How to Use Your FI Freedom to Agitate for Others at Work | financial independence, early retirementcommunity

How to Use Your FI Freedom to Agitate for Others at Work

A question we’ve been getting a lot lately, in anticipation of our giving notice at work within the next few weeks (!), is: Do you think they have any idea? (“They” being work.)

And my answer has been: We don’t think they do, but we also don’t think they’ll be that surprised. That’s mainly because we’ve always made it clear that, although we’ve been willing to do whatever work required of us (even when it went waaaaay beyond “normal” work expectations), we also have clear priorities about what’s important in life, and have always maintained full lives outside of work. We’re also both known for being “grown-ups,” so the money savvy likely won’t shock anyone.

But, another big reason I think no one will be surprised is that I think the “why” behind my actions in recent years will become more clear in retrospect. “Ohhhhhhhh. THAT’S why you’ve been agitating so much!”

Because I’ve made it my mission to become an agitator these last few years of work. And whatever you care about in your industry or company – improving the culture, diversifying the workforce, being more woman- or family-friendly, increasing pay, improving benefits – that stuff doesn’t change without someone being willing to stick their neck out and agitate for it. If you’re on the FI path, allow me to tell you why that person should be you.

Psst. Happy eclipse day! We’re in the path of totality today and will share pics on Twitter, Instagram and the e-newsletter if we get any good ones. 

How to Use Your FI Freedom to Agitate for Others at Work | financial independence, early retirement

Good Little Soldiers

For years, I cared a lot about how I was perceived at work. I wanted to be sure people knew how loyal I was, how willing to step up, how appreciative of the job. Not that I was a martyr or anything. I was able to act that way because I also felt respected and valued, and thought my compensation was mostly fair. I’d hear those admonishments to ask for more money and think, “Eh, that advice is for other people. People who work for less caring employers.”

But the truth is that I was scared. I knew if I pushed for more money, I’d get labeled as difficult, a label that still seems to get stuck on women more regularly. And Mr. ONL felt the same way — he believed that he was compensated fairly, and didn’t want to be seen as ungrateful in asking for more. Because let’s be real: all the stuff we tell people (especially women) to do at work — ask for more money! promote yourself! — that stuff is scary and comes with a potential cost (the “difficult” label, being seen as more interested in advancement than the cause, etc.). So there’s a lot of pressure not to stick your neck out, whether it’s for yourself or others.

The Freedom to Stick Your Neck Out

I love the movement toward pushing more people to be transparent about what they earn in an effort to increase parity, and I’m an absolute fan of pushing women in particular to ask for more money at work. But the reality is that, in a lot of industries, the women who go and do that are the vanguard of the movement, and might be the first ones in their companies or at their level to ask for more, making the act far riskier than if we were a few years farther down the road with a more normalized view on this stuff.

But those of us on the FI track who are still working have a completely amazing privilege: we’re free from that pressure, because we don’t need to focus as much on our reputation or workplace politics or whatever else keeps our coworkers from speaking up.

Our reputations can’t hurt us.

It no longer matters if people think I’m difficult, care too much about money, or repeat myself too much on things like diversity in hiring. Let them think that. I got what I knew to be my last promotion years ago. I’m on my way out. I’m still doing good work and bringing in money for the company, so no one has legitimate cause for complaint. And if they want to begrudge me the rest, so be it.

If you’re still working but you know you’re on your way, ask yourself: Is there something that bothers you at work that you could help make better for those who follow behind you? If the answer is yes (which it should be for anyone who’s being honest), then you have unique freedom to be that person who sticks your neck out and helps change the system.

Lola Retreat women

Some of the Lola Retreat women

My Particular Cause: Agitating for Women and Diversity

This past weekend, I spoke at the Lola Retreat, and one woman asked a super important question that I think our community should talk about more: As women, how do we feel about leaving the workforce when we know the workforce needs more of us?

And in that moment, I realized (and said) this:

Because it’s true. Before getting on the path to early retirement, I saw other women as competition. (To be fair, I saw everyone as competition.) But realizing that it no longer matters whether I get ahead truly transformed my thinking. Instead of seeing other women as obstacles to my advancement, I saw them as other humans who want the same things I want.

The question of career legacy is something we’ve been thinking about for years. We have both done work in our careers that we’re incredibly proud of, but we’ve also wondered whether making such an early exit means we’re not living up to our potential or contributing enough to society or the world. We realized, though, that our work accomplishments aren’t our real legacy.

“It’s not what you create, it’s who you create.”

