Monday rolls around, and you’re still at home, feeling like hell, and wanting to be in the office. Did you find a job you love? Must have. With that curious notion in mind, let’s ask the burning question, why is it important to love your job? And what will you miss about your job when you retire?
Inspiration for this post is a book I’m reading: This is the Year I Put My Financial Life in Order. The author, John Schwartz, struck a nerve. He never complained an iota about his day job as a journalist, throughout the 200+ pages of personal finance anecdotes.
If it were my book, you’d expect the title to be “Cubicle Loathing”, and the pages peppered with Office Space-like anecdotes. That’s what you’d expect, but today we’re going to focus on the silver linings of the unheralded corporate day job. Rat-racers, strap on those kicks!
Why I “Love” My Day Job: A Very Special Top-10 List
If you’ve kept up with earlier postings on this blog, you’ll find moments like that post where I strongly questioned the whole notion of early retirement. I’m not jumping back off the deep end, but lets at least balance the equation today and put on our skeptic’s hat. We might learn something about ourselves?
Bear with me, my fine readers… It’s list time.
- It gets me out of the house. Cabin fever during the winter months is especially dulling.
- It instantly surrounds me with other people. Good people. And many of my friendships originated in the office. I’d miss this source of quality pals!
- It makes me feel like a responsible grown-up on Monday through Friday. Everyone else is here. I should be here too. I’ve never been one to play hooky.
- It makes me feel like I’m smart and capable. Granted, some days are better than others!
- There’s good people-watching. Fact: I’m getting older all the time. And dude, those are high waters. Never in-fashion!
- My day job forces me to bathe, shave, and dress like I give two sh*ts about my appearance. Mrs. Cubert loves this, especially after a weekend of regression to ultimate bum.
- Free cake. Sometimes. Melvin? Maybe even free lunch, depending on your vendor Rolodex.
- Occasional happy hours, coffee breaks, and lunches with colleagues fill my social cup.
- Projects reach the finish line. You feel good about getting shit done. Real, meaningful shit. And sometimes it’s the meaningful enough kind of shit that makes a real difference!
- It challenges you to improve. Soft skills. Technical skills. You name it. Most office jobs are at least as good as a gladiator’s arena. Slay the grizzly bear, and you move up to face more ominous beasts. Promotions are hard to come by the higher up you move, but you still have a stretch goal to work towards.
I reckon I could go on and drum up another 10 or so if I wanted to. But I think 10 is more than enough to make the point. And that point? Your day job offers something more than just a paycheck. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard to look past that if you’ve got a not-so-great boss, or the work drains the sap out of you, and/or your commute is forever and a day. Every day… Most of that, if not all of that, we can control.
Surviving a cubicle job for the long haul is another topic. This list is intended to highlight the good stuff. As marginal as that “good stuff” seems during the low points, you may find yourself yearning for the “good old’ days” once in retirement. If you’re not prepared.
What Confucius Said About Work-Life Balance
Do everything in moderation, even moderation.
Thanks, Confucius. So now what? We can’t just sit around in our pajamas staring out the living room window, while everyone else is hunkered down in their cubicles. Can we?? That sounds depressing. The antidote comes to two flavors, at least for those of us who can’t sit still and have a strong desire to “be productive”:
- Find work you love at least twice as much as you hate. If it’s 50-50 or less, you’ll eventually burn to cinders.
- Quit. And move on to start that home building business, carpentry business, blogging empire, or simply walk some dogs. The world is your oyster!
- Oops. I meant three flavors. This one is this vanilla/chocolate swirl: Reduce your hours and work part-time. An ideal path for many, after a strong decade of stashing away paychecks like a bandit.
Confucius had it right. When it comes to the work-life you may despise right at this moment, consider what fragments of that world you might appreciate. The idea is to replace those things, especially the camaraderie, productivity, and feeling of belonging to a team (is that also camaraderie?) once in retirement.
