I Left Corporate Finance for a Lower Paying Job — Why I Don’t Regret It

Leaving the rat race can be a great career move.
  • People are quitting their jobs in record numbers, primarily for bigger paychecks.
  • Though a pay bump might seem like a good reason to switch careers, a survey from GOBankingRates found that 23 percent of Americans actually regret their job switch.
  • The Frugal Toad creator Paul Vachon, who made his own big career change, reflected on his decision now that over two decades have gone by.

Recently, I celebrated my 23rd anniversary in the classroom. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since I decided to change careers.

There are many reasons people make a career change, of course. GOBankingRates surveyed more than 500 adults across the United States regarding their job changes and found that 14 percent of survey respondents stated that they left a job for higher pay. Another common reason for changing careers — with 13 percent choosing this response — was a poor working environment.

Read More: Americans Are Quitting Their Jobs But Most Still Love What They Do

For me, it was a difficult and necessary decision, because I didn’t find my job rewarding. Here is how I made that journey and why I’ve never looked back.

Why I Left a Career in Corporate Finance

I spent seven years as a financial analyst for Westinghouse Electric Corporation, where my work primarily focused on preparing and analyzing financial statements, performing operational audits and other projects. Eventually, I was chosen to be part of a team to set up a new division in Round Rock, Texas, which was a significant undertaking and meant new opportunities for me. Initially, I found the work interesting, and working with a dynamic team in a startup organization was a welcome challenge. However, as a new parent, I found myself beginning to question the value of my work and how my employer was operating the business.

Work-life balance was another factor in my decision to change careers. I was spending more time away from my family, and this was impacting my quality of life. I’m not alone in that regard. According to the GOBankingRates survey, 10 percent of respondents decided to change careers because they wanted a better work-life balance.

After some soul-searching, I came to the conclusion that I needed to make a change. I needed to feel that my life’s work matters, that at the end of the day I can say I truly made a difference in someone’s life. What I didn’t know at the time was how that decision would affect other aspects of my life.

Related: People Are Quitting Their Jobs at Record Rates for the Best Reason

Starting All Over Again Was Life-Changing

I enrolled in a science education program at the University of Texas at Austin and, for the next two years, was a full-time college student again. This time, I was a father and worked a part-time job as a photographer. I was fortunate that my then-wife had a full-time job and with income from my part-time job, we were able to make ends meet and figure out how to pay for my college degree.

When I was at my old job, I felt stagnant. I felt like I wasn’t learning and growing. But starting over again made me realize how much I had to learn not just about chemistry and physics, but about what I wanted as a student, a parent and as a person. I finally realized what I truly wanted out of my new career: I needed to share my passion for learning with others.

I guess you could say this was an epiphany for me. I have always had a great desire to understand how things work, from the time I was a boy, dismantling and repairing my bike, to my passions today as a science teacher and writing about personal finance at my blog The Frugal Toad. I feel that knowledge truly is the key to improving one’s life. I often tell my students the better the information you have, the better decisions you will be able to make.

More on Switching Careers: 12 Signs You’re Financially Ready to Quit Your Job

Some Things Are Worth More Than Money

People don’t go into a teaching career with the goal of making money, and I was no exception. I knew from the start that I would be taking a pay cut when I decided to become a teacher and I was OK with that. I was looking to have an impact with my work and feel that at the end of the day, that maybe, just maybe, I helped to better prepare my students for future success.

Trust me, there are days when I am not able to reach all of my students and lessons don’t always turn out the way I intended. Learning isn’t always orderly, nor is it immediate. It takes hard work and persistence to master anything, and that is especially true for many of my students. When I see the look of accomplishment and pride on the face of one of my students, I know that it was all worth it. That is why I teach, and that is why I continue to teach, despite the challenges.

Next Up: The Great Reasons People Took Pay Cuts in 2018

Focusing on What I Can Control Gives My Work More Meaning

There are many things that can distract me from my responsibilities as a teacher. The list is a long one, in fact. Most of the things are outside of my control and, if I allowed them to, would suck the life out of me. By focusing on the needs of my students and tuning out those distractions, however, I find greater joy and meaning in my work.

Do I have regrets about leaving a career in corporate finance for a career as a public school science teacher? Well, when I make a decision, I tend to focus on the present and avoid looking back. I am happy with my decision, and that’s all that matters to me.

If I have any advice for someone contemplating a career change, I guess I would ask them one question: What value do you place on your happiness?

Click through to read about what happens when you go from earning $80k to just $12k.

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