Posts filed under ‘work’
Life is full of decisions. There are the every day questions we ask ourselves like should I eat egg salad or peanut butter and jelly? Should I go to the store today or wait until tomorrow? And then there are those bigger decisions that weigh on your head and your heart. Those questions differ for everyone but mine included: Where should I go to college? Should I marry this man? Should I buy this house?
Among the ranks of the most difficult decisions I made certainly included: Should I leave the work force to stay-at-home with my son? After months of contemplation I took the leap and have now been home with my son for nearly two years.
Since I decided to stay home I am fascinated with the topic of moms who are faced with this same decision. I know my case is not typical, but not highly unique either. I gave up a six figure salary. I also had the option to stay home where I know many others do not.
I recently read The New York Times article The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In. It tells the tale of a group of highly paid women who opted out of the workforce years ago and now want, (or in many cases need), back in. What struck me most of all in reading this story was how unprepared some of these women seemed.
Did they really think they could leave the workforce and return ten years later to the same job with the same level of pay? Industries are constantly changing and your skills are now ten years behind younger, more eager individuals who are applying for the same positions.
I realize that many of the women interviewed in this article are now divorced. Perhaps they never planned to work, perhaps they never thought about a day where they might need a job. I myself have contemplated a world in which I never need to work again, but let’s face it things change. Situations change. Marriages crumble.
You have to know how much money you have in the bank. You have to keep in mind that it will get split in half in the divorce and that you still need enough money to live on. You have to realize that the interest on a million dollars goes a lot further toward paying a mortgage and utility bills than the interest on $500,000 will.
To be honest I don’t know how a woman making $500,000 at the height of her career didn’t have enough money to fall back on. It seems she should have been able to save a significant amount of money before ever dropping out of the workforce, but I suppose that’s a discussion for another day.
I often think about returning to work. I’ve thought about what skills I need to possess to return to a job similar to the one I had and what skills I would need to look for a completely different job in a completely different industry.
I have a general idea of how much money I would receive in a divorce, (hopefully that never happens) and how much money I would need to live and pay my bills. I know that I am frugal by nature, but I also acknowledge that I could and would significantly downsize my lifestyle.
I’m a planner. In fact every time we purchase something new I drive my husband crazy with a series of ‘what-if’ questions. I want to know how much that decision will cost us today, what factors we need to consider and how it will impact our bottom line in the future. It’s difficult to tell from the opt-out article if any of these women contemplated their futures. If they had any plan other than to leave their jobs and never look back on that decision.
The truth is we all need back-up plans in life. We need to understand our skills and consider returning to school for additional education. We need to keep tabs on our industries and understand how the models are changing. I am always shocked by the number of female students who still graduate with journalism degrees and the very small number who complete degrees in engineering or computer science.
These articles can be difficult to read because they only provide one piece of the puzzle. They focus on a select group of people and provide minimal details on their lives and the decisions they made.
Every individual is unique as is every marriage. What works for one family might not work for another. Many women are thrilled to stay home and others can’t imagine not working.
If you decide to stay home you shouldn’t do so without ever looking back at that decision. You have to have a plan for the future. You have to keep a careful watch over your finances. You have to recognize the fact that you might need to return to work one day.
This is really no different for someone who is working. When I worked as a software engineer I worked alongside many employees who didn’t keep up on their skills. Software is constantly changing and there were so many employees that simply didn’t keep up with the times. They thought their jobs were secure but when layoffs came they found it difficult to find new employment.
No matter what your situation is you have to stay up to date and relevant.
While I loved feeling smart and certainly miss the companionship of coworkers I still believe staying home is the right choice for me. The most important thing I can do is revisit this decision frequently and make certain I have a plan for the future.
When I was in school I always focused on being the top student in my class. When we learned our multiplication tables I recited the numbers faster than any of the other students. When the teacher held spelling bees I was always the last one left standing and when I began receiving real grades, (A, B, C’s rather than S’s and O’s), I always aimed for straight A’s.
