I’ve been thinking about my career the wrong way

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 :).

Comments

  1. DR says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now and this article hit home for me. Your perspective on the trade-offs between job satisfaction, respsonsibilites, stress & money are similar to what I have thought about on numerous occassions. I have come to the same conclusions that there is a “happy medium” somewhere among job satisfaction, respsonsibilites, stress & money. Your insight is very helpful…if only to reassure me that I am not the only one who thinks about these things:) Keep up the great work!

  2. Integrator says:

    Thanks for the comment DR. I feel that it’s a pretty lucky situation to be in to not have to be on the search for higher paying opportunities and just enjoy what you have and be content. Not everyone has the luxury. For me the biggest thing was a mindset change. I have been pretty hard charging in the early part of my career. To step back and say the my priorities have now well and truly changed took quite some work to be able to do!

  3. Jon says:

    Hi FI,
    When I was made redundant 2 years ago from a job that I no longer enjoyed after being at the company for 12 years, I learnt some very important personal lessons.
    1. Its very beneficial to build a financial “nut” early in your career to allow compounding. The 12 years at the company consisted of hard work, late nights but a great salary, stock options and bonuses.
    2. Doing nothing or early retirement did not agree with me. Having been fully employed for 20+ years, the 3 months of unemployment were very hard and depressing.
    3. FI is ABSOLUTELY the key. It gives you choice and reduces stress. My favourite quote, from Bob Dillon: a man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do”

    Regards,
    Jon

    • Integrator says:

      Hi Jon,

      Love the Dillion quote…. we should all be so lucky!. The option to be able to walk away at any point and enjoy a modest standard of living is super important. Like you mentioned, you never know when the sword may descend from above and effect immeadiate change to your work situation.

  4. Jon says:

    Hi FI,
    On an unrelated topic could I please ask your advice on purchasing Australian shares. I’m planning to buy Telstra and some Australian banks.
    My broker has two versions of Telstra.
    TLSYY: OTC Pink ADR
    TTRAF: OTC pink

    TLSYY shows dividend yield of 6.05% while TTRAF shows dividend yield of 7.92%. Bloomberg also shows Telstra with dividend yield of 7.92%. Which version would you recommend I buy and why the difference in yield ?

    Best Wishes,
    Jon

    • Integrator says:

      That’s intriguing that there is such a difference. The underlying Telstra shares themselves only currently yield 5.6% ( they pay a $0.28 annual dividend on $5.00 stock). I don’t have a good explanation for you as to why the yields are different, I’m not even sure the quoted numbers are correct. Google finane shows tlsyy yield of 6.18%. I think what’s happening is they they are using old exchange rates to do their conversion of the AUD dividend amount to USD. Just 1 mth ago, the AUD/USD rate was about $0.93, it’s now $0.9. I suspect each of the pink sheets are using slightly different, and out of date exchange rates. I don’t believe you will get any higher yield than what the underlying is paying, and that’s currently 5.6%. The AUD will likely slip a little more vs the USD, so just be a little cautious with that.

      I’d personally buy the TLYSS adr as it has greater volume that is traded. I hadn’t previously heard of the other one

  5. FI Fighter says:

    Great post and thanks for sharing your story! It’s amazing how much a lure money can be when first starting out… If you never switch your mindset from focusing on earned income to passive income, I would imagine this chase up the corporate pyramid can go on for a long, long time…

    However, once the passive income starts rolling in, the mentality changes. Money is no longer the end all, and you become less willing to subject yourself to continued abuse/stress. It’s just not worth it. I agree, and now I look for the right balance. I’d gladly accept a lower paying position to be able to check out the door at 5:00 PM sharp. All those later night rites of passages are no longer worth it. I simply don’t care that much anymore…

    • Integrator says:

      Thanks FI Fighter….I think part of it also is are you comfortable with your lot in life and what you have, For us, our only other objective is to move from our condo to a modest family home, and we don’t need to stretch ourselves from where we are financially to afford what we want. I love the feeling of being able to wrap up for the evening and check out to spend time with my kids at 5pm…wheras my old self would just be getting started at 5pm with the number crunching that lay ahead for the night.

