Quitters Never Win, Except When They Do – 2/3

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  Then quit.  There’s no point in being a damned fool about it.

    — W.C. Fields

No build-up or table-setting today.  This is going to read like a direct continuation of part 1.

It’s late, almost eight o’clock in the evening.  Dinnertime.  I’m ordering pizza because my wife and I are in the middle of moving and can’t cook at home.  A photographer is scheduled to come over in a couple of days and take pictures of the kitchen which was detailed just the day before — we have our first open house this coming weekend.  I’m planning to repair certain things tonight, to patch and repaint walls, touch up kitchen cabinets, fix the string that opens our attic hatchway.  Time is short.  I’m so energetic and focused on the house that I’m barely thinking about the fact that I just resigned.

My wife gets home just as I hang up the phone, and she asks how the whole thing went. I play dumb.  What thing?  The quitting thing.  Oh, that thing.  I give her the spiel and she laughs.

Family?  You need time off for your family?  That’s what you told them?

Yeah, I guess I decided that it was better than either telling them I’m retiring — which maybe they’d take as insulting or threatening in some way — or lying.

Tell me again, how exactly do you need to quit for your family?  Do you need to spend more time with me?  How is what you said not lying?

Well, uh,  I guess, I was just thinking that I’m part of my family, right?  And I need a lot of time off, so I’m just giving my family — er… me — what it needs right now.  And there’s the thing with my mom, too.  So what I told them was true, from a certain point of view.  

That sounds pretty Obi-Wan, there, space cowboy.

They’re Jedi, not cowboys.

I know, I was just pushing your buttons.  Too easy.  Anyway, tell me more about that sabbatical thing.

Well, that’s the only loose end.  They’re trying to figure out if they can a) grant me one and b) give me an improved schedule if I do end up going back.  

Do you really see yourself returning?

Honestly, no.  Not in a million years.  But the risk-averse part of me loves the insurance.  It’s like a get-out-of-quit-free card.  Neat.

Is it fair to them to take it?

I don’t know.  As long as I’m clear about the low percentage chance of me returning, I don’t see any harm in it.  

OK.  Just make sure you tell them that it’s more “unlikely” than “likely.”  If you’re really as apathetic about work as you say you are, that’s a bad sign.  I read somewhere that apathy — not hate — is the opposite of love because if you hate something that means you still care about it.

Yeah, I know, I’ll mention it.  I’m predicting several meetings with other people tomorrow.  Pretty sure we’ll cover that ground.

Oh, and congratulations, by the way.

Thanks, homey!

We attempt a high five and accidentally-on-purpose miss.  (This happens a lot.)

At ten on Tuesday morning I find myself in my director’s office.  I’m sitting at a small circular table with him.  My immediate manager is not present — this conversation is just between the two of us.  I’ll skip past the intros and the thank-you-for-your-contribution garbage which ends up sounding like a repeat of disgusting content covered in part 1.  Instead, I’ll move straight to the part where things get awkward.

<LAF>, what I really want to know is:  What are your real reasons for leaving?

Well I’m sure <Manager> told you that I need to spend more time with my family.

Yes, he did.  So you’re not going anywhere else?

No, I’m not.

I know things have been very busy here since August.  Your manager has told me you’ve been working particularly hard to keep up with everything, especially in light of the loss of <coworker, OOO on jury duty>.  Has that had anything to do with this?

Well, I’m not going to lie.  It’s been busier than I’d like since August.  But that being said, the pace has absolutely nothing to do with my decision to leave.  I’ve worked in organizations which are much more intense than this.  The fact is, as I’ve mentioned, I need to spend more time with my family.

Can you tell me any more specifics?

I’d really rather not get into it.  I’m sure you understand.  

Does this have anything to do with your manager?  Do you have any concerns about your working relationship?

Absolutely not.  We have good communication and successfully work together as a team.

Well.  I guess my next question is:  Is there anything at all we can do to keep you?

No. The truth is that I never, ever, want to do this kind of work as a salaried employee anymore. And I have the financial means to ensure that I simply do not have to. So I won’t.  You could double my salary, give me a parking spot right outside the front door, and provide limitless access to the wheelbarrow of cocaine in the executive lounge, and I still wouldn’t stay.  So there’s no point in discussing options with HR.  I’d advise you to seek my replacement as quickly as possible.

<<Kidding, of course, I didn’t say any of that. But there’s something about monotony that makes me want to spew absurdities, and these conversations are already starting to feel tired and repetitive. I’m thinking: Didn’t I just go through this yesterday?  The quitting?  I’m doing it all over again now, just with a different person.  Maybe it would have been easier after all to just shout in peoples’ faces that I’m retiring before running away while laughing maniacally, dual middle fingers extended all the way.