As an employee I strived for top ratings every review period. While my coworkers seemed to be content to read the newspaper or shop online I searched for problems to solve and then found resolutions to fix them. I often fixed problems my own management team didn’t realize existed. I received the top ratings in all but two of my reviews over a 12 year period and even received the top most rating, (one that only 5% of employees achieve), one time.
My bosses knew I was smart and hardworking. As the years progressed I was put in charge of more challenging and complex projects. At age 24 I led a six person project that included software developers who were more than twice my age. I was proud of that achievement and the work we performed.
While my coworkers were placed onto maintenance projects I was constantly moved onto projects that required new development. I was asked to learn new software packages and to experiment with technologies that were completely new to our company. I loved the challenge of writing code and solving problems.
I always knew that I was the type of girl who liked intellectual challenges, but I never realized how deeply that desire coursed through my veins. To put it bluntly I want to feel smart and it seems I strive for good grades and outstanding reviews as a way to validate my intelligence. Other than the lack of adult companionship I believe it is this feeling that I miss more than any other.
As a stay-at-home mom I don’t perform any day to day actions that make me feel particularly intelligent. While I am challenged to be more empathetic, compassionate and patient I certainly don’t end the day feeling that my intelligence has been tested.
There is also a long term aspect to parenting. I do what I think is best for my son today, but I might not find out if it was the best parenting action for another 20 or 30 years. In software, you write code, run your program and watch it work or fail. While it may take days or weeks to complete the task it certainly doesn’t take years to witness your success or failures.
I do not regret my decision to stay home with my son, but I do believe I need to find a new outlook on my former beliefs. I need to forget about straight A’s and top reviews and realize that I don’t need anyone else to validate my intelligence. Perhaps it is an identity crisis of sorts. After spending my whole life striving for external validation it’s difficult to find myself in a situation where no one is going to pat my back and provide me with parenting kudos.
For a very long time I believed in collecting my pennies and stashing them away for a rainy day. As the years went by I often found more and more difficult to spend money.
As I waited in the checkout line I wrestled with the decision to spend a few dollars on a sandwich at the local deli. I berated myself with questions like “Why didn’t I pack a lunch?” or “Why didn’t I remember to bring my thermos full of water?”
Every six months I would sit down and review our expenses and balk at my husband as I reviewed the food categories. “How did we spend thousands of dollars on lunches?”
I came up with ways to save. I started packing all of my snacks and drinks. Then moved on to packing leftovers and sandwiches, but after a week or so of following the frugal rules I would fall off the bandwagon.
Now that I stay home with my son I understand why I couldn’t stick with brown bagging it. It is those lunches that I miss more than just about any other aspect of the working day.
Sitting at corner tables in dimly lit restaurants my co-workers and I would complain about management, discuss the latest news and catch up on stories about our boyfriends, husbands, wives and families. I miss the camaraderie and companionship that we shared in those moments.
For the first six years of my career I worked in D.C. My office was within walking distance to a bunch of restaurants and metro accessible to many more. Regardless of the weather my co-workers and I would venture out to grab a bite to eat together.
Since I decided to stay home with my son a lot of people ask me if I miss work. While I don’t miss the hour-by-hour tasks that make up a work day I do miss eating lunch with my co-workers.
I can remember so many specific meals and the people I shared them with. There was the time my 50 year old co-worker told me that I was taking work too seriously. As a 25 year old I wanted to prove my worth and my talent. He told me one day I would have children and leave the working world behind. He said all my desires to ‘be right’ were being wasted, that work wasn’t that important and that once I was gone no would care. He was right on so many counts, but at the time I was to naive to see or understand them.
There was the time my coworker and I talked about her desire to have children, the man she hoped to marry and the dreams she had for their future. She emptied her heart over slices of pizza and it saddens me to know they are now divorced and childless.
Or how about my friend who told me she was coming to terms with the fact that her young son was dying of cancer. I can remember that moment as if I am reliving it right now. As we sat eating tacos on a sunny spring afternoon I wanted to console her, but struggled to find the words to do so.
Those lunches cost me a few dollars here and a few dollars there, but despite long hours, days, weeks and years in the office those lunches are the most memorable.