I swore someone else said that quote, but can’t find the source, so I’ll just claim it for now until someone can help me find out where I heard it. (Also, if I said it, that would obviously be “whom.”) But I’ve really come to believe the sentiment there.

Our real legacy is what we’ve been able to contribute to the people we’ve worked with in the form of mentoring and creating opportunities for them to spread their wings. And it’s in what we do to make the system we leave behind more like what we think it should be.

For me, that’s normalizing the money conversations for women especially, making workplaces reflect the diversity of the real world, and helping talented junior colleagues contribute at their full potential. So I began to focus on delegating and mentoring more instead of keeping the “best” work for myself like I’d always done. I began having more frank conversations with female peers as well as younger women about compensation and advancement, to share what I’ve learned. And I made myself a squeaky wheel on diversity.

That’s why I pushed hard for a bigger bonus last year – not because I “needed” more money, though I do believe I deserved it. (And they agreed – and gave me more.) I did it because I wanted to do my part to destigmatize that act, and make it less noteworthy the next time another woman does the same. It’s why I’ll push again this year on my way out, even though I know there’s very little incentive for them to pad my bonus when I’m not sticking around.

It doesn’t matter. I will ask for it anyway, because I am the lucky one with the freedom not to care what they think of me for asking.

Broke Millennial, Stephanie O'Connell and Ms. ONL at Lola Retreat

With Erin Lowry (Broke Millennial) and Stefanie O’Connell at Lola… in flannel because Portland, duh.

Agitating Your Own Way

Just as I think those of us with great means have a responsibility to do good in the world, preferably directly and monetarily, I also think we have a responsibility to agitate in a positive way once we know our own stakes are lowered at work. Because if we don’t, who will?

I get the desire to check out mentally after you decide you’re not going to stay in a career for the long term, but consider both facts:

  1. Disengaging makes the journey feel slower. Staying fully engaged and not complaining makes it go faster (and feel more rewarding — which is no small thing!).
  2. Disengaging robs you of an opportunity to make a difference by pushing for change that you know is needed, and to leave knowing that you either made change or made change possible in the future.

So you know my advice: Don’t surrender the chance to make things better for those who come behind you. In my experience, it feels awesome to know that people I’ve supported and things I’ve pushed for will last well beyond my time at my company.

That agitation can take whatever form you like. If you’re annoyed that the 401(k) plan has a lousy match or has fees that are too high, make a big stink about that. If you think management should be structured differently to make everyone feel more empowered, pour some energy into making that case to as many influencers and decision-makers as possible. If you consider yourself a feminist, find ways to stick up for women in your workplace, push to hire and promote more of them, or make equal pay your rallying cry. If you believe as I do that diverse perspectives are essential to doing good work these days, push to hire and promote more people of color, LGBTQ folks, disabled people, and candidates with different life experiences.

Legacy and Agitation

Let’s get into this stuff! What do you want your work legacy to be? Is there anything at work that you wish would change that you could see yourself agitating for? Find yourself not wanting to stick your neck out? If so, why do you think that is? If you’re like me and you want to agitate, what would you say to others to help them see the value in it? And to that question we got at Lola — any women struggle with planning to leave the workforce, knowing that the work world needs more women? (Same Q for people of color, LGBTQ folks and others!) Tons to discuss today! Let’s get to it in the comments!

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79 replies »

  1. Yes. This. People who have FU funds or who are FI are in a much more secure position to be advocates. I also think it is one of the more special aspects of having a union, though I learned how limited their bite is when it comes to certain things, too. Also, I would hope that perspective should hopefully move from self preservation once more security is established, though changing perspectives isn’t always easy or quick.

    • Such a great point! Most of us focus a ton, for obvious reasons, on self preservation. But knowing that we no longer truly need the jobs has given us the freedom to not worry about ourselves and focus entirely on others. There are definitely some things happening on my projects right now that pre-FI me would not have stood for, but I’m cool focusing my energy elsewhere given that I’ll be outta here soon enough. ;-)

  2. I suspect most people would use the freedom to be more of who they are in the workplace, free from as much constraint. I’ve been blessed to be in a position where I feel free to push anyway, and am not as worried about financial repercussions. It’s a huge help just to be debt-free. But that seems rare. At any rate, I’ve been thankful that I’ve pushed for things – it has paid dividends. And it has, ironically, helped my reputation more than anything.

