Always have enough money to escape unhappy job environment

Friday, April 20, 2018, Vol. 42, No. 16

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Margaret Heffernan, whose incredibly impressive career includes running five companies in the United States and the United Kingdom, being a college professor, authoring five books and giving multiple TED Talks. Originally from Texas, Margaret has lived all over, including in the U.K.

Her career is so impressive that it was hard to narrow the questions to a list that would fit into one podcast episode. As you can imagine, the interview was wonderful.
The insights Margaret shared haven’t left my mind since we spoke.

She describes herself as someone who has always done work that she’s loved. She has been paid well in some jobs made very little in others. But, she says she was always happy in her work.

I asked her how she was able to organize her career this way. She made two important points that I want to share with you.

When a job wasn’t the right fit, she didn’t hesitate to walk away – even if she had only been there for a short period of time. This reminds me of the way a company would quickly fire someone if they weren’t the right fit. But, as employees, we stick around out of some kind of artificial loyalty.

When Margaret worked in an environment where it was clear that succeeding would be an uphill battle, she looked for another job that was a better fit. This would happen in situations in which perhaps the staff didn’t treat everyone fairly. Rather than take it personally, she moved on and looked for a better situation.

These must have been tough decisions, given how important equality is. But, I think we can all agree that it’s easier to succeed in an environment that supports you and your talent.

The second tip Margaret gave was gold, quite literally. She said she was always careful to keep enough “running-away money on hand.”

I can’t tell you how happy this phrase makes me. Running-away money is often referred to as an emergency fund. It is typically 6 to 12 months of salary (or living expenses) saved up.

Most people place this money in a savings account for safe keeping.
Having a financial safety net gives you choices, allowing you to walk away if you really need to. It also allows you to control your own destiny as opposed to having the company control it.

Very often, when we upgrade our house, our cars and our lifestyles, we are simply chaining ourselves to the very company we hate.

And as Margaret noted, just having the running-away money doesn’t mean you actually need to run away. It often gives you a boost of confidence to be yourself at work. You know you’ll be OK, even if everything else falls apart. That added confidence alone makes things at work go better, and it keeps you from running away at all.

Angela Copeland, a career coach and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at