I feel stuck.  I have been doing consulting in the Big 4 for around 10  years now and it’s just getting old.  I took the test and I am burnt out.  I took the other test and it appears that I may not have a good job and then I took another test and it shows me that I am an ISTJ. After you get the  result from that personality test it provides links to jobs that may be good for that type and I am already in those jobs and have been most of my 13 year career.

I feel like I have been trying to get out of consulting for years now, but now that I look at the openings that exist in my market that are outside of consulting, it appears that I don’t have the skills to do those and it feels  like consulting is the only thing I can do (which is not the case….I’ll admit to having a broader skill set than just being a consultant).  I don’t know where to start to get unstuck.  I need to reinvigorate my career and find interest in what I do or I need to find something else.

I am risk averse though.  My wife quit work 3 years ago to stay at home with our four kids.  We live comfortably on my salary, but I can’t take a massive pay cut to get into something that would potentially make me happier.  That will just lead to more stress.  Also, I am rooted firmly in Columbus.  All of my family is here and it’s a good place to raise a family.

I need to find something where I get some kind of fulfillment.  Telling  people all of the things they do wrong and how they could be better isn’t doing it for me lately.  I’m 36 and I feel like I hit a wall.  I am  unmotivated and constantly thinking about how can I get a new job that will provide something closer to an 8-5, will keep me off the road and will let me be more present in my kids lives.

My hope is that someone else has emailed you about this before and you can just copy and paste that answer here, but I know one size does not fit in with career advice.  I ordered a couple of the books you referenced on your site as well, so I am hoping that they provide some guidance or perspective.

Any insight you could provide would be much appreciated.

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17 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    You make a lot of money from consulting because you sell them your soul – you have long hours and heavy travel and you have to criticize people all the time instead of build things with them. That’s why consultants get paid so much.

    If you don’t want to sell your soul then you can’t keep that salary.

    So, actually, it is pretty much cut-and-paste advice. I would say that 50% of men who are supporting a family get to age 40 and don’t want to be doing their job any more but don’t want to take a pay cut. The men who take a pay cut and force their family to scale back expenses end up being way happier than the men who don’t.

    Of course your kids would rather have a happy father in a very small house than a big house and great vacations and a dad who doesn’t like his job.

    The majority of men I coach for this problem end up switching jobs. And here’s why: the thing holding you back is the pay cut. And a pay cut is actually a personal issue, not a work issue, but you’re not used to dealing with personal issues – your wife is. So you are uncomfortable having to set aside work stuff and deal with the personal issue of pay cuts. Once you do that, you will have a really clear vision of what your next steps should be.


  2. Bill
    Bill says:

    Hello Mr. “I hate my high-paying job” –

    Been there and done that, and I can tell you from experience that Penelope is right – I missed a large part of my son’s very early years because I was traveling and staying in China making cheap digital cameras for the mass market – traded that for exec position at silicon company – ended up traveling more times per year for shorter durations, that still didn’t work – Ultimately I loved the job, but I loved my family more – Chocolate Vanilla – choose – I chose the family – and boy am I glad I did – now I have teenage kids that say things like “You are the only dad I know that is not an embarrassment” – meaning I actually talk to them, I know what they are up to, help them with homework, etc…we don’t travel as much as we used to, and 1 weekend ski trip a year is really pushing the envelope in terms of finances – but we are happy! Downsize my friend, just like the advice you probably gave several customers – downsize….


  3. Aaron
    Aaron says:

    I’ve thought quite a bit about your response since I read it yesterday. I think I have always linked money to be a somewhat of a personal choice, which is largely driven by professional choices. I’ve had offers in the past (3) years to take a cut and stay local and I have had offers to make 20% more and travel more. I chose not to take those jobs because I knew I didn’t want to travel more and because I felt like making less money could impact my family’s personal life. My kids would not get to be in some of the things they are in and we could not take vacations (not that we go on extravagant vacations all the time…..at most we may got to Florida every few years and then we travel to see my wife’s family too). My wife’s family lives in IA, TX and IN so if we want to go see them it costs a good chunk of change. Part of me thinks if I hold out 1-2 more years, I can make Senior Manager and then if I can find something in market it will be at a salary that I can more easily stomach. I think I said the same thing about being a manager though.

