- Debbie Ly quit their six-figure job at Rimeto to become a consultant to find work-life balance.
- She said that her former position deteriorated her mental health and made her feel like she worked three jobs.
- Her advice is to focus on yourself while taking actions that will better you personally.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with 27-year-old software engineer Debbie Ly, who quit their six-figure job at Rimeto to become a consultant. It has been edited for length and clarity.
People will tell you how great it is to work in tech, and in many ways it is. The money, perks, and setting of the Bay Area is undoubtedly a great deal. But my time as a software engineer broke down something far more important to me than money: my mental health.
Two years ago, I left my six-figure salary as a full-time software engineer at Rimeto and started working for myself. While the expectations of a traditional tech job left me feeling undervalued and overworked, now I’ve found a balance of work and life which has made me happier and more fulfilled than ever before.
The expectations and culture of the tech world deteriorated my mental well-being over the course of several years. Many times, it felt like I was working three jobs rather than one—I was writing code, acting as a hiring manager, and throwing myself into DEI efforts at the companies I worked for. The latter two roles cost me an extraordinary amount of emotional labor, partially because I was one of the only femme and POC engineers at any of the companies, and it often felt like people looked to me to constantly be the one to speak up and voice inclusion-related concerns. However, it still felt as though the technical component of the job was more valued than the other parts of my work, partially because it was more easily quantifiable than the emotionally taxing time and energy put into hiring and DEI efforts.
And even when I was doing well at two of those three jobs, my managers would point out my deficiencies in the third. Overall, it felt like the expectations were entirely unachievable, and the experience left me drained. I felt like I was putting so much of myself in, and no matter what I did it wouldn’t be enough. It reinforced patterns of negative self-talk and my tendency to be hard on myself, and made it that much harder to show myself compassion.
I felt I had to present a particular version of myself to my colleagues
Spending all day in the office with co-workers also took a lot out of me. It felt like I had to put on a particular version of myself every day I went to work. I felt like the office expected people to be happy and enthusiastic. I had to cover up my feelings if I was in any way off, which was tiring and disheartening. Hiding any part of myself required a lot of energy and felt strange and disingenuous. I simply didn’t feel like I could be myself at work, which depleted my sense of self-worth and confidence.
These dynamics wore me down over time, leaving me feeling burnt out and unmotivated, and causing me to bring more stress into my life outside of work.
Take actions to make your life look the way you want it to
During this time, there were a few things I did to take care of myself which I would recommend to others experiencing something similar. I found other people at the company I could trust—particularly other femme and POC employees. Spending time with them and talking openly was a huge source of support, because it felt like they could understand some of the ineffable dynamics affecting me. My community outside of work was also a big help in keeping me grounded and supported at a time when I wasn’t feeling like I could be emotionally open at work.
Other than finding support in others, I also found support in myself. I’d recommend striving to be self-aware in the environments you spend time in, because it is important to notice when they start taking a toll on your mental well-being.
Of course, the biggest piece of advice I can give is to actually take action in making your life look the way you want it to. Two years ago, I left full-time work for good. I started freelance consulting, beginning with gigs a friend of mine couldn’t pick up herself.
Off the bat, I felt like I could let out a massive, existential exhale. I didn’t have to compartmentalize myself and my way of being in the way that I used to, where I would put on a different self when I went to work. I started living a slower-paced life, and getting in tune with how I felt on a day-to-day basis and what I wanted. I could take care of myself much better too—I had the time to cook meals and enjoy time with friends, and didn’t feel the stress of work bleeding into my life.
It’s undoubtedly scary to take a leap like leaving a conventional job to work for yourself. But since I left full-time work, I have realized that one of the biggest obstacles in me achieving the balanced, happy life I wanted was simply believing it could happen. Today, I believe that I’ll be able to continue down this road, further away from traditional work and closer to creative pursuits and other endeavors which fulfill me. It feels safe to work a full-time job for someone else, but it feels so much more freeing to be able to design and balance my life the way I want it.
On the financial side of things, today I don’t make the same six-figure salary I did as a full-time engineer. But I schedule enough freelancing gigs so that I can make enough to live comfortably. This adds up to me working for about twenty hours a week total. More importantly, I might have had money before, but I didn’t have time. If life is about experience, joy, and relationships, I feel wealthier than ever.