    • That’s definitely been true for me. I am so much more likely to say what I’m really thinking now, which is not always so helpful. Hahaha. ;-) And that’s awesome that you’ve been naturally inclined to agitate, and that your speaking up has resulted in changes! Keep up the great work!

      • Kind of dangerous, no? Haha. You too! I love the whole idea behind your post.

      • Ha — it is! I’m afraid I might slip at some point and give something away prematurely! ;-)

  3. I’ve also considered the impact of leaving the traditional workforce, as a woman entering into prime years for advancement. In my industry there is a decent representation of women at the entry- to mid- level ranks, and then it thins out dramatically once you get to director/partner level.

    However, I agree that taking an alternate route can make us better feminists, versus “leaning in” to the traditional career path. One thing that I think we all crave as humans is more control of our time, and as women that’s probably been something that is particularly rare, historically. By taking control of our finances, and ultimately, our time, I think we’re sending the strongest possible message to younger women rising up the ranks: here’s yet another choice that’s open to you. And I think that the next generation of younger people entering the workforce are already really good at seeing a career as a tool, and not as a life sentence, so I have no doubt that message will be received.

    • I love that way of thinking about it, Grace! Helping younger women see another option that’s now open to them. That has absolute merit, and we can be role models in many different ways.

  4. I could barely read your post after figuring out you don’t live where I thought you lived (if you are in the path of the total eclipse), but I tried. :)

    You’ve really made me think. I feel so strongly about certain things at work that it is difficult not to advocate for them. As a professor in a unionized gig, I also feel protected.

    But I wonder if I’d do or say things differently if I were on my way out any time soon. That’s what I need, and want, to think about. Thank you.

  5. I FIREd 5 years ago, but I like your approach to leaving work better than mine. The whole become an agitator thingee sounds like it’s fun and rewarding.

    I had 2 reactions at work when I announced I was retiring:

    1) Disbelief – You’re really going to a competitor but you’re just not saying who.
    2) Curiosity – People try to indirectly probe around about how much money we had.

    Very, very few asked how we did it which surprised me.

    • It IS pretty fun. ;-) I’d imagine we’ll get some disbelief, too, but I’ve got 280+ posts here outlining our plans to counter that narrative pretty quickly. Haha.

  6. I just did this for the first time and it felt pretty amazing. I had a coworker who was here on a fellowship and her term was expiring. My team had our annual meeting with the big boss to discuss how everything was going and what we needed to do our job better. I stuck my neck out and said that we needed to create a position to hire her full time. She had been trying to get a full time job and our mid-level boss had been advocating for her for a couple months with no progress. The day after the meeting we were given the authority to create a new position and get the hiring rolling.

    It really all stemmed from the fact that I had enough cash and investments that I wasn’t worried about my job. I’ve been able to advocate for others (as well as myself) better than before because I am far less timid. The worst they can do is fire me, in which case I have plenty to live on while I find another job. The upside of advocating now feels much bigger than the downside.

    • That’s awesome, Matt! I’m so thrilled to hear that you feel freer to speak up, and that you’re using your power for good. :-)

  7. I really love this and it’s something I’ve thought about throughout my career. I’ve worked with women who had to work really hard to be taken seriously at the beginning of their careers in the 70s and 80s and I’m so grateful for the strides they made so that my career path is that much easier.

    It took me until I was 40 to start feeling comfortable about speaking up at work and I still have (older) female coworkers who tell me to be careful so I’m not seen as difficult. I’ve found that it’s not speaking out that causes problems, but the approach. As long as it’s done in a professional and constructive way, it’s usually received well.

    Now that I’m older, my perspective is that it should be part of my legacy/responsibility to speak up until younger coworkers find their voice. Admittedly it’s much easier now that I have enough money that being fired or laid off wouldn’t be devastating!

    • I’m so grateful to those women who came before us, too! I think they had it a lot harder in so many ways, and I’m thankful for all the things they agitated for that now benefit us. You’re so right that the approach is KEY, and making it clear that you’re speaking up in the best interests of the company helps the agitation go over so much better. Keep up the great work! :-)

  8. This is one of my favorite posts ever! I was always a good employee – followed the rules, did as asked, and knew my workplace politics…until I learned about FIRE (determined we were there) and then realized I could stand up for what I believed in. This led me to quit my job as a school administrator because of a superintendent who did not value what the rest of the team valued. When enough of us quit, they removed the person. People still thank me today for having the courage to do that and force change. Of course I ended up back there last year and again, since I was FI – I could speak my mind and I was highly respected because of that. I also had a ton of institutional knowledge (that other leaders lacked) – so people knew what I was saying had merit.

