Follow Your Passion
Before we put on our heat-resistant protective clothing and dive into the pit of Hell, I want to get into the thought process behind taking this position a bit.
In my last post I explained that I’d found this company through my old manager, the guy I’d liked so much back at StartupVille.
But there was more to it than that. I wouldn’t take a new job because of just one person, no matter how well I liked him or her.
During my time with Mega, I started to wonder if the whole reason I wanted to FIRE was because I had been doing low-level technical work for most of my career. One of the basic assumptions I’ve held throughout my life is that management work isn’t all that much fun, and most people prefer the lower-level tasks because they’re more interesting and satisfying.
Recently, though, I’d begun to question myself. I had been reading books about following your “business” passion and they seemed to suggest that moving up the hierarchy resulted in greater happiness overall. They repeated that having greater control over your work and environment directly translates into a feeling of empowerment. If you are your own boss, you can use your creativity to choose a) what you want to work on and b) how you want to get it done. I’d also been learning that people higher up the chain of command tend to be happier at work.
The ideas I’d been consuming roughly paralleled advice given by economics professor Larry Smith, which he discusses in this Ted Talk. (You can also read a text transcript if you’re interested.)
In summary, these books all subscribe to the platitude that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. And they go a bit further, suggesting that the biggest reason why people don’t pursue their passion is because of a) fear of failure and b) fear of having improperly identified their “passion.”
People told me that I appeared to be passionate about technology. I got excited when troubleshooting issues, or building systems. I critiqued operational management styles. Even my wife thought I had a positronic brain.
And heck, there was a time in my life when I did computer-y stuff for fun instead of pay. Back when I was in high school, I did some programming, lots of system-building, plenty of troubleshooting and whatever else it took. I didn’t get a dime from this work and didn’t care. I wanted to do this stuff purely because it was interesting.
I felt like I had to give this line of thinking a legitimate chance. Here’s a quote from Mr. Smith that sounds exactly like one of my complaints about modern office-worker life: “There are great jobs and great careers, and then there are good jobs — the high-workload, high-stress, bloodsucking, soul-destroying kinds of jobs, and practically nothing in between.” It sounds like I’d had, to this point, jobs which were merely good.
Look, I know that I’d just turned down an offer to become management at my previous employer, and instead took this new position which would also involve some management duties. But I thought that being a manager at a big company was different than being a manager-type at a startup. I knew from my experience at StartupVille that employees in smaller companies get to perform a wide range of activities and there’s just about no process or red-tape. You get to basically just do what you want to do.
So there I had it: I’d convinced myself that it was time to take a chance at being really professionally happy — to strive for employment that could be great. With a young company, I reasoned, there will be very little business-y stuff to worry about. I should be able to avoid stepping in bullshit, and instead just focus on the cool stuff.
And that’s the major reason why I became Hell’s Director of Support and Operations.
Consider it an experiment in taking mainstream career advice.
- 120K Salary
- No 401 at all. The company did not offer one.
- “Unlimited” vacation and sick time. At the time I was hired, I thought this was a neat idea. By the time I was done, not so much.
- Decent health care
- Stock: Potential .5% stake in the company.
So it was a pay cut as compared to Mega. The biggest hits were no paid OT, and no 401(k) program at all. This didn’t matter for my first year (2011) though, as I’d frontloaded my 17.5K max contribution over the first half of the year.
During the interview with the head of the company, he mentioned that the work was going to be intense for a while. We have a serious amount of ground to cover. Expectations for this role are very high.
I asked about OT. There was none. So I asked what would compensate me for long workweeks.
He said we could talk about increasing my stake in the company after half a year, once they’ve had time to evaluate me.
Although I would like to have a greater ownership share, what I’d like even more is a bonus. If I’m going to lay it out for the next six months, then I want, in return, 20% of my pay in a single payout, something like that. You believe in meritocracy, right?
He agreed, and provided this commitment in an email. 20% over 6 months is a 40% annual bonus, pro-rated. I was happy.
Overall, it seemed like a pretty good package, especially for a startup. Most people do take pay-cuts to work for smaller companies because the experience is frequently better.