It’s just another reminder that life is not about saving money. It’s about connecting with the people around you, even when forming those connections means spending a little bit. Those moments may have emptied my pockets, but they certainly filled my soul.
It seems kind of crazy to think that I haven’t driven to an office in over a year and a half. In November of 2011 I held my newborn son and simultaneously waited for my severance check to arrive. My unexpected layoff and associated severance package was a blessing, but I still wasn’t prepared for life without work.
I interviewed and accepted a new job just weeks after learning about the elimination of my position. I’ve received steady paychecks since the age of 15 and couldn’t imagine a life without them. I worked out a deal to begin the new position six months after the birth of my son, but from the moment I accepted the offer I struggled with my desire to stay home full time. A month or so before the new job was set to begin I reversed my decision.
I know I made the right choice. The past year and a half has been a magical journey and I feel both fortunate and grateful for the opportunity to stay home with my son.
But now that I’ve been home for so long I wonder if I shouldn’t make a plan to return to work. Initially I planned to stay home for six months, which quickly turned into a year and a half. It’s been nearly eighteen months since my son arrived and I am still home with him. Now I wonder how much longer I’ll be here.
My son was born in October and in our state he can’t start kindergarten until after he turns five. If I wait until he’s school age I’ll be out of the workforce for almost six years.
I started thinking about this while I was walking around the neighborhood. Pushing the stroller on a beautiful spring day I thought, “six years seems like an unbelievably long time to be out of work,” so I asked my husband for his opinion and was quite surprised by his response. He said, “I assumed you would never go back to work.”
I can tell you that I never considered a future in which I would not return to work. So after I stopped laughing at his response I asked him if he was serious. When he said he most definitely was I asked him for more details.
Here are his thoughts:
- My son won’t start kindergarten for another four and a half years.
- If I got pregnant with another child, (the jury is still out on that decision), and I decide to stay home until he or she starts school you can easily add on another couple of years.
- In a little over nine years we will own both of our homes outright.
- If we include additional principal payments we could pay off our primary home within seven and a half years.
- Once our primary home is paid off we could apply the money we previously spent on our mortgage to pay off principal on our beach home. That would decrease the life of that mortgage by at least one year.
- By the time both of our houses are paid off our monthly expenses, (due to the lack of mortgage payments), will drop dramatically.
- Without a mortgage our rental home would finally return a profit or at least break even.
- If all goes well, the market remains high, my husband’s business flourishes and our investments continue to do well we will have a healthy sum of money in our bank accounts.
I certainly never considered a future in which I didn’t need to work, but now that my husband mentioned it my mind is swimming with possibilities. Rather than searching for a high paying job in a very lonely cubicle I could find a position that I really enjoy. If things move according to plan I could do just about anything.
I’m not sure how we will proceed as the years pass by. I always question prepaying mortgages during a time with low interest rates and you never know how the market will perform as time progresses, but I must say it’s nice to think about a life in which I don’t need to work anymore.
Now that I stay home with my son a lot of people ask me if I miss my old job. I answer them honestly. I do miss the problem solving aspects of writing code and I certainly miss my interactions with co-workers. (Well the ones I liked anyway.) But the truth is I knew my passion for work was over long before my last day.
When I started working for my former company I enjoyed an easy 25 minute commute. I was young and eager, (only 21), and had a lot to prove to myself. I spent many long nights working from home. This wasn’t expected or required. In fact, most of my coworkers had a hard and fast 9-to-5 rule. I was new to programming, (having been an English major in college), and I was fascinated by the very nature of computer science. My excitement and my desire to succeed spurred me on.
The world of an English major is very subjective, but in the world of computers a program either words or it doesn’t. It was the type of validation I didn’t know I needed, but once I received a taste I craved it more and more.
Six years after I started working I fell ill and stepped out of the workforce for five months to recover from an unexpected surgery. When I returned I found my passion for work had greatly faded. I suffered from a large pulmonary embolism that could have taken my life and from that point on work just never seemed quite as important to me.
