5 People Who Took A Huge Pay Cut For Their Unique Dream Jobs

If you ever wanted to become a full-time comedian or tour guide, check out these tips from people who turned their dreams into reality.

When considering the road less traveled, it would be unwise to assume there is a set roadmap to lead the way. Similarly, the path to finding your dream job is unlikely to be identical to that of anyone else.


But carving out a path–whatever it may be–is what Dan Coffey, a senior consultant at career development firm IMPACT Group, considers to be a vital first step to finding your dream job.

Step two he says is doing your homework.

Related: Is It Time To Dramatically Quit Your Day Job?


“When you love what you do, you can become quite successful,” Coffey points out. “But, that doesn’t always mean that you can do what you love and have the same results.”

If you need a little inspiration, here’s advice from five people who came up with a plan to follow their dreams:

From Real Estate Inspector To Teaching Debate In South Korea

When Christopher Rither was in college, he made a list of all the things he wanted to achieve throughout his life, and as he got older he checked each goal off one by one.


He had planned on becoming a university professor by the time he was 50 years old–he chalks this up to his own college experiences and the inspiring professors he had. But when he reached his deadline, he realized life had taken him in a different direction.

“To other people I lived the dream: a successful business in real estate, big house, nice cars, great kids, and enough money to keep it all going,” he says.

Great as his life seemed to be, Rither knew this wasn’t his dream.


“My company had so consumed my life that it infiltrated my sleep,” he says. “You know you have it bad when sleep is no longer the thing that rejuvenates you.”

Rither says he woke up one day and realized his life was the problem, and it was time for a change. With only a bachelor’s degree, a university job seemed out of reach. So he did some research and found that he could teach at a foreign university without a master’s degree. Soon after he sold his business, houses, and most of his possessions and moved to South Korea.

Now Rither is living the dream as an assistant professor of debate and conversational English at Myongji University in South Korea, and he couldn’t be happier.


“I may make less money now, but the teaching schedule allows me to work on the things I really enjoy, like expanding on my writing and artistic abilities,” he says.

Rither’s Advice:

What has made you successful in one occupation will do the same in another, and you can always learn what you need along the way.

From Music Marketing To International Shopping Tours

About 15 years ago, Deborah Mayer took an almost 50% pay cut to follow her dreams.


At the time she was a 37-year-old marketing professional at Sony Music, and she was beginning to burn out.

“It felt like I had outgrown my fun, exciting career; I knew there had to be more to life than this,” Mayer says. “I also knew that someday I wanted a business of my own and my prospects for something entrepreneurial in entertainment weren’t strong.”

She left the entertainment business to accept an entry-level position at a tour company, which paid about half of her previous mid-to-high $50,000 salary. “Friends and family said I was crazy to leave behind a career with a good salary and even better perks,” Mayer says.


But it was all worth it, she says, and she was able to realize just how much she loved traveling and planning other people’s vacations. Not long after, while on a work-related inspection tour of Italy, Mayer came up with the idea for a fashion-themed tour.

“I had to follow my heart and devote myself to something that brought me joy,” Mayer says.

With one year’s worth of assistance from her parents, she took the time to refine her concept, developed itineraries and marketing ideas, and in the spring of 2001, she founded Shop Around Tours Inc., a tour company for travelers who love to shop.


The first few years weren’t easy to say the least, especially after September 11 drastically changed the travel industry, and Mayer had to make sacrifices. She says she had to seriously scale down her lifestyle, skipping things like eating out for lunch, happy hour, and shopping for pleasure. “But I regret none of it and would do it all over again,” she says.

Mayer’s Advice:

If you can find a way to take a risk, do it, but only if it works for you. If you have no savings or backup plan, think about building a nest egg to fall back on before you take that leap. I had serious reservations when I cut my salary in half but I had a specific goal in mind and I eventually achieved it.

From Tech Geek To Comedian

If giving public demonstrations is a large component of your job and you have a serious fear of public speaking, you’re in trouble. At least that’s what Dan Nainan thinks.


As a senior engineer with Intel Corporation, his six-digit job included traveling the world with executives like former chairman Andy Grove giving technical demonstrations on stage at high-profile events. But he says he was incredibly nervous about speaking on stage.

To get over the fear Nainan took a comedy class, and he says after that his interest in comedy took off.

After receiving a promotion to an even higher position at Intel, Nainan became bored. He says he knew then that his career was not right for him, so he left his job to pursue comedy as a full-time career, and it took two years to make his first five dollars a show.


