Why Working 9-to-5 Doesn’t Have to Suck

LaSalle St

I recently celebrated my two year anniversary at my current job. I posted on Facebook how I recalled feeling disappointed when I initially accepted the job offer at the end of my career break. Not only was I going back into the same field I left, but I was taking a job whose description was almost identical to the one I quit in 2011. I had higher hopes back then. I wanted to use my career break to transition to a new, more internationally-focused career or even strike out on my own, launching my own travel business or trying my hand at travel writing, social media consulting or something else that would allow me to be location independent.

Indeed, so many of the travel blogs I read as I prepared for my career break raved about those two magic words – location independence, followed closely by two other two magic words – digital nomad. They boasted about finally “escaping the cubicle” and railed against the evils of corporate America and the grind of working 9-to-5.

That seems to be a common mantra in the travel blogging world: working 9-to-5 sucks. As I prepared to return, I was hearing that message loud and clear – I was nuts for going back to a “regular” job.

But here’s the thing – working 9-to-5 doesn’t have to suck. You don’t have to be tied into a dead-end corporate job, rotting away in a cubicle. Life doesn’t have to be a choice between an evil corporate career and freedom as a digital nomad. There is a lot of in between and the fact that you are unhappy in your current job may just mean you haven’t found the right fit yet.

I spent six fairly miserable years as a lawyer before changing careers to alumni relations and development. By the time I left that job more than four years later, I was again in a pretty sad state. But after a year on the road, I came back and, despite the fact that my current job is almost identical to the one I left in many ways, I eventually came to realize that it’s really much better. I enjoy what I do, I like the organization I work for, I like my boss and the people I work with, I am constantly challenged and learning new things, and I feel like I am making a difference. It may not be the difference I envisioned when I was job hunting at the end of my career break, but it is still satisfying to know I am having an impact.

Wrigley Building

And here’s the other thing – is being a digital nomad, allegedly “working for yourself” really that much better?

For some people, I am sure it is. But it’s not for everyone. My friend Amanda recently wrote about how much it stressed her out to try to freelance full-time as she traveled. So instead, she came home and got a part-time job that allows her to work remotely. She has the security of a regular paycheck, but can travel as she wants as well.

I seriously considered taking the leap to “work for myself” when I returned from my career break, but ultimately decided it wasn’t for me – for a multitude of reasons. First, I think the whole phrase “working for yourself” is a misnomer. You are always working for someone else. There is always someone else who is writing the check (or transferring the funds) that will pay your bills. The biggest difference with being an entrepreneur is that you have more say over who that is. You decide what clients to take and what work you want to do and how much to take on.

But you still have to pay the bills. So chances are, you’ll spend a lot of time hustling to find those people who will make it possible. And you may even find yourself taking on projects that you don’t really enjoy because you’re getting desperate and need the money. As someone who values stability and financial security, I would lose my mind if I tried to work for myself. I would hate not knowing where (and when) my next paycheck was coming from. I would hate the feeling that I constantly had to hustle to find work and I would consistently be stressed out over the idea that a day I’m not working is a day I don’t get paid.

So yeah, I love that I have 15 vacation days a year and 10 sick days and two personal days, plus a bunch of holidays and time off between Christmas and New Year’s – all days that I don’t have to work but still get paid for. I love having employer-paid health insurance and matching contributions to my retirement plan. I love having co-workers with whom I can collaborate and a boss who mentors me and challenges me to learn and become better at what I do. I love being part of an organization that does some really cool things.

Trekking in the Himalayas

And I still get to travel! My boss hired me fresh off my career break and with a trip to Nepal already planned, so she knew what she was getting into – and really, I wouldn’t have gone somewhere that wasn’t open to me using every single second of my vacation time every year. I also work my butt off the rest of the year and make sure that I am strategic about when I take my time off. In the last calendar year, I have been to Washington, DC (three times), Minnesota (twice), Mali, Burkina Faso, New York, Bulgaria, Toronto, the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, San Diego, Atlanta and Boston. Several trips were for work, which means my flights were paid for and I could just stay a few more days, paying only for the extra hotel nights.

