Why Making More Money Didn’t Make Me Happier

Why Making More Money Didn’t Make Me Happier

We all have regrets — money regrets, that is. But, like all mistakes, we wouldn't be who — or where — we are today without them. In our "Money Fails" series, real people share how they bounced back from financial slip-ups, and what they learned along the way.

Here, one writer shares how hitting a long-sought-after income goal actually made her enjoy her work less.

January 31, 2018 was a Wednesday, which I remember vividly because I was frantically typing up my invoices for the month. Although it’s a task I do 12 times a year, this time I did it with added fervor. I was incredibly close to reaching an income goal that I’d been working toward for years, and as I logged my invoices I carefully watched my numbers rack up to my monthly total: $10,429.

I smiled widely and then flopped back in my chair. While I was happy to have broken five figures in a month, my more pressing thought was, “My god, I am exhausted.”

Four years earlier, when I was just starting my freelance career, a friend and colleague had mentioned that she regularly brought in more than $10,000 a month. My mind was blown. At the time, my income goal was to make the $1,200 necessary to cover my rent. Yet I knew my friend wasn’t an extraordinary case; she was making five figures every month just by working hard. If she could do it, so could I. As my business grew I set various yearly income goals, but hitting $10,000 a month remained my guilty pleasure goal.

And yet, when I finally reached it, I felt worn down and frantic rather than elated. “Are you going to do it again in February?” my colleague asked me. “It gets addicting.” My honest answer? “Absolutely not.”

It turns out, making more money didn’t make me happier, although it did force me to reevaluate my career goals and reconnect with my priorities. Here’s why.

It Changed How I Viewed My Work

Over the years when I thought about making $10,000 a month, I imagined I would feel intoxicated by my financial success. Instead, I felt tired, stressed and rundown. I’m a big believer in work-life balance, and I knew that the pace at which I needed to work to hit that goal just wasn’t sustainable for me long-term.

I’m lucky to really love my job, but working at a breakneck pace during January left me resenting rather than embracing my work. For someone who usually has a very positive relationship with her career, this change felt particularly jarring.

It Didn’t Reflect My Values

You may be surprised to learn that I didn’t get into freelance writing to get rich. The fact that I make more freelancing than I would in many full-time media jobs is a nice bonus to the fact that freelancing lets me live the life I want: one with the flexibility to choose my hours and projects, to work with people I like and to be around more for my daughter. I could have chosen a more lucrative career path, but money isn’t the most important thing to me.

But when generating more income became my priority, I took on a few extra jobs and my average workday grew from five hours to eight. I found myself compromising my time with my daughter — and that, plus the added stress, were two things I wasn’t OK with.

My Work Suffered

This one is harder to admit, but looking back I can see that I didn’t hold my work to my usual standards in January. While none of my clients were dissatisfied, I felt that I was giving them what was good enough, rather than giving them my best. And at several points throughout that month I felt like I was churning out work, without polishing it to perfection, which left me feeling a bit out of touch with my art.

Once I hit my goal, it was time to evaluate what comes next. In February I brought in around $7,000 — a number that both fulfilled my income needs and allowed me to better meet the needs of myself and my family.

Of course, making more is always nice. I would like to have another five-figure month in the future, but I’m going to let it happen organically as I continue to take on higher-paying clients and work more efficiently. For now, I won’t be sacrificing my priorities just for the sake of a number on a spreadsheet.

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