  6. moneycone says:

    It is always glamorous to hear about how X quit his/her job to do his/her own thing. The reality is we don’t know how X is doing!

    Always strive to improve your situation, but be thankful for what you have.

    • Integrator says:

      Ha! Good point! I made a comment to my wife yesterday about declaring myself FI while keeping her working and having the dividend income to supplement….Needless to say, I didn’t get back a very impressed response :)

      • Integrator… you actually had me laughing out loud there with the wife comment! :)

        Great post by the way! Certainly something I’ve encountered just this past year. The realization that time is more valuable than money is a big one to make, and one that sets you up for greater success down the road.

  7. Integrator says:

    Thanks W2R!. I’m personally happy keeping income constant for now but getting more and more time back. We are at the point where what we have more than covers what we need. Our excess is just being used to further build up our buffer to assist completely diversifying away from all active income sources.

  8. Integrator,

    If I didn’t have a job I despised so much, I wouldn’t be as motivated to reach FI. In fact, if I really enjoyed my job I might not be interested in the concept of financial independence at all. Perhaps it’s a good thing I don’t like my job that much?

    I think someone who’s in the position of having a job that they enjoy and find challenging and rewarding is in a wonderful spot. Are they in a better spot than someone financially independent? I’d make the argument that they’re not, but “better” is all subjective.

    I’ve been increasingly thinking about taking a sabbatical next year, as I’ve been feeling burned out by work. I’d then have to think hard about whether or not to come back to the same industry or not. I’ve often thought about “coasting” to FI on a smaller, but more enjoyable salary. The trade-off – less salary for a more enjoyable job – is one I’m willing to make now. But if I weren’t already so far along I wouldn’t be.

    Great conversation!

    Best wishes.

    • Integrator says:

      DM,

      Great point. You need to get that fire in the belly from somewhere to start your journey to financial independence. For many of us, that comes from a rotten job somewhere along the line. The long hrs from my initial investment banking job provided that fire for me. It definitely sounds like you are experiencing similar pain in your current role, which is unfortunate.

      I remember I had it so bad at one point before my most recent job that I’d be dreading going to work. I’d feel depressed on a friday evening because it meant I’d be counting down the hours of the limited freedom I had before going back to work on Monday….. it was that bad…. I’d be edgy and nervous all weekend, something that impacted the quality of life I enjoyed on my time away from work. It was unsustainable. I’d always be discussing alternative work plans with my wife…the negative experience just consumed me. Once I left that job, which was my redemption, I vowed never to forget that experience and never to get back into something similar, no matter how great the “allure”. These days, I’m content with driving a more sedate pace with my career, it’s a trade off I’ve been happy to make.

      Ultimately having the FI safety is probably better than being in a dream job, because you have the freedom to be in the dream job because you WANT to be there, not because you have to be there. I love the Dillon quote from Jon earlier in the thread “a man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do”. That includes the decision to be at your dream job, or not.

      Best with your work situation, hope it sorts itself out. I tell you though, peace of mind from an improved work situation is priceless, even if it means less money in the near term.

  9. Evan says:

    What a timely post for me! I am feeling under appreciated at the office (read: base salary is not enough). I am a HUGE fan of my job. HUGE…mainly because of the reasons you mentioned regarding freedom and lack of stress. I am planning on a “talk” with the partners, just going to ask for a raise but so afraid of what could happen if or when they say no. Do I look for another job? What if that one destroys my family life? Freedom? etc.

    Fear of the unknown I guess

    • Integrator says:

      Evan,
      I actually think you’ve got a great situation going there. The question is whether you can leverage what you have and more optimally extract what you are worth. Personally, I think it’s better to start with the situation you have and try and extract more than the reverse situation of being highly paid, miserable, and trying to achieve better quality of life.

      I’d certainly go ahead and see what you could achieve in terms of greater benefits. The worst that they could say is not right now, in which case your left no worse than where you currently are. But I’d tell you you are starting from a position that many folks would kill for. Upward financial momentum will surely follow in due course.

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