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shifting into career 'cruise control'....?
Old 06-21-2010, 04:15 PM   #1
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shifting into career 'cruise control'....?

This past weekend DW and I were at a small reunion of about 10 friends/couples who used to work together in a tight-knit company about 10-12 years ago. At the time we met we were all just out of top colleges, very hard working, smart, and ambitious. It was very much a work hard & play hard culture, and I doubt I'll ever work in an evironment with so much raw potential. None of us are still with the company but many of us have stayed in the same city and done well advancing our careers.

Anyways, we were getting together since it had been awhile for some of us, and we now all have at least one child under the age of 2 (DW and I just had our first 4 months ago) so it was a kid-friendly gathering. The interesting part for me was a conversation I heard multiple times from different people. It went along the lines of, "So how's work treating you? Have you shifted into cruise control with your job?? (or will you?)"

This wasn't just about the transition into being a parent and changing work/life priorities, but also the fact that for any of us to advance much further in our careers at this time would take a combination of either 1) a LOT of extra effort, politics, and kissing butts in our current companies for a few years with no guarantees, 2) moving to a new city for the right opportunity if available, 3) an improved economy, or 4) getting VERY lucky to find something better in our current city.

This was especially interesting because as I've started to do some internal & external interviewing for my next job I've hit upon the above realities on my own. It just doesn't seem like taking the next step up the ladder is worth trying for these days, esp once you've already climbed up enough to be comfortable and FIRE should be attainable in <10 years. Note that this doesn't mean reducing the quality of your work, just not striving for continued advancement when opportunity is not really available and there are other priorities.

Does this sound or feel familiar to other Young Dreamers here?? I assume this is pretty common these days, not just for newer parents like me.
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Old 06-21-2010, 04:51 PM   #2
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Perhaps my office is a rarity, but we have had trouble filling the last 2 available management positions internally from our pool of engineer employees. No one wanted the extra stress and work, even at the improved pay... people around here value their personal time, I suppose, and that time becomes even more valuable when you have a family to go home to.

One was filled through an external hire, and the other was taken only when the salary offer increased... I guess we all have our price.
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Old 06-21-2010, 04:56 PM   #3
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Family more important than career? What a refreshing concept...

That's the point at which I found the Navy to be a lot less fun.
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Old 06-21-2010, 05:21 PM   #4
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*Sigh* I wish I could turn it off and stop caring. Would make it a lot easier to just slop through the next several years not really giving a rat's patoot. Unfortunately, I find myself at cross purposes, internally goaded on yet not willing to give up family time.

If you can make peace with throttling back, it makes perfect sense.
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Old 06-21-2010, 05:30 PM   #5
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This is nothing new. We communicate and meet annually with our best friends from college. They live all over the world, yet still come together once a year even more than 30 years later. It seems that your group is the same. All of us were movers and shakers, but as time went on, we became much more relaxed. No one wants to be president of ExxonMobil anymore. All of us have enough.

It's just the parable of the Mexican fisherman repeated for each generation. This is often posted here, so I will only provide link: The Parable of the Mexican Fisherman
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Old 06-21-2010, 06:34 PM   #6
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I jumped out of a management/ownership position in a growing company and took a 15-year hiatus working remotely to raise a family. My career went nowhere but they were some of the best years of my life. Don't regret a thing. Ironically, I was recently promoted to a difficult management position after other more qualified candidates turned it down. Having a FIRE attitude may actually help me. I attend to the 20% of the job that makes 80% of the difference, and don't worry much about the other 80%. I have little interest in impressing anybody or advancing my career at this point.
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Old 06-21-2010, 07:13 PM   #7
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This wasn't just about the transition into being a parent and changing work/life priorities, but also the fact that for any of us to advance much further in our careers at this time would take a combination of either 1) a LOT of extra effort, politics, and kissing butts in our current companies for a few years with no guarantees, 2) moving to a new city for the right opportunity if available, 3) an improved economy, or 4) getting VERY lucky to find something better in our current city.

This was especially interesting because as I've started to do some internal & external interviewing for my next job I've hit upon the above realities on my own. It just doesn't seem like taking the next step up the ladder is worth trying for these days, esp once you've already climbed up enough to be comfortable and FIRE should be attainable in <10 years. Note that this doesn't mean reducing the quality of your work, just not striving for continued advancement when opportunity is not really available and there are other priorities.

Does this sound or feel familiar to other Young Dreamers here?? I assume this is pretty common these days, not just for newer parents like me.

