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.
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.
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:
— Millennial Boss (@MillennialBoss) August 20, 2017
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.
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:
- 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!).
- 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!