Wow, the $250 visa gift card is almost like a slap in the face. It would have been LESS insulting to give you nothing. O.o
Funny, that was the exact same thing my wife said when I showed her the card.
Yep. Totally agree with you about CEOs being batshit crazy, or just awful people. I once wrote up a 10 page proposal to overhaul my current employer and eventually spike it because I realized how much closer I’d have to work with ownership. Ugh.
The only work I’ve ever truly enjoyed is physical labor. Editing is a close second. Both of these are incredibly fulfilling personally, but good luck getting paid….
Funnily enough, the Alchemist came home and complained that all of the executives at her company speak an alien tongue and might as well be psychopaths…
Thanks for the comments, GC. I’m with you on physical labor — it doesn’t bother me much because it doesn’t ask me to be a different person. When we first moved into our house seven years ago I worked on it constantly but it didn’t feel like work in the slightest. Also I’m not too surprised you do some editing as your blog is really clean and well written.
So is Hell still around today? Would you be a multi millionaire now if you’d have stayed longer?
Ha! Great question. Yes, they are still around, but they only have three clients. This info comes to me via my old manager friend who is still there. It hasn’t gotten any better, but somehow they continue to receive additional funding. BTW, I’ve been out of there 2 1/2 years now and I’m *still* glad I’m not working for them anymore. The best thing about bad jobs: They make your other jobs feel much nicer than they really are.
My favorite post in this series – thank you for sharing. Really admire the way you push back against your bosses! That must have been marvelous for your rescue-human coworkers to witness. Although, the moment they knew you were leaving must have been especially bleak for them.
Re: Pushback — I have to give the nod to FU money again on this. I found that having financial security makes me unwilling to put up with so many behaviors that I would otherwise accept, and I think this is true for just about everyone who achieves it. Being FI allows you to make use of the backbone you’ve always had 🙂 Glad you’re enjoying the stories, and thanks for stopping by.
I am seriously loving this series of posts.
I too read YMOYL when I was 26 and miserably fed up. Unfortunately for me, I was still in grad school so still not making very much (though thankfully, also not going into debt). I ended up switching programs.
Anyway, I had one corporate job as a temp for 6 months and that was enough for me. I swore Dilbert worked in the next cube. I’ve completely avoided corporate jobs since–only academic or self-employment. This has definitely slowed down my FI plans, which was always the goal, even before MMM. I’ve lately been wondering if my first corporate experience was the anomaly and I should have gone for higher pay. I’m 44 and still probably 8-10 years away from FI. But I’ve (mostly) enjoyed my work all along and have managed to work part time for all but about 2 years. Your series is confirming my original instincts were spot on. I’m still ready to be done though.
It’s terrific that you figured it out so quickly — 26 is pretty young to be getting the FI pieces together in your head. Re: academia versus corporate, I have to say, I’m in academia now and it’s a completely different world than the private sector. And by “different” I mean “better” – in virtually every respect save salary. Occasionally I wonder if I might have been happier being in lower stress positions throughout my career and reaching FI much later in life, but most of the time I just accept where I am.
Everyone’s personality and path are a bit different, and it’s not a race — it’s just about being aware of your goals and finding a way through the jungle to reach it within a timeframe that you’re OK with. To make you feel better, I will say that I know very few people in my field who work for private employers who are not stressed and burnt most of the time. They get paid a boat-load of money, sure (low-to-mid six figures) but it’s not a smooth ride. There’s no shame in enjoying your job and getting to FIRE a bit later…
Thanks for posting this series, I’ve really enjoyed reading about your experiences. As a software developer in the midwest, I’ve generally worked in lower stress environments – with matching lower compensation, of course. But the day-to-day work of meeting client and management demands remains the same. Kudos to you for focusing on your long term goals and living the life that you want. Sounds like you would have been a great co-worker to have.
I headed to a lower stress environment myself on the next place myself — and I’m glad that you’re doing OK with your own employer.. I know what you mean — even at my current job (which I generally think is OK) the underlying problems remain. They just rear their ugly heads less frequently because the volume (quantity) on everything is has been turned down.