At the end of the day, you have to do what is right for you. But just as you shouldn’t follow a certain career path or try to climb the corporate ladder solely because your family and friends (and society!) expect you to, you shouldn’t ditch the 9-to-5 altogether either just because you read one too many blogs telling you the alternative must be better. The grass may always seem greener on the other side, but sometimes it’s better to stop and appreciate how green your own grass is.

24 thoughts on “Why Working 9-to-5 Doesn’t Have to Suck”

  1. Katie, I recently came across this post… I know a year later… and what I love is to see the non-cookie cutter approach to life. I’ve experienced both the 9-5 daily grind and the freelance/travel life. I remember reading your blog to help inspire me when I took a break during 2012-13. While I had enough saved up to travel a year or until something better came along, my trip had a big U-Turn back stateside when I had some family issues come up.

    Returning stateside allowed me the opportunity to switch careers, though, which lead to my newest position. I do not live in Cubicle Nation anymore. I work as a traveling consultant. When I’m not at a client site (which I travel to), I work remotely, from a home office or where ever I choose. This is what I dreamed of having back in 2012-13, when I struggled as a freelancer (grant writer). This role is still fairly new, but once I build up some travel rewards and more time on the job, I hope to start taking short trips to places I haven’t been. As an added bonus, the work is in an area I’m really passionate about, making the day-to-day work fly by.

    I guess the point is we all have to find what works for us, and what works for others may or may not be for us. I never thought I would be excited about corporate work, but that all changes with perspective. My time in Central America allowed me to take a step back and really gain a better perspective on my path.

  2. Thank you Katie and all the responders. I value everyone’s viewpoint and as I venture back into the 9-5 arena, which wouldn’t be so bad if it were happening in Europe for me where employees are given about 5 weeks of vacation time each year. I think American’s need more than 2 weeks off a year — we workers need time off like our politicians, who hardly ever work — that is why they love their “jobs” so much. But I digress. I go back to the 9-5 with mixed emotions: happy about the stable paycheck and bennies but worried about the lack of free time. There will be an adjustment period for me, especially in the summer when I really love to be outdoors! Happy travels everyone!

    1. Hi Julie – first off, congrats on leaving the 4,000th comment on my blog!

      Not sure what line of work you’re in, but I can say that for me, I have never had less than 4 weeks off despite working in the US. There are jobs out there that offer more than 2 weeks – you may just have to work hard to find them!

  3. I agree working 9 – 5 doesn’t have to suck, according to forbes people on average change their jobs every 4.4 years. If you don’t like the field you are in you always have the option of changing career paths.

  4. *thumbs up*

    Some of my astute readers years ago pointed out that unless you’re independently wealthy you’re always beholden to someone else, which really opened up my eyes. I’ve been fortunate to be now on dream job #3 which I got shortly after coming home from a RTW trip, though funnily enough my predecessor here also recently came back from extended travel – but she’s gone the other way and started her own business. Different strokes!

    I do feel lucky I live in a country where the culture values travel and work/life balance, and we get a lot of time off.

  5. that’s such an excellent post, Katie!! And I’m totally with you, I agree to every single world. As you know I also work full time and I’m not even thinking of changing that. You can have best of both worlds that way and you don’t need to worry about getting a paycheck at the end of the month. Actually the whole digital nomad sounds overrated for me when I see how much some of these folks struggle, how nervous their life can be and how they cannot focus on traveling itself as there’s always something else to do. but what works for some doesn’t have to for others, I just can’t stand when some people try to tell me I’m doing things wrong because I try to balance both working and travelling.

  6. Great post! I have had a crack at 9-5’s in the past and they don’t really work for me; I prefer to work really hard and finish early rather than have set hours but you raise some good points here; maybe I should reconsider!

  7. Love this! I quit my job a few months ago but I am trying to start my own business. Traveling is my passion but my life is near my family and it’s so nice to have a home to come back to after traveling for several weeks. I like seeing other people who feel the same way I do, that you don’t have to be nomadic to feel fulfilled. Plus you’re lucky to get that much time off. At my last job you didn’t start getting 15 days until you were there 4 years.

