happy monday, friends! we got our first ski turns of the season in on saturday, which plastered our faces with big, goofy grins for several hours after we left the slopes. but let’s not talk about saturday, let’s talk about sunday. if your household is anything like ours, sunday is always an asterisk kind of day. like barry bonds and that home run record. it’s the weekend, and you can spend the day doing something awesome, but it’s also the harbinger of the new work week.
a few years ago, we noticed a few peculiar things about sundays:
- we’re more likely to fight or have a pointless argument on a sunday than on any other day of the week
- we don’t get nearly as excited to ski or climb or otherwise get outdoors on sundays as we do on saturdays
- we usually keep our saturday breakfast snappy, but stretch out sunday breakfast as long as we possibly can, as though we can stop time from marching forward if we don’t leave the breakfast table
- we shuffle around like maudlin zombies after about 6 pm on an average sunday, depressed at the thought that the weekend is over
it’s true: we feel the sunday blues in a big way. and we know why: not only do we just not love having to work every day, we know that we’re in especially high pressure, stressful, occasionally soul-sucking jobs. but actually realizing how pervasive and powerful the sunday blues are for us was a big wake-up call that we needed to change something.
our general life philosophy is: if you don’t like something, or something is holding you down, change it. if friends came to us and said, “ugh, we just dread every new week and collapse into every weekend, because work is so demanding,” we’d say, “get new jobs! redefine yourselves! find work that lifts you up instead of pulling you down!” and yet here we are, not following our own advice.
but we didn’t just default into these golden handcuffs of ours, and we don’t stay in our jobs because we lack imagination. our choice to stay put in unsustainable jobs is a clear-eyed decision we’ve made, based on considering all of our options and deciding what’s most important to us.
how we got here
we’re oddities in our generation for sticking around in our jobs for a long time, since within a year or so out of college. of course when we started our jobs, at much lower levels, they weren’t as high pressure — or as high paying. the pressure and the money went together with subsequent promotions over the years, and we’ve both just about maxed out on titles.
the fields we’re in are related to one another, and the redeeming factor in all of this is that our fields both generally contribute good to the world rather than evil. (we’re not hedge fund managers or ambulance chasers.) but, as we learned, contributing good doesn’t necessarily mean “sustainable work hours” or “manageable deadlines.” part of that is because we have clients, and client work is almost always demanding, often unreasonably so. there’s also the double layer of drama with client work — dealing with your own organization’s drama, and taking on your clients’ drama. add to all of that the fiscal pressure and staff management that comes with senior management, the pressure to constantly bring in new business, the intensive work travel schedule we have to maintain, and the unending barrage of deadlines that only seem to accelerate with each passing year. (and the never-ending cost-cutting measures that come down from on high when you’re part of a megacorp.)
weighing our options
if we find our work situations so challenging, why don’t we just quit already and shut up about it? believe me, we’ve thought about it, many times. and even though our living in a small town in the mountains would make it tougher to find new jobs, we wouldn’t let that stop us if we were committed to trying a different path.
beyond quitting, we’ve thought about a lot of different options:
- going part-time at the same jobs
- freelancing in our fields
- starting our own company
- changing industries
- retraining for entirely different career paths
but every time we discuss it, we always come down to the same thing:
the fastest exit
more than quality of life right now, more than enough sleep at night and time to exercise, more than time with friends and family on weekends, we want to get to early retirement as fast as we possibly can. we don’t have mba’s or jd’s or any other degrees that would let us jump into jobs that pay more than we earn right now (in fact, for an english major and a communications major who both maxed out at undergrad, we already think we’re over-earning our degrees). if we got an emba at this point, to find a higher paying job, that would both take longer and cost more. if we found jobs that gave us better life-work balance, we’d earn less, and again, that would put our exit date farther off in the future. same goes for going part-time or starting our own company: lower earnings = more time required.
embracing the golden handcuffs
staying put in our careers for a few more years is not all bad. there are quite a few benefits, actually:
it’s good for our risk-aversion. even mr. onl, who is the more aggressive investor of the two of us, loves the certainty of knowing the minimum that he’ll earn each year, and loves knowing that we’ll still keep our early retirement plans on track even if he doesn’t bring in as much new business as he’d like to.
seniority equals more job security. while we’re nearing a point where we both might consider volunteering for a buy-out package if layoffs ever came around, we like knowing that we won’t ever be on the chopping block in a “last in, first out” situation since we’ve each been with our companies for more than a decade. (of course, we could be on the chopping block because we’re higher earners than more junior staff, but there’s no helping that.)
we know the politics. being in jobs a long time means we know the politics and the unwritten rules, even though we both telecommute. this frees us up from having to read the tea leaves or guess about what certain words or signals mean, so we can focus on more important things like actually doing our work or writing this blog.
retention bonuses. this one is purely financial. i get an escalating retention bonus every year that i stick around, always paid mid-year, so it’s off-cycle with year-end bonuses. if i switched jobs, i’d lose this extra compensation.
comfort. i know that’s an odd word choice to describe careers that are high-pressure, but it’s true: it’s much more comfortable to stay put than it is to move to other jobs. we like virtually all of our colleagues, we like most of our clients, and there’s less of a learning curve when we know all of the departments and administrative functions like the back of our hand. it doesn’t exactly make the jobs easy, but it makes them easier.
our exit date is just over two years away at this point, and though each year seems to get tougher, we feel confident at this point that we can muscle it out through force of will alone, if necessary. wish us luck!
anybody else embracing the golden handcuffs? how do you weigh the craving for life-work balance against the desire for an exit asap? would you make a different choice from ours, or do you prioritize speed like we do? we always love hearing from you!