One of my favorite parts of FinCon — and there were so many things I loved — was getting the chance to talk to bloggers who are ahead of us on their FIRE journeys, including several who are already retired.
The first question I had for nearly everyone who’s already living their “next life” was: Did it get harder to put up with work in your last year or two before you retired? Because it sure feels that way for us.
Joe from Retire by 40 said that his last two years were harder, and the fact that he was so close didn’t make work much less stressful, as we all suppose it might. But then a different blogger who I won’t name (because the conversation might not have been entirely sober) told me that my problem is that I still care too much, and that I’d be better served with a “DGAF attitude.” That, he told me, would make the last year-ish a lot more fun and less stressful. Another blogger reminded me that it would likely take at least two years of me phoning it in before I’d get let go, and we’d be long gone before then.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot since then. It’s probably evident from reading here that I generally care about things. I care about people. I care about creating quality. I care about keeping integrity in my work and life. I care about leaving a positive legacy. I don’t want to overburden others around me because I didn’t pull my weight. All of this is true for Mr. ONL, too. We are carers.
But, we also work more than we strictly have to. We put in more hours and we do more than our share of the work. We do our best to say yes to work needs even if we can’t say yes to everything in life. We check email and sometimes work on vacation. My company tracks billable hours, and I’m high up on that chart. So if we assume these things are correlated, then caring equals working more than we’re expected to, like that blogger called me out for. Which leads to the question:
Is it possible we care about work too much?
And if so, would caring less in our last year of work make us happier?
A Continuum of Caring
Like with introversion vs. extroversion, it’s possible that there’s a spectrum of predisposition to care, from caring not at all (“zero Fs given,” as the kids would say these days), to caring way way too much:
And we probably all enter the workforce at some natural place on that spectrum, and for different reasons. My love of gold stars is well documented, so my early caring was clearly driven by that, but over time it evolved more into caring about the people and the product more than the accolades. Mr. ONL, a more laid back guy by nature than I am, started out caring a lot less than I do by nature. But he also evolved into caring more, perhaps from early fears of getting fired that he’s never quite let go of. (You’d think nearly two decades in his job and many promotions would ease that concern, but this stuff is never rational.) Plus, he’s a generally conscientious person, so with the level of responsibility he has now, I can’t imagine him not caring.
Of course other people may naturally fall somewhere else on this continuum, and some may even naturally be smack dab in the center.
Related post: Why We’re Not Going to Complain About Work Anymore
Moving on the Continuum
We do think we’ve both continued to work our way leftward on the scale, toward caring too much. And our reasons may not apply to everyone. For example, we’ve been with our companies for a really long time (both over a decade), and feel invested in the companies themselves and in our colleagues who would be affected if we started phoning it in. We have long-term relationships with our clients and don’t want to let them down. And — just being real here — we get paid a lot and want to feel “worth it.” (That’s exactly what raises are supposed to achieve, right?)
So now we’re both probably in this zone:
It’s not happy news to acknowledge that. We know our career growth in our particular jobs has only been possible because we are invested in our companies and clients, but we never set out to be those people. We certainly never set out to be people who work all the time. “Workaholic” is like the worst insult you can give someone in our books. And yet it’s possible that it describes both of us at this point. Not because we can’t imagine not working, but because we care too much to set it aside completely.
Facing Down the Last Year
Though the exact timing is still up for debate (and highly TBD based on year-end bonuses this year), we know that we’ll be quitting some time next year, in 2017. And even though the longest that could be is only 15 months, a pretty short time period in the grand scheme, the thought of going at our current pace for 15 more months fills us with something very close to dread.
I know it’s at least slightly ridiculous to think this way, but I have thoughts like, “If my hours go down, they’ll think I’m less committed.” Or, “If I say I want fewer projects, they’ll assume I’m looking for another job.” But then in the same thought string, I’ll think, “I am speeding up my demise with the way I’m working right now. This has to stop.”
A Note On How We Want to Leave Things
From the beginning of our early retirement journey, we’ve both had a clear vision of how we want to leave things with our employers. They’ve been good to both of us for many years, and we feel like we’ve grown up at our respective companies. We’re close with the senior management and count virtually all of our long-term colleagues as friends.
It’s important to us that we make it clear when we announce our retirement that we aren’t leaving to take another job, we’re leaving to take no job. This is why we haven’t looked for other jobs, even though we know we could earn more. And it’s why the idea of phoning it in and leaving on a bad note fills us with ickiness. Call it caring too much, but we want to go out on a wave of good vibes and positive memories. So while caring as little as possible might be the right approach for some people in the home stretch of some jobs, it doesn’t feel right for us.
Caring and Happiness
A question that feels central to all of this is:
Does caring so much about work make us happier?
The answer is: We’re pretty sure it doesn’t. On some level, our high level of caring seems driven by various anxieties: that we won’t be given interesting assignments, that we’ll be let go because we work remotely and aren’t as visible as our on-site colleagues, that we won’t be considered for promotions or raises, that clients won’t hire us for additional projects and we’ll have to hustle harder, that we’ll get smaller bonuses than we deserve. We certainly don’t care so much because we love every second of our work and can’t imagine doing anything else.
In fact, I was talking to my dad earlier today, telling him about my FinCon experience, and he told me that it had been years since I’d sounded as excited about anything as I sound when talking about this blog and the FIRE community. I never even want to talk about work. So, safe to say, work isn’t fueling my stoke. Mr. ONL would say the same.
So if caring isn’t making us happier, should we try not caring?
Final Year Goal
Not caring would probably appeal to us a lot more if we’d had a more typical career of multiple employers and jobs over the years, and less investment in any single employer or group of people. Then maybe we really would be comfortable making the minimum effort and unplugging more often. But since that won’t work for us, we’re aiming for a more balanced middle ground in our last year-ish:
I told my supervisor today that I need to get my hours down to a more sustainable level, and she was completely supportive. That probably still means 50 hours a week, but that’s a whole lot better than the 60-70 a week that have become the norm the last few years. Who knows — maybe I could even go crazy and get down to 45. ;-)
We’re both also thinking seriously about ways we can retrain ourselves to care less and work less in our last year. We’re calling it our “senior slide,” but without a plan, we could easily fall back into the habits we’ve ingrained as our careers have progressed. So we’re thinking about instituting changes:
- One full offline day a week (most likely Saturdays)
- Work ends by 7 pm no matter what (or maybe we allow one late night a week at most)
- No work from bed in the early morning or late night
- Reminding ourselves that other people can handle things
I bet you have some other ideas of things we can do to get to a place of more balanced caring — please share them in the comments!
Where Are You on the Continuum?
We’d love to hear from you guys about this. Any other over-carers like us? Or folks who’ve mastered the art of caring less? What wisdom can you share? And for those who’ve already retired, what can you tell all of us about how best to get through the home stretch? Thanks, as always, for continuing the conversation in the comments! We so appreciate you reading and engaging! xoxo