I made the decision when I was in my mid-30s that I was at a level of mgt that I was comfortable with, good at, and could have a family life with also. It had nothing to do with opportunity, I just did not want to deal with the politics. I had the chance to revisit that decision again in my early 40s with a second opportunity and said "thanks, but no thanks" again.

Today, I dont regret the decision at all. The time, energy, and more importantly politics, were simply not worth it to me. I never felt I "couldn't do the job" - I just always knew I would hate it. I think for a lot of us, you reach a point where you are financially comfortable, can reach whatever goals you have set (ie FIRE), so there is no reason to take on the extra headache/stress or whatever.

But I do think I that some senior managers believe that if you are not trying to climb the next rung on the corporate ladder, then you cant possibly be working as hard as or doing as much as the guy who spends half his time telling everyone how great he is.....
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Old 06-21-2010, 09:03 PM   #8
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*Sigh* I wish I could turn it off and stop caring. Would make it a lot easier to just slop through the next several years not really giving a rat's patoot. Unfortunately, I find myself at cross purposes, internally goaded on yet not willing to give up family time.

If you can make peace with throttling back, it makes perfect sense.
Right.

And I know a lot of people who are just a tad self-righteous about all the quality family time they have devoted over the years, only to find out that all that time came too late - kids launched, sometimes a divorce. Only when they had financial independence did they see the light, at which point in some cases it was too late. The real sacrifices (and corresponding rewards) come when the kids are young. I lost more than one promotion because I rejected the hours they required. When I was FI, the so-called sacrifices seemed much more do-able.

A delicate balance.
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Old 06-21-2010, 10:31 PM   #9
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Yes, definitely a delicate balance....

Thanks to everyone for their initial comments - makes me rationalize and feel better. I'm don't think my situation is completely agnostic to the current economy but certainly accentuates the bigger picture that I'm trying to be sensitive to.

For the time being I'd rather work an extra year or two in my early 40s and have more time / less stress while the kid(s) are young....
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Old 06-21-2010, 11:09 PM   #10
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Yes, very delicate balance. I have also been a bit guilty of the "self-righteous" attitude from time to time.

That said, I have been struggling these past couple of weeks and have had a very hard time getting out of bed in the morning to go to work due to the internal conflicts and the political nonsense etc that we all experience from time to time. The topic of this thread intrigued me though, since I was having an internal debate (with myself) this morning and the words to the effect that I should just put myself on "cruise control" for the next 2.5 years were very clear in my mind.

After continued internal debate, I decided that I can't let the $4'+ bother me so much anymore, but I can't go completely on cruise control either. Because of my role, too many people's livelyhoods are at stake, not to mention my own set of shiny golden handcuffs. So, I will continue to strive, continue to work hard, continue to hit or exceed my targets, but it is pretty clear to me that I don't want to attain the next level up.

That said, DW and I were sitting together yesterday and chatting. Out of the blue, she said to me "if you want to retire now, you can, don't worry". I typically control our investments although I try to keep her educated. She knows we are FI enough to go now if we wanted. But our discussions to date had always been that we would hang in there until the kids finished college, just in case. DS has 2.5 years left, DD has 3, so we had been planning to hang up the spurs at the end of 2012. (DW has been a SAHM for most of the past 23 years). The words of support she gave me left me feeling like she understood what I was going thru, and that I no longer had to, if I chose not to, even if it meant a little less spending money for each of us. That feeling allows me to keep on hanging in there, knowing that I have her full support should I need to call it a day.

Cruise control? Not really... Striving for the next level? Definitely not.

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Old 06-22-2010, 09:21 AM   #11
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Cruise control? Check!

Maybe it was having kids. I realized that staying late at the office completing a project wouldn't get me much additional money, but it would prevent me from relaxing at home and spending quality time with family and kids. The boss may be less happy, but bosses and jobs are transient. My goal is to make sure my family is not transient, and to hold on to them. Sure I could trim my "time to FIRE" down by a year or so if I really applied myself and spend long evenings working really hard. Or I could put it on cruise control and while out the days leisurely and collect a paycheck every 2 weeks. We have roughly 1/2 the FIRE stash we are aiming for, so that is quite a large "emergency fund" should I get the axe. And jobs are a dime a dozen, even in this economy.
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Old 06-22-2010, 09:29 AM   #12
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Sorry if this is a slight derail, but... if you need a theme song for "cruise control", is it. Play that clip and you will be humming the lyric ("put your blues on cruise control") it all day.
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Old 06-22-2010, 01:07 PM   #13
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Right.