    I do struggle a lot with leaving. I earned a doctorate and could be there leading a large organization – that is now totally led by men too (nothing against the guys – but it took a long time to have women in the highest leadership positions.) But I’ve chosen to go to Colorado in September and go to a conference to learn something new – and hike and enjoy our beautiful country. I’m hoping to learn how to give back in a new way – without having to be in the workplace each day. Great topic and looking forward to following others comments.

    • Thanks, Vicki! That means a lot! :-D <3 That is so awesome that you were able to lead the way in actual change! For anyone who doubts whether one person can make a difference, there you go! ;-)

  9. I’m not worried. I don’t see myself as someone who would’ve climbed the ranks even if I did have a traditional career. One value of working closely with the executives is getting an up close view of what they do….. and I don’t want anything to do with it. Jockeying for the recognition needed to go up the ladder, dealing with office politics, and slaving away on projects day in and day out sounds like something I want nothing to deal with. I’m not happy restraining myself to fit in this workplace.

    • There are other ways to agitate besides directly engaging with senior management. Maybe the kind you’re cut out for is more subversive, and is more focused on coaching junior staff you encounter in the ways of the world to help them succeed. ;-)

  10. Thanks for sharing. Since I am on the FI journey, I decided to share and reveal my thoughts and annoyances at work, in order to improve the situation. The challenge is to find the wording and approach that management will appreciate. My wife coaches me on that. big help so far, quite happy with some results like more realistic planning and expectations, steering a little the type of people we need to recruit,… Next: request change in our pension plan and option/warrant compensation. 2 not easy subjects.

    • Good for you for stepping into challenging conversations! That’s so smart to focus on HOW you bring the topics up with management, and cite your concerns in a way that’s constructive, not critical. That is always a good strategy for trying to change minds. ;-)

  11. Another very thought-provoking topic, and boy does this one hit home! My issues are 1) Is it too soon for me to start being “difficult”? (We’re still about 5 years out from a nice solid FI state) and 2) How do I really make an impact?

    My biggest concern with my employer is the overwhelming negativity and management style of constant belittling, sarcasm and derision. (And although my employer is undeniably very sexist, this actually makes it worse for the guys, too, because the women get treated with kid gloves to some extent while the men get ground into a fine powder. No good for anyone). I’m really not sure how to combat that negativity when all attempts to do so up to now have been met with derisive sneers.

    Honestly I think I’ll be much more comfortable with being more outspoken in a few years when we’re much closer to our end dates. Being this far out, I do feel the selfish need to proceed with a certain amount of caution. While we don’t technically NEED our jobs to survive, they are a critical part of our overall plan. I also have seen how little my input is valued in the past (I’ve actually attempted some pretty in-depth and professional discussions about this with my boss before and was met with complete bewilderment) and how little interest our management has in improving, well, anything other than profits… Which is ironic because a less discouraged workforce would certainly improve overall productivity with little to no monetary investment.

    But I do agree that disconnecting too much is bad, and makes work feel more miserable and makes the time drag more. I think it’s time for me to give some serious thought to what I can do now to make the workplace better for all of us who work here. Thank you for this!

    • Oh man, that sounds like a pretty horrible work situation! (Do you have to stay there??)

      Taking on big issues with management certainly won’t work everywhere, and I wouldn’t necessarily advise that you jump into the fray at your company if it’s so perilous. Your agitation could be in the form of investing much more in women junior to you, or focusing on one thing like hiring decisions. But intensive mentoring definitely counts as agitation, too! :-)

      • AFA staying there, we shall see. I’m trying to keep the feelers out for other opportunities, but would prefer not to jump ship unless it’s for something I can be legitimately stoked about.

        I love the mentoring angle, though. That’s definitely something I can give a lot of positive focus to. :)

      • Excellent! I’ve found mentoring and finding opportunities for others to spread their wings to be super fulfilling, regardless of what else is going on at work! Good luck sticking it out or finding something better.

  12. Great post as always. This one hit home as I’ve made it a point to try to affect some change before FIRE. I started advocating (agitating) for paternity leave within my company a few years ago. As with most US companies, the maternity leave policy at my company is laughable at best and paternity leave is non-existent. Forced to use vacation days to spend time with each child during the first days/weeks of their life. With each passing year and FIRE getting closer and closer, I’ve become more and more a PITA about this issue. The first time I brought it up, I was literally laughed out of the meeting – and I was talking about unpaid leave. As I’ve pushed back and FI has given me the ability to not be as worried about things like being labeled as “difficult” I’ve been able to elevate the conversation from “impossible” to “we’re thinking about it”. Not quite there yet, but I hope to make some final big pushes for the fathers-to-be coming behind me.

