Work Less Or Make More?

I’m knee deep in the trenches of job interviews.

The past week has been an overwhelming whirlwind. So many recruiting calls that I am starting to really believe those plunging unemployment numbers.

After starting this process, there are a lot of directions I can see myself going. One of the metrics I’ve been considering is whether I want to work more or make less at my next job. This is an exclusive or, mind you. I think I’m likely to see an offer this week that will mean more money (and potentially a lot more money within a few years), but will potentially require a lot more work than I’m currently used to. On the other hand, I could also try to off-ramp, find something less stressful in a different industry, but correspondingly make quite a bit less money.

Financial independence plans skew a lot of these decisions. It’s hard for me to think of anything I do as a career, mostly because I’m thinking “Can I handle doing this over 5 years?” not the rest of my working life. I’m treating paid work like an endurance game and I can see the finish line in the distance.

But there are other ways to go about it. You can, and people often do, make the choice to take work that is less demanding of your time now in exchange for less money. There’s a balance at play. Time versus money. Or, as I think of it from a FIRE perspective, your time now versus your time later.

And sometimes you have to work with real numbers to know where your line is. For instance, I wouldn’t work 25% more hours for a 10% increase in pay. Heck, I probably wouldn’t even do it for a 25% increase. If my comp increased 50%, I’d do it, maybe? I don’t know, I really value my time.

On the other side of the coin, I’d take a 50% pay cut if it meant I could work half as many hours. That would be a perfectly sustainable way for me to live in the long term. Now I just need to find a professional job that’ll salary me to work half-time.

Which would you prefer: working less or making more? How much of a pay cut would you be willing to take to work half as much as you do now? How much of a raise would you need to work 25% more?

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Making The Decision To Leave

I’ve hinted in some other posts that I’m not feeling entirely fulfilled at my current job. But it wasn’t until this week that I decided it was time to move on.

The decision was a hard one to make. I’ve been at my employer for over five years. This was my first job out of college and the only offer I received at the time and since. I worry that once I quit this job, I won’t be able to find another. That, as has happened time and time again, I’ll put myself out there to be judged by hiring committees only to be rejected again and again and again. And with fiancé unemployed as well, the stakes feel even higher.

I don’t have an offer yet, but the reality is I can’t stay here. Staying means I only half-heartedly look for other positions. Staying means I keep coming home day after day feeling depressed, despondent, and useless. This Reddit thread comes as close to mirroring my feelings without actually being me. As much as my FI plans mean to me, and as much as quitting will put those plans on ice, I can’t use delayed satisfaction as an excuse to keep wishing years of my life away.

So, here’s the plan: annual bonuses in my company get distributed mid-March. After those are sent out, I will inform my manager of my intention to leave the company. I will stay at my company until June 1st unless I get another offer before then. That gives me four months to job search and squirrel away some cash. In the “worst case” scenario, I take the summer off in the city, which is the best time to be idle around these parts.

Over the next couple weeks, I’ll go into the financial preparations I’ll be taking for this potential self-funded sabbatical. Also, you’ll get to see me try to spin up some side hustles that will (hopefully) help tide me over should I remain unemployed for a while.

In any case, wish me luck.

Have you left a job without an offer lined up? Am I foolish to quit a stable, well-paid position? 

Do I Have To Lean In?

Lately I’ve been thinking about what’ll happen when I reach financial independence.

Right now I’m working in a particularly white, male-dominated area of tech. In my group there are over a hundred technologists. At the age of twenty-six, I am the most senior woman of the group. There used to be quite a few women in just-under-C-level roles, but they all left en masse after no women ended up in the C-suite. No minorities either, for what it’s worth.

I have been told that this year, our incoming college graduates have been recruited 50-50 men and women, which is good. In hiring committees, I’ve come across my fair share of cringe-worthy moments. Like when my colleague remarked that an American-born Asian candidate needed to improve his English skills. Or when another defended hiring a candidate that was dismissive and sexist to the administrative staff. There have been times I was the deciding vote between hiring a qualified female or minority candidate or not.

I’m at the point in my career where the youngest new hires see me as a mentor. A couple of them even thought I was a mom (still reeling from that one). They ask my advice. I put them up for promotions. I am now apparently “old.”

I have enough seniority to affect some influence in my department. And if I decided to lean my career, I could probably increase it. In this area that really needs more diversity, I can continue to push bit by bit for change.

The problem is: I don’t identify strongly with my current field. Nor with tech in general. I don’t know if it’s just not a fit or if the culture has worn me down, but when I hit financial independence I plan to leave tech. I may even go before then.