I think Confucius would’ve been a fine blogger if he’d lived in the 21st century. The guy had some very applicable quotes even though they’re from 500 B. frickin’ C. A few of these nuggets apply to the topic at hand:
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
“It is not the failure of others to appreciate your abilities that should trouble you, but rather your failure to appreciate theirs.”
Holy sh*t! He’s going hard after the whiners with that last one. Yep. Time to dust-up your EQ and set that ego aside. Be a TEAM PLAYER. Okay, one more before we move on:
Those people who develop the ability to continuously acquire new and better forms of knowledge that they can apply to their work and to their lives will be the movers and shakers in our society for the indefinite future.”
In other words, keep finding better ways to do your job and live your life. Remove the waste. Maybe move closer to work, so you aren’t spending godawful amounts of time stuck in commutes. At the very least, don’t settle into to comfort zones, either at work or in your personal life. Stagnation leads to problems! (Cubert, c. 2018)
How to Make More Money with Your Cubicle Job
The first thing you need to do when starting in the job hunt is to negotiate your salary. Kind of a no-brainer. That means not showing your cards during the screening process. If asked, give a wide range (such as, “Somewhere in the range of 90K to 120K would be ideal.”)
Negotiations shouldn’t be too difficult. Remember, by this stage, the hiring company has exhausted the interview process and has gone out of its way to pick YOU. This is the point where you hold the most leverage, so use it!
You’ll get offered an initial salary figure, and now it’s your turn to tell them you want more. Go ahead and ask for 15% more than what you’re being offered. Nine times out of ten, they’ll come back with at least 7% more.
The reason you want to negotiate coming in is obvious. But the long-term implications are worth your attention. If you start low, your percentage raises will be lower in real dollars. E.g., Say you make 80K and get a whopping 2% raise, you’ll be taking home $1,600 more per year (before taxes of course.)
If you negotiated your way to 90K, that 2% raise earns you $1,800. Making an extra two hundred bucks is better than a stick in your eye. But look at what happens after ten years on the job:
Those 10% raises, and even 5’ers look pretty good in the exhibit above, don’t they? The way you get bigger raises comes down to three factors: Company Financial Health, Your Performance, and Your Boss’s Awareness that you want to be paid more.
It’s very important to start with a solid foundation. If you’re at a company in a struggling industry, or the company itself is circling the bowl, forget raises. You might want to pry yourself out of there before you get unceremoniously dumped.
Sectors are performing quite well that are worth looking into, and healthcare almost always is a sure bet. Understanding your sector of employment is key. The retail sector, for example, is in a constant struggle to maintain margins and beat out the competition, including the online giants like Amazon.com.
Multinationals can be lucrative (e.g., large firms that pilfer natural resources to produce some value-added products like fuel or food or other manufactured goods.) Banking is typically solid as well. Look no further than the Wall Street bonuses paid-out to hedge fund managers and big bank execs.
Once you’ve landed in a healthy company in a healthy sector, you can focus on delivering results. Job performance is the second key ingredient and you need to polish those turds like no other.
My mantra is to deliver on the objective no matter what. But in doing so, taking care not to piss anyone off in the process. If you do, make sure you use those “bullets” sparingly. There are future projects with many the same people and you don’t get to choose your cohorts (in most cases.)
Wondering how to make more money at your job? Be the following:
- a good communicator. You pick up the phone when there’s a disagreement on something. Long email chains annoy the hell out of managers. Be empathetic and be a good LISTENER. Don’t try to impress with name dropping and buzz words. That’s equally annoying as hell.
- presentable. Show up looking like you give a rat’s ass. If everyone else is dressed up nice, then you need to as well. Show up. And show up in clothes that fit, in shoes that are polished, and socks that match.
- willing to go the extra mile. Occasionally, if not often, put in extra hours, even a few weekend hours WHEN NECESSARY. DO NOT stick around for face-time to impress your managers. We want you to have a work-life balance, and we know when the fires are burning and projects need the extra support. Don’t be slinging worthless emails at 10 PM to make a statement when no deadlines are imminent.