    • Thanks, JL! ;-) Kudos to you for taking on the paternity leave cause and sticking with it! That’s extra hard if you’re literally getting laughed out of meetings, so you get major high fives for your tenacity!

  13. I’m more of an advocator than agitator. There’s not too much going on around here that I’m upset about, even with ~ 8 bosses to report to. Four of which are direct reports. ;) As one of them said in a surprise 40th b-day meeting for me last week, “He’s like a pool by. Always smiling and happy regardless of the situation.” I took that as a compliment, as well as being assigned to 3 different projects on top of my own work. I guess that’s my work legacy – smiley and happy to take on whatever you want. I’d push back but the projects have all been really fun so far. Wait, why do I want to quit again? lol kidding, just kidding.

    I do loudly advocate “track your spending, spend less than you make, and ivest the rest. Here’s how you can do those 3 things really easily.” I have a word doc with links to non scary FIRE/PF blogs, how to DIY invest and build your own portfolio. Things like How to build a couch potato portfolio if you want to go that route, and links explaining what all of those “scary” index funds, mutual funds, ETF’s, and more consist of, and why you shouldn’t be intimidated by them. I’ve also handed out 5 copies of The Millionaire Next Door – mostly to my proteges or newer hires that seem interested in PF or any money talk I bring up.

    Currently only 1 work person knows specific dates, but a handful know I’m looking to bounce in 5 years or so and let Mrs. SSC teach full time. Another handful more at my old megacorp also know specifics, but they seem more interested in the how’s rather than being negative and naysayer-y about it. It’s nice having support.

    • I think agitate vs. advocate is a semantic difference only. ;-) Most agitation is actually advocacy, but what I’m *advocating* for is that we are all a bit more deliberate and even forceful in our advocacy for others or for better policies, because others don’t have the same freedom or luxury to do the same. ;-)

  14. Interesting.. I could see advocating being one potential path once reaching Fi. I’m not sure how effective it will be given it’s but one voice, but you never know. You should keep in touch with old contacts so in a few years you can observe if a difference was made.

  15. Great post. I do think your final thoughts on legacy and sticking your neck out reach beyond FI, and are expressed best by FU money–however much you need to walk instead of putting up with something you (vehemently) don’t like. In this sense, FI is the ultimate FU pile, because you never have to look back.

    But I do wonder–do you feel that you need to (or will need to) explain FI as well? Without some context, I could imagine someone interpreting the circumstances over the next year as: “she spoke up, and was out of here in only a year or two.” It seems that advocacy itself is now something you are looking to leave as a legacy, so are you thinking about how to communicate that you are leaving on good / your own terms? Is it as simple as having a party, whether you like them or not? Do you have coworkers you intend to share more deeply with, once it’s out in the open?

    Your quote made me think of Eiji Toyoda’s “Before cars, make people.”

    • Thanks, Matt! I LOVE that Toyoda quote, and agree 100%. To answer your Q, YES, we will be transparent about what we’re doing after we’re “out.” In part because we don’t want anyone to think we got fired, and in part because we want to spread the word about alternate life options. And we’ll definitely do the party thing!

  16. I’m 100% guilty of just disengaging from work. But I think that’s more to do with my attitude and job choice than anything else. I looooove that you’ve used your FI position to agitate at work. Too often we keep our mouths shut because we’re afraid of losing a paycheck. I also think it’s important to know *how* to correctly agitate; it’s about coming from a place of improvement over aggression or fighting.

    • Totally agree with your last point! My agitation never takes the form of fighting. It’s always arguing for the greater good or good of the company, and providing constructive suggestions instead of trolling. That makes such a difference!

  17. It’s interesting because I actually work in a field where there are WAY more women then men (although yep, somehow the ratio of women:men in the higher ups looks more like your usual workplace. Funny how that happens…), plus I’m at a non-profit so our benefits are actually pretty good (although our parental leave policies are pretty non-existent, sigh). However, our institution is absolutely fighting the “we need to hire more people so we’re not all totally overworked AND need to pay the people we do have better so that they stick around” fight. The good thing about that is that our higher-ups are definitely aware of our problems on that front, so that’s something. My department is getting rearranged at the moment and I’m cautiously optimistic that perhaps those issues will be addressed when the dust eventually settles. This has also afforded me an unique opportunity to advocate for myself and I’m trying to finagle my way into a new position that’s only partially the one I was hired for and find absolutely mind-numbingly boring. Let me actually need to use my brain at work!

