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Why I Quit My $50K Salary Job to Intern for $10 An Hour

Okay, so…I have a Bachelor’s in English and honestly, I don’t know where to begin writing this. 2017 has been one hell of a year for me. A hellish rollercoaster, if you will, of some decent highs and undoubtedly, the lowest of lows.

The year started out on cruise control. It was my senior spring semester, and I was doing what I’d done for the past three years: studying, drinking, and being the average college student. It was an easy, blissful bubble I did not realize was about to pop. I’ve never been good at transitions, like from middle school to high school, high school to college and now, apparently, college to adulthood. I was not prepared for what I was getting into.

I accepted a desk job in Orlando, FL. The appeal of this HR position was that it offered a location not too far from my hometown, a good salary, and independence. Working for a big firm and getting my own apartment seemed like my only option upon graduation. I felt I had to validate going into debt for my Master’s degree in business by getting a “real” job. How wrong I was. In the six months I worked there, I experienced a level of anxiety like I had never known. I’m talking waking up in the middle of the night, losing 15 pounds, call your mom every day, fight back tears kind of stuff. I was bored, ill-trained, lost, and losing it — both mentally and physically. I’d unintentionally tied my self-worth into my career, my job performance, and this crappy position I was ill-suited for.

A few things that kept me going were my family, friends, counselor, medication, and my faith. I’m not kidding when I tell you I would go to the bathroom, try not to cry, kneel on the floor, and pray on my knees. I felt a desperation so deep I let go of the pride I unknowingly clung to. Pride that kept me from expressing my faith, my feelings, and my fears. My closest peers at work knew I wasn’t happy and wouldn’t be there long. Being my first real job, however, I didn’t know how to properly communicate this to my manager. Truthfully, I should have keyed her in much sooner than I did, but honestly, I knew I didn’t have a future there the day I stepped out of training and onto the floor.

So what did I do to prepare for my impending exit? I saved and saved and saved. I stashed away 60% of my paychecks. At times, these few thousand dollars were my biggest comfort because I knew if worse came to worst, I could quit my job and still cover my rent. I eventually did, and I was able to accept an internship position that’s much more in line with what I want to do. I saved with a few steps:

  • Keeping my rent to $530 with everything included. One of my three roommates had the idea to turn our apartment into a model apartment (the one they show potential new leasees). This saved us $100/month, and all I had to do was keep my room clean for the first time in my life. Easy peasy and totally worth it. I had coworkers paying upwards of $1,400/month in rent just to live alone. It made no sense to me, and I wouldn’t be where I am without that cheap apartment. 

  • Not going clothing shopping. I’m not a big shopper at all, but during this six months, I literally bought myself one new work shirt. Since then, I’ve dropped around $300 this month on Christmas sales, but during that time, I definitely kept this category in check. We all know how easy it is to find cute stuff and drop a quick dime.
  • Shopping weekly at Aldi. This place is amazing, y’all. I spent like half of what I would at Publix because their off-brand foods are good and cheap. I’m all about that. Also, thanks to anxiety I wasn’t eating much — but that is clearly not healthy or sustainable (thanks a ton, Lexapro!).
  • Taking my paycheck and putting 60% into savings automatically and living off the rest. My biggest expenses were rent, gas, food, and entertainment. Considering I binge watched ALL of Game of Thrones and drove home a lot to seek comfort from my parents, I didn’t spend too much in the latter department. 

The level of transparency in this article may be alarming. It also may make me seem like a total loser. I’m 23, now live with my parents, and make $10/hour for God sakes. I used to think this made people losers, too. But A) it doesn’t and B) I’m happier than I could have imagined and C) circling back to that loss of pride thing, I’ve realized life is too short to suffer in silence, and I won’t ever do so again. And I don’t want anyone else to either. I’ll say it loudly for the people in the back: Your career does not define you or your self-worth. All I can say is: ask for help, plan financially, and quit that job that’s killing you. As long as you have a solid Plan B, you’ll be fine, Boo!

Riley Richards is a small business consulting firm intern and dog lover. For more, check out her very mediocre blog that she need to update here

Image via Unsplash

  • Lauren

    You’re not a total loser. You’re honestly a normal 23-year-old with a hellish year behind you and some seriously savvy money habits. It may not sound like much, but for something with the word “intern” attached to it, $10 is great. I interned for the same amount at age 22. It’s fine. Give yourself a ton of credit for how you handled this.

    • Riley Richards

      Thank ya, Lauren! It’s nice to be reminded sometimes, that you don’t have to be everything at 22. I have a post about ageism and this issue on my blog rn actually!

  • chi chi

    can we please get more articles like this? even a series if possible? I feel like SO many millennials/ young people I general go through this but don’t feel like they can talk about it because they have to look perfect for family and friends.

    • Riley Richards

      Thanks Chi Chi! I’d love to write more for TFD on our early adulthood fails, how to survive the first job and anything else they’d let me write about! haha! It’s painful but necessary and underrepresented.

  • Rebecca Ann

    I feel this article in my soul! I’m *finally* starting to feel like a “ReAl AdUlT” at 31 years old, but prior to 29, I just felt lost, directionless, and like an all-around failure. And honestly, I think that’s pretty normal, but people just don’t talk about it; instead, we go about keeping up appearances and faking it til we make it. So thank you for your honesty, and great job on making your Plan B, saving for it, and finding a better way to be happy!

    • Riley Richards

      Wow Rebecca! Thank you for YOUR honesty! Personally, I never wanna grow up but of course some things aren’t optional! It’s scary and hard to be so open but when things nearly become life or death you just gotta start paddling harder to keep your head above water. I’m no longer interested in faking anything and I’m sad I was so scared to be open in years prior but 2018 is going to be a year of real transformation!

  • Anthony

    Can relate to this. Currently in a job I can tolerate. I work in the Mayor’s Office and while I enjoy a decent salary and amazing benefits I know it’s not meant for me. I too got this job fresh out of college and your steps on how you got out give me some hope that this feeling won’t be be forever.

    • Riley Richards

      You’re definitely not alone, Anthony!! Most Americans, in fact, report not being satisfied in their jobs. You even seem to be handling things better than I was lol! You’ll get out of this and probably sooner than you think!

      • Anthony

        I’m trying! I try to talk to other people in different departments, doing activities I enjoy after work, staying positive. I think what makes this worse though is that it’s a semi Prestigious job and everyone is telling me how great I’m doing and I just feel slightly dead inside. Sigh. Thanks for the article again.=)

  • memelia

    Thanks for sharing! I’m 27 and have few years experience in digital marketing, but going back to interning in a different field (public relations) next month, so I totally get ya

    • Riley Richards

      that’s awesome! hope you love it! and thanks!

  • Maddy

    God, I love this article because the same experience happened to me. I went from making 25/hr right out of college as a contractor for Apple (speaking of images and how people perceive you- you can imagine why so many of my miserable colleagues didn’t leave) and ended up jumping off into the deep end to take a huge pay cut. More like this, please.

    • Riley Richards

      Congrats on being courageous and pursuing passion over paycheck! 🙂

  • Paulina Pendarvis

    Fantastic article! This isn’t just a millennial dilemma. I’ve seen many of my gen X friends struggle with this even into their 40s and 50s. But stories like this can’t be shared enough. Ty!!