I quit my toxic job and doubled my pay as a contractor. Here's how...

When I had my breakdown, that was the push I needed to really look at my career, what was meaningful to me and what environment I needed to be in to perform well. As a result, I decided to leave that job as I knew I couldn't get better if I stayed.

Tell me a bit about you and your life

My husband and I live together with our son. I'm currently on maternity 'leave'- although there's no such thing when you're self employed! I've spent over a decade working in IT. I'm from a financially insecure family background so I am extremely grateful for the life and financial security I have at the moment. I'm not sure how I got quite so lucky really. There is always a bit of you that worries it will get whisked away though.

What was your job before?

I was a Civil Servant and worked in projects.

What made you want to quit and how did you do it?

I spent a couple of years working on Brexit which was huge pressure and long hours and I became jaded with the Government's approach to delivery. It was chaotic to say the least and that made it hard to do a good job. I got approached about a role in a FinTech start-up by an old colleague out of the blue. I could see where my career might be going if I stayed where I was and thought a change of scenery would be good for my development. Leaving the Civil Service was the biggest step as it's a 'job for life'. However, I totally underestimated what start-up life would be like. I didn't have the extra energy in the battery to cope and it was a bit like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Same pressure, even longer hours and within a year I had a mental health breakdown. For a long time, I felt embarrassed and I saw it as a real failure on my part to 'tough it out' but looking back, I wouldn't have taken such a radical decision to quit otherwise.

What were the steps you took to become a contractor?

I fell in to it by accident! When I had my breakdown, that was the push I needed to really look at my career, what was meaningful to me and what environment I needed to be in to perform well. As a result, I decided to leave that job as I knew I couldn't get better if I stayed. I only felt able to do that because I had the support of my partner and knew we could keep a roof over our head whilst I found another job. I don't think I'd have made the same decision if I were single with limited savings as I'm quite risk averse financially due to my family circumstances growing up and it would have felt like too much of a leap. I put the feelers out through people I'd worked with previously to see if anyone had a job going and someone said they were looking for a contractor to fill a temporary role. I hadn't done that exact role before but I'd worked in a similar environment. It's really cronyism at it's finest, if I'm honest. Having said that, I've always worked hard and tried to be a good colleague which ultimately really helped as people are happy to recommend me (absolutely key to contractor life I have discovered!)

How are things today?

Really brilliant. I've been contracting for quite a few years now and I love it. I love the freedom and the variety I get from moving between roles- it means I can work in both  private and public sector and get lots of great exposure to different industries. I also don't get weighed down by any of the institutional stuff you have to deal with in permanent employment which ultimately makes me more effective at what I do. Contracting is lucrative (I went from £45k a year in the Civil Service which I already felt very lucky with, to £65k in the start-up, then to over £115k a year as a contractor within the space of about a year and a half) but you have to accept it comes with downsides and risks. For example, I'm now on maternity leave having had my baby. That required a lot of financial planning as there's no such thing as maternity pay as a contractor! Days off for appointments or illness aren't paid, of course, and pensions etc. aren't included so you have to factor all of that in to the financial decision. It's easy to look at the headline figure and think of it the same way as being permanently employed. You also have to think about the hit you take in your career progression too. If you're happy with those trade-offs, then contracting can be a really fulfilling way to work whilst retaining control of what you do and how you do it.

Any final thoughts on your career choices?

I think a lot about the choices I made and the financial risks I had to/ have to take to have gained my current pay rate. My single parent mum would have never been able to make those same choices. Context is everything when people make these decisions and financial safety one of the main reasons for entrenched pay stagnation. If you're a single parent, with few savings, you are never going to make a decision which risks the security of you and your children. Often, it's got nothing to do with working hard and everything to do with how safe you are to take finacial risks that ultimately make you better off.