    I’m still practically a baby in terms of my career so I’m one of the peons down at the bottom. I also have zero motivation to climb the corporate ladder so probably won’t ever be in a position to agitate or advocate for others. However, I’ve absolutely told HR on multiple occasions that some type of actual training/onboarding for new hires would be helpful (considering I’m fairly new here). I’m also trying to instill a “spend less than you earn” mindset in my fellow peon/my age coworkers and just trying to talk money in general with them.

    • To your very last point, it sounds like you ARE already agitating if you’re focusing on spreading the word among junior staff about saving money! That’s so, so important. Agitation doesn’t always have to mean taking on senior management or HR, or trying to singlehandedly reverse gender discrimination in senior management positions. It could mean just making a point of helping to boost up your peers and new hires instead of seeing them as competition, and sharing what you’ve learned so they don’t have to learn it the hard way. Bravo!

  18. For some reason, I never felt too bad to ask for a raise or promotion, perhaps it’s because I worked in finance, and I was in environment where it was very clear how much value you provided to the company based on the revenue you generated.

    But I did push my wife to be more assertive after it felt she was getting passed over for a raise and promotion. She finally agreed after being passed over for a couple younger guys.

    We’ve really got to ask for what we believe in because now it is just going to hand you more money or more responsibilities. Find a mentor, find an advocate, and be your strongest advocate.

    The upside is unlimited!

    • It’s so interesting how much easier it is to talk money in some industries than others — it makes sense that in finance you’d talk about money more! (It would be bad if that wasn’t true!) ;-) Couldn’t agree more that we have to fight for what we believe in!

  19. Your article is absolutely timely for me. I am tenured, and a woman, and close to retirement. I just applied for Medicare Part A three days ago, and over the weekend penned what is probably a rather public and demanding email to people in HR – they basically found they were paying people wrong, and ended up saying we worked two months of hours in a single month. The result was we were taxed very heavily – and since we usually get paid once a month, the amount was ridiculous. That aside, with retirement and my exit looming in the next 14-20 months, I have decided to speak up. If we do not get resolution through HR or the Union, the next step is the state employment office. Stirring things up is rather fun – but also an eye-opener – mess with people’s money and you create a lot more problems than you may realize, but when an HR mistake forces some employees to take out a small loan to make ends meet because of over-taxation and misrepresentation, you get a few pissed off people.

    • Ugh — that sounds like a tough situation for a lot of folks! Kudos to you for being willing to speak up and shake the trees, especially in the interest of those who are in a worse-off financial spot than you are.

  20. To me, this is a very personal decision. While I have noooooooo qualms about making a stink about things I don’t like (even before I had much in the way of FU money to speak of), this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – FU money or not.

    I remember the CEO of one of my former companies sat down with me after I quit, and he said, “You know Steve, you’re one of the few people who would actually give me shit. I kinda liked that”. :)

    When I was the Director, I respect those who cared enough about their future to ask for more money *with evidence that they deserved more*. Those people obviously wanted more out of their work life, and that was something that got me fighting for them in any way that I could. It was easy to pick out those who seemed to care about their future and those who just wanted to collect a paycheck.

    When I left work, I didn’t make much of a stink. Honestly, I didn’t have much to complain about. I worked from home for a relatively small, but rapidly growing, database company. I made stupid good money (we all did, actually). The company match with our 401k was awfully lame, though ($500 bucks, that’s it), but they made up for it in our salaries, bonuses and healthcare.

    All in all, I knew how good I had it, so I left well enough alone on my way out. That, and I also wanted to leave that bridge un-tampered with…just in case. :)

    • I definitely get your perspective, and in a smaller company, there could very well be fewer things to push against. I think your last point is important to discuss, though! Agitating doesn’t have to be done in a way that burns bridges, so we shouldn’t think of them as synonymous. As you said, a prior boss respected you MORE for pushing back, and that’s often true — but we don’t know that until we overcome the fear of repurcussions to do so. As you said, it’s quite obvious who’s agitating for more money out of greed vs. looking out for the company or greater good, and I think if you focus your pushback on the latter, no bridges need to get burned in the process. ;-)

      • You’re a natural leader, Ms. ONL. Seriously, you’re good. You have a way of focusing on the positives throughout, which is always way more helpful than the alternative. And you’re right, agitating isn’t necessarily burning your bridges. Absolutely agreed! :)

      • Thanks, my friend. :-) I am not as good at always THINKING about the positive, but I’ve gotten good at not saying everything out loud that I’m thinking. Haha.