Apart from the severe pay cut, Nainan says he faced several challenges getting into the entertainment business: For one, he says he had no idea what he was doing. “It’s not like becoming an accountant or a doctor where you know exactly how many years of schooling you have to take, and what tests you have to pass, and so forth,” Nainan says. In addition, he says other entertainers were less than forthcoming with guidance.

Now that he’s figured it out, Nainan has performed all over the world, met President Barack Obama, and says his work is extremely fulfilling.

“Certainly I was anxious about the very low income,” Nainan offers, “but at the same time I had the feeling everything would work out, and surely enough, it did, way beyond what I could ever have imagined.”


Nainan’s Advice:

Many people I talk to have what they consider to be a boring job, but they also have a passion of some kind, whether it’s singing, comedy, making movies, dance, entrepreneurship, or whatever. At the same time, they’ll tell me that they want to pursue their other passion, but they don’t have time to do so. I would have to disagree.

The average American watches over 30 hours of television a week. Also, on Friday night, there’s tremendous societal pressure to go out and party and drink, because that’s what everyone else is doing. Then they are hung over Saturday, and not really able to do anything worthwhile, then they rinse and repeat Saturday night and then they are hung over Sunday, and barely struggle in to work Monday morning.

If they could cut out the television, the partying, and the drinking, well, I’ve just found them 60 hours a week!

From Software Developer To Weight Loss Backpacker

Since the 1990s Steve Silberberg had been making six figures designing and writing software for an investment firm. He graduated with a master’s degree from MIT and figured that’s what he would always be doing.

But when Silberberg turned 40 in 2002 he became uneasy with his life in a cubicle. As his company grew, so too did the pressures associated with his job. “Whenever I showed up to work, I wanted to stick a fork in my head,” he says.


Battling feelings of depression and desperate for a change, Silberberg realized he was happiest while on backpacking adventures. “When I returned to work, I found that my clothes fit better, my disposition had improved, my weight was lower, and I was stress-free,” he says.

In 2005 he took this realization and created his company Fitpacking, a weight-loss-centric backpacking vacation company.

Not everybody has taken to the notion of backpacking in the remote wilderness to lose weight, Silberberg admits, and he confesses that, though the business has kept him afloat thus far, when business is bad he begins to fantasize about going back to the corporate life for the more solvent pay. But he quickly snaps back to reality when he realizes there is still more backpacking ahead.

“Sometimes I need to be more parsimonious with everyday expenses and that’s a drag,” he says. “But it’s no more of a burden than sitting in a cube every day unable to enjoy our beautiful national parks and national forests on a regular basis as I do now.”

Silberberg’s Advice:

Make sure not to make your family or loved ones suffer (or even yourself) in order to make your dreams manifest. Of course you think your business is going to succeed (if not, don’t even think of starting one) but make sure not to lose your house or starve your family because of it.

From Real Estate Mogul To Documentary Filmmaker

At the height of the real estate boom in 2007, Thomas Morgan made a half a million dollars in a year putting the money together for real estate developments. He says he got into business because he didn’t know anything else, and the thought of going into film, though it was always what he loved and wanted to pursue, seemed ridiculous to his father.

He didn’t realize he could get into full-time filmmaking until after a few chance encounters.

After meeting some people who had experienced homelessness, Morgan says he was shocked to learn their plight wasn’t the result of drugs, alcohol, mental illness, or laziness. He figured they were the exception to the rule until his wife challenged him to find out more and he called the National Coalition for the Homeless.

While attending a Spin magazine party in New York, he told a fellow party attendee, Super Size Me director Morgan Spurlock, that someone should do a documentary on homelessness in the U.S. Morgan replied, “Why don’t you?” Hearing that he would do the film, another attendee, actress Susan Sarandon, offered her support.

Morgan says when he returned home from his trip, he told his wife, “Honey, this is crazy but I want to sell the house, downsize our lives, and do this.” His wife agreed.

Ever since Morgan has been making films full-time, and he now operates a production company with Susan Sarandon called Reframed Pictures that produces and supports documentaries with a focus on social justice and human rights issues.

Morgan says he doesn’t mind the pay cut, and he will never go back to his previous role, even though he didn’t dislike what he used to do. “I wasn’t going to make a difference, and in the end it helped the wealthy get wealthier, not mankind as a whole,” he says.

Morgan’s Advice:

Money is important in sustaining your existence–it is not as important, or significant, in your happiness or life. If you chase your passion you will find happiness. It won’t always be perfect, but sometimes the journey is the destination.


About the author

Rachel Gillett is a former editorial assistant for’s Leadership section. Her work has been featured on,, and elsewhere


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