    As you said, consulting steals your soul. It’s an absolute grind. It’s why the average duration someone stays in the Big 4 is around 2-2.5 years. Because I got into the Big 4 late, my peer group consists of some 27 year old managers with no wife, no kids and no travel restrictions. I can’t keep up with those guys. Other people deserve my time. I think at least now I have opened my search to a broader range of opportunities, but there is still a minimum salary I would consider to be local. I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am, both from a professional perspective and from an educational/certification perspective so I don’t want to regret taking a step back and then disliking the work. The money is a big part of my issue, but it’s not the only part. I need to do some more work on my end to figure out what would make me happy and would allow me to provide for my family the way I want to. Building houses for Habitat for Humanity fills the soul, but it won’t pay for trips to Houston or vacations to Florida. I know you already said that we’d need to cut back and reevaluate in your previous response, but I need my next move to make sense personally, professionally and financially.

    I’m not a bad parent. I am involved with my kids and my travel with this firm has not been as much as it was with my previous firm. I know one thing that I always think about is the archetype of my father. He was the blue collar guy that worked 8-5 and was at all of the events he could be for me and my 6 other siblings. I want to be that guy and the fact that my schedule is so inconsistent with what I do now, it’s hard to be that guy. I do consider the fact that when my Dad was the 8-5 guy, there were no such things as laptops and PDAs so when he left work he left work. I think I need to shift my mindset a bit and realize that an 8-5 may no longer be attainable in the digital age.

    Thanks again for your insight.

  4. Charlene
    Charlene says:

    I think this still sounds like you’re not willing to give something up and until you are you won’t be able to make the change; I’m not saying you will have to give something up but you have to be willing to. If you can decide what that is you’ll be able to move forward.

    You sound like the type of guy that talks to his family but I’ve seen so many people who think that they’re working their butt off for the ‘stuff” and their partners see the ‘stuff’ as the bonus for living with someone that’s working their butt off.

    Penelope and Bill are right, money is the focus and you’re right that after 13 years what’s another 1-2? So I think you should cut back immediately, live a downsized life on an upsized salary and save the extra cash (you might need it if you change jobs). Use the time to network, do stuff for free and explore other avenues. If you can’t handle it you haven’t lost much.

  5. Aaron
    Aaron says:

    I am definitely willing to give something up, but it needs to be the right balance of something. I can’t exactly tell my wife today that I am going to go work for a not for profit and take a 75% pay cut and then network and try to find a better match for me career-wise. It’s got to be the right balance and it can’t cause an abrupt impact to the way we live. Me being happy cannot equal us not paying the mortgage.

    If by “stuff” you are referring to being materialistic, then no. We are very conservative. I come from a large family that didn’t have much growing up so I don’t spend frivolously. We buy used cars (none of them luxury sedans) and we use coupons and we wait for sales when we make large purchases.

    Thanks for the insight. I think finding a better job that requires less of my time really is the key, which is the common theme among all responses. After all, I think most everyone’s goal is to work as little as possible and make the most money for that time spent working. I’m optimistic that the right opportunity will come my way. I just need to be patient and weather the storm until then.

  6. Charlene
    Charlene says:

    You could totally say that, people say that, sometimes people don’t have a choice but to say that but you’ve drawn a boundary and that’s cool.

    By ‘stuff’ I wasn’t specifically suggesting being materialistic, you said ‘my kids would not get to be in the things they are in’. I don’t have kids, I don’t know what this means but I’m going to assume it’s not referring to school, food or shelter so to my mind it’s excess if not excessive. To be honest my comment was a bit off piste with you because you come across as someone who is thoughtful in their actions.

