Don’t Let Your Job Feel Like Drudgery

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 cried.

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.

10 thoughts on “Don’t Let Your Job Feel Like Drudgery”

  1. Long before the FIRE movement gained so much traction, I had similar thoughts: make the most of the jobs you’ve got now and make them better if you can. I did that for each job and when I couldn’t move the needle on changes needed, I chose to leave for the next job after a few years.

    I’m glad I did that throughout my relatively short career but I do feel a pull to stop being part of the workforce overall, and to stop having to fight so much every time we start a new phase. I know we’re going to keep having new firsts but I don’t have that overwhelming desire for it to be through our work anymore.

    • I think it’s natural for most people to want to step away from the workforce if no other reason then to control their own time. I think it’s interesting though how many people are running away from work and not really running towards anything. While you have to work you might as well try to make the most of it. That doesn’t mean you’ll love it, but it can help you through the long days. I hope to write more about this soon.

  2. What a great perspective from someone who was immersed in this online space long before MMM got millions of page views. I DO love my job (most of the time anyway) and it kills me that somehow reaching financial independence as early as possible makes people endure awful job situations for way too Longmont.

    • I think a lot of people are miserable and can’t seem to find a way to make their jobs more rewarding. You might not love everything about what you do, but a lot of times you can guide your daily tasks into more enjoyable ones or even find ways to enjoy the ones you can’t avoid. So many people want to escape, but I wonder how often they try to make their current situation better. You never know what you can do if you don’t try.

  3. Honestly, yes! I just got hired as an editorial assistant for a magazine, and I’m always looking for spare projects at work. Because the more I jump in and work, the more I’m noticed, and I’m hoping that will lead to a staff writer position (which is my current aspiration). I don’t love all of the work that I do, certainly… But throwing myself into a bunch of different projects has really helped me get the most out of the 8 hours I spend in the office!

    • In my experience that is the best thing you can do. The more you step up to the plate the more you will be noticed. And the more often you say “yes” to jobs other people don’t want to do the quicker you will climb the ladder. I love that you have aspirations to acquire a different position all while making the most of the one you are currently in. Thanks for the comment!

  4. I found myself in a position this year when I felt the same about my job. I decided I would do what it took to create a better sense of wellbeing in my work culture. I created themed bake off contests and ran a kill them with kindness week. Totally outside my job description but tasks that gave me much personal enjoyment – and were good for others!

    • I couldn’t agree with you more on this. My husband went to work and made affirmation cookies in the toaster oven. A coworker could say something else nice about another coworker and provide that feedback directly to him or her along with a warm chocolate chip cookie. It boosted morale tremendously! Good for you for finding ways to make your job more enjoyable.

  5. It’s also important to understand the connection between our money and our job.

    Your job probably means many different things to you; however the core purpose of our job is basically to earn enough money so we can do the things we most value and are important to us.

    What’s important to you is like opening Pandora’s Box, however in short the academic community has concluded that happiness is attainable though a continuous combination of friendships, freedom, health, financial security, privacy, a life philosophy and a purpose.

  6. I suppose the question is whether or not your job can provide some happiness. For example can you seek and find friendships, philosophy and purpose through your profession? At first glance the answer may be “no”, but if you dig deep enough and try really hard to look past the every day chores you may find more happiness than you realized was possible.Thanks for the comment.


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