I understand what he means, but its still alluding a bit to it IMO.


No, here's the title in another form but with the same message: People who had meaningless but safe 9-5 jobs and escaped, how did you do it?


What does your company sell?


I haven't up/down voted you, but I think I understand why others did. Your comment appears either as relevant to or an off shot from the perceived topic, thus gets judged and receives its due votes.


How is the the product not relevant to the meaningfulness?


It may happen, say... when the love is gone yet almost everyone hearing what you're working on expects you to act delighted.


Agreed. I take serious exception to the notion that a safe 9-5 job is something that needs to be "escaped".


Thank you. I'm also disappointed how people(millennials specially) find this days 9-5 jobs "outdated" or mark them as "meaningless" without even taking the chance to get one, or taste the struggle to make it's path to a decent job.


I replaced my with safe 9-5 meaningful


I really need advice, I'm in this exact situation and I'm feeling lost.

I'm gonna go throwaway since I really need to spill the beans here:

My story is full of 'pendulum swings' and 'comparisons' and I can't really make up my mind. I need help.

- I am married with children.

- I live in Brazil, which is shitty right now, as most of you know (far-right trigger-happy president just got elected). Lots of unemployment going down here, people are genuinely struggling. Basically everyone knows someone unemployed or in bad shape financially.

- I managed to somehow escape all the suffering from the last 3-5 years by landing a .gov job several years ago. That means I currently have a good stable income, I am able to afford a mortgage and a comfy home, I have a car and health insurance. Not much money left at the end of the month but everything is properly paid and managed. And I basically cannot be laid off unless I do something really bad.

(Lots of people here would kill to have this job -- in our culture landing a .gov job is synonymous of "having made it", because the majority of Brazilians don't really enjoy hard work -- they measure success by your amount of free time).

- Problem is, my current 8-5 job is as meaningless as one can imagine. I siphon data thru python scripts and write excel spreadsheets, deal with lots of useless crap, data that is not going to be used for anything, and that's it. It's a .gov job after all, filled with bureaucracy and useless stuff to do just to fill time. It makes me feel really empty and after all these years I have ended up developing Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Attacks ;(

- Otoh, before working here I worked on places in which I've consistently put 70h+ work weeks, I was really fat and my overall health (blood pressure, sugar, cholesterol levels) was poor. After joining this boring dayjob I managed to have more time for exercising and hobbies and I ended up losing an excess of 50kg, which was really good to me. My health is mostly in check, besides my anxiety which fucks me on a weekday basis (I almost don't have it on weekends).

- After I arrive home from my dayjob I'm usually so stressed out for not really doing anything meaningful (which worsens my anxiety) that I have several freelance gigs lined up so I can 'feel alive' for a bit. I am a systems developer and I have almost 20 years of UN*X experience, which lends well to these kinds of custom workloads where they need specialized solutions and whatnot. When I'm in the zone doing this kind of work at my home office, I have no anxiety whatsoever.

- I know I need more free time for my family and the kid. I don't think I should be living two work lives for that much time or I'll end up not seeing my kid grow up or something. As much as the freelance gigs make me feel really accomplished, I realize I also need time for "real" hobbies (music making, woodworking), exercise, etc.

- All these freelance gigs helped me shape my career outside of my day job and build a good network and portfolio of solutions and cases. I currently have some interviews lined up with recruiters from Europe, and some are going pretty well. I think I might score a job there soon-ish and if that happens I'll be offered to move. That means abandoning my "dream job" here.

- Thing is, I don't know how it can turn up there, it could be good, it could be bad and if I come back I'll not have my safe job anymore, and I'll end up being thrown into genpop without any kind of safe net which is much needed in this extremely volatile environment that is Brazil right now. And now I'm older and I have a mortgage and a kid.

- I am currently "taking a hit for the team". Not happy at my dayjob, but I do it anyway and I "like it" because I am thinking about how I am able to keep my family together and well-fed, while several people are losing their houses etc and suffering a lot. It really is a 'lesser evil' situation.

