Nothing to Do
I promised way back when I started the Job Experience series that there would be boredom in my future.
Well, it’s arrived.
Up until now, I’d worked at what could best be described as a breakneck pace. I went in to work early, frequently stayed late, went to meetings during lunch hours, cranked on stretch goals in the evenings, responded to after-hours calls, and contributed to projects that could only be implemented on weekends.
But once StartupVille lays off most of the sales division and begins to focus exclusively on the sale of the company, my work slows to a trickle.
To be fair to myself, I should report that there’s still work to do in the form of tickets and problems that our current customer base opens. StartupVille’s software product remained fundamentally sound, and our users continued to bang away at it, occasionally requiring help when they run into bugs or wanted to do some outside-of-the-box style configuration under the explicit guidance of their vendor.
Still, this work only takes perhaps fifteen or twenty hours a week on average. And averages being what they are, this means that some weeks are completely full — forty hours a week of support work — while others are dead. D-E-A-D, I tell you.
This means, for the first time in my life, I have weeks where I go into the office, sit at my desk, check my email, realize I have nothing to do, and then dazedly walk around the building wondering why I bothered to come in that day.
In Year 9, I fought against this idleness. On the slower days, I’d go talk to my manager and ask for extra tasks. Sometimes he’d ask me to help the QA team look into an issue, or talk to an engineer about some enhancement they were working on. I even set up my own development environment and made some additions of my own to the product.
But over time, I stopped coming up with my own stretch goals. It wasn’t because I was bored working on them — there was more to it than that. Instead, I had a pervasive sense that any and all work I make up to do on my own is purposeless and utterly without meaning. I felt something along the lines of: Why bother trying to improve the product at this point? Either our executive team is going to manage to sell StartupVille or they’re not. There’s no real impact or value to anything I do outside of taking care of the current customer base.
I started to notice something, too. When I walked around the office, most people had browser windows open on their computers. And the sites they were viewing were not work related at all. It was a mixture of mainstream news sites, sports reporting, fark, reddit, and youtube. A few people were watching full movies — netflix had recently started their streaming service. To further waste time, lunches were expanded to fill two hours.
By Year 10, I had joined them in learning how to waste time at work.
It might be the quickest thing to pick up I’ve ever learned. Within a week, I was a pro.
Like I said, by the middle of that year, I’d been doing very little at the office for months. In the process, I learned something important about myself.
I don’t need work at all to make me happy.
I’d always suspected it, but here was the proof: I was happier during the weeks when I had nothing to do as compared to the weeks that I had a reasonable thirty or thirty five hours of work. Hell, I was happier doing nothing than I was even working for just an hour a day.
Some people are going to read that and think that I’m lazy, or I just didn’t sufficiently believe in The Cause of StartupVille to derive satisfaction from my work. Satisfaction would result in happiness, these types of folks are sure to argue. I should have looked for a place I believed in, so I could support their mission, which would make my drive return.
Or maybe I hate what I do. (I don’t, but it’d be reasonable for folks to conclude this, given much of the content of this blog.) If you hate what you do, then of course you want to avoid it at all costs. But if you like it, then it stands to reason that you should want to do some of that function every day. (Wrong again. I don’t find computer related tasks inherently unpleasant. Sometimes they’re even interesting, and they certainly make time go by faster. Still, I felt no particular drive to do work if I didn’t have to.)
Look, I know that for a lot of people, finding a cause you believe in is sufficient motivation to work. This is how things work internally for a lot of people, but for better or worse, it doesn’t appear to be how I’m wired. I’m not sure I believe in any so-called causes other than personal freedom and being loving and respectful of others and the environment. Personally, I found plenty of satisfaction to be had in life from spending time with my girlfriend, working on my house, cooking a good dinner, exercising hard, and being social with coworkers/family/friends. Work just seemed to complicate my pursuit of genuine life satisfaction.
On a related note, not having any real work to do not only didn’t negatively impact me but also resulted in an increase in energy outside of work.
During the day, I’d think about what cool stuff I could do when I got home, and looked forward to it. Prior to this period of office malaise, my evening dreams were simpler: dinner, an hour of television, a video game, maybe some reading.
But now, I’d step into my house every night at five twenty or so, practically bouncing off walls from the amount of juice left — and it wasn’t just physical energy, it was mental. I wanted to start big projects and go out to see shows or people watch or hit a local museum, whatever. During this period of time I started to practice guitar in earnest, consistently building up speed and accuracy while simultaneously learning music theory.
I also started bringing books into the office. There were a few unused offices toward the back of our facility and I could sneak into one of them and read for twenty minutes, a couple of times a day.