FU money is a wonderful thing. I had a maniac boss from 2011-2013. The only thing good that came from working under him was a heightened resolve to get the F*ck out of the rat race ASAP. Most of the time it is better to have a low paying job when working for these type of individuals. If you make a lot of money, these psychopaths think they own you and many times they do! I found out that having FU money along his knowledge that I had it made him much more bearable. The other high paid managers were brutalized daily.
Thanks for the whole series FI, it has been very enjoyable!
Hey MDP — I agree 100% with your statements. There’s very little worse than feeling like every single day at work is going to be hell. These types of jobs definitely strengthen one’s resolve to say on track, get FI, and get out. I remind myself that even when you have a good thing going on — a decent job, a good manager — you’re only one reorg away from everything changing. Thanks for reading!
Another great update in the saga!
You made an excellent comment some episodes ago, about how people leave bosses rather than jobs. I wholeheartedly agree – the one time I quit a job with no new one to go to was because of a wholly unreasonable boss, who headed up the marketing dept in which I worked. She’d been promoted recently, and was totally not able to cope with the responsibilities required.
Because she couldn’t delegate – loss of control, loss of control! – she would hoard all the work on her desk, try to struggle through it, then eventually fire it out in desperation at a minion. My personal straw-breaking point was being asked to bend the laws of physics, and produce a printed brochure within a timescale of mere hours, at a rate faster than printing presses could actually operate. When I had to go and apologize to the (internal) client who’d originally requested the work from the marketing dept, he said he’d asked for this to be done about 8 weeks ago, and it had sat… and sat… and sat… until it was due in less than 24 hours…
I typed up my resignation letter that night, with my husband urging me on. We were living below our means, and with some frugal cutbacks, could get by.
It felt SO good to hand that over, and watch my boss’s jaw drop!
I worked a month’s notice, and during that time I had the following conversation dozens of times:
Work colleague: Hey, I heard you’re leaving already – wow, you’ve only been here a few months. Did you have a previous job application going through somewhere else that’s only just come good?
Me: Nope, I’m just leaving.
WC: With nothing to go to, no other job?!
WC: You’re sooooo lucky! I wish I could just leave, but with the mortgage and everything… I hate this place, hate it so much
I went contracting after that – got a temp job, and within 2 weeks that company offered me a permanent position which I happily took, having just conducted a 2-week ‘interview’ on their suitability as a decent place to work. I stayed there for 4 years, then stopped working altogether when the kids came along. Now we’re just plugging away at the savings, so hubby can join me – 2022 at the latest, sooner if the markets are kind!
That’s an incredible story, thanks for sharing. I thought of the peter principle with regard to your marketing department boss. I don’t blame you for leaving after the set-up-to-fail brochure debacle — I think that would make absolutely anyone with the financial means to do so quit. Very glad you were able to fix your situation fairly smoothly. There’s just no point to suffering needlessly with an employer you can’t stand.
Yeah, the impossible-to-print brochure was actually quite helpful. Until then, I’d been somewhat internalising my ‘failure’, doubting, and wondering if maybe I wasn’t working hard enough/ managing my time well enough/ wasn’t good enough… But when the brochure thing happened, it was so comically not my fault that I was able to see the black humor in it and get some perspective, and move on to an excellent employer/ manager who valued me.
Wonderful story, thank you!
Just read the job series. OMG! It’s like we are living the sane god damn tormented life! I am in a different industry – but this is so accurate and so true, including your thoughts, realizations, and reactions – it’s scary. It is so hard to take the BS anymore.
But I have a timeline, a goal, and a plan – for me (not them). And I will tell them as little as possible as late as possible.
Hi G, thanks for stopping by. I remember your date is soon, early next year if I’m not mistaken, yeah? Nice work! It’s so nice to be on the final lap. The discomfort of work feels muffled now that the end is in sight…
That is the plan, though I promised my SO I would look for other opportunities at work. SO is not on board yet, I am new to this FIRE realization (~March 2014). I have been saving and doing some investing since I started work, I had some if the habits but was just in the cultural lockstep of work until 65. Now, I am a rebel that wants to scream “fuck that shit!” But still need to ease the SO into the information, etc.