My doubts are:

- Am I complaining on an full stomach? Should I stick to my safe job and not go into unsafe adventures?

- What if I end up hating there as well and regretting not having valued my current safety as much as I should?

- Otoh, what if I am losing myself into this hole of a job and living a lesser life, for me and for my family? Emigrating to a better place could mean more work and less slack but also living in a better place, with less crime and with a better overall quality of life.

Doubts doubts doubts.

I'd appreciate your sincere opinions! I'm gonna come back in a few hours to read the replies.

Thanks in advance and have a good day, y'all! o/


"- I know I need more free time for my family and the kid. I don't think I should be living two work lives for that much time or I'll end up not seeing my kid grow up or something. As much as the freelance gigs make me feel really accomplished, I realize I also need time for "real" hobbies (music making, woodworking), exercise, etc."

This bothers me. You made a decision to start a family, when you did so, you made a commitment to uphold their well-being to the best of your ability. Living "two work lives" will most likely have detrimental effects on your relationship with them. I know, I've been there. Be careful to balance your needs with those of the ones you love, they are more important than some temporary high of doing fun work on the side. Yes we need to do meaningful work in our lives, but not necessarily at the cost of these other meaningful things. As a programmer (and creative) with a family, I completely understand where you are coming from. As a loving father, it is easy to make the necessary sacrifices. I hope you find more meaningful work soon, but unless you breath that work with your heart and soul (which is rare), it will always be just that, work, and at best a fun distraction you will trade for time.


thank you for your reply!


Send your CV to companies in Berlin, Germany. Ireland other EU countries are also good.

If you have a degree(I think you do), moving over here might be easier than you think. I'm also brazilian and have been living here for 4 years already. Brazil is shit.

I've never accepted working on a shitty job though and would hate working for the government, I see it as stealing from people, at least in Brazil. Mostly startups and left the country as soon as I could. You also need to see that if what you want is to work on a company that has a balanced amount of pressure(not too much, not too little).

About your anxiety&panic attacks, I believe only professional help can help. My wife has her deal of issues and our lives has changed very fast due to us moving abroad, having to deal with a challenging environment where people speak a different language etc. This makes it definitely worse and it might be better for you to work on this first before you do a bigger move with your life. Starting exercising can work, but definitely a doctor will be able to give you much better ways of handling that. Now that the dust has settled and we've been doing well here, it got better, but she has always went to the doc and took it seriously. Seriously. Go to the doc.


Hey! Obrigado pelo input :-)

I'm already doing that, sending CVs and applying all over.

I would like to target Portugal since the language barrier is smaller, specially for the wife which does not speak english. But I know salaries are smaller there and whatnot.

About the Panic Attacks: They are handled. I underwent treatment and stuff, took meds for a couple of years, thank goodness I don't need them daily anymore :) I still have them once a month or so, which is really good, compared to daily.

I believe I have developed this shit in this job, before joining here 7y ago I had never experienced any of that. I am an overactive, overachiever type of individual and I sincerely don't fit the .gov kind of environment of lots of people doing almost nothing all day long, the extreme boredom makes me anxious, I need to have shit to do.

As you now, I'm here for the job safety and good income, that's it (I hate it too). The private sector is too risky right now and salaries are worse than what I earn right now, so it'd be dumb to go back 'just for the thrill' and jeopardize my family and the house.

That's why I'm trying an international move. I speak three languages and I've been coding since 8 years old (started on Pascal, then C, C++, AWK/SED and friends, now Python+C mostly). I'm oldskool ;-)

Thank you man o/


Glad to be of help


I can feel you brother. First of all I want to say that you are a good person, you are working for your family, you work for them even though you do not enjoy your day job and you have provided for them while working hard and improving your craft in your free time.

I think your situation is really complex with no clear solution. You have job safety, a family to take care of and decent life where you have. In my case, I had something similar but I gave it all up and moved to Germany (when I was 35) which has been rewarding but hard. I had to reboot my whole life as if I had just graduated from university and at 40 I am in a similar position as I was when I was 30 (in terms of finance, housing etc.). The initial 1-2 years were super hard as well in terms of finance and setting up a new apartment etc.