    I think ultimately I’m all about Penelope’s advice and in your first letter you sounded strongly like you wanted a different career and that to me would mean less money: http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2011/10/14/when-its-ok-to-take-a-pay-cut/

    Oh and I forgot to say best of luck with everything.

  7. channa
    channa says:

    I can’t imagine you’re going to come up with any good ideas if all you’re doing is working to get away from something you don’t like, rather than working toward something that you want. You’re not being materialistic in thinking about the pay cut you’re just being logical – of course you’d trade money for happiness but you’d be stupid to trade money for something unknown.

    I’m a consultant too and it’s very easy to drift from project to project without taking responsibility for getting yourself into the right roles that will build up the experience set you’ll need in the future. Your employer won’t solve that for you. And the people who aren’t following a specific plan toward an objective will get thrown into the worst client situations – because the people who have good plans dodge those situations since being in a horrible client situation doesn’t advance their goals.

    If you live in a small city and don’t want to travel and need stability then there are only a limited number of companies you can even work for so that narrows your options. I am not yet ready to leave consulting but I have a spreadsheet of companies in my city and the types of roles that they offer at my level and above and the experiences that I need to get into those roles. So even though I don’t have a specific target I have an idea of what I need to focus on. I pre-write my resume for different roles so I can identify the gaps.

    When I get offered a role at work that doesn’t fit with any of my desired future options, I push back as hard as possible to get out of it. I’d rather my achievement metrics at my current job suffer than fail to make progress toward my next step. And when I see a potentially good role I fight to get it.

    So my advice would be to put yourself on a two-year plan – do an exhaustive survey of the job landscape in your town, do informational interviews with people in roles that you think might work, identify a few target options of companies and roles. Then figure out the gaps in your profile and what type of projects/roles you need to get on in the next year or two to fill them.

    The great thing with consulting is you can get experience so quickly and you can use your expertise to spider between horizontal and vertical functions to move you toward what you want. E.g. if you do change management but you want to work in marketing, do change management for a marketing org; if you do supply chain but want to do HR, do an organizational re-design for a supply chain org. If you are great at operations but haven’t managed large teams, get a PMO role for an operations project. You’ve got tons of leverage you just need a real goal.

  8. Susie
    Susie says:

    I just want to point out that your letter is full of assumptions. That you don’t have non-consulting skills, even though you admit this is not the case. That you can’t take a risk or a pay cut or move from the area. You sound really stuck and I feel for you, but what have you done to test these assumptions? Maybe if you put everything on the table with an open mind, you could find the wiggle room you need to make a change.

  9. emily
    emily says:

    I’m with Charlene (+ Penelope). If you tell your wife that you want to spend more time with her and you want to contribute to handling the emotional weight of the family then perhaps she’ll be a lot more sympathetic. I just made a similar kind of transition and while it’s a big change I feel like I have my future back.

  10. Aaron
    Aaron says:

    Quite a bit of good advice. Thank you for all of the input.

    Emily: It’s not that my wife is not on board. She is fine with me taking the cut to be happy. For me though, I have not come to terms with how it will impact us and the way we live now. A new job is a big unknown until you get into it. I’d be pretty disappointed if I left to take a pay cut and then I despise what I am doing or the people I am working with more than I do now.

    Susie: I think I have had most everything on the table for quite some time now. I’m just not willing to take away some things from my family that I can now give them because I make decent money. I can take a cut, but it has to be for the right opportunity. Perhaps I am not to that point where it’s either leave or my personal life is going to implode. I have a job so I feel like I have some ability to be picky right now. As far as moving, that is not really on the table. My family is in the city I live in and I don’t want to leave from here. It’s a great place to raise a family and very affordable. I’ve had great offers to relo, but it’s not of interest.