My days at work ebbed and flowed. Sometimes I fell into old patterns of working long after hours. I got excited and intrigued by new technologies and difficult problems. Heck, even on my “lazy days” I seemed to work harder than the majority of my coworkers. I sat next to a man who did little to no work and read the newspaper from cover-to-cover each day.
Shortly after recovering from surgery my employer relocated my office. While my coworkers boxed up their belongings to move to the new office I started taking things home. At first it was just some books and training materials, but later it was personal artifacts like pictures. I took one or two items each day and on the day I transferred offices I had only one and a half boxes to take with me.
My 25 minute, 8 mile commute became a 30 mile, 1 1/2 hour nightmare. When I moved into my new cubicle I didn’t unpack. Another sign that I had little desire to be there. Every so often I looked inside of one of the boxes and dragged another item home.
I endured that long commute for nearly five years, before finally relocating to an office closer to home. While I returned to a shorter commute I felt more miserable than ever.
I tried to throw myself into work, but by that point I had lost all interest in the job at hand. I still gave 110%, but it was hard to muster up any excitement. My new office was lonely, my team was located in multiple places and on most days I didn’t talk to anyone other than my manager, on some days I didn’t even talk to him.
Again I started taking things home, (I’d only moved half-a-box here from my former location), and by the time I was handed a pink slip, (not for my lack of effort, but rather because my entire department was obliterated), I had almost nothing left to carry home.
My heart hadn’t been in my job for quite a long time. I endured years of poor management and poor decision making. Whenever I tried to do things the ‘right’ way I was told to sit quietly. The managers I worked for praised those who were quiet and incompetent. I didn’t fit the bill for either.
I can honestly say that I do not miss my former job. In retrospect I believe I simply wasn’t a good fit for the company that employed me. I stayed because they paid me well, provided outstanding benefits and permitted telework.
This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t be happy at another place of employment. I’m sure I could find a job that would be a much better match for me. But as for the question at hand, I can honestly say I do not miss my job. I knew my passion for it was over long before it ended.
Okay, here’s a question for you. If you work in an industry or job you don’t particularly love, but your spouse works in one they truly enjoy do you ever feel resentful? As a software developer I often worked with men who were the primary breadwinners for their family. They worked long days in less then enjoyable jobs because the pay was high and the benefits were stable. In the mean time their wives worked in lower paying fields that they enjoyed. Some of those men seemed downright miserable and others grew to resent the ‘easier,’ more ‘enjoyable’ life they believe their wives led.
Similarly I’ve known quite a few women who want their husbands to earn more then they do. A few of them resented spouses who couldn’t bring in larger paychecks and a couple who were divorced as a result of it.
As a stay-at-home mom a lot of other women now ask me if my decision to leave the workforce was made jointly with my husband. (The answer is: “of course it was”.) The follow up question is often whether or not that is working out for me and whether my husband has grown resentful of our decision.
I’ve been asked the question often enough that I’ve started to wonder how many husbands and wives feel resentful of their spouses choice of career or lack of one. If you trudge off to work every morning feeling miserable about your job I can see how you might feel resentful of a spouse who enjoys their occupation.
For a few years I made more than my husband, for a few we earned relatively similar salaries and for the last five or so my husband earned significantly more than me, but I still earned a very nice salary. Until I decided to stay home our salaries and earning potential were never an issue. Similarly my husband earned more and enjoyed it more too, so happiness wasn’t really a factor either.
I wonder how many spouses are resentful of their spouse’s lack of income or resent their spouse’s work/life satisfaction. Until now I never gave it much thought, but a couple people have asked me about it, so it must be an issue for some.
This post was my final submission for the GoBankingRates Personal Finance Olympics. The contest ended a few weeks ago but the winners will not be announced until FinCon 2012. (I’m pretty certain I came in last place in the finals, but hey it was still nice to make it that far. Thanks to all of those who voted to get me there.)
You can say it any number of ways; I was given the boot, handed a pink slip, terminated, sacked, axed, canned or dismissed. On a warm summer afternoon I received notice of my fate and in the fall of last year I was officially laid off. Three-quarters of my entire department also received pink slips including my manager and all of his direct reports.