And I know a lot of people who are just a tad self-righteous about all the quality family time they have devoted over the years, only to find out that all that time came too late - kids launched, sometimes a divorce.
Rich, I am not sure I understand what you mean here. If you mean that a man who works hard is more likely to be divorced, I think that divorce is lkely to be almost random when plotted against career consciousness. I do know that if divorce comes, it helps to have more rather than less earning power- better for the lower earner, better for the family, and better for the higher earner. Kids and "feelers" might complain about anything, but the complaints are random and reflect inner realities more than any objective assessment.

And kids are what they are. There is an awful lot of luck to all this. I knew a lot of guys who went to boarding schools. They were home at some holidays and some of the summer. I never saw that their relationships with their parents were any worse or better than anybody elses.

Sometimes the best thing that can be done for children is live in an expensive neighborhood with high achieving parents and kids and send them to a school that draws from this type neighborhood or to a quality private school. The dominant attitude-set in a run-of-the-mill suburban or urban school is often quite toxic.

IMO LBYM may work better for childless couples, at least if the family LBYMers do not belong to an immgrant or other special community where these values of frugality and education are shared.

The variability and randomness is large.

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Old 06-22-2010, 02:53 PM   #14
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I am with you. I'm a Fed GS-15, which means the next level for me is SES. I don't really have a desire to go through all of the cr*p to shoot for it. And I don't think I want a higher-level management job. I have lots of responsibility doing work I like, a boss who trusts me and gives me complete autonomy, etc. I think I will be perfectly happy at my current level for the next 15 years...
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Old 06-22-2010, 03:05 PM   #15
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I'm a GS12 and look occasionally at GS13 jobs. Most are supervisory, and I don't think the pay raise is worth the supervisory BS. May try to get a promotion for the last 3 or 4 years of my career to help my high-3 pension computation.

I like my fed job with its 40 hour a week maximum.
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Old 06-22-2010, 04:49 PM   #16
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*Sigh* I wish I could turn it off and stop caring. Would make it a lot easier to just slop through the next several years not really giving a rat's patoot. Unfortunately, I find myself at cross purposes, internally goaded on yet not willing to give up family time.

If you can make peace with throttling back, it makes perfect sense.
It is a sign of your work ethic, drive and personal commitment to excellence.

I am down to less than a year before FIRE and have the same challenge.

While I have no intention of coasting... I would like to switch on the "don't give a crap" switch for my own sanity.
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Old 06-22-2010, 05:28 PM   #17
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I think it is important to note, though, that there is a big difference between "cruise control" of your career and "cruise control" of you job. "Cruise control" of your career is "thanks, but no thanks, I dont want the next step on your corporate ladder, because it requires me to sacrifice that which I dont want to sacrifice. "Cruise control" of your job is simply showing up, punching the clock, and going home. I suspect most of the responders are in the "cruise control" of your career mind-set, not "cruise control" of your job mindset. I would love to stop caring about the job also, I am sure it would help reduce my stress level immensely - but one of the reasons I need to retire early, is that I care too damn much about the job. And I doubt that is healthy....
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Old 06-23-2010, 11:01 AM   #18
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KM, yes that is the sentiment I (and I think others) intended.....cruise control on the career, not the job.

I don't think I could rewire myself to simply show up and be essentially retired at the office.
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Old 06-23-2010, 01:45 PM   #19
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I think I have always been "cruise control on the career." For about 10 years I worked in a fairly high pressure fundraising/recruiting position. Meet the goals and you advance. But, to advance past a certain point you have to be willing to relocate. I worked hard, did my best, and met the goals. But I never desired to move. Since I am LBYM I was able to turn down those opportunities for more money and stress.

The value of this approach has been self evident to me. And, as it turns out, it was fortuitous that I thought this way.

When I had a health issue crop up about a year ago I became even more on "cruise control," as I downshifted to working half-time, and looking after the kids and the house more. Becoming more of a house husband has been a real change, but has helped me to clarify my priorities in life.
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Old 06-23-2010, 04:34 PM   #20
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Yes, I agree that's a useful distinction between putting the career vs. job on "cruise control." Most of us who are fortunate enough to be in a FIRE position probably have some combination of integrity and work ethic that precludes doing explicitly lousy work. I often view this as "living up to my commitments." If I commit to something, I'll sweat the detals and try to get it right. But if I think it's political, overhead, or blatantly unrealistic I'll simply refuse to commit (as politely and professionally as possible). Being nearly financially independent makes it a lot easier to say "NO."
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