Career Break Thoughts: Finding Meaning Beyond the ‘Bullshit Job’

Late last year, I made a bold decision to take a career break. At the age of 41, it was a time filled with mixed emotions—relief from the daily grind of unfulfilling work, but also a looming uncertainty about the future since I am taking my foot off the pedal on my original retirement plan of retiring by the age of 50. During this break, I had a lot of mixed feelings when contemplating if I want to return to the corporate life to continue building my career.

At the same time, this journey has led me to confront the pervasive existence of what David Graeber terms “bullshit jobs” thanks to the blog articles by Christopher Ng from Growing your tree of prosperity which got me thinking about whether I want to give up years of my lifespan in exchange for some money to work on a “bullshit job.”

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My Career Break Journey

I have spent 17 years of my life building my career as an expert in the digital marketing space. Before this hiatus, my career was a whirlwind of deadlines, meetings, and projects that often left me questioning their true impact. The decision to step back was driven by a deep-seated need to reassess my life’s direction. Initially, I envisioned this break as a time to recharge and explore new passions, but it soon became a period of profound self-discovery.

I learnt that I don’t really need a lot of money to live a life that I am happy with. My monthly living expenses works out to under $2,000 right now and when I’m travelling around Asia, the monthly expenses goes up to around $3,300. With these figures, I now have a pretty good idea of how much I need when I retire.

Should I Trade My Lifespan for Money Doing “Bullshit Jobs”?

When I was travelling in China, I was reading the ebook version of David Graeber’s “Bullshit Jobs: A Theory” on my iPad, thanks to our National Library. Graeber’s incisive critique of modern employment resonated with my own frustrations. I think we can say that all marketing jobs, including the one I was doing, are all “bullshit jobs”.

Graeber categorises bullshit jobs into five types: flunkies, goons, duct tapers, box-tickers, and taskmasters. Each type serves as a reminder of the various ways modern work can feel meaningless. For example, flunkies exist to make others look or feel important, while duct tapers fix problems that shouldn’t exist in the first place. This insight was eye-opening, helping me understand why my career left me feeling unfulfilled.

At 41, I can confidently say that my 40s will probably be the best years in the rest of my life. Should I go back to a “bullshit job” or should I explore other life alternatives?

Is the Monetary Rewards from a Bullshit Job worth It?

Let’s do the math on the monetary rewards for using my lifespan for a “bullshit job.” I took the statistics of the median income by age (includes employer CPF contribution) from SmartWealth where they have stated that the data source is extracted from the Ministry of Manpower. Let’s look at how much I can save for trading away 10 years of my life based on 3 different saving rates, 25%, 50% and 75%.

Age2023 Median Monthly SalaryAnnual Income (Excluding CPF)25% Savings Rate5-Year Savings50% Savings Rate5-Year Savings75% Savings Rate5-Year Savings

Based on the table above, I calculated the potential savings if I were to continue working full-time until age 50. For instance, at a more relaxed 50% savings rate, I could potentially save $236,314.26 over 9 years and if I go for an aggressive 75% savings rate, I could potentially save $354,471.39.

While these savings can significantly boost my retirement fund, I ask myself if this financial security is worth the cost of spending 9 more years in a potentially unfulfilling job? I don’t have an answer for this questions right now.

What is the True Value of Our Time?

During my career break, I found out that I managed to reclaim a lot of time back into my life.

In the morning, I would go for a walk around the neighbourhood to close the Exercise ring on my Apple Watch. Then the rest of the morning is spent on leisurely activities such as writing an article for this blog and pursue other personal interests. After lunch, I will continue to work on my personal interests but at the same time, I have the luxury of taking an afternoon nap, go for a swim at the nearby Safra club, or indulge in an hour of games on my Nintendo Switch.

A typical work day for most Singaporeans will look like this:

  • 8 hours spent on sleep
  • 9 hours spent at the workplace (includes 1 hour for lunch)
  • 2 hours spent commuting to and fro the workplace
  • 5 hours of freedom left at night

Looking at this breakdown which leaves me with only 5 hours each day for personal activities, relaxation, and time with loved ones made me think really hard about the price of freedom. Is it really worth giving up 9 hours of my weekdays for 9 years (FYI, that’s 21,060 hours in total) in exchange for up to $354,471.39?

What I Am Doing Right Now

While I don’t have all the answers, what I do know is that I don’t have a strong desire to get back into the rat race to continue building my career. I also don’t intend to continue climbing the corporate ladder as well. What I do cherish right now, is the time I have in my hands that allows me to live a life that I am contented with, and it really doesn’t cost me a lot of money.

An alternative option that I am experimenting with right now is this. Instead of going back to a full-time job, what if I could find remote work that pay me enough to cover my living expenses and only takes up a portion of my time to complete? I have already lined up a few remote work options that I am trying out and will give an update if they do work out in the long term.

I now have a growing inclination to retire overseas in a country with a lower cost of living in later years when I retire because I don’t think Singapore is a country that I want to live in when I retire. There’s so much to think about and plan when it comes to geo-arbitrage.

I don’t consider myself privileged to be able to make life choices like these. I come from a regular family background and I worked hard and built up my financial safety net to regain the ability to make these life choices. If you want to have the ability to make different life choices like me, you’ll have to work for it.

I encourage you to reflect on your own career. Are you in a bullshit job? What changes can you make to find more fulfillment? It’s never too late to seek a path that brings both purpose and prosperity.


  1. Hi ,

    Interesting article and worth to give it a thought. I’m you have saved more than enough for $2k-$3k monthly expenses living. Is the amount also including monthly parent allowance as well as parent elder care life?
    I think there is something missing after this sentence “After lunch, I”. If I were single like you, I’ll practice what you wrote here, but I have a family with a kid to feed, but will be there in another 10 years when my kid become independent.

    1. Thanks. I’ve updated the post to complete the paragraph. Honestly I can’t fathom the idea of getting married and having a kid. I consider this life stage a financial catastrophe that I’d happily skip over while many would consider this life stage immerse bliss that they can’t imagine life without it.

      1. It is so much easier doing financial planning for yourself only. A portion of the population will be in your shoes but the majority are still married and have maybe 1 kid- so the maths look completely different. Good job figuring out for yourself but applicability may still be limited..

        1. The math will be completely different for married couples (with or without kids). There are pros (dual income, lower shared expenses, one can quit while the other works, etc.) and cons (increased expense needs). I don’t think it is impossible for married couples to plan this, but the different circumstances opens up different challenges and opportunities. Just need to plan it out based on your own circumstances.

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