I used to have very firm and fixed expectations about what was important in a career and the need to hit certain milestones along the way to grow my career. I realized just recently that I’ve been thinking about this all the wrong way.
When I graduated from college, I used to naively dream about rising up to top of the corporate food chain. Probably must have been one too many times watching Gordon Geckko in Wall Street and aspiring to be a corporate raider :).
I started out very much following a traditional path to move up the corporate ladder. My first roles were in a very competitive place in a finance chop shop. I started out as an analyst in an investment bank. I did my first and only all nighter during this period. I didn’t know any better and just figured it was a right of passage, that I was earning my stripes to be a Gordon Geckko type “rainmaker”.
The pay was phenomenal, the hours were terrible. Putting in your face time was very much a required part of the job. Frankly, you could be done with all your work by 8 or 9pm, but given everyone else was typically there till after 10pm. leaving so early didn’t look too good.
After a few years you really don’t think there is anything terribly wrong with this type of life, given the money is so good.
Eventually, I worked out there has to be a better way to make some money and to get through life than working yourself to the bone and burning out by 30.
It was at this point that I learnt my first career lesson in life.
Stable and secure always beats fast paced and dynamic
Much as I originally thought that I wanted to work in a dynamic and fast paced environment, having had the ability to work in some places where the pace of life is much more sedate made me really appreciate just what a joy it is to work in these roles.
These companies have a lot of “lifestyle” workers. I worked out that this means knocking off at 5pm and heading out the door shortly after. I don’t mean that as a negative thing. Everyone should be so lucky to work at one of these places. Having previously been at places where the work culture did not welcome or even allow such a schedule, I realized how good it is not to have your boss come and tap you on the shoulder at 7pm and ask for a deliverable that you know will take you the next few hours.
The key is that you are in a role that allows you to be content and fulfilled while still enjoying the stability and security of a very set job, with fixed structured deliverables.
I’ve often considered the value of working for a start up. I think the actual work of creating and building something new and unique would be pretty stimulating. But the hours and work pressure of trying to do so on a shoestring budget are immense.
You are always watching your cash burn and trying to balance building product with the amount of cash that you have remaining. I know this because I had the opportunity to work for one early in my career, while also having the stability of a back up safety should things not work out and the start up fold. (As it turned out, the start up that I worked for eventually went under).
Having a very interesting role, free of near term stress and time critical deliverables is something that’s even more valuable to me than early financial independence! I get the advantage of doing something I love, and likely earning way more than what I could if I quit the workforce.
Stress free beats rapid advancement and work pressure
Moving up the corporate ladder can be a good thing. It typically means more money and the ability to hobknob with the key movers and shakers higher up in the corporate foodchain (if that happens to be your thing).
But it also carries with it a bunch more work stress. Suddenly the work deliverables that you were contributing to happen to be ones that you own. You have the hassle of having to front up to the bigger bosses and explain why something that you promised wasn’t delivered on time. And when someone needs to be held accountable for something, the higher up you move the more likely it’s you.
When my passive income and asset base was less substantial, aspiring to progressively more income, irrespective of the additional pressure, was the objective.
As we’ve happened to accumulate more, I’m less interested in trading a more hectic lifestyle for more money. I feel like I’ve found my happy medium between quality of life, stimulating and interesting work and compensation.
I wouldn’t turn a promotion down if one happened to come my way, but I’ve realized I’m just as content with status quo and would be perfectly happy should things continue on current trajectory. Implicity, I think this is a large part of why I recently turned down some higher paying jobs.
So if you have a role that you enjoy and a lifestyle that works, what are the downsides? I think this is a personal thing that really varies from person to person, but for me, the biggest issue would be being stuck in a role that eventually just becomes plain boring.
The industry, the nature of the work all just get to you after a period of time. I this is more typical with inward facing roles where you have to interact much more with a set of internal co-workers and are exposed to a lot of office politics with many near term deadlines.
This can get very tedious after a while. Fortunately, the role that I happen to have has me working in much more of an externally facing role, where I actually deal far more with entreprenuers on the cutting edge of innovation. I find it’s incredibly hard to get bored in such circumstances.
Great Job + flexible lifestyle > Financial independence
In my view, the right job plus the right lifestyle actually beats early retirement or financial independence. In my case, being intellectually stimulated by meeting a diverse set of people across a bunch of different companies , having job flexibility and maintaining good hours and picking up a nice check every month would beat sitting at home and having the freedom to do everything and nothing.
But does that mean I’m not focussed on financially independence? Absolutely Not!. In fact, it’s probably even more critical for me, because I’m in a role which is even better than being financially independent. That means a a very high risk that a job change could make a big deal of difference in terms of job satisfaction. Given the reorganizations and restructurings are common place in corporate life, that’s something that I eventually need to be prepared for.
However, I’ve realized that I should just enjoy what I have and be thankful for the opportunities presented and the ability to enjoy a great work work life balance with a relatively good outlook. Should something bigger come along, that’s all well and good, but keeping the existing balance in check is close to my ideal. Now if I can just push along for another 5 years while I put my back up plan fully into place :).