Is a Six-Figure Salary Really a Gamechanger?

The following is a guest post by Tracy Timm. Tracy Timm is the founder of The Nth Degree® Career Academy and the author of “Unstoppable: Discover Your True Value, Define Your Genius Zone, and Drive Your Dream Career“. If you’d like to contribute a guest post like this one about earning a six-figure salary to Money Q&A, be sure to check out our Guest Posting Guidelines.

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If you’re honest with yourself, I bet you have this as a career goal in the back of your mind. There’s just something about reaching a $100k+ salary that sounds like you’ve “made it,” right?

At some point, the phrase “six-figures” became synonymous with professional success. You might call it The Holy Grail of most working professionals’ annual earning aspirations. The pinnacle of professional achievement. This sum is desired by many Americans desire but statistically, only 9% of us will ever achieve it.

I have the (dubious?) honor of being one of that 9%.

With my $10k signing bonus, my $70k annual salary, and my $55k end-of-year bonus, I earned a total of $135,000 my first year out of college.

I was 23-years-old.

What is the real value of your salary?

Now, before you start swearing at me under your breath or rolling your eyes and assuming this is just another “money doesn’t buy happiness” piece, just breathe. The truth about money, as with most things in life, is that its value is relative.

If you’re making $30k per year and living comfortably, then a higher salary and a six-figure salary is a nice to have. If you’re making $30k per year and living below the poverty line, then a higher salary is a necessity.

In one scenario, a six-figure salary looks like a cure. On the other, it’s not even relevant.

The greatest truth of all? There is almost no way to convince a person who has never made a six-figure salary that more money is not the cure-all it’s cracked up to be. The most sustainable route to liking your job, feeling less stressed, or enjoying your life is not an increase in salary. This is especially true if you don’t already like your job, feel good, and enjoy life currently.

I’m also not going to sit here and tell you that money is evil and loving your job will make up for financial instability. In fact, it is my humble opinion that having money is better than being broke—shocking, I know.

The problem with money is not that we think we need it when we don’t. The problem is that we heavily and misguidedly outweigh the impact that more money will have on our overall happiness and wellbeing.

What really leads to a sustainable career?

The startling reality is that other factors—environment, company size, colleagues, and even vacation—that are inherently less flashy than dollar signs are the true indicators and predictors of long-term, sustainable career success.

Does a raise feel good? Yes! But is a raise going to feel as good as you believe? And will this feeling last as long as you expect? Unfortunately, no.

One of my favorite concepts in psychology is cognitive dissonance.

This is the idea that our beliefs cannot exist in opposition to our behaviors without causing physical or mental distress. In layman’s terms: the division between your thoughts and actions is unsustainable. You simply cannot remain in a job you tolerate (much less hate!) for very long without either losing your mind or accepting your reality as an inescapable truth.

More Money

That’s exactly why more money doesn’t necessarily equal success and sustainability.

In my six-figure salary and career, I worked in finance—specifically on a trading floor in credit sales. One day during a quick break with a colleague, I noticed workers were repairing the bridge next to the building. Before I could even finish drawing his attention in that direction, he started gushing to me about how he had studied engineering and loved construction.

As someone who was only remaining in banking because I had no idea what else to do, I was furious. Why would someone with a real and tangible passion continue working in such a misaligned career? He confided in me that the only reason he was working in finance is because that’s “what successful people do” and it was the only way to make money.

What can you do to find work you love AND make what you’re worth?

In the scenario above, cognitive dissonance is the key.

One must choose: change your behavior or change your belief. Stay in the wrong place long enough, and you begin to accept your situation as fate. You may even forget about that purpose or passion that once fueled your beliefs. And that would be an absolute shame—both for you and for your purpose.

The irony of pursuing success is that you have to experience unsustainable success to really learn the difference between sustainable success and success at any cost. As someone who experienced one of our well-accepted societal definitions of career “success”—I can tell you, unequivocally, this one truth about your career: No amount of success on paper will ever make an unsustainable career a better fit for you.

If you’re not already on the path of pursuing purposeful and meaningful work, you’re on the path to burnout, self-medication, anxiety, and stress. No change in salary, status, or any other shiny object is going to alleviate the fundamental fact that you were made for something else—something better for you, something more impactful, and ultimately, something more sustainable.

Change Your Beliefs

But first, you must change your beliefs!

So, what will you choose to believe? That you have to accept your fate and work in misery? Or that you can fight for and achieve clarity? That you can actually have work you love that pays what you’re worth or that the only route to “success” is one that will require you to make significant concessions in happiness and wellbeing?

I’ve lived on both branches of this decision tree. I know in my heart we all have a purpose in this world and I believe we can fulfill that purpose professionally. If you need to borrow my confidence, do it! That nagging feeling you’re made for more is there for a reason.

Ultimately, I quit my job on Wall Street armed only with the belief that I could find my true career clarity. Today, I run a business helping people just like you discover, define, and drive their ideal careers.

Six-figures may not be your answer to career happiness and success.

It’s up to you to figure out what is.

About the author

TRACY TIMM is the founder of The Nth Degree® Career Academy, the proven career clarity system that helps high-potential professionals discover, define, and drive careers they love. She has a degree in behavioral psychology from Yale University and studied design thinking with the founder of the at Stanford University.

Tracy left a successful but unsatisfying career in finance, traveled once around the world on Semester at Sea, and discovered her ideal career. For more than five years, she has applied these lessons in her career advisory work with hundreds of individuals and over one hundred fast-growing companies. Tracy lives in Dallas, Texas.

Connect with Tracy Timm on Twitter @thetracytimm, Facebook @thetracytimm, Instagram @thetracytimm and @journeytoyourdreamjob, and LinkedIn. And visit,, and to learn more.

Unstoppable: Discover Your True Value, Define Your Genius Zone, and Drive Your Dream Career is available September 29, 2020, on Amazon and other retail outlets.

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