Totally get it. It took me 2 years to get my own DW totally on board, and actually, this is a pretty recent development — there was a long period of time when the FIRE thing seemed ridiculous to her. Thankfully, that’s in the past now. The good news is that some people can be convinced, over time.
What a great read. Sorry you had to live it. As someone who generally likes what he does for a living, and who he does it with and for, I sometimes have trouble understanding others’ burning need for FI. A brush with Satan would certainly accelerate my own FI plans considerably.
Yep, I generally like what I do — I mean, the underlying function of it is interesting. It’s just problem solving, plain and simple. You have a toolkit and something that needs to be either created or fixed, and you go to work. But the surrounding stuff (people, politics, rigid scheduling, red-tape and other process-oriented ridiculousness, pressure to overwork, fear, mismanagement of human resources, and on and on) is what most of us are really striving to get away from, I suspect. I’m glad you like your own employer, for the most part.
I enjoyed reading this, thanks a lot for posting! I’m a developer at a Mega corp, 32 years of age but I have about 10 more years until FI. Thinking of taking a break from working for 6-12 months though … just to travel and learn new (coding) skills. Do you know anyone that did this, what’s your take ? I know it will delay FI but I feel like if I don’t do something like this now I won’t be able to do it when I have kids …
Hi George. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break. A while back I had a co-worker who wasn’t interested in FIRE specifically, but nonetheless had some similar ideas. He was a contract IT worker and he liked to take a 6-month gig, work really hard, save as much as possible, and then take the next 6 months off. During this time he’d blow through the money he’d earned while enjoying a quality slow-vacation. Since he was always working 6 months out of the year, his skills never got stale and he didn’t worry too much about finding his next contract. He loved this lifestyle. My own approach has been different: No employment gaps, get it all in as early as possible (i.e. I’m frontloading the formal office-type work I’m planning on doing in life) and then be done with it forever. Thing is, neither of our approaches is right or wrong. It’s about picking an option that works for you. As long as you go into your break with full awareness of what you’re doing in terms of extending your time-to-FI and any associated risks (e.g. making sure you have health care, you’re comfortable with the idea of searching for a new job after the period is over, etc), and you’re still really gung-ho about it, then it’ll be a good choice for your own personality and situation.
Also, if it’s a short break, consider asking your employer if they’ll hold your position. Some will.
Another thought: See if you can frontload your 401(k) for the year, then take your break. That’ll mitigate how much your date will get punted.
Thanks a lot for the reply and the tip about front-loading my 401(k) !
I’m looking forward to reading the happy phase of this story, let’s face it you deserve some respite after going through this nightmare 🙂
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why did you find it important to comment on the attractiveness of your CSO in this post? you did not do a similar assessment of physical appearance for any of the other cast of characters in this (very amusing) real life story. I hope that my business associates don’t pull up my looks as the first thing to talk about when discussing me with others, I would find that embarrassing and disappointing.
The appearance related details stuck out in my head because a) because it was the first day I met her b) her first week with the company and c) she clearly put a lot of time and energy into her appearance in order to look slick and professional (to make a good initial impression) and she was rewarded for these efforts by immediately being crushed by the CEO’s ridiculous expectations; I wanted to show how hopeful she initially appeared prior to the meeting. Maybe I could have found a better way to do it.
>> I hope that my business associates don’t pull up my looks as the first thing to talk about when discussing me with others, I would find that embarrassing and disappointing.
Same here. Please keep in mind the context here. I’m writing for blog readers, not co-workers.
Yes, that makes sense. I guess your intent didn’t come through for me personally – I got that she was “a little chubby, but she tried”, and that you used that as an introductory comment, similar to “he was the type of guy missing a personality chip”. I suppose, as a female in a leadership position, I am more sensitive to this kind of thing because I have never seen it happen to my male coworkers, but I am 100% sure it has happened to me (thanks to it being related from friends – so how many more times outside of their earshot?). So I guess it took me by surprise to see (what I perceived as) the same kind of thing elsewhere.