My work quality has improved a lot since I moved to India but it has not always been a bed of roses. Things were super hard when my father was sick back home for example. On the other hand my kids may have a better life here in Germany since the education / opportunities here are a lot better.

My take is, life will be hard anywhere and some decisions will always be tough. With a family you will have to make sacrifices no matter where you go (unless you are really lucky). Gratitude, hard work and creativity will also take you far anywhere. It boils down to your priorities, for me India was hard because of the pollution and my asthma was getting really bad, I did not want my kids to go through the same so I moved. I would say, make a list of what matter most for you (e.g. family, job satisfaction, health etc.) and use that to make a choice.


thank you for your reply! good suggestion.

Hash out a list of real priorities in life and map that into the current situation to help out decide.

In my case, it's not pollution, it's crime and rampant corruption tho. Brazil really sucks right now and I don't know if it's enough to have a 'really good job' down here if I could earn HALF of what I earn right now in a better country and still have better quality of life.

I'm thinking that if I'm able to move to a better country I'm gonna improve my kid and wife's life as well, with better access to education and whatnot.

I just don't know if it's worth the risk of abandoning everything here right now. Even though it's shitty, it's at least "quite good" compared to my peers. If things turn out wrong I might have to come back and start all over.

o/ thanks again and have a good one


they measure success by your amount of free time

All other things considered, so do I!


I'll prefix my answer with a definition:

adj. meaningless - not bringing a sense of meaning, satisfaction, worth, value, or purpose.

Now onto my response...

I was in AAA video game development, and regardless of what game I worked on, it was always the same thing each cycle: solve the same problems, work long hours on a game I'd never play myself, often detested, and maybe get some kind of a bonus or vacation time if it did well. Rinse and repeat, only each cycle was worse as I got older, had a family, wanted to spend time with them, and learned from past mistakes, but the designers got younger (from my perspective) and wanted to continually make all the same mistakes over again.

After a while, I came across - and read - "What Color Is Your Parachute" (https://www.amazon.com/What-Color-Your-Parachute-2018/dp/039...), which was fantastic!

At the time I was working for Disney and used the strategies I learned to come up with a plan to make connections outside my studio, learn a few new things while helping with other issues. Eventually (it took about a year) it paid off and I was moved + promoted to a completely separate division. I was still helping the game studios, but doing work that was far more rewarding to me and I was learning new skills: big data, ETL pipelines, databases, etc. And, I was able to apply all my existing knowledge and experience to that new position to make it better. I may not know Kafka yet, but I knew how to integrate pipeline code into the game engine using very low memory and CPU.

Time goes on, and - after helping someone else with a Scala + database problem on Reddit, I ended up landing a job using all my new skills at The Broad Institute helping with genetics research. I can't say that I've ever been happier or ever had a job that was more meaningful. I go to conferences now and meet people who are actually using my tools, REST APIs, etc. to cure complex diseases. And I'm learning so much more than I ever thought I would.

Back to your questions:

> Did you have a strategy or was it a leap of faith?

It was a strategy. I think when you're young and don't have a family it's easy to take big risks and leaps of faith. That was not an option for me. But, I think that believing that I _could_ successfully make the transition was a leap of faith.

> Did you regret it later on?

There was one point early on I did. I knew game development inside-out and was an authority on the subject. If I said something in a meeting it was taken seriously. It was hard to go back to being the newbie. After a while, though, that went away. I absolutely do NOT regret it now.

> Are you happy with the decision you made?

Couldn't be happier. Life is better on every single front for me. I'll also note that much of that is intertwined. I'm happy (with work), so I act happier (at home), which means the family is happier (around me), and it all feeds on each other.

> Where do you think you would be today if you had decided to stay in that job?

Do the same shit over and over again, until something happened to the studio and I was let go. Eventually, I'd be a 50-year old game developer that no one would hire because my price tag would be too high, and I wouldn't put up with someone telling me to work 80 hour weeks.

> If you are currently in a job like that, then do you have any plans of escaping to work on your passion?

