Hello fellow $wanigans! Hope all is well. Today I have a few words of….warning (did you think I was going to say wisdom…you know better than to come to The Green Swan for words of wisdom…:)). And those words of warning relate to the career you choose. The punchline: tread lightly when considering that hard-charging career solely for the means of making more money…but let me explain.
That was me when I was entering the working world. I didn’t immediately fall into a job requiring lots of time, energy and stress…nor was it high paying. But a couple turns on my career journey has led me there…and not by accident.
It Wasn’t a Coincidence
In college, I entered the business school and pursued a finance degree in part because I knew it was a high paying field of study.
I was the type that came into the working world looking for the job and employer who was paying the most and had the best / easiest road to advancement and promotion.
I went back to school to get my MBA as a tool to help me take that next step in my career up the ladder, or perhaps allow me to start taking two steps at a time. I knew that I shouldn’t expect an automatic pay raise just because I now had an MBA, but if I were going to put the MBA to work for me then I would need to strike within one year from graduation.
Looking back I can say it was a resounding success. I completed the program in an expedited fashion in just 18 months. But those 18 months stretched through three fiscal years so I was able to take advantage of my employer’s annual $5,000 tuition reimbursement for three consecutive years! And within that first year of graduation I was able to take a couple steps up the ladder and increase my compensation nearly 60%.
I have always been the one to scour for the next opportunity. As soon as I received a promotion or landed a new job, I was already looking for the next one and what it would take to get there. While I have been constantly looking a few steps up the ladder, I’ve always been strategic in making the next move.
You know what…looking back on it now it is no surprise where those decisions have led me. Yes, a relatively higher paying job. But equally so, it led me to a very demanding job with a lot of hours, stress, limited flexibility, and lots of wear and tear. Should I be surprised?
Where do I find myself now?
Thinking about how much longer I can last. Thinking about how hard it is to take one or two steps down the ladder. Thinking about the nights and weekends away from my growing family. Thinking about delaying my plans to reach Financial Independence and Early Retirement even though I’m on the doorstep knocking.
The conclusion I’ve come to recently is that maybe there is a better road to travel somewhere in the middle. Something with more balance. Not entirely focused on money, but with greater focus on living and enjoying life along the journey.
Look at The Green Swan tag-line for goodness sake. Work harder, work smarter, retire earlier…can’t say it hasn’t worked. But was that the best path for me? Is it the best path for you?
You’ve probably heard before how the marginal increase of “happiness” that comes with a salary over $75,000 is minimal or meaningless. A year ago the cynic in me would say that the author of that study never made more than $75,000. But maybe there is something more to it…maybe I should have given it more than a passing thought.
True, a high income can cure many ills and allow an easier road to financial independence and early retirement.
Do I regret that path I’ve taken so far? Not necessarily. There have been bumps in the road, but that is unavoidable. The path has made me who I am today, it has provided well for the family and it in part defines my life. I can’t say I regret that.
The hard-charging career path has brought the consolation prize of the prospect of financial independence in my early- to mid-30s…it could be worse. I can live with myself and the decisions I’ve made.
I will tell you this though, I will have different advice to share with my kiddos. Maybe after all is said and done, that is the consolation prize. To be able to tell my kiddos to do as I say, not as I have done…I’m sure they’ll listen :).
Your Career is a Marathon, not a Sprint
Even if a hard-charging career will potentially lead to financial independence in your mid-30s, that is still a 15-year career. That is a marathon my friends!
I think anyone can endure anything on a temporary basis. Working 90 hour weeks or more chasing paper isn’t too bad if you only have to do it once a year, but if you are doing it once a month that may be a different story. When that makes up your 15-year career, you’ll be fried by the end!
Think about the long-term. Are the demands from your career sustainable for the long-haul?
Early Retirement Requires a High Income
Many folks emphasize the pursuit of a high income as a necessity. Take my good blogging buddy ESI as an example, which stands for Earn, Save, Invest. He has provided an outline of 7 Keys to Earning More. I’ve outlined them briefly below:
- Doing more than expected – A “go-along career” will result in “go-along raises”
- Be likeable – Get along with everyone, follow the golden rule
- Networking – Reach out first, invest in them first before asking for something
- Be Attractive – Dress nicer, pay attention to appearance, “date your career”
- Continue to learn and develop skills – Take more college classes, listen to podcasts, read, utilize internal company training programs
- Manage yourself – Develop emotional intelligence and soft skills, establish a system for over-performing, find a mentor
- Market yourself – To find a new job and get that big jump
No doubt this is great career advice which I myself have followed pretty closely. That advice has served my career well and I’m sure it will serve yours well also. After all, looking back at my ten year career now, my annual compensation has increased over 20% on average per year.
There are two other keys that I would add though in terms of :
- Find a career that fits your mentality and personality. If you aren’t doing something you enjoy or can at least tolerate then it isn’t sustainable. A successful career is built on sustainability. Picking a career based on income potential is not advisable.
- Your career is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself or you’ll burnout before the finish line. Striving for the extra mile is great, but grinding to the bone isn’t going to last.
These last two points are easier said than done and have evaded me. No surprise that I find myself in a career of over 10 years that I now see as unsustainable for myself.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t disagree with the importance of a high income at all. I would even go so far as saying that the “E” in ESI is the most important since the degree of “S” and the “I” are dependent on your “E”.
I’ll say it again; your career is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to find a pace that works to avoid burnout.
My caution stems from the point of going too far in finding that higher “E”. I’m reminded of the quote from Oscar Wilde:
“Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
Do what is comfortable, find a middle ground, have some moderation.
The end result is the paradox that high income leads to early retirement. From my perspective, it drives people to early retirement. It doesn’t lead them there t forces people to early retirement.
In that case, you better be saving a ton from your high income career because if not you’ll soon find yourself trapped in golden handcuffs with a nest egg too small to live on. You’ll be a high income earner with a salary too good to give up and necessary to fund your inflated lifestyle.
Look across the Early Retirement blogosphere and you’ll find plenty of examples, myself included.
“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded”
You may think I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth when I spout the benefits of stepping outside your comfort zone and the benefits of chasing paper. There are important points to be made each way and we all need to find our own balance. Part of it is just the natural evolution of life and priorities. Finding that balance is easier said than done, but knowing what I know now I would have paid more attention and given more credence to finding my right pace for career and life.
Everyone is different and needs to find their own way. Take this as just one man’s advice.
Thanks for taking a look!
The Green Swan
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