But then again, I know firsthand that telling people at work you’re retiring can potentially come off as hostile.  Worse, once I start talking retirement, it’s hard for me to keep judgment and contempt out of my voice because I feel so strongly about the subject.  In other words, I’m pretty sure I’d come across as an arrogant dorkmaster.  So it’s best for everyone if I don’t get into it —

Instead, on the spot, I decide to start asking for things I’m pretty sure they won’t grant, hoping that’ll put a stop to all of this.>>

Well, my manager mentioned the potential offer of a sabbatical, which I understand is essentially unpaid leave with the position held open for a predefined interval.  But the truth is that even if that’s granted and I return, I’ll need more schedule flexibility afterward.  For example, I’m not sure if he told you, but my wife and I will be moving to a place where it’ll be tough to commute to the office.  Over an hour each way.  I can’t see being able to do except for emergencies.  My family might need me at home with short notice.

In addition, I may need days off with no warning due to unexpected family incidents. and I need to know that’s OK so I don’t feel as though my priorities are in conflict.

Also, I wouldn’t be able to work more than three days a week.

We might be able to work with you on those criteria. Anything else?

<<I heard on some show about detecting liars that when you look upward and to the left, you’re accessing your creative centers, thinking, imagining.  Maybe there’s something to that, because I can feel my eyes doing it, and it’s because I don’t know what the hell to say.  I’m stunned. They’re thinking about allowing me to work from home practically every day — and only three days a week?  After a long sabbat?   This is the same place that just two months ago instituted a full crack-down on any and all work-from-home and now they’re willing to potentially break all of these rules for me?  This is the power of the quit on display right here — the genuine article.>>

I’m just not sure yet.  But the organization’s willingness to be flexible is much appreciated and improves the odds of me being able to return.  Again, my future obligations are unclear, other than I know they will be significant.  I should know more toward the end of summer.

But won’t you eventually be seeking employment again?  There must be some conditions under which you would return.  You must need a paycheck, right?

Well, the thing is, my wife is still working.  You know we’re dual income, no kids.  One income is enough for just the two of us.  So it may be that I don’t return at the conclusion of the sabbatical if I still have pressing family commitments.

You’re wife’s OK with that?  Working when you’re not?

Yes, of course.  Why wouldn’t she be?  

<<It’s here that my director eases up on his full-court press to try to retain me.  To this point he’s been leaning forward in his desk expectantly, but now he sighs and slouches.   I find it interesting that it’s only his realization that I’ll be fully covered financially that finally convinces him that I might be unsalvageable.  He stands and shakes my hand>>

Well I wish you the best.  Let us know if anything changes and in the interim, we’ll draw up the paperwork for the sabbatical.  We might also schedule a meeting with <CIO> and perhaps also <Department President.>  They’re interested in speaking to you directly.

Sounds terrific.  Thanks again for all you’ve done for me.  And I’ll be sure to do what I can to cross-train teammates in the time I have remaining to ensure a smooth transition.

Great.  Thanks, really appreciate that.

I walk out feeling like absolutely no progress has been made on Project:  Quit.  Instead of clearing things up, my director indicated there are additional options open.  Then, to top it off, he signaled that I’m going to have to meet with some more people.  In other words, I was going to have to repeat this performance at least a couple more times.  It sounded exhausting.

Why is it so difficult to finish doing something that should be the easiest thing in the world?

Wednesday morning, first thing, my manager pulls me into his office and lays out final terms.  Sabbatical from mid-April through August.  Return in early September for 3 day workweeks, only one day of which I’m needed to come in.

It’s a stunning arrangement.  But at this point in the week, my energy is starting to lag a little and I’m having difficulty acting all that enthusiastic about coming back.  I can’t see it anymore.  It’s like a door in my mind has closed.

So I say something along the lines of:  Well, definitely, if I am able to return to work at all, <company> will be my first choice.  And of course I appreciate all of the effort taken to put this together for me.  It says a lot about the character of <company> and I’m really flattered.  But I need to be up front about the odds here — it’s not all that likely.  

My manager’s face drops, like I just told him his favorite pet got run over by a car.  I get the sense that there’s something in my face that makes my intent clear, and he’s noticed it.  I try to recover, asserting the future is unknowable and there is, of course, a reasonable chance yet, but my heart isn’t in it and I think it shows.

He says that I can expect a meeting with a higher up tomorrow (Thursday) and HR on Friday and we’ll just have to see where things go.