That means around the peak of my career I’ll be throwing away any hard-earned influence I have. And that feels uncomfortable. Shouldn’t I be making spaces for women and minorities? Don’t I have a moral imperative to suck it up, put on my activist hat, stick it out (maybe even past FIRE) and pave the way? Even if I don’t like it.

I imagine I’ll be able to assuage my guilt of leaving after FIRE. I only have so much life and labor and I want to spend as much of it as I can doing things that bring me joy. Even so, there’s more I could be doing now while I’m here to increase my sphere of influence. I could stomp out my burnout, go corporate, get ambitious for those promotions. If I really push myself, in the next eight or nine years I’m still working, I could leave a real legacy behind me. But do I have the energy to do it?

What do you think? Are you a minority in your field? Is there a moral imperative for those who can to “lean in”?

Building My Skill Set For The Career I Want

My job is not going to get better. It’s not just the weekend work, though there is that. It’s that I’m not doing the type of work I want. And that’s something I either have to stick out or actively change.

The type of work I want to do has this common thread. Writer, tinkerer, editor, data journalist, director. I want to tell stories. Whether it be through words or visual images or podcasts or objects. Whether real or fiction. A good story makes me feel whole.

To get there, though, I need two things: (1) financial stability to do the work on my terms and (2) the skills to actually be able to tell a story. Become a better writer, learn how to spec out designs, get those audio engineering skills, etc. Whatever it is, I don’t want to find myself eight years from now at financial independence starting from zero. I want to have ideas and the capacity to execute on those ideas. And in order to do that, I need to be putting in the work not just in my finances.

I asked my fiancé where he thought I should start: create a podcast, start writing short stories again, or work on data visualization projects? I need to focus only on one thing at a time. He said I should try the dataviz. It’d be easier on my introversion than an interview podcast. Besides, it’d be pretty.

Honestly, I have the biggest mental block with regard to the dataviz path. Looking up libraries to use, learning a new set of frameworks, etc. It all feels way too much like work. Those initial steps before getting into the flow of coding are always a big on pain and low on pleasure. I’ve also failed at getting myself to focus on this before.

There are benefits going down the dataviz path though. For one, it would be a legitimate career transition. I’d be closer to doing something I like and make good money. For another, I have some skill already. Even if it’s not at the level I want it to be, I’ll be able to see results and level up quicker than through other creative pursuits. Plus I already have a project in mind.

The only question now is how much time I’m going to dedicate. I need to block off chunks of time. Otherwise, mid-task, I know I’m going to feel like things are too hard and get distracted by blogs or YouTube or whatever else. For now, I’m going to schedule two four-hour sessions a week, using Freedom to kick me out of my distraction. Taking it one step at a time.

What is the career you want to have? How do you plan to get there?

Does What You Wear To Work Matter?

I’ve been a bit of a fashion vlog binge lately. I’m mostly distracting myself from other stressors. It’s been interesting, though, to see how they talk about fashion. There’s a lot of good advice I’ve seen about clothing care and selection. But I keep seeing some concepts played out over and over and that have been bugging me. One such mantra goes something like this:

An investment in your wardrobe is an investment in your career.

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

Build your personal brand to get ahead at work. The first stop is in your appearance.

Translation: Our sponsors would really like you to spend more money on clothes.

When I first graduated college, I had no idea how to dress myself. As opposed to now, of course, when I have at least a half baked idea.

I always technically stayed in the realm of “business casual.” But, at the same time, I made some truly embarrassing clothing choices. Pants rippled atop my shoes and dragged at the heels. Cheap polyester button ups puckered at the bust and quickly discolored in the armpits since I apparently wasn’t aware of the concept of undershirts. I wore tons of unlined itchy wool, not realizing until a year later that I was incredibly allergic (“Oh, that’s why I’ve been getting all these rashes during the winter…”). There were many cheesy asymmetrical collared faux turtle neck tops. It was all kind of a mess.

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My workwear style circa 2012. Model pose included.

Flash forward to my first review, though, and you would never have guessed I was a fashion train wreck. I ended up getting a 15% raise, was on track to get a promotion (which happened a year later), and was generally on the good side of the people I was working with. All in my only-scraping-off-at-the-toe faux-leather loafers.

Nowadays, I have things slightly little more together in the clothes department. I plan my wardrobe around simple, quality, and comfortable basics. Silk shirts and slacks are my go-to. I finally have a suit. And I make sure everything fits. On the overall clothing scale I’d rate myself a solid 7/10. Good, but nothing flashy. But between then and now, I’ve noticed no real difference in how I am perceived based on my clothes. Looking at my own style changes and those of my colleagues over the years, I don’t think what we wear has made much of a difference at all.

