Strangely enough, practicing frugality can enhance both your earning power and your workplace satisfaction. Knowing that we live below our means and could easily live off only one of our salaries gave me the courage to step away from a job that was emotionally draining and unfulfilling.
It was a fine job, really. No one yelled at me, the pay was decent, with good benefits and a fine work/life balance. Expectations were low, and I could spend as much time as I wanted slacking off on personal finance forums. And that was the problem. There was no sense of accomplishment, no sense of fulfillment.
Right out of university I started off bright-eyed and idealistic, thinking I could help make the world a better place, but the culture did not reward that thinking. When I did what I considered to be “good work,” it was not recognized. I had honest conversations with management asking for feedback and guidance on how to get promoted and grow in my career, but every year the answer changed.
After years at the same job, I was burnt out. At the end of the day, I was exhausted, even though the day was only 8 hours long and spent mostly on the internet not doing work.
The date was set, beyond which I would simply quit if no other opportunity came around. With my deadline months away, I networked, searched, and edited my way through dozens of open positions. There were some promising interviews, along with some not-so-promising ones, but with one month to go, I had nothing solid. Yet I still gave notice to my manager and continued to search, almost wanting to be unemployed for a month or two, just to decompress.
I told close colleagues about my frustrations, and about what I was looking for, just as small talk and a way to vent. The thing about this process is that I got to spend a lot of time thinking about what I like, and what I’m good at, so these conversations got oddly specific.
Through a contact of a friend of a friend, I was able to get an interview with an absolutely amazing manager. With nothing to lose, and after doing a lot of introspection, I was able to clearly articulate what I wanted out of work – I was not in “interview mode,” spouting answers I felt they wanted to hear. After all, I could end up in the exact same sort of position if I was not careful.
Inspiring engineering manager (IEM): So what are you looking for in your next position?
Felicity: Well, I’d love an opportunity to work on a small team with clear, short-term goals and deliverables, where we interface with the customer and get to really understand their problems. As I’m new to [department’s technological focus], I’d like to work closely with a senior engineer who could serve as a mentor.
Inspiring engineering manager (IEM): So what interests you about [department’s technological focus]?
Felicity: It’s more about fixing inefficiencies for me, rather than getting deep into the technology itself. I can’t help but try to find the most streamlined solution, which frequently involves [department’s technological focus] and I get frustrated when I can’t change things to be more efficient. [story about toaster ovens (obviously)]
IEM: Hmmmm, very interesting. Tell me more.
Felicity: Ideally I’d get an opportunity to work with a variety of [company]’s customers, especially X, Y, and Z.
IEM: So would you be interested in talking with this senior engineer who focuses in customer-facing collaboration and communication? She’s starting to build a small team and is currently working with customer Y. The way you talk about efficiency and process makes me think of her.
Felicity: That sounds amazing!
I met with this senior engineer the next week, and we immediately started talking like old friends, extending our meeting from half an hour to almost two hours. Needless to say, I took the job.
Since the change, multiple friends have told me I’m smiling more. I’m happy, and as an unintentional side effect, even have greater earning power now since I changed to a more lucrative field. Money can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. Money can give you power and strength, and it can help you focus on what really matters in life.
Interestingly enough, the biggest potential impediment to my job search was our goal for early retirement. I mean, if it’s only for a few more years, why quit? It might not be any better elsewhere. It might even be worse! I could have been unemployed for months, years even! It’s not the healthiest job market, after all. I mean, how bad was it at my old position? Like I said, no one yelled at me, and I could goof around on the internet. I could even write posts for FFF.
Except…I couldn’t. Not really. When we say “financial freedom,” it’s a nerdy short for happiness. Worrying about money is depressing. But so is focusing solely on the accumulation of money. Is it worth it to suffer for four years at the expense of your mental and physical health, all for the promise of an early retirement that will magically make you happy?
No. It’s not.