In my youth I never considered super early retirement. My dad retired in his early fifties and as a twenty-two year old joining the workforce that seemed young enough to me. I would put a solid twenty-five to thirty years into my career and then I’d quit just like he did.
I started my career in the summer after graduation. My offer letter lists my salary at $32,000.
The personal finance community has changed a lot in the thirteen years since I began blogging. In the beginning people wrote about increasing their income and savings, but very few wrote about the quest for early retirement. And as a forty-one year old I find the shift in idea and sentiment absolutely fascinating.
In my parents generation people often worked at miserable jobs day in and day out until social security took over. They may have complained about their jobs but they all woke up each day and went to work. Even if they saved their money I’m not sure how many folks in my parent’s generation considered leaving the workforce. (Now that’s a survey I would love to see!)
So why the sudden desire to exit the workforce at an early age? I hear a lot of folks bellyaching about their work. They want to find more interesting work. They want to have a greater impact on the world. They want to stick it to the man. Those are all great reasons to exist the workforce, but in between now and retirement you still have to go to work each day. Do you spend your days complaining and ticking off the days on your calendar or do you search for ways to make work life better?
Many people are unsatisfied with their jobs and their roles within the organizations they work in. Now I know a lot of employees can’t change the companies they work for, but how many people actually try to change their work environment?
After graduation a large financial institution hired me to work in their IT department. I was originally tasked to work in Quality Assurance. I was assigned to a team that wrote code and I would write test cases and try to break whatever they wrote.
A month or two into the process I was unsatisfied with my work. I went to the manager of the software development team and asked him if I could write code too. I was trained to write software, but I had never written a lick of it in the real world.
I was young and eager and my manager must have seen the spark behind my request. I wanted to accomplish more complex tasks then QA would allow me. I wanted to put my training to use. My manager assigned me to a mentor and provided me with a relatively menial task. I put everything I had into those first few bits of code. I was proud of my accomplishment and shared it with my mentor. A man who proceeded to rip my ideas and my code to shreds.
I didn’t sob or throw a fit, but I walked away, stepped into the bathroom and let tears stream down my face. My mentor was a jerk, but I quickly found that software developers are a cocky bunch, and if I wanted to write more code I’d have to follow his lead. I did and I never went back to QA.
I was hired at the same time as ten other recent graduates and I quickly linked up with another ten who had graduated the year before. I cannot tell you how many of those folks were miserable in their jobs.
I didn’t love all of the aspects of my job, but I found ways to enjoy it more than everyone else I knew. My friends were bored at work and took three hour lunches. They didn’t seek out extra assignments or go above and beyond the call of duty.
I did just the opposite. I offered to onboard all of the contractors that were assigned to our team, I forged relationships with those in production support and QA. I wrote documents to help others understand the code we wrote and made certain to keep in constant communication with our business partners so they knew I cared about their projects.
When we had down time between software releases I would discuss new features with our business partner, track down old bugs or revamp technology no one else realized was outdated.
During one particularly long draught I created an entire project for myself. I taught myself how to write batch scripts and converted text files to XML that could be manipulated through a UI.
I went above and beyond and as a result I received the maximum raises consistently for many years. I was promoted faster than any of my counterparts, but most importantly I found satisfaction in my job.
I certainly didn’t love everything I had to do, but the majority of my friends did absolutely nothing to further their careers, which only made them more disgruntled when they didn’t receive raises or promotions.
A lot of FIRE proponents say they want to retire early. Some want to leave their jobs in search of more meaningful or enjoyable work, but I wonder how many of them have tried to make their current work better.
Over the years I found that my job satisfaction was highest when I performed work outside of my work duties. While my coworker sat at his desk reading the newspaper and taking three hour lunches I would dig into the code and look for ways to enhance our software.
I know that many folks are miserable, but I wonder how many try to make their situation better. How many people want to leave the workforce because they come in, do the minimum amount of work required and go home?
I reached financial independence by exceeding expectations year after year. I might not have been in love with the company I worked for or the managers I reported to, but I quickly found ways to craft my job around tasks that I did enjoy.
Even if you plan to retire early you’ll still need to spend many years earning money in your current career. Rather than counting down the days until you can walk out the door forever why not figure out ways to make each day a little bit better?
Try not to look at work with such drudgery. Try to alter your work experiences into something enjoyable and if your current position is truly awful look for a new one. Who knows maybe your next job will be one you don’t want to leave.