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My workwear style circa 2017. 

When I look around at my office, folks usually do the strictly business/business casual thing. Everyone is professional, but nobody stands out as a particularly sharp dresser. It’s not like when I walk downtown, seeing all the finance guys in their custom made skinny-fit grey-blue suits, carrying their empty patent leather briefcases for show. The company wunderkinds, the young directors and rocketship-type upstarts wear the same slightly-too-large trousers as everyone else. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few folks who are a bit more fashion forward, but from the new interns to the CEO, sartorially I’d say we’re probably closer to The Office than Suits.

This is slightly exacerbated by the fact our office (as opposed to the company’s other locations) works mainly in the tech space. It’s pretty common that I’ll show up to a client meeting and be better dressed than they are in their tees and jeans. Frankly, our managers are lucky that I accidentally shrunk most of my old hoodies.

And so, in my day-to-day life, above a certain level of put-togetherness I see pretty much no correlation between style success and business success. Maybe this is true in more creative fields? Or I’m just not high enough in the corporate echelon for this to be an issue? I’m curious:

Have you found that your clothes have affected your career success? What do you wear to work?

 

Burnout

My manager and I had one of our monthly check-ins. Apparently I’m not putting in enough hours at the company each week. They expect X hours of productive work time per week (a reasonable number, to be fair) and I’ve been doing X-7.5.

Which means I have to some combination of:

  1. Leave for work earlier than I normally do (adding extra to go through rush hour).
  2. Finish work later than I normally do, pushing my dinner deeper into the evening.
  3. Cut my lunch break down.

When I think of how many hours a day I dedicate to my work, I get bummed out. There’s the work itself, the hour and a half commute round trip, the time I spend wallowing about my job in the after hours (unpaid, clearly). Often lately I’ll bring my computer home weekends to try and catch up but even if I don’t open my laptop once, I can feel in the back of my head the stress mounting.

Even putting in X-7.5 hours a week, I’m not capable of being productive the whole time. I’d say I have about 4 hours of productive work time in me per day, max. Especially since I’m constantly interrupted at the office, breaking my flow.

What keeps me here is the pay. Also feelings of: who else would want to hire me? and would I really like any other job better than I like this one? If I’m being honest with myself, the hours are still pretty good. Almost any start-up environment would expect way more time from me than my current employer, the big tech companies probably around the same amount. And in order to switch jobs I would need to spend probably 100+ hours skill-building and putting up portfolio projects on github. I guess I’m choosing the known sub-optimal versus and unknown sub-optimal scenario+high initial cost.

One of the reasons I pursue FI is because I can’t imagine staying in this industry until 65. I’ve met very few people over 55 in this line of work, and even fewer women over 35. I feel I need to squirrel away money while I still have the opportunity.

I used to have a clear sense of what I wanted to do after semi-retirement. Write short stories, go after my PhD, start anew in an entirely different vocation, etc. Right now, though, those ideas feel very hazy and effortful. I’m reaching the stages of burnout where all I really want to do is nothing. Which is entirely unhelpful in digging myself out of my inertia.

For now, I’m hoping my upcoming two week holiday vacation will help me reset. But in a way, I know I’m just biding time. The “right” course of action is probably to figure out what type of work I want to do and resign myself to the associated pay cut. Then again, the numbers say FI is only eight years away…

Working On The Weekend

I planned to write a “real” post (insofar as this blog is ever more than slightly curated stream of consciousness) but then my entire weekend got eaten up by work, procrastinating on work, and this stupidly addictive paperclip factory game. So I’m going to keep it short.

The past few weeks I’ve been falling behind at my job. In part due to factors out of my control, but also partly because I’m in a bit of a funk. I’m not sure what to label it– is it imposter syndrome or anxiety or just I think I’m generally just done with this job. Regardless, it’s meant that my time management has been wanting. That, on top of a busy month, means I’ve been bringing work home on the weekends more than I’d like just to meet deadlines.

On the bright side, I often derive a weird pleasure from working on the weekends. The office is quiet and empty. I have more room to focus and actually get things done. I can even work from the comfort of my own bed if I want.

But on the other hand, working in the off-time also means I can’t recoup after a difficult week. It makes it harder for me to feel refreshed the next Monday. And my poor CSA delivery, which I usually cook Friday evenings, still wallows in its crate, the kale leaves yellowing as we speak!

For now I just need to push about two weeks longer before I get a much-needed break. Here’s hoping I make it through.

Do you ever have to work weekends? How do you keep up during difficult times at your job?