Occasionally I felt like I was stealing from the company by not giving it my all, but on the other hand I realized that I was doing a reasonably good job by simply not quitting, showing up for work every day, and staying optimistic i.e. buttressing team morale.
To this day, it’s a little difficult for me to understand people who say that they need more to do at work because they can’t stand being bored. Be creative. Find new ways to deploy your time in ways that work to your advantage. Learn a new skill or do some reading or go chat it up with someone you haven’t talked to in a while and see what they’re up to, or heck, do nothing at all. (Doing nothing is criminally underrated, IMO.)
This train of thought leads me to ask an honest question to folks: Is boredom really so bad that you’d prefer to work instead?
I feel almost ashamed to admit these sorts of things about myself because, like all good office-workers, I’ve been conditioned to reflexively tell people that I like working hard and challenges and commitment.
But those reflexive answers don’t change my personal truth. Privately, I’ll take boredom over work every single time.
Getting a taste of a significantly reduced workload is whetting my appetite for never having to work again.
I know that all I need to do is a) keep my spending rate down b) continue to sock away money in the market c) stay the course in terms of asset allocations and index investments and d) be patient, i.e. wait the years out.
But the years are taking forever. There are days when I go into the office thinking: Really? I have to do this shit again? And again the next day? And then the next one after that, to close out the week, followed by another week of the same, and another year, followed by another year, and so on?
I know this is whiny, and a total first world problem. And I know that I have it (life) so very good at this point. I mean, I don’t work that hard, I’m paid a good salary, and I have virtually no conflict in the office. It’s a cupcake job — the sort of thing people dream about. And still, on a day to day basis, I found myself hoping to be rid of employment altogether.
The only solution for this I found was to distract myself — to intentionally find something else to do so that I didn’t focus consciously on the boredom.
Because after all, boredom at StartupVille was infinitely better than the alternatives. I had recent examples at Software+FinancialCompanies which served as constant reminders.
Still, there were days when I considered just walking out of the office and saying goodbye to everything. Not surprisingly, these urges increased when the weather was nice and I caught myself thinking about laying on the grass and losing track of time altogether as the hours washed over me.
Hi, I love your writing and this blog is rapidly becoming one of my favourites. I am glad I am not alone in enjoying doing *nothing* and liking pottering about. It’s very difficult to explain to people though. That’s why some blogs etc are a bit of a refuge in a crazy consumerist world. Please keep writing… You are very good at it.
Thanks for the kind words. It *is* hard to explain that you’re okay with doing very little and just enjoying being alive without work or too many other distractions. A lot of people have trouble with this idea. For years I tried fairly hard to pretend that I liked working and being ultra busy but, truth is, I really don’t. (God knows I’ve had my share of years where I did nothing but work… glad that’s just about over.) Keep up the “pottering” – that makes me happy.
I can relate to your comment about being judgmental about other people who are not as financially saavy. I have found myself constantly internally judging my coworkers and friends, even more so as I become closer to FI, and it makes me feel like a toxic person. Maybe this is just part of my personality that I have to live with and try to keep under control.
Right, I frequently wish I could turn that part of me off (the judging.) The best I’ve found I can do is a) catch myself thinking these thoughts and b) intentionally push them aside and continue to pay attention to the moment. It’s very difficult to make this level of awareness go away entirely. Fact is, you’re an expert in personal finance, and experts in any field can’t help but notice details in their areas of focus — whether they want to or not. All of that being said, it can get in the way of relationships sometimes. Might be one of the very few negative aspects of FIRE.
Sorry to hear about the infertility woes. We’re not even in the same category (having children should be possible–with assistance), but it was still very disappointing and frustrating. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have no control whatsoever 😦
My sister in law has two children (boys), and we’re spending a lot of time with them. It’s not a perfect substitute for having some of our own, but they’re pretty awesome to hang around. Sorry about your own challenges in this area – it sounds like you have options to explore, which is encouraging.
Wow, what a bizarre situation waiting out the startup company’s survival/failure… I was on a sinking ship (along with my husband, who I met at work) and we both bailed after a certain point. They were discussing outsourcing our main work to India (with disastrous results, I might add) and I broke down and jumped ship shortly before it got to that point, but the husband held on for almost 2 before finding a better place… and the company was dissolved within 6 months after he’d left. We weren’t FI at that point, so not really much choice, but it does make me wonder if we’d have stayed and rode it down if we had been FI. I heard that there was a nice little severance package – but only about a month’s worth of pay, so not enough incentive to hang on.
