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The Anxiety of Success
Old 03-11-2012, 07:57 PM   #1
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The Anxiety of Success

OK, this is a weird question, but I thought I'd throw it out there.

Hubby and I come from modest backgrounds, we're pretty down to earth people, and we're hard workers. We've done all the "right things" in terms of saving wisely, finishing college, being frugal, and so on. We're in our mid thirties, earning a high household income, and saving a lot of money for FI/RE.

What I've noticed though is that instead of making me feel comforted/secure, our situation makes me feel a bit anxious. Earning "big bucks" feels exciting but tenuous, as if it can evaporate at any moment. As silly as it sounds, the risk of losing 100k jobs is scarier than losing 40k jobs. It's not like there are storm clouds on the horizon, but the more financially successful we are, the less secure I feel.

On a rational level, my feelings are foolish. We've worked hard and been lucky, we're building a nice nest egg, and we are really enjoying life. So why is success scary sometimes?

I suppose I'm wondering if I'm the only one to have this reaction.

SIS
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Old 03-11-2012, 08:12 PM   #2
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I've never felt like that, but I've always felt reasonably secure in my j*b and that I could land a similar one if necessary. If either of those conditions were not present, then I'd be worried to some extent.
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Old 03-11-2012, 08:40 PM   #3
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I certainly felt that way when I had a successful computer consulting business back in the 1980's and 90's. I worked long hours as I felt that it was always possible that the bubble would burst any year. I still believe that my concerns were justified, as technology started to change rapidly and picking the wrong technology to work with could put you out of business. We did not have the internet back then so product research was time consuming.

In the end thing worked out pretty well. The clients got what they needed, the employees seemed happy to work for me. The only thing that I regret is that I worked so many hours and did not spend that much time with the family.

In my case it was my business that I felt could fail if I made the wrong decisions.

I did get to semi-retire at age 54 and full retirement at age 59.

Glad to now be retired.
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Old 03-11-2012, 09:55 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by ShortInSeattle View Post
Earning "big bucks" feels exciting but tenuous, as if it can evaporate at any moment.

I suppose I'm wondering if I'm the only one to have this reaction.

SIS
Like you, I came from a modest, if middle class, background, and from a frugal family. After 6 years in medical school and 10 years of postgraduate training in three countries, I finally became an attending physician and started to earn a decent income. But for the next 5 years or so, I didn't take anything for granted. Even my boss remarked that I seemed excessively worried about losing my position. She didn't realize how much effort it had taken me to reach that point, compared to someone born into a strong job market. Anyhow, I did relax a bit once I could see my net worth increasing. Oddly enough, as I approach ER, knowing I have no pension, I no longer take things for granted once again.
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Old 03-11-2012, 11:32 PM   #5
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OK, this is a weird question, but I thought I'd throw it out there.
What I've noticed though is that instead of making me feel comforted/secure, our situation makes me feel a bit anxious. Earning "big bucks" feels exciting but tenuous, as if it can evaporate at any moment. As silly as it sounds, the risk of losing 100k jobs is scarier than losing 40k jobs. It's not like there are storm clouds on the horizon, but the more financially successful we are, the less secure I feel.
I suppose I'm wondering if I'm the only one to have this reaction.
We were always afraid that the authorities were going to discover that we were impersonating adults and would take away our paychecks. Either that or they'd learn how much fun we were having and make us give some of the money back.

I think there's a measure of anxiety due from managing large amounts of money, but at least the numbers you're seeing are on the "income" side of the balance sheet. Imagine if you had those same numbers on the "outgo" side. As long as you're playing good defense with low expenses and sufficient emergency funds, you have nothing to worry about but keeping your extremities inside the roller-coaster.

Enjoy the ride, keep saving, and don't worry about the ending. One day you'll be financially independent and then YOU can choose the ending.
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Old 03-11-2012, 11:45 PM   #6
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Travel around the world and note the frequency with which people smile at each other. You will note the most smiles in the poorest countries, and the fewest smiles in the richest countries.

Draw your own conclusions.

Here's some interesting reading:

The Cost of Being an Overachiever
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Old 03-12-2012, 12:57 AM   #7
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What I've noticed though is that instead of making me feel comforted/secure, our situation makes me feel a bit anxious. Earning "big bucks" feels exciting but tenuous, as if it can evaporate at any moment.
Sure, people feel anxious when they get what is perhaps the highest paying job of a lifetime.

Analogies are far from perfect, but this reminds me possessive, jealous lovers. It seems to me that a person might not bother to be possessive/jealous if their lover means nothing to them. But, if the other person is the love of their life, it may be very difficult to refrain from possessive/jealous behavior.

Likewise, perhaps an employee may be less likely to feel anxious about a job that means nothing to them.
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Old 03-12-2012, 01:07 AM   #8
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I have similar feelings. When I add up what we have, expenses, etc, I know that we are lucky and even if the high paying job was to go, then we'd be fine. That's the rational part. The irrational part is worrying about not having "enough," so we keep saving more and are loathe not to maximize how much we make/save.

Fortunately, if you're well paid in one place, there are most likely other places you can make similar money, or at least close enough. Plus in your case, it sounds like you have two high incomes, which is some nice built-in redundancy.

Instead, make sure your numbers are solid, you are happy in your job, and then call it good.
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Old 03-12-2012, 02:27 AM   #9
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I know how you feel. I had a job that I loved for 16 years, and there were one or two crisis points when I became quite worried that I would lose it. Although my average wage was quite modest, I did have a run of several relatively high-earning years due to a second job and some generous freelance income on the side. I was concerned that the good times wouldn't last. In my case, they didn't, but I protected myself by saving as much as possible, and planning for the worst.