- open to change. The worst thing you can do is put up resistance when a new process or other new change is foisted upon you or your team. Suck it up. Deal with it internally. But don’t openly gripe, bitch and moan about it. Your attitude is the single most important factor in whether your leaders like you or not. Mess that up by being a pessimistic, Negative Nancy, and you might as well kiss any raises or promotions good-bye.
Finally, Show Me the Money!
You’ll never know if you never ask. Ever heard that one before? Well, it’s true. I finally got wise to this halfway into my current gig, maybe a half-dozen years ago. If you know you’ve been performing well, and you’re low in your pay-band, why not have a little chat with your boss?
As a manager, I appreciate it when my direct reports bring this topic to my attention. I can’t snap my fingers and makeup raises on the spot, but come review time, if they’ve hit their targets, I’ll look at equity across the team and guess what?
If you put it in my mind that your salary is a priority, I will consciously look to bump your raise. Sometimes it may not be more than a percent or two, but every bit counts.
I have gone out of my way to let each of my last three managers know that I expected to be paid more. I made sure to perform up to and exceeding expectations. Come review time, boom, good raises followed. Had I not asked or respectfully asked for more, I doubt I’d have gotten as much.
All I did was share at least once during the year my concern about my pay. That kind of thing sticks in a manager’s head come review time.
Becoming a Career Home Run Hitter
This concept is all about finding the right work assignments within your company. You want to be attached to the bigger, more important projects, if at all possible.
I’ve been pretty fortunate throughout my most recent stint to have been attached to some highly visible projects. There are trade-offs of course. Those extra hours and weekends can be taxing, especially if you’ve just started a family. Heck, that very scenario is why I began pursuing early retirement.
Nevertheless, if you want the big bucks, you have to put your neck on the line, so to speak. Resilience is important to see the job through. Get that project “across the line” and your managers and customers will take notice.
If you are okay with small projects and delivering well as a singles hitter, there’s nothing wrong with that. But the pay and rewards will reflect the level of intensity and visibility of the assignment.
The environment today is pretty good for finding a decent paying job. Innovation is on (almost) everyone’s mind in the corporate boardroom. Many of the few smart execs have been reading up on Elon Musk and looking to implement their lean way of delivering innovative solutions.
Which leads me to the final tip: If all else fails, and you are simply not getting what you need, jump ship. Switching companies is often the single most effective way to boost your pay. But be careful – too much movement can backfire in the long-term. Recent studies have shown that tenure is often a better indicator of high compensation.
Preparing for Early Retirement Is Empowering
While preparing for retirement, personal growth happens. Since my early retirement journey began in late 2014, I figured it’d be a race to the finish line. Sprint fast to get through the next hellish 5 or 6 years, not caring about being a better employee whatsoever. I was worried I might not reach that finishing tape and get canned for losing focus.
Well, here I stand, a little over four years later. Still employed and staring down a likely promotion, of all things. Strange as that sounds, I think it’s probably more common than not for FIRE types. Chances are, if you’re driven to make, save, and invest your money wisely, you might just wind up applying that same drive and determination at work.
There’s this wonderful post by an excellent writer in the FIRE community, A Purple Life. Basically what’s laid out is a journey of career callus-building. See, we enter the workforce as young adults and have to learn over time how and when to say “no”.
We have to build up our EQ and muster the resilience necessary to become a better employee. A Purple Life is realizing that the pursuit of financial independence offers the unanticipated benefit of workplace confidence and control.
Purple’s post plots a timeline of the various jobs she’s held these past five years. With each gig, she’s recognizing an emerging capacity to manage the bullsh*t. Is that the key? Give yourself a long enough runway to learn and grow, until you’re able to control and flip the situation into a sustainable one?