And the kid thing. Been there, done that, and still beyond angry at the fact that we can’t have children. And punch-in-the-gut bonus – blew lots of money in the process of just trying. Much sympathy and empathy for you and your wife.
Hey FG. I’m really sorry to hear about your own, as you put it, ‘kid thing’ troubles. I don’t think you ever really get over it — you eventually just learn to deal with the disappointment. Re: outsourcing, I find it interesting how many frustrating experiences overlap between jobs and industries. I know that it saves companies money, but there’s a significant cost in terms of morale, productivity, and service. It was smart of you to leave when you did. Just another reason to want to achieve FI, so you no longer have to worry about your current company pulling the same moves and putting your job at risk. FI means your job != your survival, which is a rare and awesome achievement. From what I understand, you’re practically there.
I love that discussion you had with your manager about your stash. I recently had a conversation with one of my coworkers that went like this.
Coworker: So how long could you last if you lost your job?
Me: Well it’s hard to say….if I cut way back, maybe two possibly two and a half……..
The expression on people’s face is always same….total confusion. I just smile inside and carrying on with my day.
There was not one part of that conversation I didn’t like.
Have you considered adoption or fostering? Just curious.
I am miserable – depressed, want to set the place on fire miserable – when there’s nothing to do at work. I HATE standing around and pretending to work, partly because it’s usually just busy enough my bosses will bitch if, gasp, I talk with another co worker. Fuck retail.
Can you tell I love my job?
Sorry work sucks to that extent. Prior to landing office-jobs, I worked retail in spurts through high school and college, and being idle in that sort of environment is definitely more difficult. In some jobs, you can, in the privacy of your cube, fritter away time. But I still remember in retail that if there’s nothing to do you still need to stand around on the floor and wait. This makes time pass agonizingly slowly. Totally feel your pain. Re: adoption, not seriously, no. The truth is we spend most free weekends with my SIL and kids (our nephews) and somehow that helps a lot — two adorable boys, 6 and 8 now, old enough to play foursquare with, young enough to not yet be embarrassed about hanging out with an aunt and uncle 🙂
I got a good chuckle from your reference to playing Four Square with your nephews. (Though maybe you are referring to some app?) At the risk of revealing my online identity, I can say that I was Four-Square champ for two days one summer at the youth center growing up. You likely heard of me. 🙂
Just to confirm how loyal livingafi was to StartupVille, I will let the readers know that we used to hang out pretty often during this period (and still do). Since I have kids we would stay in most of the time. I remember a night when StartupVille was in its death throes. LoyalEmployee already knew that the sale to Mega was done and didn’t tell me. I work at Mega, doing something unrelated, but still I was surprised that he could keep it in. The next morning I checked Y! And saw the news that the acquisition occurred.
I should mention too that I worked at SoftwareCompany as well. I started in 2004, right as livingafi was leaving. And just for completeness, my other option at the time was at FinancialCompany, so when that didn’t work out, I think you can guess who I passed that opportunity on to… To say the least I find the irony that we have hop-skipped jobs over 10 years remarkable, and pretty accidental. Given my similarity, it’s great to have a friend that is doing this. I am getting a free education (price of a couple beers, bought in NH). Glad to read these and see how things are moving along.
I love that you had such a positive impact on your manager. My husband also had Tea Time on his calendar for a while at his previous job – I think it did great things for morale to get together just to shoot the breeze.
I’m in a Do Nothing job now and it’s pretty sweet. I consider looking for a place closer to home once in a while (half an hour on Rte 3 and 128 each way) but there’s no way I could find something this cushy.
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Like thegoblinchief, working at a job with no work makes me depressed beyond belief. So drained and de-energized! Gah.
Anyways, I’m definitely enjoying passing the time by reading your blog. Thanks!!
Side note: not sure if you cover this later, but did you have a totally mustachian wedding, or did the union ding the bank account a little bit??
We spent about 2K on our wedding with thirty-ish people which is a decent amount per head — we kept costs down by instead being sure to not invite too many humans. Immediate family and inner circle friends only. She didn’t want a nice ring, though, so I saved money there. “Let’s buy a house with that money instead,” she said. That’s my kind of woman 😉
BTW, sorry to hear about your own job-related woes. Keep your head up, though, you’re on a path that will lead you out of this. And you can always look for other opportunities along the way. God knows I did.
Wow, well done! We spent $7k on a 50-people wedding (open bar – need I say more?) but with the generousity of our guests, ended up breaking even.
In four months I’m moving to a bigger city with more opportunity, so I’ll be into a new job soon enough 🙂 Your experiences definitely inspire me! Many thanks.