We’ve all probably seen the studies or heard of them.
If you’ve got a good boss, you’re likely to like your job. If you’ve got an a-hole sitting across that desk, watch out. Your stress is probably going to spike and you’ll be miserable. I wonder if bad bosses have anything to do with all the people I know pursuing early retirement?
I’ve had my share of bad bosses. Particularly early in my career, they seemed to be everywhere. Even bad bosses I didn’t report to would lurk behind the bushes waiting to ruin my day.
Nothing like a bad-boss bushwhacking before taking that first client call. Fast forward 20 years or so, and it would appear I’ve hit the jackpot with two of the best bosses I’ve ever had.
How much of my assessment of these managers is a reflection of my performance, vs. theirs? You can probably guess where that notion is heading…
How to Be Your Own Boss at Work
The higher up you go on the ladder, the dynamics of the boss-worker relationship change with each rung. As an entry-level newbie, you get a lot of menial tasks rolling down at you. And as a bonus, your boss is typically a junior-level manager without a lot of people management experience or skills.
You could get lucky and wind up reporting to a rising star with good E.Q. and strong people management skills. But very often, we’re stuck with someone still learning how to manage and motivate a team.
The best solution? Be your own boss. Bring your motivation and help others around you to be better. Just what you wanted to hear on a blisteringly cold January Monday, no? (Remember, this is a blog. I’m only speaking from personal experience, but I have a theory these generalizations hold for MANY.)
One of my current senior leaders told me once to be bold. I love that. It means taking risks, seeing projects through to the finish line, and bringing them across that line as a team. So how do you get to be your own boss if you’ve already got a boss, and he or she has a boss, etc., etc.? The first thing you do is take care of your plate.
First, let’s get down to basics. Be sure to respond quickly to emails, especially those from your manager. Why? Emails are a proxy for actual conversation. Like it or not. Getting it in writing is what helps us remember and prioritize. And if you keep your boss waiting for an acknowledgment of a task, you’re not doing yourself any favors.
Second, be sure you’re playing well in the sandbox with others. Getting along with colleagues and higher-ups is just as important as getting your work done.
Why? Because again, like it or not, most high-performing companies insist on their employees treating each other as clients. Those 360 feedback forms, flawed as they are, carry a lot of weight come annual review time.
Finally, anticipate and proactively get after those tasks on your plate. Don’t simply react.
If you become a master of these three things, your bosses will have no choice but to appreciate you. Even the worst micromanager would leave you alone to go focus on the worker bees who are fouling up the joint.
Fulfillment of Owning a Business (or Freelancing)
If you think that freelancing is the only way to go, keep in mind there’s always a boss – The Client. My wife is a chiropractor who runs her own business. You’d think on the surface, “Oh. That must be quite nice. You’re your own boss!” She comes home more drained than I do sometimes, thanks to patients who are difficult to deal with.
Sure, she’s the boss of the business side of the operation. But when it comes to the healing part of her job, the patient’s demands and whims can put a dent in an otherwise good day.
And that’s true for any line of work, whether you’re an independent consultant, author, or plumber for hire. You’ll always be dealing with people. And guess what? People are fickle.
It Takes Time to Acclimate to Cubicle Work
Careers don’t come easy. You spend your 20s adjusting to a completely new reality. No part-time job or paper route can prepare you for it. Not even most internships. For the next 20-40 years (or more!) you’ll be spending Monday through Friday, 40 to 50 hours a week, in a cubicle or between conference rooms.
In your 20s that’s quite a shock. The college experience was awesome! All you had to do was show up for a few classes, study between beer breaks, and eventually… Graduate! You even had some choices about what to major in, classes to take, professors, and when to take a nap.
Then, you get your first job. An entry-level gig. You pretty much fall into a lane that simply doesn’t change a lot. No wonder then, that most 20-somethings make the most of happy hours and Sunday brunch.
Top it off with a family and mounting bills in your 30s, and you’re still adjusting to this “career thing”. After all, less than a third of your life has been spent in that cube by this point.
Your 40s are pivotal. By now, you should be figuring $h*t out. Debt should be melting away, not piling up. You’ve reached a point where most of your life you’ve been working, so it becomes a bit easier. You’ve put in some serious “reps”. If you’re like Cubert, and you get stressed out easily, you start looking for exit ramps.
I can’t speak personally about one’s 50s and 60s, but my good friend Fritz over at The Retirement Manifesto did real good by smartly preparing for early retirement at age 55. We should all shoot for his gold standard. Few regrets and lots of years of hiking and cold water swimming lie ahead.
Thing is, I bet he could’ve worked another 10 or 20 years and navigated “the system” with aplomb, but he has more exciting plans that don’t require Monday-Friday 50-hour commitments.
Bottom line: If you commit yourself to learning about team dynamics and picking up cues from successful colleagues, you should find your career road an easier one, as the years go by. It’s ironic how an early retiree in his or her 40s or 50s, having reached a point of career mastery, is ready to jettison the hamster wheel.
Be a True Boss at Home
Don’t be fooled by the subheader. “Partnership” is the name of the game on the home front. Problems emerge when one feels lorded over at both the office and home. Yikes. So don’t do that. Your best bet as a winning husband or wife is to be an even better servant leader at home. Bring empathy, but more importantly, share in the work.