I tell him I need to sleep on it — to discuss the plan with my wife and family.  I bet he expected me to show more excitement and gratitude, but instead I feel like claws are sinking into me again — claws that I’d extricated just a couple of days ago, claws that suck the will to live out of me.

By the time I leave his office, it’s close to nine thirty in the morning, and I’m already exhausted.  It’s the indecision, of course, that’s doing it to me. The internal conflicts.  What seemed so clean and simple on Monday has suddenly become messy and grotesque.  I want to leave, to go home and continue to get my home ready for sale, go for a jog, take a nap. But at the same time I realize it’s unacceptable behavior and I’d already ditched half a day on Monday.

I check my calendar:  Meetings half the day.  I book cross-training sessions with co-workers to dump knowledge and work onto them.  Everything I do feels heavy: my mouse is filled with lead, my legs dead wood.  I have a cup of coffee and try to focus but what I keep seeing is my manager’s crestfallen face pathetically registering my clear signal to leave.

Some days I’m strong and my own voice comes out loud and clear, but today, it’s weak and easily drowned.

The same qualities which have made me a great worker — loyalty, dedication to the cause, team-oriented behavior — have conspired to turn the volume in my head down on my own needs.

Later in the day, I search for the dial and crank it back up.

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27 Responses to Quitters Never Win, Except When They Do – 2/3

  1. i’m sure you didn’t expect such cooperation! Kind of makes me wonder, do you wish you did this sooner? Maybe the sabbatical and 3 day workweek would have been nice a couple years prior and a way to easy into “early retirement.” But as always, hindsight is 20/20 and you definitely didn’t see that option coming.

    • livafi says:

      Yes, I do wish I did this sooner. I now realize they almost certainly would have moved me to a 3-day workweek last year, if I’d only made the request.
      That being said, I’m happy with the way things are ultimately working out. I had a wonderful year in 2014 overall, even with full time employment. But 2015 is sure to be better.

  2. Prob8 says:

    After having binged on your posts leading me to this one, my first reaction was to wonder why is he being so wishy-washy. Why on Earth doesn’t he just let himself be the man he has spent so much preparing to be. After all, you’ve done the math. You’ve detailed every aspect of the plan. You’ve diligently saved and invested to get yourself beyond reasonable safety margins. Your wife is supportive. You have no kids who may suffer from any shortcomings in the plan. In short, you’re ready to commute your own cubicle sentence – yet you’re reluctant. Perhaps the institutionalization has gotten to you more than you realize. Perhaps you’re not fully ready to take the red pill and see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

    As I mentioned, that was my first reaction. After reflection, I thought about how difficult this actually is. I am FI and less than 2 years from pulling the plug. Already, thoughts of doubt are creeping in for me. I think many of us early retiree hopefuls are risk averse. If there is a door we can leave open just in case, well maybe that’s okay. It doesn’t hurt anything.

    Anyway, from an entertainment standpoint, I’m hoping you are able to rip the band aid off and just quit. From a practical standpoint, I fully see the value in accepting a sabbatical.

    Good luck and I will be following with great interest.

    • livafi says:

      Interesting thoughts. re: wishy-washy, I understand how I come off in some of these posts. What I find most interesting is that if you asked my friends and family how they perceive me, one of the words they use is decisive. I’m an action-oriented geek, not a basement-dwelling, afraid-of-the-light stereotype.
      And yet, as you mentioned, there are aspects of quitting that are difficult because of the way that we are socially conditioned and institutionalized by both company and culture. Some people seem to never take on this programming (pure rationals, perhaps) while others become fully immersed in it to the point of not having an identity. Although I trend toward rational on that sliding scale, I clearly haven’t resisted digesting some aspects, making it challenging to make a clean getaway.
      Part of the reason I’m trying to document these experiences honestly is to show that these difficulties are normal and will affect many people — and there are ways to push through them.
      On a related subject, I read Tim Ferriss’ 4-hour workweek a while back and what struck me was a) His utter confidence and decisiveness in all situations, including the willingness to break rules and b) Outside of the internet, I don’t know anyone like him.
      We all want to be like that, but many of us are just not wired that way. So the rest of us need to recognize and work around our limitations using the tools we have.
      Thanks for the comment.

  3. brooklynguy says:

    Just want to echo my comment from Part 1 and encourage you to keep writing what I view as a serial nonfiction novel (hopefully even after other pursuits start competing for your attention in early retirement!). You have become a powerful voice of the FIRE movement and as long as you keep writing, we’ll all keep reading.

  4. GoodPinkSlip says:

    Congrats for pulling the trigger back in part 1, and though it may not feel like it now, congrats for negotiating what could be a sweet part-time cushion in the fall if you decide you want it. I’m quite a ways from FI myself, but I’ve definitely enjoyed reading your writing, and count me among those who hope it’ll continue. Good luck in FI-land!