Regardless of these subtle gender issues, I have greatly enjoyed your blog since finding it, even though it has made me incredibly jealous. I’ve been talking to my boss about having him help me take more scheduled vacation time because I’m really prone to burnout. I’ve been luckier than you in place-of-employment so he’s helping me out, and I have a week in July and a week in September planned out! Still many years to go for me even at 60%+ ;___;
Rock on, I can’t WAIT to hear about what you do with your time now that you have it back!
>> I am more sensitive to this kind of thing because I have never seen it happen to my male coworkers,
Sorry it’s happened to you — point of fact, a female ex CW at my final job occasionally commented on my physique (and by commented I really mean “complimented” me, yuck) which made me feel, obviously, uncomfortable. (I have a top-heavy build, large chest and arms relative to the rest of my body.) Her behavior didn’t make me feel unsafe or professionally threatened, thankfully, but rather a mix of awkward, embarrassed, and irritated. This kind of behavior has no place in the office IMO. (She’s actually the Cruella character in my Daylight post, aggressive, strong personality. I just let it go the couple of times it’s happened, but internally — blah. Not OK.) On the plus side, she made her comments directly to my face – I guess that’s a good thing.
Lots of well documented sexism in software/IT. Male-dominated industry. Not a good thing. It does seem to be getting more exposure and press recently, though, which is a positive development.
My wife also deals with issues of this sort as she is in the same field. She’s a manager nowadays and occasionally overhears someone calling her behavior “bitchy” when in actuality she’s simply displaying qualities of leadership and authority necessary for her to do her job. Same behavior from a man, and he doesn’t get called out. He’s “confident” and “decisive.” He “knows how to control his team and get things done.” My wife? Nope, just a bitch. It’s upsetting as hell, but the question is what do you do about it?
>> about having him help me take more scheduled vacation time because I’m really prone to burnout.
That’s awesome, your boss sounds helpful and human – very important. Enjoy your time away recharging.
“What if I’m able to get that bonus to go through?”
You’ve admitted to sabotaging a coworker and lying to promote the company, which I wouldn’t fault you for at all. But you’re still a better man than I. I would’ve said, “Well, yeah, that’s what this is about” until the bonus check cleared and then walked.
(Thanks for writing your blog, it’s been great to get to read your calculations and tradeoffs along the hard road to FI.)
If I were a little smarter I would have done as you suggested. In the heat of the moment I was so pissed with Satan that I wanted to throw the fact that he was an awful person directly in his face. (As if he gave a flying F about morality.) Also, retrospectively, I decided he probably would not have coughed up the full bonus anyway, given his personality. I believe it was just a carrot he wanted to dangle in front of me again, to see what I would do.
I loved all your posts so far. I worked as a QA at a SoftwareCompany for my first job out of college. It was almost exactly as you describe your experiences above.The CEO was crazy to say the least Our support people were always stressed out and the “debuggers” were pushed on by hard by management. As QA there were a lot of late nights testing right before the release, which we did bi-weekly for the whole two years I was there.I moved to a different industry to an Analyst role and I am happier for it. My FIRE path is just started and I have a long road ahead of me. Thanks for sharing your experiences
Sorry, late to the party, found your site from a link to your ‘that guy’ post.
Wow, I loved reading this!
I’ve been working in software since the 90s also. I’ve had a few bad jobs, but nothing quite like this (I guess if i took the worst parts of the worst ones, it would be close!)
I agree with you that, in general, most places tend to have this kind of cr@p going on to some extent.
Maybe I’ve been lucky, but the startups I’ve worked with have been by most fun jobs by far, and apart from the odd exception, were not super long hours or stressful.
I do remember interviewing for a few positions in the bay area just before the dot com collapse, that sounded like they had terrible culture.
I did start one job that may have been something like your Hell job, it was also via a friend (who, to be fair, did warn me it could be a stressful role). It also was going to involve support.
After my first day, I was so wound up I couldn’t sleep properly that night. I could see the months ahead being hell. I quit an hour into day two.