Working sucks: I don't want a career, and here's why

How to Think

Working sucks: I don't want a career, and here's why

Ever since my wife and I decided on a plan to retire early, our pursuits have become significantly more short term. 30-year goals? Ha!

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Working sucks: I don't want a career, and here's why

I’ll be honest, I don’t want a career. I am just not seeing the good in working for 30 or 40 years for nameless corporations in pursuit of a fancy title, a big salary or influence.

I don't want a career

I think careers are interesting things.

Many of us try to get into the best schools, rack up such and such degrees, get involved in x-number of extracurricular activities, score impressive internships through prestigious companies and organizations.

For what?  More times than not, these pursuits are doing nothing more than setting us up for a lifetime of work, of spending countless hours commuting into an office, spending thousands on our crazy-expensive automobiles and the gas required to move them, rewarding our hard work with expensive meals and other completely unnecessary luxuries, expensive vacations and big sprawling homes in big sprawling suburbs.

To a high degree, careers are expensive

Some estimates put the average cost of our daily commute at $50,000 every 10 years a person has worked.  Multiply that by a typical 30-year career and we are dropping close to the level of $150,000 – and that is just the cost of getting to and from our office spaces. Other estimates are lower, but even these have American women and men flirting with the $100,000 mark over the length of a career.

And that does not include the nearly 1700 hours that Americans spend at work every single year, trying to get ahead, longing for the weekend or the next vacation.  Increasingly, these hours are spent week to week performing sedentary desk jobs that are contributing to the rise of obesity, heart disease and other medical problems resulting from a lack of physical activity.


Chose the right "Career"

Even worse, way more women and men within the U.S. hate their jobs than like them.  I read in a 2013 Gallup survey that only 30% of those surveyed feel inspired or happy with their jobs.  Even with perks like food, game rooms and other extravagant distractions designed to keep people at work, the majority of Americans simply do not like what they do.  They live for their paycheck.

Jeez, that’s a hell of a lot to spend on a career.  Your health.  Your money.  Your livelihood.  Sometimes, your life.

Even with high salaries and company perks like food and beer on tap (yes, really), free on-site massages, “thinking rooms” with cool lights or aquariums, there is no replacing a job that you truly enjoy doing…and preferably one within walking distance or a short bike ride from your house.

I don’t want a stressful job

Let’s face it, in the modern era, many jobs can be stressful, especially in the United States. The “American work ethic” is this warped mentality that suggests motivated women and men across the country need to work longer hours each week and more weeks each year in order to be upwardly mobile and deemed successful among peers. This is, perhaps, why America is seen as one of the most prolific economies within the world and the “work hard” approach is deeply embedded in the origins of our country.

Yet, hard work often contributes to high levels of stress. I believe being forced to work a stressful job day in and day out can contribute to diminished returns in both personal and organizational output.

Contrary to this popularized philosophy, I am of the mindset of working “smart” not “hard.” Achieving efficiencies in the workplace can ultimately reduce the amount of hours you spend working each day which can resultantly decrease one’s overall levels of stress.

Take me for example – before I had the thought of retiring early and before I realized I didn’t want a stressful job, I did the same things that so many other Americans do to get ahead at work.  Arrive early and leave late.  Always smile when the boss is around.  Never say no to anything.  Volunteer to work overtime, even when it’s unpaid.  Desire responsibility.

Honestly, it got exhausting.  Putting on a manufactured, half-assed "I love this place!" persona at an office building that you spend nearly half of your waking hours just isn't a way to live. I'm done sucking up.  I'm done trying to impress managers.

What don't I do any longer at work?

  • I don't work overtime unless absolutely necessary - I never volunteer to work overtime, and when I do work it, it must be for a very, very good reason.  If it's not, then I'm simply "busy".
  • I no longer care about promotions - With retirement less than 2 years away, an extra promotion or two isn't going to make the difference, and honestly, I am not looking for more responsibility.  I pity my manager.
  • I no longer care about raises - To that point, I am indifferent over promotions. We have worked hard to save around 70% of our combined income and have already calculated our easy-out in 2017…even if I never get another raise.
  • I take my time with everything I do - I don't care about being the fastest one out there any longer.  I don't need to be the first one done (or even the 10th!).  Instead, I take my time and get it done right the first time because, in the end, it saves me heartache from re-work.
  • I no longer take my work home with me - This is a bit tougher because, well, I work from home!  When I'm done with work for the day, I'm done.  Email me if you like, but I'll get around to responding when the next workday begins.
  • I don't suck up - This is perhaps the most freeing part of this whole experience.  For the most part, I don’t care what my boss and colleagues think of me. My work ethic requires me to do the best job that I possibly can, but I no longer care about looking good in front of my manager.

What DO I do at work now that early retirement is well within reach?

I do my work, I do it well, and I spend the rest of my time enjoying my life.  No more worry over what my annual performance review is going to look like.  No more jealousy over fancy, high level job titles. I do my job, then I stop.

Early retirement is the best decision that I've ever made.

If working sucks, what is the alternative to a career?

If I don't want a career, whats the alternative? I think it's like competing in the Iron Man competition, that answer is simple but can be tough to achieve.  Instead of finding a job to support your desired lifestyle, flip that equation over and try again.  Find your true calling in life first and then design a lifestyle around that.

Similar to what my wife and I did a few years back, I would suggest carving out your priorities. Establish a list of things you value most in life and the kinds of achievements you’d like to make outside of work. To guide this process, ask yourself questions like “Do I want to spend more time with my family?” “Do I want to travel more?” “Do I want to dedicate more time other recreational activities or hobbies?”

Once these goals are set, I have found that the notion of doing work becomes more manageable. Work turns into an immediate milestone within the context of a much larger timeline dedicated to the “more important things” in life. In maintaining the perspective that work is only temporary, then the feeling of no longer wanting to work will eventually neutralize.

Forget high salaries.  Salaries are deceptively comforting, but wind up burying millions of American men and women under mountains of debt because they believed that their salaries supported clown-like spending and the rampant acquisition of gratuitous crap, big houses, and expensive cars.

You see, jobs are easy to change out, but altering your lifestyle is much more difficult.  When people put their wants and desires in life first, they trap themselves into a situation that requires quite a bit of cash to support that extravagant lifestyle.  As a result, people become much more accepting of long commutes, unpaid overtime and working an unsatisfying job - for the sake of that paycheck.  People's lifestyles are hurting them, and a paycheck is the crutch they need.

Let's stop this madness once and for all.  Let's stop working for a paycheck and start working for us, doing something that we love to do, get satisfaction out of and genuinely smile when thinking about.  This would be a much happier and healthier place for all of us.

And who wouldn't like to see a few less cars on the road?

UPDATE: I officially retired in December of 2016 and hit the road in an Airstream with my wife and two pups, living the life we designed and loving every minute of it. For more about my story go here.

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Steve Adcock
Steves a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence.