the process

Why We’re Not Going to Complain About Work Anymore

hiya friends. we hope you guys all had a great week, and are looking forward to a spectacular weekend. we’re hoping to spend a good chunk of the weekend on the ski slopes, since we missed quite a few powder days while we were away for “late thanksgiving.” carpe diem!

in the financial independence/early retirement space, we know we’re not alone in complaining about work. the demands of work today, and the expectation that we’re all connected at all times. the pointlessness of so much of it. the toll it takes on us mentally and physically. the golden handcuffs that make it feel impossible to leave. the debt and lifestyle inflation that can make it feel like we have no other options.

but we’ve made a decision: we’re done complaining about work.

we had six days over the long weekend and into this week when we didn’t spend all day looking at screens. we were on planes — together (!!) — and then in the company of extended family, and we had a lot of time that we don’t usually have to reflect, and to talk with people who are outside of our usual circles. we also were a part of a memorial service, which has a way of bringing things into sharp relief.

you know how this goes with family you don’t see that often: they ask how things are going, and what you do for work, and you give the elevator pitch version of your job over and over. as we both did that, we remembered how much we actually like what we do. how much we like talking about it. we’re in jobs that are relevant and interesting to us, and that can be a lot of fun. sure, they’re stressful, but why would we get paid so well if they weren’t? and we also came back to something we already knew: we’re lucky to have our jobs, and to have had them for as long as we have. to even have the opportunity to have the types of jobs that we have in developed nations is a real luxury.

thinking about things this way, some of our word choices in past posts make us cringe a bit, especially one in particular: soul-sucking. does the endless pace of work sometimes make us feel drained? absolutely it does. but suck our souls? wow, we must have precious little souls if work that doesn’t cause bodily harm or come with verbal abuse, like so many jobs in the world, and which pays us significantly more than a living wage without asking us to compromise our principles, qualifies as soul sucking. it was exaggeration, of course, and something that we know a lot of you can relate to, but we want to try to right-size our words moving forward.

in line with last week’s gratitude post, we’re taking this moment of reflection to remind ourselves in a big way — and to put it out there publicly, in this post, to keep us accountable — that we’re fortunate in pretty much every way imaginable, and we truly have nothing to complain about. work should be, well, work. and we’re done complaining when it lives up to its name.

we’re lucky because of more than just our jobs

on this same trip, we visited some old cemeteries, which have always been a source of fascination for me. and in the ones with graves dating back to the 1700s and 1800s, we were hard pressed to find more than a handful of graves for people who’d lived much beyond 30. we are 36 and 39. looking at these seas of headstones for people who died at 29, 30, sometimes an outlying 34, or much, much younger — it was humbling. we’d be some of the oldest people around if we were our age in their day. and these were people with the means to be buried in an individual grave, not buried in a mass grave like the poor. how much younger did they die, we wondered?


it made us feel like we need a new, broader phrase for “first world problems.” something that encompasses how fundamentally different life is in this day and age compared to the not so very distant past. when social security was created, after all, achieving the age of 60+ was a rare feat, not something everyone expected to do — and that was less than 100 years ago! so the very act of living past 30, or 40, or especially anything north of 50, makes all of us incredibly lucky.

being able to retire at all is still an incredibly recent phenomenon, and not something that the vast majority of humans who’ve ever lived could have ever dreamed of. in the first half of the 20th century, those who managed to beat the odds and retire usually only lived a few years after they quit working — again, less than 100 years ago. and now, here many of us are, retiring early enough that we could have 50 years of retirement. we could have more retirement years than the average entire lifespan of people living in the 19th century! we are so off-the-charts lucky that they need to invent a new word for it.

our second act

talking to some of our relatives who are in their 80s and still excited to get out of bed every day, we realized that the word “retirement” evokes all the wrong things for them. and we have no intention of doing “retirement” things, just like most other aspiring early retirees and those already there. we want freedom most of all, but we plan to do plenty that looks a lot like work, namely writing. i want to write a book, hopefully multiple books. maybe we’ll write a book together. on this trip, i realized for the first time in my life that i might one day actually be able to call myself an author, not merely a writer, and i instantly knew that that’s what i want to be when i grow up. so while we’ll keep talking about early retirement here, because that’s the term of art that everyone uses, what we’re really aiming for is our second act. a second act we’ll be incredibly privileged to have.

have you had any recent realizations that have caused you to question how you were thinking or talking about something? is there something you tend to complain about but you’d like to stop? care to share your weekend plans? let’s chat in the comments!

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Categories: the process

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64 replies »

  1. This is interesting to read, and I definitely appreciate it (having a tendency towards complaining myself!) I do think that well-paid white collar work can be “soul sucking” — if you’re spending all your time making more money for ludicrously wealthy people, that might qualify! But I agree that if fundamentally you actually like what you do for work, it’s not really soul-sucking, even if it is stressful and you’d rather be doing something else full-time.

    • Thanks for this. We do for sure help rich people get richer, but still don’t feel like soul-sucking is really apt. We’re going to try to stick to more appropriate words in the future like stressful, occasionally frustrating, overly time-consuming, etc. But we’re not saying others shouldn’t complain — venting can be very healthy sometimes, as long as it doesn’t become one’s sole focus! :-)

  2. Though I like to complain about my work demands as much as anyone, to be perfect honest I’m not all that upset or frustrated by how things are going in my life at the moment. Like you guys, a LOT is going right in our lives at the moment. Things are coming together nicely and as we expected them to. We have high paying jobs in a very low cost of living area of the country. We have a nice house, backyard pool, a wicked view of the mountains and two adorable dogs.

    I sometimes complain in public because, well, it provides good fodder to get discussion going, but yeah, I really don’t have much to complain about – and I know it. :)

    • Haha — yeah, sometimes complaining can be a good hobby! Plus, you’re totally right — it makes good blog fodder! We’ll just have to find other things to write about. :-)

  3. Thanks for sharing this! It sounds like something you’ve been thinking about a lot.
    For some reason this post (at least the beginning of it) makes me think of The Office. I actually think that show has a lot of really profound things to say about the phenomenon of having a secure, cushy, and terribly boring job. I actually have the sense that your jobs are a lot more interesting than the jobs portrayed on that show, but maybe there’s still a connection here. A huge theme in The Office is about figuring out how to find meaning, and even gratitude, in an environment that doesn’t, at its surface, appear to contain any meaning at all. And I think their position is that it’s not easy, but it is *possible*. Anyway, you can let me know if you think this is applicable to your experience or not. :)

    I definitely aspire to be less negative about my job (well, my PhD program, which feels like a job) and my boss. There definitely are a lot of things to complain about, and I’ve gotten sucked into complaining about them more than I’d like to admit. It’s so easy to just be negative, but I do believe that I have a choice about how I view a given situation, so I’d like to find a way to move beyond the negativity more often. I try to think about this thing that Conan O’Brien said after he got sort of fired, which is one of my favorite quotes: “All I ask is one thing, particularly of young people. Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism; for the record it’s my least favorite quality, and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

    • We definitely watched the Office when it was on, and I even had to stop myself on a regular basis from calling a particularly inept boss “Michael.” :-) What’s amazing to me about that show is that it was written by a bunch of young Hollywood types, most of whom had never had corporate jobs, and yet they got so many things right. Of course everyone loved the Jim and Pam storyline, and we did too, and felt like it was us a little bit because we met through work (not the same company, but both consulting on the same project back in the day). But, big picture, we’re both thankful NOT to work for companies like Dunder Mifflin. Most of our colleagues are vastly more competent than those folks, and our companies have far better leadership. :-) We LOVE that Conan quote, and remember when he delivered it at the end of his brief Tonight Show run. (Though, sadly, it seems that HE has gotten cynical since then. But still love the sentiment.)

  4. I am sure my husband will have more to say, but the whole stigma of the word ‘retire’ is why we now think of it as a ‘fully financed lifestyle change’ because honestly that it what it is about to us – creating a lifestyle that we can’t seem to achieve with our current career selections.

    But, I do agree – I have been feeling bad talking bad about work, especially with so many lay-offs in my industry. I am so glad I have a job, a well-paying one too. And yeah, it might get mindless or slow, but heck, the other day I took a mid-afternoon walk with my co-worker friend, and technically got paid $50 to that…. I shouldn’t complain!

    Overall, I find that life is much better if we concentrate on the sunny-side. I’m glad to see that you all are promoting that!

    • $50 to take a walk… that’s pretty great! I am going to resist the urge to do the math, but I’m for sure getting paid plenty to reply to you while sitting on a conference call right now. :-) I think it’s natural to complain, and I hope you won’t beat yourself up about it — we all do it! But it’s also good to focus on the positive. And I love your FFLC term — it definitely describes better what most of us are aiming for!

  5. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. Even if today is the suckiest of days, I always try to find something for which I can be grateful. Putting all of your hopes and happiness in the future is dangerous. Today matters most :)

  6. I was listening to the radio on the way in and they were doing Christmas Miracle stuff and one family recently lost their father, at age 37 from an unexpected aneurysm. The part that got me was similar to your headstone perusing, in that he’s younger than me, and now dead. We recently lost a colleague to a hiking accident, and she was much younger than us. It puts it into perspective that we’re not guaranteed anything. We’re not guaranteed a full day today, heck we might not even make it to lunchtime! For those of us that do, and hopefully there are a lot, it’s good to keep perspective.
    I’m fortunate that I love my job and what I do, which is awesome! I’ve found those things aren’t always in agreement, but currently they both line up! I like that I’m a mentor and get to talk even more about work, and teach someone else, and I even like explaining all the details of what I do to family and the like during holidays. Especially with all the layoffs in my industry currently, and people that are out of work, I am grateful to have a job, and blessed that I love it so much.

    That being said, I cannot wait until we hit FI and can enact our Lifestyle Change, because I feel like I can get more “soul satisfaction” out of life through different avenues than my current job. While it pays great, the tradeoffs are big in the negative column for family quality time currently. I only get about 1/2 hr with the kids in the morning and maybe an hr at night during the week. That really sucks, so I’m doing the best I can to shorten the life of that schedule and be able to live life on my own schedule. Until then, I can appreciate that I enjoy what I do every day because otherwise it would be beyond miserable.

    • You’re so right — we’re not guaranteed any amount of time. I recently lost a friend who was 41 and had a young daughter, and boy did that hit home! I can for sure see how having kids would make everything feel a lot more urgent — if you only have a little time with them each day, and they are growing up so fast, I’m sure you feel like you’re missing out, and you want to hurry up and get more time with them already! But it’s super great that you enjoy your job so much in the meantime.

  7. Very timely post! I find myself frequently reminding Mr. AR how very fortunate we are not to be working any longer! Amazing how quickly we take our blessings for granted, no matter what they are. When there’s a bit of traffic (nothing even remotely resembling the Bay Area), or several errands to run, or an early medical appointment that necessitates rising from a warm bed at some ungodly (sarcastic) hour like 7:00, it’s easy to get mired in the minutiae and start those “poor me” tapes playing. After years of bitching and moaning about the various aspects of two very taxing, high pressure jobs, we seem to have developed the habit of immediately jumping to a “cup is half full” mentality at the slightest upset to our usual, pleasant and dramaless daily routine. I’ve taken to reminding the Mr. that no matter what happens today, unexpected insurance premium increase, blown up microwave, clogged gutters…no one got up and went to work for someone else, and the income still arrives. How much more fortunate does anyone deserve to be than that? There’s no space on the pity pot for either one of us. Did we love our jobs? At one time we did. But later, not in the least, particularly at the end. Did those jobs provide the income and benefits that allowed us the lifestyle we now enjoy? Absolutely. I wouldn’t say soul sucking is too harsh, or even inaccurate if you’re facing down thirty more years of it. But just two more years before you never again have to trade your time to make money for someone else? That alone is miraculous at your ages, and clear evidence you’ve done a lot of things very, very right.

    • What a great perspective you guys have! And so true — the money keeps miraculously coming, even without doing any work. We can’t wait to get to that point, although sometimes I feel that way about my job, too, if I’ve had an unproductive streak while traveling. If I may ask — where did you two retire to?

  8. I’m sitting here reading this during my weekly 6 AM conference call, probably the single work event that makes me most cynical and feels most “soul-sucking.” You’re totally right. The long hours, the stress, whatever… it’s all a choice, however much we may dislike components of it. We’re lucky to even have the choice; I would pick my job over pretty much any other option out there. And, as Mark Manson wrote recently, “Since when does everyone feel entitled to love every fucking second of their job?” It’s called work for a reason. Only in the most recent few decades has this notion emerged that work could be a place where all your dreams and desires are fulfilled.

    On the “retirement” point, I love the movement to redefine the word to mean something besides sitting on a rocking chair and playing bridge, but I agree that the common interpretation isn’t particularly flattering or representative of what I want for my next few decades.

    Anyway, back to my awful phone call… you know, the one where they pay me to zone out and read blog posts. ;)

    • What a perfect quote from Mark Manson. :-) I was just imagining telling my grandparents about why I don’t like working, and how ridiculous it would sound to all of them, a paper mill worker, an admin at a prison, a coal miner and a very poor stay-at-home mom. They wouldn’t be wrong to say that I was being a brat. And yeah, we’re both clearly getting paid in part to read and comment on blogs, so in the scheme of things, we truly have nothing to complain about! :-)

  9. Coming from the other side (freelancing, not retirement), it can be equally “sou-sucking,” as working for someone else. Honestly I think people tend to over glamorize it. But either way, it’s about re-framing your mind and taking action if necessary if a situation is really, really bad. Complaining for complaining’s sake is a waste of time and energy, especially for those who have to listen to it. lol! PS though I am ok with the occasional vent, as long as it’s met with some kind of action.

    • It’s funny, isn’t it? We tend to either overdo it in the complaining or overdo it in the glamorizing, but rarely just reflect things accurately. And thanks for being okay with the occasional venting… I’m sure we’ll have other things to vent about, especially heading into winter travel delay season! :-)

  10. I love the sentiment here. Mr. T and I do not have soul-sucking jobs. And our “Retirement” is our second act. Freedom to be entrepreneurs without the pressure of losing everything if we fail. We will create. I want to write a book too! My grandfather went to his desk in his printing shop (he built from the ground up) every single day until the last few months of his life. “we are so off-the-charts lucky that they need to invent a new word for it.” I love that. I’ve also been working on some family history lately. With my upcoming England trip, I’ve been looking to see how far back I can go with a line of family from England. Maybe I’ll be able to find THEIR graves. But yes, they all died young… and often never saw their kids marry or meet any grandchildren. How different we live and how I’m grateful for that.

  11. Hearing more about your weekend trip together to visit family is wonderful! I am seriously so blown away by how much I learn from both sides of my family when I get to spend time with them (my mom was 1 of 6 kids, my dad was 1 of 5 = lots of people to learn & spend time with)! What’s great about this perspective change on work is the recognition and the growth that has occurred in the short time span since writing here. Our little corners of the internet help us hold ourselves accountable, allow us to flourish and interact with others on their journeys too – it is SO cool. I cannot wait to read your completed book for your second act, what a fantastic realization to have over an inspiring weekend! :)

    • I *wish* we could have more time with the older generation, but their numbers are dwindling quickly! We feel like we have to cram a lot in when we do get any time with the ones remaining. And you’re so right — there is a lot of transformation happening quickly for so many of us, aided by this inspiring group of bloggers here! We are so grateful for you and the many others. :-)

  12. WELL SAID! It’s easy to forget the good when we focus only on how much we want out. Going from laborer to carpenter to academic gave me a good insight as to how good it is to not have a “real job” sometimes. If you have a job that can’t really be described in a sentence it probably doesn’t involve back breaking labor, abuse, exposure to all the elements. As much as I sometime despise my work (mainly due to the people and administration I work with), it’s good to reflect on how much I do get paid, how much freedom I have within my job, and how I no longer put my health and well-being on the line for menial tasks. Still, I’m ready to move one as soon as it is feasible.
    Life is short.

    • Thanks, George. And I love how you put it, too. If you can’t describe what you do in a sentence, you probably have it pretty good! Historically, “work” is something far, far harsher than what most of us do today, and we want to try to be more thankful for that. :-)

  13. The more I read by you two, the more excited I am to meet you at FinCon. (Please tell me you’re going?! It’s in my city, so I promise to buy you a coffee at my favorite place…#bribery haha)

    I agree with everything you said. I may not do it on my blog because it’s public, but I complain about my job A LOT. Like so much that I often make myself cringe. It’s a pretty well paying office job with minimal stress…as in absolutely no stress at all. Honestly, life is great and after living in near poverty, I of all people should know that, but it’s SO easy to forget. I know that within the next year or two I would like to transition into freelance work and become location independent so my partner and I can travel full-time, and sometimes thinking about the future can make the present feel worse than it actually is. I’m going to take your lead and try my best to stop complaining. I know my partner, family and friends will be great grateful for the change of pace ;) haha. Happy Friday!

    • We’re not both going to FinCon, but I’m going (the Ms half)! Look forward to meeting you there! :-) And don’t beat yourself up about the complaining, it’s totally normal, and sometimes is even a bonding experience for coworkers. We’re just finding that it’s not making us happier, and we’re going to try something different. :-)

  14. I agree that many of us are very fortunate to earn well above the average, but I don’t have a problem with a bit of harmless complaining about work anyway.

    Provided the complaining is done in the right way, I think that work is the ideal thing to complain about on an anonymous blog. I actually find it allows me to have a more humorous take on everyday problems at work and how I would like to change things, and often helps me build up the motivation to fight those battles to make those changes!

    So feel free to complain about work all you like – I don’t see it as being ungrateful at all!

