How to Quit Corporate America (Without Lowering Lifestyle)

Ready to quit corporate America? Discover the 5-step exit strategy that enabled me to stop working in my 40s without lowering my lifestyle. 

    • As a mid-career marketer, I was growing tired of corporate life – and developed a plan to achieve financial independence.
    • Instead of starting a side hustle, like many people do to make more money, I focused on advancing my career.
    • Strategic job changes, covert benefits, and a motivated mindset helped grow my income 5x within 7 years and quit working.

How to Quit Corporate America: Set a Bold Financial Goal

During my thirties, I reached a career low point. I was once again passed over for a promotion and could feel myself on the verge of becoming a resentful employee. My career trajectory had stalled out.

That’s when I realized I would grow tired of my corporate career well before traditional retirement age. And when that day came, I wanted the option to quit working.

It wasn’t about finding my dream job or trying out new career paths.

It was all about having the freedom to do whatever I wanted with my time – without worrying about money.

However, faced with the reality of my financial situation, this dream felt more like a distant fantasy. 

But I crunched some numbers anyway and set a goal—I called it my ‘make work optional’ number. It was the amount of money needed to pay off debt and maintain my current lifestyle without needing to work.

Essentially, it was a bold long-term financial goal. 

5-Step Exit Strategy


At first, I thought about starting a side hustle, like a consulting business or real estate investing, to make more money.

But considering my years of experience working at F500 companies, I figured it was better to stick with what I knew rather than start something from scratch. 

With all the tough lessons I had already learned about getting ahead at work, I decided climbing the corporate ladder would be the fastest way to reach my money goals. 

I knew moving up the ranks in the corporate world could lead to much larger paychecks. Plus, it would make me more marketable for higher-paying roles in the future.

Fast forward seven years, and this approach paid off big time. 

Not only did I reach my financial goal, but I also surpassed it years earlier than I expected.

I finally made my way out of middle management and increased my income fivefold.

Here are the 5 key moves that made it all possible:

1. Get the Right Mindset to Stay Inspired

Initially, I expected it would at least a decade, probably even longer, to achieve my goal of making work optional. Staying committed year after year was going to be a real challenge, especially since I was already feeling stuck in my career. 

If I stood any shot at reaching my goal, I knew I had to change my attitude. So, the first thing I did was focus on getting my mindset in the right place. 

To get started, I imagined how I would spend my time once I stopped working and wrote down all the vivid details in a journal. I even specified how my days would vary based on the changing seasons – like summer hikes, winter ski adventures, and year-round writing sessions. 

This vision became key to fueling my motivation at work. Instead of just clocking in for a paycheck, I was working to build an exciting new future for myself – one that I now happily enjoy. 

This motivated mindset gave me an instant source of inspiration to stay on course. 

When you have a clear and compelling vision of what you’re working toward, it makes it much easier to bounce back from setbacks and continue to push forward.  

2. Consider New Ways to Advance Your Career

Reaching financial freedom is totally doable in the corporate world, however, relying solely on your company’s annual merit increase won’t cut it. One of the best ways to increase your income is by getting a well-deserved promotion and pay raise. 

Now, I know first-hand getting promoted isn’t easy — but with the right approach, it’s entirely within reach.

After several years stuck in the same position, I needed to finally advance to the next level to grow my income. This meant I had to stop doing what wasn’t working – and start trying new ways to climb the career ladder.  

It turns out the same qualities that once helped you advance can be the same qualities that now hold you back.  

For example, my belief that hard work should be rewarded drove me to go above and beyond at work and get recognized as a top performer. However, this same belief also made it difficult for me to consider different ways to advance my career. 

Yet, that’s what happens when you have deeply held beliefs – sometimes they can block us from doing what’s needed to advance our careers. When we get stuck on a single idea, like hard work should be rewarded, it can be tough to see other ways forward. 

But you have the power to change things up if what you’re doing isn’t working. That might mean thinking about work in a whole new way. 

Be willing to try different approaches to move your career forward. Instead of just relying on hard work, think about adding new skills and perspectives into the mix.

It wasn’t until I began to consider new ways to get ahead that I was able to crack the code on career advancement.  

Instead of waiting around for others to recognize my potential, I started considering how I could make it easier for management to see I was ready for bigger responsibilities. 

This outlook immediately empowered me to take more meaningful actions, like getting outside my comfort zone, speaking up more in meetings, and gaining visibility with key leaders. 