Whether it’s watching kids, vacuuming the rugs, or doing the dishes. It may not be fun and you shouldn’t be artificial about the “joy of scrubbing floors together” or some crazy $h*t. But you should do everything in your power to prevent the buildup of resentment. The “R” word is the cavity creeps of marriage.
Try getting up early to carve out a few hours of the day when you truly can rule the roost. I’m up by 5:15 every morning and I choose to use my hour and a half to produce this blog. Writing is a form of therapy for me. And sometimes the page views feed my fragile ego when I’m fortunate enough to be featured.
The Early Retirement Spin
Don’t worry, Cubicle Friends. I’m still hell-bent on raising enough of a war chest (aka “F-you money”) to have that option should my work life get messy in the next few years. July 2019 is coming up fast. I’m finding myself enjoying my weekends, but also enjoying the “chase” at work. The hidden benefits of a job that doesn’t suck are surprisingly many.
For one, there are the people you get to interact with throughout the day. Find a few colleagues you can commiserate with outside of meetings and bond. I enjoy the routine.
Especially in the warmer months, when cycling to work is an option. Simply having a place to go to get out of the house Monday through Friday is good for me. I’ve grown accustomed to a balance of the 5 on, 2 off cadence.
At some point in the next year, maybe two, or perhaps three, I’ll need to figure out how to replace the routine, the relationships, and the refuge. I’ll certainly be watching other early retirees closely for tips and clues. In the meantime, remember to be bold.
Recognize that half of what makes a bad boss bad is a reflection of your performance as much as his or her. Take that to heart and your journey will ease up quite a bit, I’d reckon.
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Good stuff, I really enjoy your articles.
Thank you, Dustin! 🙂
Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early says
I think you have a really good point about how you can more or less “be your own boss” within a larger company once you’re high enough up the ladder. I actually prefer this to entrepreneurship because I still get all the stability (and overarching direction) by being someone else’s employee, but I still have a ton of autonomy. Best of both worlds, in my opinion.
Thanks Angela. It’s not always easy and sometimes not even possible to pull this off. In those cases, look for a better company. Maybe a bigger shop or a smaller shop than where you’re currently working. Autonomy with all the perks? Why not! 🙂
Mrs. Picky Pincher says
That’s really true, Cubert! Clients are bosses many times, too. 😉 I do have to say it’s better when you can comfortably “fire” clients that don’t fit your style or goals. That comes down to having healthy finances before diving into a venture.
And yes, you can 100% have a “boss” attitude while employed by someone else. I think it’s called “intrapreneurship,” where you look for expansion and opportunities within your employer’s company. It’s like entrepreneurialism, but growing inside an existing company instead of creating one yourself.
Man. My wife often tells me how she’s “this close” to firing some of her patients. But she never does. It’s pretty hard to do that in a health care setting!
I love the “intrapreneurship” term – that describes this approach perfectly!
Abigail @ipickuppennies says
I guess I pretty much am my own boss at the company. I have two supervisors, but they pretty much let me do my own thing unless I have a specific question on how to handle something. So I guess I lucked out!
You sure did! What did you have to learn before your reached that level of responsibility and autonomy?
This is exactly why I’m self-employed now. I don’t play well with others and I hated having a boss or telling people what to do. The corporate environment isn’t a good fit for me.
Sure, a young person should follow your advice to thrive in a company. But going it alone has benefits too. It really depends on the person.
Hi Joe! It sounds like you experienced a rough stretch of corporate life in your working years. I can relate. Some cultures and operating models remain stuck in the old command and control ways that leave so many of us dissatisfied. I bet you’d find a few better options out there today if you re-entered the game. But there is nothing to complain about when you’ve reached FI and can pursue many other interests as you’ve chosen!
Mr. Groovy says
Me like a lot!! The little-known concept of being a workerpreneur at work is a revelation that most people can benefit from. You get the best of both words. You carve out a lot of autonomy for yourself at work and you don’t have to deal with all the headaches of owning your own business–schmoozing clients, managing payroll, and chasing down accounts receivable.
Thanks good sir! I’ll be the first to say it doesn’t always pan out all roses, but it’s certainly worth the effort. I love that I can leave behind the back office part of my job, whereas Mrs. Cubert sometimes brings homes boxes of envelopes to stuff for her hundreds of patients. Blech!!
Mr. Groovy says
Oh, crap. How did Mrs. Groovy’s avatar come up? Weird.
Her’s is admittedly cuter. 🙂
Good read, Cubert. I am about to turn 45 and in my almost 30 years of holding some kind of job or another, I’m sure that I’ve run into all the different boss types. I can be cynical a lot of time because I have been in my current career for about 18 years now. The good news is that we have some early in career folks on our team, and they come in with such a passion that it has rubbed a little of my rough edges. I still think that they feel I’m crazy when I talk about retiring in about 8 years, but I’m happy to be someone that they come to for advice on taxes, savings, 401k, ESPP, etc.
Thanks, Fiberguy! It is easy to fall into a trap of cynicism after a while.