Why I Took a Job That Paid Less (And Why I'd Do It Again)
Her email had an air of excitement, and she insisted we speak on the phone. In that moment, I knew what was coming next: a job offer. I had won over people in 12 interviews, they had swooned over my writing samples and been impressed by my references. This was the final step. Knowing that, I held off on the phone call for as long as I could. Once I did finally acquiesce and an offer came in, I pushed back the decision date—twice.
It was a good offer; some would even say a great offer. It was a serious jump in pay, added an annual bonuses and cushy benefits like a dog-friendly office, new Apple computers and nearly unlimited vacation days. And I wanted out of my current job. (No, I needed out of my current job.) Things with my boss had turned sour, and there was no longer any room for me to grow. This was a chance to change things up and move forward.
It was a great offer. It just wasn’t the offer.
Let me rewind a little. While I was interviewing for that job, I was also in the midst of talking to another company. On paper the two roles looked nearly identical—same title, at another agency, in the same city—but when you actually got down to the details, they couldn’t have been more different. In this second role, I’d still be a senior account executive and working with an array of clients in the Bay Area and beyond, but I’d be specializing in corporate social responsibility and sustainability. It was my dream job. I had tailored my degrees, my internships, my last two agency jobs all for a role like this, and here it was, staring me in the face.
So, when that first offer rolled around, I couldn’t help but hold out hope for this second job. And, so, I delayed phone calls and decision deadlines and sped up talks with my dream company, all in a Hail Mary attempt to get a second offer across the finish line. And it worked.
By the end of that week I had a second offer on my desk, this time for significantly less money and with none of the cushy benefits of the first. And I couldn’t say “yes” quickly enough. I took the one that paid less—and I’d do it the same way, all over again.
A higher salary would have been lovely; we all daydream about what we’d do with an extra bit of cash. I could have used that extra cash (and the extra vacation days) to finally go volunteer at that elephant sanctuary in Thailand. I could have just refreshed my closet before starting at the new job, investing in a few timeless pieces I’d coveted for years. I could have thrown it all into savings and invested in my future, in my own financial security.
But in the end, it wouldn’t have made a difference. Both were living wages and the bump in take-home pay, while nice, wasn’t enough to totally reinvent my way of living. Sure, a higher salary is great. But, you know what else is great? Coming home at the end of the end of the day knowing you’re exactly where you should be. Getting excited to tell your significant other about your day at the office. Waking up in the morning and actually being excited to roll out of bed.
Working in San Francisco (and especially working in tech), I see it all the time—people jumping ship for another higher paying job every 18 months. It can be so easy to we wooed by a higher salary two blocks down, or by a competitor’s new unlimited vacation policy (or their gym stipend, or catered gourmet meals, or generous work-from-home policy). The list of desirable workplace benefits goes on and on. But climbing the corporate ladder doesn’t matter if you’re climbing up the wrong ladder.
The truth is, the grass always feels greener on the other company’s lawn. Even if you find the “perfect” job, another organization may offer the same role, but for more money, or with other benefits. At the end of the day, you need to decide what matters most to you, and pursue roles that prioritize that. Maybe it is the job with the most vacation days (because you love to travel), or one that allows you to work remotely (so you have more time to invest in your side hustle). For me, I took the job that made me feel like I was working to make the planet just a little bit better than I left it. I found what I like doing most—and I found someone to pay me for it.
I took the job that paid less—and I’d do it again, too. Because a job is about so much more than just a salary.
Mandy spends her days working in public relations, specializing in sustainability and corporate responsibility - a job which not only fuels her soul but also pays her San Francisco rent. She spends her (virtually nonexistent) free time exploring the Bay Area craft beer scene, working on her rock collection, and wishing her cat would be the big spoon sometimes. For additional sass and details of her life held together by caffeine and dry shampoo, follow her on twitter @WayToRepresent. You can also check out her past work for us here and here.