My emotions surrounding my career are all over the place. Sometimes, I’m proud of my accomplishments and excited for the future. Sometimes, I want to curl up in a ball under my desk and sob until I pass out. Sometimes, I swing between these two polar opposites in the same hour.
Writing about financial independence and desiring a shorter career means that I often receive questions like “why don’t you just find something you love doing?” The truth is that I do love my job, as much as I could possibly love any job. I’ve never identified with the advice of ‘finding your passion.’ I’m a staunch generalist in a world built largely for specialists and I can’t think of a single career that I would be passionate about for more than a few years at a time. Not. One. Side note: If anyone notices a job posting for a full time Netflix watching aficionado, please forward it to me. On second thought, I’d probably get bored of that job too.
The reality is that I’ve done everything I could to ensure that my work would be interesting, varied, engaging, and rewarding. I’ve put myself in the best position to have a fulfilling long-term career, and it’s not working. I truly love my job, but I’m struggling to see past the next three years, let alone the next thirty-six.
Redefining Work & Leisure
The goal of financial independence for me has never been to escape a soul-crushing job. My objective is to make a series of transactions – every deposit into my investment accounts is the purchase of a tiny slice of freedom. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily have to mean freedom from work. More likely, it will mean freedom to pursue various interests on a whim without needing to consider financial compensation. Less catchy, but more accurate.
The irony of pursuing financial independence is that we’re often pressured to fit into a certain framework, just because it’s ‘optimal’ or ‘efficient’ (two words I’ve come to genuinely loathe) or because that’s how someone else did it. I can’t speak for everyone in such a diverse community, but not wanting to be limited is one of the reasons I was attracted to financial independence in the first place!
This is a new era. Work no longer has to mean putting in 40 years at a job, retiring at age 65, and spending the rest of your time puttering around your house until you die. Work has become more flexible, transient, and innovative. For the first time in history we can work remotely from almost anywhere on the planet. We’re starting to accept that work is a fluid concept.
The idea of retirement hasn’t been quite so fortunate. We’ve mastered flight, harnessed electricity, and mapped the human genome, but somehow we still can’t shake the image of an elderly couple in adirondack chairs watching a beach sunset.
Financial independence has been backed into a corner too. I have no idea why we’ve taken such an intriguing concept and boxed it in so tightly that so many people think it needs to mean working at a job we may dislike for ten years while saving as much as possible, and then never receiving financial compensation for work again (ever! or else!). As more diverse voices enter the financial independence space, my hope is that the existing framework will be disrupted to make way for some new ideas.
I’m looking forward to following the social development that happens around retirement and financial independence in the near future, but in the meantime, let’s talk about my next decade of required employment. As far as work goes, I can’t complain too much. I know I’m extremely privileged to have the career I’ve had so far, and I don’t take it for granted. Would I choose to continue this job even if I didn’t need the money? That’s a question I hope to answer as my net worth grows.
I Love My Job
I am so thankful for my job every single day. Even on Sundays when I’m dreading going back to work, I still feel fortunate. In the last two years, this job has allowed me to afford living in an expensive city, start paying back my student loans, and invest in my future.
Much of my work involves helping others, and I thrive in that environment. I enjoy mentoring and encouraging those around me to succeed, and it’s rewarding to contribute to something greater.
I was fortunate to find a full time position after graduation. Many of my fellow graduates started with short-term contract positions, and some have yet to find work in the field. Outside of a fair salary, I have extended health and dental coverage and a pension match. A millennial with a pension match! It’s strange just thinking about it. I will also receive regular raises and bonuses throughout my career.
My job is a 9-5 salary position so I have predictable hours and I don’t usually need to stay late. I also have several weeks of vacation per year. Work-life balance is important to me and fortunately it’s encouraged in my workplace!
My boss is amazing. He’s an excellent mentor, a supportive supervisor, and a steadfast anti-micromanager. The best part? He’s willing to openly admit that he has advantages over me in some workplace situations because he’s male. Can we just take a moment and appreciate the rarity of that awareness? A compassionate and intelligent manager is one of the most important aspects of a workplace, and I am so grateful for him.
I have my own office, and I can close the door when I want. I also have a fantastic view, so that when I’m not staring into my screen for hours at a time I can get a glimpse of the sky.
Interestingly, many of these benefits would be irrelevant if I were financially independent. I wouldn’t need fair compensation if I had no debt and enough assets to cover my expenses; I wouldn’t crave work-life balance if I was free to build my own schedule; and I wouldn’t be excited by a nice office if I could work (or not) from anywhere I wanted. Purpose and mentorship I could easily replace through volunteering or expanding my network.
I Hate My Job
Switching gears abruptly, there are definitely aspects of my work that I could do without. If I had the financial backing to negotiate these facets of my job away, I’m not sure if my resolve to leave my career would waver. It’s worth a shot though, isn’t it?
I take the bus for about an hour each way every weekday. That’s a minimum of 10 hours per week on public transit. If we were to move closer to my office, we’d be paying significantly more in rent and also adding to my spouse’s commute. I listen to podcasts on transit which means that this time is semi-productive, but it makes for an exhausting day. If the system is running off-schedule or I fail to time my journey, I’m sometimes waiting in the rain or cold for the next bus.
I could buy a vehicle, but even after the upfront purchase it comes with its own added costs and inconveniences: parking, fuel, insurance, maintenance. I’d also still be in traffic for at least an hour every day, and my time would be less productive while I focused on the drive.
I try to be accommodating, but there are some projects in my roster that I would drop in a hot minute if I could. These tasks are things that need to be done but that I have zero interest in doing. When I’ve been at this job for slightly longer, and have more financial stability, I’ll attempt to downsize as many of these projects as I can manage. I don’t want to burden anyone else on my team, but I’ll feel more confident in asking if we could exchange work to better suit our abilities and interests.
Generally, most people I deal with in a regular day are fantastic. Every once in awhile though, I have to quell the urge to send strongly-worded emails. I feel financially insecure to the point that I find myself being too accommodating at times. The ability to be real with everyone at work, without being abusive of course, would be a major asset.
A Gilded Cage Is Still A Cage
On an average day, the love overshadows the hate. Would I choose this job over another job? Most likely. Would I choose this job over any job? I’m not sure. I haven’t been able to objectively figure out whether or not I want this job, because at the moment I need this job.
It ultimately comes down to freedom. Pursuing financial independence means that I can choose to work, or not, as my interests and priorities evolve. I can abandon a project that isn’t inspiring me. I can try something new without the pressure of needing it to be financially successful. I can fail, epicly and often.
If the benefits of my current job disappear, or a changing work environment means that I don’t enjoy my time here, financial independence means that I wouldn’t hesitate to leave. I wouldn’t be trapped in a career simply because I chose to spend more on luxuries in an earlier stage of my life.
If I do achieve financial independence, what’s the worst that could happen? I save up a ton of money and then decide I want to keep working after all? Big deal! What have I really lost – a decade of overindulgence? With the exception of a catastrophic event like a fatal accident or apocalypse where my life will be over before I can enjoy the outcome of my success, I won’t miss out on much by saving instead of spending. Even thinking back to my past levels of spending, there’s nothing I can really pinpoint that I miss. In fact, I’m happier and more content now than at any other time in the past. If my life is better now and later, where is the downside?