I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now. The topic is a very difficult one for me, and one I’ve been struggling with consistently for the past year.
Throughout the course of my life, certain “life rules” have been instilled in me. These guidelines are supposed to lead to a “successful” life. Your parents, aunts, uncles, etc. all say work hard in school, get good grades, get into a decent school, graduate and get a good job. Then work hard to move up the ranks. Someday you’ll be able to buy a big house, and maybe a second house on the water where you keep your boat. And then finally, once you reach your 60’s, you’ll retire from a fruit-bearing 40 year career, and retire to golf and your grandkids.
Coming out of college I figured this would be my life. I started working in accounting at 21 and set a goal to get my CPA and then get a promotion every few years to make sure I was making six figures by 30. Then I’d make partner in my mid-thirties and be earning multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars by 40, easily on my way to a large home, a second house, and a boat.
I realized pretty early on that this was not going to be for me. I was 21, working all sorts of crazy hours in my first busy season, and realized that this was not for me, especially for the next 40 years. For this reason I told my mother facetiously that I was going to retire at 28.
Two years later, I was 23 and still not happy. I was working in a job that didn’t really interest or challenge me, and I didn’t really feel like it was a great springboard to a career I could enjoy and would perhaps bear the fruits I figured I would want/need. So I jumped ship. Went to a much bigger, internationally recognized firm where I’ve been for almost four years now.
Things seem great from the outside. I mention where I work and what I do and I get lots of “ooohs and aaahs” from family, friends, and strangers. I’m 27, live in Manhattan, have a somewhat fancy job title, make a six figure income, and get to travel for work, life must be great! Well life is great to an extent, but what people don’t see are the parts that suck.
Last week I posted about my recent vacation. On the Friday at the end of that vacation I got an email from my boss that read something like this: “Hope you’re enjoying vaca, you’re flying to XYZ on the 6am flight Monday morning.” Ugh, what a way to ruin a vacation. This isn’t an every week occurrence, but it does happen occasionally. Then there is the 24/7 emails flowing in, the expected ASAP response times, and the ridiculous deadlines that require night and weekend work. Very rarely am I ever allowed to really “sign-off” and get away from work. Work pays for my cellphone and therefore expects me to respond at all hours. I hear things like: “I’m sorry you’re going to have to work this weekend, but hey, it’s the name of the game with what we do.”
This is where the handcuffs come in. People from the outside may say “tough it out, you can’t complain, you’re in a great situation” or “well just quit then and get another job you’ll enjoy.” I agree, many people have it worse. I have thought about getting another job. But what I’ve realized after six years in the working world is I don’t think I’ll ever be happy working for someone else. Maybe if I could find a job that I only required me to work 40 hours a week, didn’t make me subconsciously think about it outside of 9-5, and didn’t derail my financial Independence plans then that may increase my happiness, but most likely not to a level where I’d think “yeah I want to do this for another twenty plus years.”
So far I’ve decided to put my head down and work. I just finished Early Retirement Extreme by Jacob Lund Fisker, one of the godfathers of financial independence. In chapter 7 he says “…salaried work is the preferred method for accumulating a fund for financial independence” and then goes on to say that on the path to FI “…pursue something you’re good at rather than something you’re passionate about.” Personally this is the trajectory I’ve taken, and I try to fit my passions in where I can, and I rationalize that there will be plenty more time for them once I reach the big goal of financial independence.
The golden handcuffs have kept me from exploring other work or entrepreneurial activities. Earlier this year I calculated I could become financially independent in September of 2026. That’s only 11 years away! It was a conservative estimate as well. Most people don’t retire until their sixties, and I’m in a position to speed that up by almost 30 years. I’m in a place where I know, to an extent, how much I’ll make over that time. My income, while not being the highest it could be, is decent for my field. I’ve established a name for myself in my firm. I get to travel for work, and sometimes parlay those trips into personal trips. The work I do can be fun at times… but not as much as I’d like of course.
Staying put is the easy thing for me to do right now, but outside factors are encouraging me to jump ship and do my own thing. Failing or making significantly less money than what I am now scares the shit out of me. But then there are people out there, especially in this community, that have made the jump and have become very successful in their endeavors they are passionate about.
Who knows – maybe in six months I’ll say I’ve had enough. Or maybe in 10 years I’ll be handing in my resignation to my current employer as I’ve reached FI. I think if I was truly unhappy with my career path, this would be a much easier decision. But in the end, I’ve realized there is no right answer and I just have to suck it up, weigh the pros and cons, and make a decision that I’ll be happy to live with.
Are you putting your head down to reach your financial goals ASAP? Or are you taking detours which may prolong your goals, to incorporate some of your wants and passions in the meantime?