    Channa: I think those comments are well aligned with the approach I have taken the last few years. With the consulting I do, it’s specialized. I can’t tell my bosses I want to go implement an ERP today and then in six months tell them I want to go build a cloud services frameworw. I am a bit siloed with what I do, but my background is fairly broad across IT, which is something I am going to try to build on. There are several other variables that are currently impacting my career growth (employee retention, strategic hiring issues and the organization being very top heavy) with my current organization. I’m sure that sounds like a litany of excuses, but they are real issues that are impacting me and my ability to have the consulting experience that was laid out above. The one where you get to drive what you do and where you get to better position yourself for the exit from consulting. I have scoured LinkedIn to find people with similar backgrounds and certifications as me that are in my area and I have a thorough list of what companies may be able to use me. On top of that, I keep abreast of local business news that may speak to an influx of jobs or other information that could impact me being a potential candidate somewhere.

    • Alexis
      Alexis says:

      Sorry Aaron – I responded after reading only your original comment. I see now that “luxurious” doesn’t necessarily describe your life.

      Why not ultimately try new careers, and rather than worrying that they’ll be worse than what you have now – take a mitigated risk, but confidently working towards careers you strongly feel will be a good fit. The information interviews are a great idea. This quote comes to mind: “I do not regret the things I’ve done, but those I did not do.”

      I hope things work out for you :)

  11. Alexis
    Alexis says:

    You might want to check out http://www.mrmoneymustache.com for ideas on how to live your life on less money. Mr. Money Mustache offers some really practical advice on how to save money, make money in unique/enjoyable/unexpected ways (depending on your interests and skillset) and how to have fun in life without spending lots of money.

    His really key articles offer case studies about people that have learned to cut back on their luxurious lifestyles in favour of something simpler, but more rewarding.

    Best of luck to you!

  12. CL
    CL says:

    I was going to write this. It seems like this guy is so worried about the financial stuff but he’s pretty conservative with his expenditures as is. So that means that a) he is lying about his current savings due to his low-cost lifestyle or b) he is already pretty Mustachian and just needs the door to be opened. In the words of one of my friend’s dads, “If money is your only problem, then you don’t have a problem.”

    I feel like Aaron has so much anxiety about what taking the plunge would be, but I’m very sure that he’d feel relieved. The guy in the comment thread who said this said that it was tough to do but completely worth it. Aaron really needs to project what life would be like if he quit and go from there. Either he has the position to do it now or he can work towards being positioned to do it in the near future.

  13. dean4860
    dean4860 says:

    I worked in economic consulting for about 3 years after completing a PhD. I thought it was an absolutely horrible job. After about 1 year of intense searching a found a teaching with a pay that is only slightly less than my consulting job (mind you I was just an associate so my pay was close to 100K). However, I now have a defined benefit pension plan and that is worth a lot more in the long-run. I am so happy I switched and made the decision to quite consulting. I feel like I got out of jail.

    If you are not happy than you have nothing to lose. Always keep your eyes open for new positions.

  14. K
    K says:

    I know my reply is kind of late but I just came across this online. Have you ever considered doing an MBA? If you’ve been in the Big 4 for 10 years they will most likely sponsor you. Normally it is up to you to return unless another company of your liking bids you out of the contract. You could do it in anything ranging from marketing to finance to strategy to entrepreneurship or even a general mba where you can choose your electives. I think it would be good for you to take a year or 2 off and get some further education to make you more marketable since you are considering a career switch. It is really easy to find employment if you’ve been a consultant. It would also give you insight on what you truly want to achieve. I hope this helps. -K

  15. Nate Doherty
    Nate Doherty says:

    Brother I feel ya….. decisions we make…. Sometimes we don’t know how we can handle certain jobs overtime. If you’ve hit a wall. Dude. It’s frightening and I know…. Taking chances is not what people go for. But remember the last person who You know got a new job and how nonchalant you thought it was, it was a blessing for you to be happy about, but you where gung ho for that person. You choices are two decisions either be miserable at this job or learn a new job and have a 50/50 chance to be miserable there too. chances are youll be happier. My fellow citizen, I make only one heartfelt suggestion brother…… I suggest you give blue collar jobs a chance. They are a blessing disguised.

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