No.

But, I'll answer this a little differently than you probably expected. At every job I've had - until now - I've always had side projects and little programming things I did for fun at home. I always had an "itch" that wasn't being scratched by my day job. That's no longer the case. I get fulfillment at my job, and if there's ever anything I'd like to explore, I'm lucky enough to be working where it is actively encouraged.

In summary, I'm not sure if your question was a kind of "poll" for something else you're working on or if you are looking for encouragement to escape a job that you find meaningless. Assuming it's the latter, I would suggest reading the book linked - or at least enough to get you going. It has many great tips for helping you discover what's actually important to you, and then how to come up with plans on how to get there. It may take a while, but often, simply having a plan and sticking to it (and being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel) is enough to keep your spirits up.

Good luck!


I escaped the 9-to-5 with freelance web development. I never actually had a full time job because I decided I never wanted one when I was doing a summer job in college that required me to sit in one place programming for 6-8 hours a day. I discovered Hacker News around that time and the idea that I could make money on my own and was hooked.

I started out doing what basically amounts to working in an agency. A business guy I graduated with wanted to start a marketing company and he got the jobs and I built the websites. It was still a contract setup and I made $50 an hour because Hacker News told me that $50 was a good starting rate so I asked for it and he gave it to me.

Then I got into doing Django web development and charged around $90/hr because I got a lead and I didn't really want the work so I said, "My rate is $90/hr" and he said "okay" and from then on my rate was $90/hr. (Ha!) I just recently got $125/hr in a recent project.

Starting when I was still sort of in college helped a lot. Living in small town Indiana where the college was and this company started out helped a lot lot. Rent at the time was $150/month with a roommate. Having very low expenses meant I could experiment more and not have to worry as much about paying rent. Not having any dependents helped too.

The biggest advice I have to anyone who wants to go out on their own: learn business skills. If you already know how to develop, you may think that's all you need. It's a meme at this point that "If you build (a SaaS) they will come." No, they really wont. You need marketing, marketing, marketing, and coding to build a webapp.

This is why I recommend people start out freelancing first. Then go into building consulting services. And _then_ build products. Freelancing is so much easier to make money with. Any competent developer can get $100/hr+ with some networking. That will teach you how to talk to clients and how to sell yourself. All things you need if you are going to sell products, but it's way easier and you don't also have the burden of designing a good product.

Consulting services are very lucrative, but require even more business sense. If you can business and code at the same time, you are in a verrrrry small percentage of people, and have superpowers.

Build your audience somehow. You'll need one if you are going to sell a product. Make the product first as a service that "doesn't scale". That is, manually implement the business outcome your software would give your customer manually yourself.

Then if you feel the need build a product based on your consulting business. Create rungs on a "product ladder" - free content you put out, paid info products, higher price consulting services, and then at the very top automate all of it in software. It's a model I've seen a number of people do that will be a lot "less risky" than quitting your job and building a webapp blind without anyone watching.

I tried this once. I quit all my freelance work for a year and lived off of savings. I then proceeded to not make anything anyone wanted and just ended up spending all of my money. Then I got back into freelancing and have money again.

In general, this strategy is: "Have safe money and risky money". Your employment is safe money. It's boring, but safe. If you want to get out on your own with less risk, figure out a way to get more time but keep that safe money (maybe try to reduce hours, maybe try to reduce your commute, maybe try to work 4 days a week), then pick up freelancing part part time. Then once freelancing becomes "safe money", quit your job. Work on freelancing part time and build a business that is "risky money".

This is what I'm now doing and I have managed to make a reasonable living while having a lot more time to pursue ventures I'm passionate about. I still spend about 20 hours of my day doing "boring" web development work, but it pays for the rest of my life. I'll probably always keep at least a little of that work because it pays so well for the time put in.

Happy to talk about this more, this subject is of great interest to me and is something I've thought about a lot. My email's in my profile if you want. I think your mindset is more reasonable than many people seem to think, and I wish you the best in your quest to find work you love. It's a long term process but in 10 years of doing this I wouldn't have it any other way.




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