The people who chose to cut me didn’t know me. They couldn’t tell you if I was talented or incompetent, strong or weak. They had no knowledge of my skills or abilities. They had no idea that I started this job just after college or that I often worked twelve to fourteen hours learning my trade and proving my worth. I’m sure they didn’t know that I received stellar yearly reviews or that I was assigned complicated work.
What did they know? They knew that the recession dramatically altered the landscape of our business. In 2007 my company’s stock plummeted from $60 a share to less than a buck. My pension was frozen and my benefits were cut.
A series of layoffs moved swiftly through various divisions and departments. One-day security guards filed in and employees filed out. It was clear that layoffs would continue, but I thought my drive, determination and effort would save me from the cuts.
I thought 12 years of hard work for the same employer would pay off. While my friends switched companies every few years I stayed put. My company could have cared less about my loyalty; I was just a number. I was one of hundreds cut.
In interviews I quickly learned that loyalty is no longer an admirable quality. An HR representative said, “Wow, 12 years with the same company, that’s tough” and a career coach told me to “downplay the length of time I spent working there.” Some interviewers said I was not well rounded despite the fact that my technical background was quite diverse. When I pointed out my technical merits people said “Hmm, yes, but in your entire career you’ve only really worked at one place.”
These days it seems an employee is measured by the number of companies listed on their resume. While job-hopping isn’t necessarily the goal employers do want to see at least a few companies under one’s belt. If you stay in one place for too long you are seen as less adventurous, motivated and ambitious.
It’s easy to see why the perception has changed. There are a lot of employees who stay in the same job, performing the same tasks week after week. They have no desire to learn new things or expand their talents. This wasn’t the case for me, but perhaps those employees have given the rest of us, (loyal employees), a bad rap.
It seems the very nature of employee/employer relationships has changed. In a world where most companies offer 401(k)s rather than pensions there is simply no need to stick around in one place. Switching companies allows you to explore new opportunities and get faster pay raises. It can also help you learn new skills and broaden your network.
In this economy job-hopping might feel a bit like walking a tight rope. You don’t want to be viewed as someone who never moves around and you don’t want to be viewed as someone who moves around too much. It can be difficult to find the right balance. Employers are looking for individuals who aren’t afraid to try new things or learn new skills, but be aware that companies aren’t keen on hiring employees who never stay put.
I’m sure there is a magic formula for when to stay and when to go. I’ve read that you should wait at least two years before moving on to a new job and shouldn’t ever stay at one place for more than seven. There was a time when it was best to be loyal and a time when it was okay to job-hop. These days I think you have to walk the fine line. You also have to look carefully before you leap.
Interestingly enough it was my desire to look for new opportunities that cost me my job. I switched positions within my company just 90 days before I was laid off.
On Monday J.D. of Get Rich Slowly wrote a post called Burgers or Blogging? Further Thoughts on Pursuing Your Passion. In it he points out that even a “dead-end job can be fun, meaningful and fulfilling under the right circumstances.” While I’ve never worked at a dead-end job I can attest to the fact that an often boring and spiritually unfulfilling job should never be looked down upon. These days a lot of bloggers write about becoming rich off their blogs. They dream of a world where they can wake up in their pajamas and write when they are inspired. I for one think there should be more praise for the guy, (or gal), who works nine-to-five. I don’t think people give enough credit to the value a boring, even spiritually unfulfilling job can provide.
I worked for twelve years as a software developer. While I was initially interested in the problem solving aspects of this role I found it quite difficult to spend the majority of my working hours staring at a computer. Unlike your stereotypical nerd I prefer the company of humans to those of machines. My favorite projects were those that required a significant amount of collaboration and teamwork; projects where we spent days and weeks discussing the best designs and tweaking our plans along the way. I’d like to think that most of my days were spent working in this manner, but as the years went by I actually found myself working on more isolated applications, which meant I spent more time staring at a computer and less time interacting with others. (This was more a factor of the company I worked for than the career itself.)
So why didn’t I leave that job for something I felt more passionate about? The answer is simple… I earned a six figure salary from that gig.