I’d bet most of us don’t reach this “level of control” until our mid-to-late 30s. For many of us, it really can take several years (if ever!) to fully rationalize our value to an employer, and feel secure in the hamster wheel. That’s how the corporate journey has played out for me at least…
Learning to Love Your Job by Learning From Mistakes
In my 20s, work sucked. I enjoyed interacting with most of my colleagues, but I was a punk. I had a problem with authority and a penchant for making excuses. Not a good mix for advancement. In one instance, I simply walked out of a meeting when I disagreed with my boss on some trivial point. Everyone else, it seemed, was a better employee than me.
In another, I lost my cool with the same boss over a computer server outage. I was focused on resolving the problem. His beef was that I hadn’t notified him about it. A lot of yelling at each other later, my career path at that company veered quickly into lay-off country. (He was a punk. And he got canned a year and a forced transfer later.)
I reasoned with myself that I’d be employed until age 60 or 65, so I had plenty of time to figure it all out. Good thing, because I found that work still sucked in my 30s. At least by then, I had started to catch on to “the game”. That’s the cool thing about experience and reflection: Wisdom accumulates in the willing brain.
With intent, we actually can and do change. I found myself vastly improving how I interacted with people and how I handled difficult situations. Of course, for that growth to occur, you first have to be self-aware enough to recognize that you commit the occasional f*ck-up.
In my 40s I finally landed in a role that better suited my strengths. Finally, I could perform at a high level. It only took 18 years to get to this point. And sadly, those preceding 18 years (which included a lay-off in the middle) left a bad taste in my mouth for Corporate America.
Sure, I know how to operate and excel, finally. But even today, all it takes sometimes is the slightest setback for me to question this entire corporate scene. That’s when I reach for FIRE. (It spells “Relief”!)
How Preparing for Retirement Compromises Job Performance
The worst thing that could happen? You get the bug to retire early and you start acting like a jerk at work. (Or a jerk at home, which I suppose is even worse.) If you’ve only got a year or two to go, maybe this part of the post is a moot point. But if you’ve got 5, 10, or 20 years ahead of you, take heed…
The pursuit of early retirement can be a big distraction. Back in 2015, I spent way too much work time-devouring FIRE blogs. That was also the year I turned down my most recent crack at promotion. This cat was like, “Nope. I need more time to read blog posts.” I couldn’t be distracted by the added responsibilities that a promo gig would require.
The promotion was turned down because of the twin kiddos back home. I had a crazy notion of wanting to maintain a reasonable work-life balance.
Distractions, whether they’re early retirement blogs or daydreaming about all-day bike rides can and should be avoided. But there’s another trap to steer clear of the trap of a devil-may-care* attitude.
After you’ve read through the annals of MMM, you might begin to think, “You know what, I’m smarter than all of these suckers around me. And especially my boss. I’ll show ’em…” And before you know it, you get a pink slip for bringing a flip attitude to work and shirking your responsibilities.
*Synonyms for devil-may-care include: reckless, rash, incautious, heedless, impetuous, impulsive, daredevil, hotheaded, wild, foolhardy, audacious, nonchalant, casual, breezy, flippant, insouciant, happy-go-lucky, easygoing, unworried, untroubled, unconcerned, harum-scarum.
Goal Setting Helps You Perform Better at Work
Here’s the fun part. You might discover, with that curious and insightful mind of yours, that a headstrong pursuit of early retirement translates into better performance at work. How ironic is THAT?? Here you are, plotting and scheming a magical day when you can shock the hell out of everyone with your resignation notice.
Instead, you start to get plum assignments and promotions. How’d that happen?? Maybe it’s because your riding to work habit has you energized for the day. That and you’re now avoiding the dreaded and stressful clown-car commute (NOT a great way to start your day).
Maybe you just plain have hope since stumbling upon the early retirement option (whereas before, you felt beholden to at-will employment until age 65…?) The twist here is that again, it’s all about control. You come out of early retirement boot camp with a newfound sense of ownership of your career situation. And largely, that’s because you now have your sh*t together concerning money.
I like to project my own experiences as theories that hold water, so please by all means “call out the leaks” in the comments below. For now, hear me out. There are some very real opportunities to shine at the office, assuming you apply yourself (Walter White said to Jesse Pinkman).