  8. Hi Katie, I “followed” your post via Amanada and I’ve been reading your posts about Russia!

    I totally agree. I’ve done my GAP year and stuff and travelled around in my 20’s. I know that in the US it’s more difficult but in order to keep travelling, I became an expat and because I live in Europe, I get a lot of holiday time which I use to the full. 🙂 I have a full-time corporate job which I enjoy, I’m married, and I have a child, and I still managed to travel to 10 countries last year. If it’s OK, here’s the post that I wrote about it: https://thebritishberliner.wordpress.com/2015/01/11/how-i-can-afford-a-life-of-travel-dont-choose-have-it-all/

  9. I’m glad to see your views on this. I’ve had this topic in my drafts folder for a long time because I get so tired so seeing the anti-“cubicle” comments. Having a 9-5 job does not necessarily mean a boring, unsatisfying cubicle job. In fact, using one’s talents and skills in a work environment that benefits other people is related to well-being, and there’s research that shows that a healthy workplace where you can socialize with others is an important component in overall happiness.

    In response to the above comment about the amount of time off, I think it’s important for people to realize that the amount of time off really varies. I have friends who get up to 6 weeks. I get 4 full months off plus can use sick days as needed during the 8 months I do work. For people who want a lot of time off, the education field might be a good choice.

  10. Thanks for sharing this Katie, and I am happy you found a situation that you enjoy. Part of my theory behind Escape the Predictable Life is that you don’t have to leave the 9-5 to escape, to find more meaning in live. What is important is that people are mindful about how and where they spend their time and to realize they don’t have to be stuck in their current situation, feeling hopeless. I recognize not everyone can live my life overseas, just like I know I cannot work in an office environment ever again!

  11. I totally agree. I’m getting ready to go home after 3 years on the road (because I WANT to, not because I have to). I have no idea if I’ll go back to a 9-5 or not but part of me almost craves the routine, stability and the co-workers that a 9-5 job offers. Of course, I won’t have the freedom I have now if I do go back but if I’ve learned anything over the past few years it’s that life is not ONE way or the OTHER. There are tides to life. Maybe I work a few years and then take off again? Who knows, the only thing that should matter to anyone is that they are doing what fills them up and brings them joy.

  12. How do you get a job like that in America, though? I have 10 vacation days and 10 sick days and most of the federal holidays, and compared to most of my friends, I’m Marie Antoinette. A lot of full-time jobs offer only 10 days altogether, sick and travel.

    I like having stability, but I think that a lot of people go freelance not because they’re born hustlers, but because an office job doesn’t offer any realistic amount of time off to travel or pursue ambitions that can’t be hidden away on a work computer.

    1. Those jobs are definitely out there. I’ve been working for 14 years and have never had less than 4 weeks off. I started my career as a lawyer and we got 4 weeks vacation, plus holidays and sick days. But really, as long as we billed our minimum hours, no one cared how much we took off. A partner at my firm took about 6 weeks off a year, but worked her butt off the rest of the time.

      Since 2007, I have worked at two different universities – the first gave me 4 weeks vacation, plus holidays, including the week between Christmas and New Years. As I mentioned in the post, my current job gives 3 weeks, plus 2 personal days plus holidays and sick time. I know other universities and non-profits that offer up to 5 weeks off.

  13. Wow Katie thank you SO MUCH for this inspiring post. I’m glad someone out there does not have the formatted vision of all other travel bloggers/global nomads and can actually appreciate what they have.

    I also have a full-time job as an IT consultant and after reading some blogs I almost feel bad for doing it. It’s ridiculous to “impose” your choices to others, everyone needs to find what works for them personally. And like you said, sometimes it’s better to stop and appreciate how green your own grass is.

    Having that said, I would like to try to work as a full-time freelance for a while, even if it is to come back after realize I prefer the stability of a corporate job. I just feel I need to be a little more independent regarding my time and be able to travel freely while I’m under my thirties.