You're already saving a lot of money for FIRE, so you know you can live on less than you're earning. This fact alone gives you an adaptability that folk who spend all their paychecks don't have.
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Old 03-12-2012, 02:39 AM   #10
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Personally I don't think that way but I understand why some people would.
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So why is success scary sometimes?
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Old 03-12-2012, 07:37 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by ShortInSeattle View Post
Hubby and I come from modest backgrounds, we're pretty down to earth people, and we're hard workers. We've done all the "right things" in terms of saving wisely, finishing college, being frugal, and so on. We're in our mid thirties, earning a high household income, and saving a lot of money for FI/RE.

<snip>

So why is success scary sometimes?

SIS
As I said to an insurance agent once when she mentioned that so many people don't have it. "The only people who need insurance are those who have something to lose."

It's taken a long time and a lot of work to get where you are and you don't take the result for granted.
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Old 03-12-2012, 07:38 AM   #12
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Earning "big bucks" feels exciting but tenuous, as if it can evaporate at any moment. As silly as it sounds, the risk of losing 100k jobs is scarier than losing 40k jobs.
If you read this board for a while you will discover the answer is simple. Live like you are earning $40K and save the rest. Then, if you lose your job(s) you know you have a lot of financial stretching room in the replacement jobs.
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Old 03-12-2012, 07:48 AM   #13
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(Waving from across the Pacific to a fellow PNW-er)

And that hand in the air? Attached to the arm of someone who shares your "baglady syndrome" symptoms. My sister does, too. I wonder if it is a Northwest thing? We also came from a family of modest means -- dad was an engineer at Boeing, and mom stayed home after she had kids. We had a major scare with my dad's employment situation in the early '80s, which I think might be the reason for my own irrational fears. Just have that lingering idea that you never know when the rug might be pulled out from under you. I remember my dad was seriously depressed for several years -- was being forced to learn new skills at work (Cobol, if I remember correctly), work on projects that he didn't like much, and was being threatened with the transfer of his job to Wichita (which at the time seemed like a fate almost worse than death!).

We have decent middle class incomes and manage to save roughly one of our salaries. Our investments have grown nicely and we now have a very solid net worth. I will most likely be in a position to ER if I want to (DH is 10 years older than me, and enjoys his work, so probably won't retire significantly early). But I still worry about what would happen if one or both of us were to lose our current jobs. We do have good gigs for our field, and openings are not common. But realistically we would probably be fine. Hard not to worry, though, for some reason.
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Old 03-12-2012, 08:19 AM   #14
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During my career it seemed that the greater the reward the greater the risk. In other words, as you climb the ladder and succeed the rewards are greater, but the risks are as well. At the higher levels, an employer can get rid of you without much reason and it is obviously harder to find a similar position. At the lower levels, the employer needs to justify getting rid of you. High risk/high reward.
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Old 03-12-2012, 10:12 AM   #15
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Travel around the world and note the frequency with which people smile at each other. You will note the most smiles in the poorest countries, and the fewest smiles in the richest countries.

Draw your own conclusions.

The Cost of Being an Overachiever
Couldn't agree with you more. I've traveled many places including the 3rd world where I think people are happiest. I think the reason is simple - lower expectations.
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Old 03-12-2012, 11:01 AM   #16
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I think that we are all a little circumspect having lived through the recent severe recession. Just like our parents and grandparents were after experiencing the dirty thirties. Call it recency bias if you wish. But it would take years of good times to make me spend in a profligate manner.
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Old 03-12-2012, 11:07 AM   #17
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This has nothing to do with your job. Here's how it works:

At birth, everyone gets a worry box. All your life, you will keep this box full. It may be full with a big worry, such as "Do I have enough money to pay bills?" or "Do I have cancer?" But if you don't have any big worries, you will fill it with little worries, such as "Will I always make such good money?"

If you get a big worry, you will temporarily remove the little worries from the box.
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Old 03-12-2012, 11:12 AM   #18
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I understand the anxiety the OP is expressing. It's something in me that I don't like but is there nonetheless. I look forward to the renewal of FI and RE. In addition, I look for that renewal in other ways. One quote I like on this subject:

"When I meet people who have had a great triumph, I tell them that I hope it doesn't hurt them too much." C.G. Jung
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Old 03-12-2012, 11:19 AM   #19
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I, too, have similar anxiety. My parents had "it" --- money, then lost ALL of it, through no no fault of their own. As a family, we became homeless, with ZERO net worth. I worked full time when I was in high school, not for pocket money but to help my parents buy food and pay rent. After so many years of struggling to get a "good" education and a decent career, I have now been "doing well" financially for some time. Yet the fear is still there. YES, I do fear losing it all again. I fear poverty more than illness. I know that may not sound logical since without our health we have little chance of enjoying our lives whether we have money or not. But fear/anxiety is not rational.

So, NO, you are not alone. I am sure there are many others out there who feel similar anxiety. We just continue to LBYM, save, stay the course, and manage our anxiety through healthful and sane lifestyle choices, etc. My 2 cents!

Congratulations on your life's achievements by the way.

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Old 03-12-2012, 11:26 AM   #20
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I wonder if those who experience the 'anxiety of success' are also those who experience the 'just one more year' retirement syndrome? Or the 'I'll never be able to retire even though I'm clearly FI" affliction?
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