Distilling it all down, here are a few nuggets of armchair wisdom on how the pursuit of early retirement makes you a better employee:
- Freewheeling with Financial Concepts, spreadsheets and forecasts: In the process of becoming better stewards of our finances, we become more proficient with managing the company’s dollars. Funny how that works, but it’s true. Wasteful spending on projects? Not on my watch!
- Crushing it with Confidence: The closer you get to early retirement, the less worried you are about messing up. You are free to take risks. I’m not suggesting an approach that’s devil-may-care, or harum-scarum. But you find your voice among leaders and are more apt to put forward ideas in a calculated, well-conceived way.
- Ramped-up Relatability: You’ll notice more empathy and camaraderie with colleagues. Why? Because you’re bringing your FIRE tribe-building skills with you to the office. Not only that, but you’ve eliminated so many distractions in your own life, that you can finally listen-with-intent to others, and a good listener is typically in short supply.
- Doubled-down on Discipline: You now wake-up at 5 AM. Every. Day. You can choose to write blog posts, or, get through all of your work emails and hammer out your goals for the day. You’ll even have a head start on your boss. And for extra credit, you make an effort to ride your bike to work consistently.
- Pontiff of Prioritization — work and LIFE: The FIRE ecosystem offers a wealth of wisdom on economizing our lives. Cut out the excess (cut the cord and downsize). Focus on what’s important. Get organized. Pursue minimalism, without going overboard. Pursue simplification in your tasks and projects, just like we do with investing by sticking with easy-peasy index funds.
Bringing Common Sense Into Cubicle Nation
It’ll be telling as time goes on to see how Corporate America responds to the FIRE movement, if at all. There’s tremendous pressure on the job market with many skilled gigs difficult to fill. As a hiring manager, I’d find it depressing to have to settle for “iffy” talent.
Will executives and HR influencers make the necessary changes to entice good workers, who’d otherwise retire early? Their work is cut out for them. But some, like Base Camp CEO Jason Fried, feel it’s entirely within reach. I’m anxious to pick up a copy of his book, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work. 40-hour workweek? Preposterous I say!
A Purple Life sums it up quite well:
…the benefits of pursuing FIRE are not just monetary. It’s not just about reaching financial independence or early retirement. Even incremental steps down the FIRE path seemed to have profound impacts on my life. Not only do I feel more financially secure each passing day, but through this journey, I have been able to seriously reflect on what kind of career I want and strive for it instead of being afraid of what an authority figure might think.
These last few posts have brought out a bit of the skeptic in me. I’m finding that I like getting out of the house from time to time and that I can tolerate the game at work most days. I’ve recognized there is some ebb and flow to my career journey and I happen to be in a pretty decent place today. It sure took a while to reach this point, and it is suspicious how it occurred towards the tail-end of my 5-year exit plan.
Will I retire early as planned next year? It’s too soon to tell, but I put my odds at 50-50. Not because I can’t or won’t have the means, but because I might have found a way to make the hamster wheel pay off. Maybe it helps that my wife and kids have their daily routines – that I feel I should play my part to suit up for duty. It could be something to that.
But until I’ve found my real and ideal struggle, absent a career, I might just keep on ambling along with these new and useful skills I’ve honed. Thanks to the pursuit of early retirement. Stay tuned…
Find a Job You Love (Sustainable Love!)
Don’t forget to take stock in the good things your day job offers. It’s not prison after all.
When in retirement, after the immediate magic of that never-ending vacation wears off, you might start to itch for some of the practical jokes, coffee breaks, or stretch goals mentioned in that top 10 list earlier. Camaraderie, commiseration, and free cake is worth more than maybe we consider while plotting and scheming our early retirement exits.
My new personal nut to crack is to resolve these things before I hang up the day job. This past weekend plus a sick day on Monday was a reminder of how ill-prepared I am to hunker down at the house during the wintertime, without a job to go to. Crazy how this author suddenly has reservations about a world without the cubicle.