  5. CO-Location says:

    I’ve recently found your site and have been reading your posts with much interest.

    I have also spent the majority of my career in software development while working toward FI. I was happy and it felt reassuring to be on a well-trodden path. Things started changing when my wife graduated with an advanced degree and accepted a job in a rural location hours from my (or any other type of tech) place of employment. I talked with my managers and the company was nice enough to allow me to work remotely with only occasional office visits. At first, this worked great and I was very appreciative but eventually felt I needed more time. In the last 6 months, I moved to a 3 day work schedule. Again, I appreciated the company’s flexibility and with renewed vigor was able to focus and “crush it” while still giving me time for my other interests.

    However, now with an ideal schedule, asynchronous project responsibilities, and significant technical leeway I have difficulty forcing myself to fully engage. As someone with a strong work ethic and who finds satisfaction in a job well done this has brought some unexpected anxiety to my life. I wouldn’t say I’m quite FI but I have a good nest-egg, solid technical skills and a stable work history. I’m certain I could find other opportunities that would be more fulfilling to me and my community but like a 6 year old at the high dive am find myself standing there thinking about the leap.

    Please keep posting your thoughts and feelings as you go through this process, I believe it resonates with many of us.

    Best of luck.

    • livafi says:

      Thanks for sharing the experiences working 3-day weeks. Do you find that you want to reclaim those 3 days for yourself? Put another way, aside from the lack of engagement, do you have issues with this schedule?
      >> 6 year old at the high dive am find myself standing there thinking about the leap.
      Great analogy. You’re not alone – many people hesitate toward the end (OMY and all of that –) I think it’s healthy, to a point, to think things through and anticipate the future carefully before making that leap. When it becomes unhealthy is when you are standing on that board so long you find you’re not 6 anymore but 8 or 9 — paralyzed and inert.

  6. LAF,

    This is starting to get interesting. I am going to use your blueprint for creating my own 4-hour work week in the future. Two or three more meetings like this and you will double your salary, cut your workload down to 2 days a week working at home, and a key to the executive bathroom. Don’t forget to ask for a company car now that you are having to drive longer distances.🙂

    Negotiating from a position of strength is a beautiful thing. In all serious whatever you ultimately do, keep writing about it as it is very motivational to the rest of us.


    • livafi says:

      Awesome comment, MDP, thanks for the chuckle. These experiences have been reminding me of Office Space — you know, where Peter decides to start doing nothing at work, and he’s rewarded for it (promotion, loose schedule). Management genuinely does not seem to know how to deal with employees who are challenging the system. I’ve read it in the past, but now I’m learning it firsthand.

  7. financialvelociraptor says:

    Dr Doom,

    Did I, or didn’t I say in comments of part I you should expect to meet with progressively higher levels of [bewildered] management???

    I went through the same during the two weeks prior to my 5OCT2012 FIRE date. And I was forthcoming: I am going to live on investments – no hedge. They were incredulous. If your situation continues to mirror mine, someone will “do the math” for you. Your salary times years until 55, with 3% annual growth (conservative scenario with no promotions!), value of your health insurance, 401k match, etc. You number will be “X-million dollars.” And the kicker “you are really prepared to leave that much on the table?”

    I showed them the math I had done that additionally assumed I’d continue to save over half my take home pay and invest conservatively at 6%. New number “Twice your paltry X-million; believe me, I’m a ‘financial analyst’ at this company. I was the first person to do the math. I’m cool with leaving 2X-million on the table. I’m going to play video games!” The blank stares of incomprehension are more amusing when you look back on them two years later.

    Try to live in the moment and enjoy the fact you are in the power seat against a big faceless corporation. They aren’t equipped to deal with that because it is too rare.

    Devour your prey, raptor!

    • livafi says:

      Yep, you called a hell of a lot of what I’ve worked through this past week, you prescient omnivore, you. I never get tired of reading your own stories about leaving — it sounds like you really did it right. I do love the continual sense of confusion on the part of any and all members of management that I meet with. They just don’t understand I’m not going anywhere. And most of them get that “spending time with family” is code for “I don’t want to do this anymore.” So they’re left wondering why you’re really leaving.

      You provided your own company with that answer: You simply don’t want to work. And that confused them even more, apparently, because: Money. Lots of money. Millions of dollars of money.

      Despite a few roadbumps, have to say, the week has been incredibly awesome and I’m thrilled to have finally set the wheels in motion for an April departure.