Actions like these were all game changers for my career journey (read more about the skills and strategies that can help you get promoted here).

3. Switch Companies for Higher-Paying Jobs

When you’ve worked at the same company for many years, it can be hard to leave.

You’re not just walking away from your current job, but you’re also leaving behind the comfort and security of an environment you know inside and out. Plus, some of your coworkers have likely turned into close friends.

But staying too long in the same corporate role can be costly — and even make you a less desirable job candidate. 

From an outside perspective, staying with your current company for too long might suggest a lack of adaptability and a narrow range of experience—or even be mistaken for complacency. 

Plus, if you wait until you’re unhappy in your job to make a move, you’re more likely to settle for the first offer that comes your way, instead of holding out for a better opportunity.

That’s why, after a strong 10-year run with the same employer, I made the decision to join a new company—and a few years later, I changed jobs again.

It wasn’t because I was unhappy; it was a strategic move to advance into the executive ranks and make myself more marketable.

As a result, my salary grew double digits. Plus, I received substantial signing bonuses, performance incentives and stock grants, which made up more than 50% of my total compensation. 

When considering a new job offer, think bigger than your base salary.

Keep in mind most companies have set salary ranges. So, you might be better off asking for a higher bonuses and equity awards. 

Here’s another tip: consider joining a public company that offers stock grants on a quarterly vesting instead of annual vesting schedule. This way you can access your earnings even faster.  

Bottom line, strategically changing companies is one of the best moves you can make to take your income to new heights. 

Plus, you can always return to your former employer—and likely with a bigger role and fatter paycheck. Boomerang workers earn an average 25% more when they return. 


4. Make the Most Out of Corporate Benefits

In addition to pursuing higher-paying positions, I participated in all the financial programs offered by my employers. I wasn’t about to leave any money on the table.  

Every year, I maximized my contributions to tax-deferred programs such as 401(k) retirement plans and health savings accounts, and ensured I received the full amount available through company-matching contributions.

However, the benefit that helped me the most was one I didn’t even know existed until I became a manager. 

I’m referring to a covert program that is commonly offered by large companies: Deferred Compensation Plans (DCPs). DCPs can serve as a valuable tool to set aside funds for the future while also reducing your tax burden.

DCPs are programs that withhold a portion of your pay until a specific date. This money can be invested and grow tax-free, similar to a 401(k), and then pay out at a time when you’re ideally in a lower tax bracket. 

For example, you could initiate annual payouts a decade from now, spanning a 15-year period. 

Deferring part of my salary and bonuses to DCPs was an excellent way to continue getting a steady paycheck after I stopped working—and before I could access my retirement funds without being penalized.

DCPs can also be a great option to fund a career break for a few years too. 

The eligibility criteria for participating in DCPs differ from one company to another. It was initially offered to me when my salary reached six figures. But at another organization, eligibility was determined by job level—you had to hold a director position or higher to participate.

If you’re looking for more ways to invest your money for the future, it could be smart to inquire about whether your employer provides DCPs and what criteria are required for participation.

More Advice About How to Make More Money at Work

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5. Find Ways to Enjoy Your Journey

Getting to a big financial goal, like making work optional, doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a marathon that requires patience and delayed gratification.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun along the way. Actually, finding joy in your professional life is crucial – otherwise, you’ll burn out and never make it to your goals.

For me, this meant doing things like extending work trips to enjoy weekend getaways in new places.

It’s important to have fun things on the horizon while you’re hustling towards your long-term goals.

It also meant walking away from lucrative jobs when the workplace culture didn’t mesh with me. Money isn’t everything – you’ve got to like the people you work with and feel fulfilled in your role.

Most of all, it was about seeing my corporate job as a chance to grow personally—and to help others grow too.

It’s a great feeling when you achieve big wins as a team, see coworkers you’ve mentored reach their goals, or turn a career setback into a success story.

Go All In!

Bottom line, starting a side hustle isn’t the only way to make a lot of money. If you’re aiming for financial freedom, consider doing what worked for me –  go all in on your full-time job. 

In my experience, the business world has much to offer for those who seize the opportunities and make the most of them.

You might be surprised by how quickly you can reach your goals in the corporate world. 

You’ve got to own your journey, change what isn’t working, and go after what you want. And if you do, you’ll likely be rewarded in more ways that you can imagine.




About Author

As a former CMO who started her career as an admin assistant, Alison writes about climbing the corporate ladder to achieve financial freedom.

You can read more about her story here.



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