    Anyway, didn’t know your blog, but you got yourself a fan already!

    All the best,

  14. I totally agree with you. Although I had the dream of a nomadic lifestyle, I eventually realized that I need stability and as long as I have enough flexibility in my job to be able to travel a lot, I’m totally fine with an office job. I sleep better at night AND I get to see the world, I can’t ask for anything more. (When I retire or semi-retire, that will be another story though…)

  15. You read my mind with this post. I’ve never worked a 9-5 (I moved to Spain to teach English right after graduating college) and I kind of oddly crave it. Stability, paychecks, health plan, colleagues, happy hours after work. Obviously there are a billion 9-5 jobs I wouldn’t want, but I hope I’ll find the right one. I think I’m a weird combination of too lazy and too type A to completely work for myself, haha–I’d be a bit too unmotivated to find all the clients, but at the same time, a total stresscase about not knowing where the income is coming from.
    Thanks for the reminder. I’m a bit sick of reading how the only right life to live is travel to 8 million places WHILE working on the road, or develop “smart passive income,” whatever the hell that is.

  16. It’s certainly NOT a black and white issue! I completely understand your desire for stability. I don’t think I could ever go back to working in an office, but I’m so glad you were able to find a job you enjoy. For me, I’m enjoying freelance writing but finding that being nomadic, even part of the year, isn’t really my thing. It’s definitely not Andy’s thing. I still want tons of time to travel, but I need a home base and stability in that sense. I like to see the places I’m in while I travel, and working while on the road makes that difficult. The idea that your options are working in a soul-sucking awful cubicle job or traveling full time and working for yourself is very flawed.

  17. I completely agree. I got bills to pay, but I also utilize my vacation time to see the world. Hustling for every paycheck and not knowing when you’ll have money/time to travel is so stressful. I enjoy my 9-to-5 lifestyle. I think often we feel the pressure to be nomads because of other bloggers, but there’s no right way to do things. You gotta do what’s right for you. Sometimes it’s just nice to come home after 2 weeks away and sleep on my bed with my dogs. Great post!

  18. YES. There are ups and downs to both freelancing and having a 9-5. But ultimately: I love that working a 9-5 provides me with a paycheck to take the sort of travel I want, health benefits and retirement savings to keep my mind at ease, and a solid schedule so that I can really enjoy the time I’m not at the office. I hear so much of my friends who are “digital nomads” who spend all day (and night!) in front of their computer hustling to get paid–not necessarily enjoying wherever they are in the world. Being based in NYC is amazing for me–it’s easy to travel to other places, but there are also SO many things to discover in the city and close by. Great piece 🙂

  19. Thank you for this! I am in the midst of job searching after my own career break and some days I feel positive and others I question if I want to go back to the 9 to 5. This gave me a boost! 🙂

  20. This article is brilliant Katie and I understand the situation you are talking about. 8-9 years ago I worked in a busy PR office in London where work became my life. I had to get away from it and I vowed never again to take that type of job. I started my blog, worked in bars, farms and schools and loved the lifestyle. In the last year however as I’ve been earning my income through online and remote sources, I’ve realised that being a digital nomad has more stress and issues than any of the previous jobs I had, including the PR office work so I haven’t ruled out a return to it either. My only problem is, I’d want 6 months of holiday a year rather than a few weeks and that is why I cling to this lifestyle despite the pitfalls and downsides of it all. A recent post I wrote revealed the stress of being a travel blogger as an income rather than as a hobby and right now I’m at a crossroads. I hope you feel you have made the right decision in your life – the truth is, you can change it at any moment if you do want the long term travel lifestyle again. Best wishes and safe travels. Jonny

  21. Absolutely! I LOVE travelling and exploring new places, but I like having a steady income and a career path. If you make the most of your vacation days/long weekends/weekends in general, then you’ll get the chance to see a lot; it doesn’t have to be all or nothing!

    On top at that, being an expat can be the best of both worlds. I’m hoping to get back to the expat life in the future, but I may have a (half) cross-country move coming up which should do me for a while.

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