  21. This is a super interesting discussion! I actually work in an industry that is predominantly female (in all positions), so this isn’t something I’ve really thought about before. I’m not on a FIRE path, but more of a “reduce expenses enough that I can do meaningful (lower-paid) work” path, so maybe agitation will be a longer term thing for me. Time to put my money (err, my skills) where my mouth is!

    • Nothing wrong with longer-term agitation. ;-) And even in female-dominated fields, there are still things that can use a little improvement. I’m lucky to work somewhere that I think does a mostly great job on a lot of things, but that doesn’t stop me from pushing it to be all it can be. ;-)

  22. Love this post! I totally partook in these types of behaviors my last few years at work. I complained about the 401K fees (and we switched companies, finally!), fought for people on my team to receive raises and got myself a couple as well. I love that you have some intentionality about your focus as mine was more haphazard but I picked and chose my spots and made some noise in certain areas. I like to think I was one of the many straws that broke the camel’s back on getting our entire sales team sizable base salary increases to make them more in line with industry standards (I made a pretty awesome spreadsheet with some interesting data). I will say that my last several months, I did a good job of calling out objectifying behavior when it happened, something I had ignored and/or pivoted topics most of my career. I think *ahem* the election and my pending retirement made me not GAF anymore if anybody might be put off by my comment. I’ve been in a male dominated business my entire working life, and I love that you are focusing on lifting other women up instead of pushing them down. It takes a very confident and special woman to do so. Though I’ve worked with women over the years, very few helped to lift me up – the one in particular I remember the most, I still remember the important nuggets of wisdom she shared with me over the years about work and life. Coincidentally, I ran into her in April at a smoothie place after my kiddo ran some race… I shared with her my plans and repeated back to her some things she had told me back in the day that were a part of my decision. I got to tell her thank you for being such a great role model. How cool is that?

    • Thanks! :-D High five for all the agitating you did in your last year! And I LOVE your story of getting to thank that woman for being a role model for you! So, so cool. I feel really lucky to have had quite a few good women role models, so see what I’m doing as paying it forward more than forging some untrod path. But it’s still important to do this stuff instead of just checking out and deferring the problems to the next generation.

  23. As I moved into a management position at my office, I started advocating for changing things that bothered me as a staff member. I’m currently working on getting the administrator of our retirement accounts to move companies to one that doesn’t charge huge loads on all of their funds. It’s working!

    • So awesome that you have made progress on retirement fund fees! What’s the next challenge you’ll take on? ;-)

  24. thanks for this reminder. we should always fight for what is right in this world but pursuing FI makes it that much easier. I work in sustainability for a large corporation and the struggle is real everyday. How do we look at the long term impacts for the business and the world vs next quarter’s profits? It’s so challenging and frustrating on a day to day basis. One thing I learned is that perseverance pays off and we just gotta keep on keeping on to see results for what truly matters.

    • I’m so glad that the FIRE movement has “agents” like you placed within corporate America! ;-) How great that you work in sustainability and have the latitude to push harder and agitate more for long-term impacts over short-term profits!

  25. As always, thanks for a fresh take! I definitely agree that it is easier for those planning their escape routes to agitate than those who are just starting their careers or making strategic mid-career moves. That being said, I have played the disengagement card a little too hard at my current job and this is a good reminder to step up and get involved – not just for myself, but for others.

    • You’re welcome, Kate! ;-) I love that you recognize that you’ve unplugged a bit — being aware of it is the first step to plugging yourself back in!

  26. I’ve been an agitator for my entire career, aware that if they wanted to punish me for it there wasn’t anything I could do that but that I might as well have the money in hand if I was going to be stigmatized.

    But it was only possible to agitate without much negative impact because I made myself a superproducer they couldn’t easily afford to lose. That didn’t come easy – I sacrificed a LOT for it. But it was worth it because when I speak, they listen. This gives me the authority to advocate not just for myself as a star worth compensating but for my staff as people who are worth investments – in compensation and training and opportunities. It’s my job as manager to get the best talent I can for the company, and the best way I know to do that is to take great care of my staff. They should not be mutually exclusive goals, though I know many people act like they are. It’s borne fruit in more than one way – short term loyalty also translates to long term loyalty if you treat people right, and fairly, and even if it doesn’t breed loyalty, it’s still the right thing to do.