    • We have no problem with other people complaining, so keep going with it if that feels right to you! :-) We just found that some of the complaining we were doing was actually making us think about work differently (more negatively). So shutting off the complaining is our way of trying to see things through a more positive lens for these last few years of working. :-)

  15. I’m definitely guilty of being a complainer. In reality, I’ve got it pretty good. I’ve never faced true hardship. My beautiful wife, three amazing kids, and I live in a ridiculously nice house. We’re all healthy and safe. I work for an amazing company that probably over pays me. They’re even letting me work part time in another department to learn more and see if I like it better than my current position. Oh, and I go to the gym during work hours damn near every day.

    Looking at it like this, the complaints seem pretty silly.

    • Wow — those are some nice perks! Complaining is totally normal, so don’t beat yourself up about it. We’ve tended to be the same way, but just want to choose to see things in a more positive way. :-)

  16. I, too, wear the golden handcuffs with my current employer. I have also come to the realization that it is a good thing. My job is in my field of study. I really enjoy the work and the people in my group. It affords me the opportunity to even consider early retirement. The pay and benefits cannot be beat. Changing your mindset changes everything. I get excited on payday because I am able to put more into our investments. Without this high income, we would not have leftovers to invest. Even after we hit our financial independence goal, I might not walk away. I just want the option of walking away. If I could continue going to work and use ALL of my income for investments, I’d be happy. We’ll see!

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

  17. When I was growing up, I would hear the phrase “attitude of gratitude” and for a long time I didn’t understand what that meant. Even now I think gratitude isn’t quite the right word, because it implies a gift rather than something you earn. What I try to carry is an awareness of all my advantages… which in turn does lead to gratitude.

    I think of all emotions, gratitude may be the hardest to cultivate. I work with families to influence their financial choices in a more positive way, with budgeting, frugality, etc so I see quite a lot of financial information and discuss the effects of spending quite often. Across the board, regardless of how much money you earn, how large your house, how new your car, gratitude is hard to come by. Everyone has it, but no one feels it.

    • Huh — that’s an interesting perspective. We definitely don’t have trouble feeling gratitude, especially if we deliberately choose to view things through a positive lens, so I’m curious what you’re basing your comment on.

      • I’m sorry, it seems as if you thought I was suggesting you do not feel gratitude. I apologize. I was attempting to convey more of a “It’s great that you are expressing gratitude for what you have because that can be so hard to do.”

        I was thinking the world at large including myself. Simply that it’s easy for a good or bad situation to be “the new normal” and gratitude for the situation is lost. I am sometimes grateful to have a good car, when I pass someone without a good car. I am rarely grateful to have shoes as I rarely see someone without shoes. So continuing to experience gratitude can be painfully difficult when it’s “the normal”

        That’s all. :)

  18. Interesting thoughts on dropping the soul-sucking description for work.
    When I realized that I actually quite like what I do, it became so easy to accept that I will need another 15-20 years of work. That still allows me to get out some 10 years ahead of most people. That makes it more easy to “sacrifice” some spending today. And who knows, maybe one day, I change career earlier than expected.
    a few years ago, I had the hopes to be one day a photographer… maybe, one day!

    • That is great that you like your job so much! That makes everything so much better and easier. Though I hope you get to live your dream of doing photography one day. :-)

  19. My husband spent most of the fall complaining about his students to the point that I started avoiding him a little bit. I’m not sure what flipped for him, but he has (mostly) stopped complaining. Now when we go for walks we talk about all sorts of things instead of the new ways he has been surprised/disappointed by his students. Whew! I thought I was going to have to make him retire earlier than planned!

    • Haha — Hadn’t thought before about what happens if it’s so one-sided, since we are both complainers. :-) But yeah, I bet that is tough if you’re feeling like you need to avoid your husband over his work complaints! Though I bet no one ever regrets retiring earlier either. ;-)

  20. I have come new to your page but it is hitting the spot at the right time. 48 years old and on the corporate train for a while now but mortgage now paid , pension pot (UK) is looking good and plans to go part time as a starter to the whole cruise towards 55 . Not sure I could have done it as early as you guys as my life has been different (kids and dogs lol) but what you are saying echoes how I feel and that’s refreshing for me to read. Thank you for putting this down on the web.

    • Hi Rob! Glad you found us, and that this touched a nerve for you. We’ve come to realize that we own our own reactions to things, and if we choose to see work and anything else in a negative light, it will feel bad, but if we choose the positive view, then everything feels better. So far it’s working for us! Congrats on having your finances in great shape, and good luck as you transition to part-time work. So exciting!