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.
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.