    I don’t know whether my efforts will leave a legacy that anyone remembers because I take the same view on it as I do religion. I don’t think about whether my actions today will reflect well on me in the future and secure me a good place in history, I think about doing what good I can in the long term now, and leave the rest to play out as it will. It’s how I stay focused on taking actions rather than worrying about whether it’ll blow back on me.

    • Can you please train every manager to think like you do? ;-) Agree 100% with all of this on loyalty, and while I feel lucky to work for a company that rewards and incentivizes loyalty, I think so much of the work world is behind on this thinking.

  27. I became what I called the ‘sacrificial manager’ once my FIRE date was set. This allowed me to say out loud all the things that others were thinking, but didn’t want to express as they were still in for the long game. It was nothing subversive; I just I asked “why?” a lot when a decision came down from the Exec or a project stakeholder.

  28. Exactly! When I was pregnant with twins last year, I pushed for a 16 week leave and another 16 weeks of “on-ramp” back to full time work (2 days working from home, 2 days in the office, and one day off, then slowly increasing back to FT). Nobody had ever asked for that before!

    They took a long time to consider it, but finally said yes, and now they are going to offer a similar plan to every new parent in my department! I was so proud of myself!

    And I couldn’t have done it without 1) the cash cushion to take that much time un-paid and 2) the confidence from knowing I’m well on my way to FIRE!

  29. This is such a great concept. One of the things that appeals to my husband and I so much about FI/RE is the opportunities it will give us to do more good in the world by giving us freedom to pursue more meaningful things with our time, especially in terms of helping people that we love and care about. I think your idea is an outstanding extension of using FIRE to do more good for others. I’m a SAHM and part-time freelancer and we are years away from FI, so I don’t necessarily have a work place in which to advocate for specific changes, but I think this concept will help us regardless.

    This idea also reminded me of another experience — In the past, I have been a teacher of adult learners in college and other contexts. One of my favorite ways to start my courses is to share with my students a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that says “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” Then I explain to the students that they have the opportunity to help one other, to pay attention to each other, and to reach out in different ways. In learning, we often think only about ourselves and our own performance, but the experience is much richer and more worthwhile if we lift others as we do so. If you understand an idea that someone else doesn’t, offer to get together and explain it. Share notes with students who were absent, give encouraging words before and after exams and projects. Don’t be afraid of group projects and working together. I would print off the quote and keep it where learners could see it throughout the course. I think it can make a big difference in all sorts of contexts, from classrooms, to work environments, etc.

    Thanks for the great food for thought!

    • We are on the same wavelength all the way! One of the things that I like best about agitating at work (or in whatever setting you find yourself!) is that it counters the “I’ll do that later, when I’m FIREd” thinking that is so easy to fall into. Actually, no! You don’t have to wait! You can do good now! ;-)

      I completely love your class example. Our society is so individualistic, and it’s nice to hear that plenty of us are not only thinking of ourselves <3

  30. I found agitating and asking for a promotion really helped the severance talks once I was denied a promotion to Director. My boss seemed ok with paying me to leave, and though I have t worked since 7/5, my company is paying me even as I write this, through 10-11.

    • That’s agitation of the more personal variety, not on behalf of others, but perhaps it helped destigmatize money conversations a little for others who follow behind you. ;-)

  31. I agitated to my own peril before FI, thinking I owed my employers truth for what they were paying me. Often, being candid about issues was valued. Most recently, I lobbied hard for better fund choices for the 401k. I sent news articles about companies being sued for neglecting their fiduciary responsibilities, and even John Oliver’s classic rant on the subject (I had to warn HR and apologize for his colorful language). We even are using (being used by?) John Hancock as was the case for him. As a result, we got cheaper share classes of existing funds and added some Vanguard index funds. I expect that next they will add Vanguard target retirement funds. I have also weighed in on health and dental insurance. I had the feeling that I knew more on the subject than those being paid to manage our benefits.

    • I love this! Good for you for speaking up and making things better for those following behind you. Retirement accounts are something far too employers think about, at least in terms of the actual account options, and it’s so important to push for better, lower-cost choices. High five!

  32. I love that you are so focused on mentoring and really advocating for folks as you step out the door. I’ve been very lucky to have mentors, some of whom will likely give me their client base the closer they get to retirement. My job is to continue reaching behind me to make sure other queer women in my field (and others) get what they need. I would not be able to have my business without the support of my community and I owe it to continue supporting others in return.