I realize this is not an option for everyone. I realize that a lot of people make a lot less money and so they are willing to dump their day job for something they are more passionate about. If you can make the same salary pursuing your passion than I see no reason to remain in your boring day job, but if you make a lot of money I see no reason to leave it all behind.
Working at that boring, spiritually unfulfilling job enabled me to purchase three properties and still save a significant amount of money each month. (It didn’t hurt that my husband earned an equivalent amount). With that money in the bank I now have the option of staying home with my son.
By pursuing my passion I may have been happier to go to work, but I wonder if I would’ve been happier overall. I have a lot of friends who make very little in their spiritually fulfilling jobs. While they enjoy their work they are often stressed by their financial situations. That stress carries over into every aspect of their lives particularly their home life and marriages.
It’s important to realize that sometimes the money from a day job can help you live the life you really want. I don’t mean wasting your money on things you don’t need, but rather spending money wisely to pursue your interests and passions. In fact, with money in the bank the possibilities can expand to things you never dreamed of. Initially you may have to pursue your passions at night or on the weekends, but one day you may wake up and realize you can focus your attention on the things you truly love.
Just my two cents… What do you think?
My mom always knew she wanted a family. It was her one hope and dream growing up as a child. When my brother was born she knew without a shadow of a doubt that she would stay home to raise him. When I came along she continued the trend and stayed home for a total of twelve years. She returned to work when I turned nine.
My mom was never particularly good in school and had quite low self-esteem, which made it difficult to find a high paying job after graduating from high school. Throughout her working career she never made much money.
When I asked her about the decision to stay home with my brother and I she said it was a no-brainer. In essence, she and my father knew her salary would barely cover the cost of day care.
They carried health insurance and other benefits through my dad’s job and my mom didn’t particularly enjoy her work, so there was really no benefit in her dropping us off at daycare.
When I told her that I was considering staying at home she asked if my six figure salary made it a tougher decision. Interestingly enough I never considered the weight of my salary on my decision until she asked me.
The decision to stay-at-home is almost entirely emotional for me. An extremely low salary may make the decision easy, but above a certain threshold I’m not certain what difference a higher paying salary really makes.
If I made $50,000 would it be easier to stay home than if I made $100,000? I’m going to have to think about this for awhile, but off the top of my head I’m going to say no. It’s more a question of desire and affordability.
If we can’t pay the bills with my husband’s income then I’m not sure if it makes a difference if I earn $50,000 or $100,000. At the end of the day I would need to go to work to pay the bills. Similarly if I loved my job it might not matter how much I made either. The fulfillment of work might be all that I wanted regardless of salary.
Still I thought it was an interesting question and one I wouldn’t have thought about if my mom hadn’t asked me about it.
My job officially ended with my former company in November of last year. In early December I received my last paycheck and on the last day of 2011 I received my severance payout. As each of these events transpire I feel the book officially closing on my previous employment.
I believe yesterday marked the final chapter as I withdrew the money in my retirement plan in preparation for a 401(k) rollover. After twelve years of saving my final tally borders $275,000.
Better market conditions may have resulted in a larger sum, but I still think that’s a pretty decent chunk of change. It proves two things to me. First, that I didn’t miss the money that was automatically deposited into my 401(k) each month and second that saving small amounts of money month after month really adds up.
Seeing this number in black and white makes me a little more confident about my (possible) decision to stay home for a couple of years. I won’t add more money, (or at least not a significant amount), to my retirement accounts while I’m out of work, but the money that is already in my account can certainly grow. I also have money in a Roth IRA that I opened the year after I graduated from college.
In fact, based on a few quick calculations at a 4% rate of return my investments could be worth as much as $1 million by the time I’m ready to retire at age 60. That’s $1 million without saving another dime. Of course, I don’t plan to be out of the workforce forever, so I would certainly start saving again at some point in the not so distant future.
I haven’t made any final decisions about returning to work, but reviewing the numbers makes me feel much more confident about the possibility of staying home. One of my fears is that today’s decisions will impact tomorrow’s goals. Looking at these numbers I feel more confident that one decision will not dramatically impact another.