  8. Lisa says:

    I really fear this. Not because I’m so valuable, but because where I live, it’s difficult to get into my field, and no one will believe I’m walking away before a normal retirement age. Thank you for this entry which has reaffirmed my decision to quit a day before two weeks’ holidays, and call in sick the next day. I’ll be available for anyone who has questions, but hope to avoid the above scenario.

    • livafi says:

      Seems reasonable to me. You can avoid any and all messiness, if that’s your preference. The great thing is that it’s entirely your choice, because you won’t ever be returning. Very awesome.

  9. Clare says:

    Totally saw this coming … as I mentioned in Part 1. Love the image of you having to quit again and again and again, especially as you’ve been sort of dreading that part of it. It’s like your very own immersion therapy. Good luck!

  10. Jon says:

    Aw…the predictable offer(s) of putting a new shiny lock on the barn door once the horse ( in your case, the stallion🙂 ) has escaped. Flattering and frustrating all at once. Where was this level of catering and cooperation before one might wonder. You now have leverage and come from a position of strength. Look at your trusty “WWJD” bracelet…What Would Jim Do…Jim Colllins that is. He may still be lurking and is known as Great Uncle Jim…The Godfather of The FI “family”.🙂

    We are rooting for you Dr. Doom. All the best with these major decisions.

    • livafi says:

      I imagine Jim would blast away in his collins-mobile (a reliable older vehicle with a self-engineered turbocharged engine) not giving a second thought to any further scheduled meetings or unappealing offers related to possibly returning to work.

  11. David says:

    Oh man, I was soooo tempted to do something like the maniacal laughter and double birds when I left my place.

    But then again, my bosses and I had an asymmetrical affection relationship. I loathed them. They loved me. So I was all like “wheeeeee!” when I quit, whereas one boss was like “but, but we need you here” and the other said I have a permanent job offer (I think I actually laughed when he said that).

  12. Rob says:

    I can tell you exactly why your boss(es) is(are) behaving that way.

    You’ve been under pricing yourself and working way too much for years. You’re a cash-cow for them. And even now, independent from them financially, you act like you’re desperate and lucky to have them. That moment your manager realized you didn’t need to come back was probably the first time he ever saw you as an adult.

    I don’t mean to be rude, but that’s what it feels like in your descriptions. Like you developed some kind of Stockholm syndrome, akin to a beaten woman who keeps smiling and saying “Yes, take me back!” or “Sure we can work it out!” every time her boyfriend calls..

    • livafi says:

      >> under pricing yourself and working way too much for years.
      Disagree. I’m currently in a 35-hour a week gig and the work isn’t insanely stressful. This was probably true with some of the previous positions I’ve held, but not this one. And my manager does treat me as an adult. I push back on unreasonable requests. When I was first hired, I completely revamped the way he worked with our team, for example — told him to stop sending emails after 5 or on weekends, made comp. time expectations and work/life balance lines clear.
      I do see your point about Stockholm syndrome. But let me make a distinction. I don’t care at all about my employer. But I do feel something for people. My manager’s just another dude trying to get through life as best as he knows how, and his life has just become worse. I don’t think it makes me weak to see that — It means I’m perceptive and strong, as long as the recognition doesn’t prevent me from executing my own plans.
      Thanks for the thought-provoking comment.

      • Rob says:

        I feel with you because you don’t have a good “excuse”, which makes it harder for people to even believe you’re doing it. If you just say “other job”, or “travel around the world”, or “moving back to Scotland”, or one of the standard “excuses”, they immediately get it. But somehow people seem incredulous that you would quit for “no good reason”.

        Your “time with family but there are no specifics” probably seems like a lame excuse, so they can’t believe you’re actually doing it. I guess it’s too late to come up with a better “excuse” now, and this is hopefully the last time you’ll ever quit, so I guess it won’t do much good😉

  13. Mr. SSC says:

    Man, you are bringing my worst fears to life with the retirement or quit boss discussions. I won’t say I’m retiring when I quit work, but it would be hard to turn down a sabbatical, which is what I’m going to ask for. We’re moving 12+ hrs away though so a commute wouldn’t be possible, thank goodness. Can’t wait to hear more. Say there will be more please.

    • livafi says:

      There’s no harm in asking for the sabbatical. Several people on the MMM forums recently attested that this is the only way they were able to ultimately work up the courage to leave their jobs. None of them went back, and all of them are happier. I continually find the wide variation in how people feel about actually quitting to be interesting and instructive – we are clearly not all built the same.. For some, it’s absolutely no big deal. For others, there’s quite a bit of emotional stuff to unwind before it’s possible. I think I’ve trended toward the latter, FWIW.
      Oh, and there will be more.

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