The awesomeness of not being important
Do you know how awesome it is to not be important?
You know how awesome it is to not be important? To be that guy who comes into work every day, does his job and can just go home? The guy who never volunteers for additional work or another job, never has his nose up the ass of his superiors, the guy who couldn't seem to care any less about the next promotion or raise?
The guy who actually smiles - genuinely smiles, and maintains a slow and steady roll in the office, never rushes to meetings or feels all that obligated to march to the beat of someone else's drum, much less show up to meetings 5 minutes early like your typical eager beaver?
You know, the guy who seems stress-free and just doesn't give two hoots about the new corporate timecard policy, vacation schedule or performance reviews? Yeah, that guy. That guy must not have any intent to get ahead by working hard. He's unimportant, and he almost seems proud of it.
But screw him, you might say? He may be stress-free, but his career certainly won't get anywhere without a little ass kissing and sweat every now and then. I work so much harder than that guy and make more money. Joke's on him, dammit!
If your goal isn't to have a long drawn-out career, then the joke may not be on him.
If your current position requires a certain degree of unwanted ass-kissing and you’re looking for some non-career focused career advice, continue reading!
I am no longer important, and I'm proud of it
I am that guy. I am the guy that when the shit hits the fan, nobody's calling me. I'm not important enough anymore. I'm just another cog in the wheel, slowly and meticulously getting shit done. Saving hard. Stressing little. Doing my thing and then quitting for the day to go home.
Seriously. Like, next to no work-related stress. No stress at all, really.
Am I going to get ahead playing this game? Will I need to find another job because I’m not working hard enough at this one? Of course not. And the negative impact of working just the right amount in negligible if anything. I don't want to be the guy who gets called over the weekend because something broke or because something else bad happened; I've already been that guy. And I’m really not looking to supplement my life with another job. I don't want to be "the only one" who can get something done before a major deadline because that means long stressful hours (been there, done that too) filled with bullshit emergency meetings and writing computer code without any regard to its accuracy or maintainability under unrealistic schedules set by bottom-line managers.
I am that guy who your dad told you never to be if you want to "get ahead". After all, I don't want a career any more. Careers mean jobs. I simply want to go home at the end of the day and focus on the things that most matter to me.
related post: I am not looking for a career, and here's why
While everybody else seems to want the next big promotion, an impressive job title or their yearly cost-of-living "we are only doing this because we absolutely have to" raise from their organization, the gleefully unimportant folks are quietly taking care of business, without worry.
To the gleefully unimportant who want to retire early in relatively stress-free bliss, the next raise means nothing. Performance reviews are trivial. And all the hot air that emanates from one meeting after another? It's brushed aside and quickly forgotten.
Meetings don't matter. Corporate policies are like gnats slamming into your windshield as you drive to and from work. They are hardly noticed.
Most job-stuff simply rolls off your shoulder.
Being unimportant means that you have more of your freedom during the day to be as productive as you want to be. After all, that "pressing task" is pulling some other "important" person away from their freedom, not you. You're left sitting at your desk smiling your way closer and closer to financial independence and early retirement. That other guy might get promoted to senior management and start driving a BMW in a couple years, but you'll be happily people-watching at your local coffee shop at 10am while he prepares for the next meeting - and possibly wishing that he never became a manager.
Who's the joke on now?
But if I am so unimportant, that means I'm also expendable. The company could get rid of me at any time.
True, but I have a little secret to tell you. 99% of us are already expendable. In very few exceptions, there will always be somebody ready and willing to do your exact job for your exact salary - maybe even for less than the salary you're making today.
A company can fire any of us at any time. However, I've spent my whole life playing the odds in life, and it's rarely failed me. The truth is this kind of indiscriminate firing is usually not in the company's best interest. First, the risk of a lawsuit increases - and win or lose, lawsuits are never fun and always wind up costing money and resources that could be better spent elsewhere.
And second, the ramp up time to bring someone else on board is generally a cost that companies want to avoid. If you do your job and nothing else, that is often a "good enough" scenario to keep you around. You aren't causing problems or conflict in the office. You get your job done. You might be skating by, but all in all, you're worth keeping.
A note to the intentionally lazy: Being unimportant is different than not doing your job. If a company pays you to do a job, then do it. Do it the best you can. Don't be a worthless drain on your fellow coworkers because that's a one-way street to dismissal.
Being unimportant is also much sweeter after spending years and years of your life slaving away in an office, putting in countless hours of unpaid overtime, working nights and weekends, getting calls to fix shit that you didn't break, enforcing nonsensical big company policies, pulling a steaming load of carefully written but complete B.S. out of your backside every year during employee reviews, attending meeting after meeting, responding to email after email, volunteering for extra work, kissing your boss's ass, cinching your tie up close to your neck, ready and willing for your next corporate pounding.
Unless you've gone through that, then it becomes tougher to truly appreciate being unimportant. If you spend your entire career being unimportant, you may be leaving retirement-enabling money on the table.
Never sacrifice work ethic to gain unimportance!
What I am referring to here is a general apathy towards "getting ahead". I am not, however, advising anyone to not do their job or actively harm the organization or their co-workers in the process of being care free at work. Not only does that set you up for legitimate firing, but it probably also makes you a bit of an asshole.
Do your job and do it well. Help your co-workers when necessary. Be a productive member of your organization, even if only to satisfy your own work ethic and nothing else.
You can have a solid work ethic and still bask in the glory of unimportance.
For example, I don't ask for more responsibility, but if I ever do get it, I accomplish that task by doing the very best job that I possibly can. This isn't about doing shitty work. On the contrary, this is about doing GOOD work - because an organization is paying you a salary to do a job - and not worrying about the rest - about job titles, meetings, new policies or raises. After all, your goal isn't to spend the next several decades stuck in an office, building a career.
Being unimportant is about avoiding the unnecessary stress that inherently comes along with additional responsibilities at the office. It seems like, in today's corporate environment, people are expected to want to move up into increasingly senior positions. But as many of us know from first-hand experience, "senior-level" responsibilities isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Being important doesn't mean you get to sit back and relax while your people do all the real work.
At least not in the real world.
There is a lot to be gained by avoiding the spotlight, especially if you're getting close to financial independence and the thought of carrying on in corporate America makes you literally sick to your stomach. After all, there are a lot of ways to succeed in this world, and they don't all have to involve willingly increasing your work-related stress and spending more than half of your waking hours in an office every day.
Things that I no longer do for a career
I am borrowing (read: Stealing?!?) this bit of text from another one of my posts on careers because it is very applicable here. Before we decided to retire early, 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 worth it. 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 1.5 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 – For the same reason that explains my indifference over promotions, I also don’t care about raises. We generally save around 70% of our combined income and have already calculated our easy-out in 2016…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.
- Avoiding office politics in the workplace – This point is a good one to follow as I used to waste a ton of time navigating the emotions and desperate agendas of my colleagues. Ignoring office politics frees up a ton of time so I can focus purely on my work and clocking out when it is time to go.
Staying out of work drama
I’d like to put a bit of emphasis on this bullet in my list of advice, as it is a really important one. Office drama can be contagious. In the office, you’re spending a ton of time with you colleagues who come from different backgrounds and have different a set of personal goals. Inevitably these people, at some point in time, will butt heads. And of course, based on your personal interests and allegiances, you will want to side with coworkers with whom you have the most in common. My advice: Stay out of it. Nothing sucks more time than dealing with workplace drama. If you want to have a more relaxed work-life balance and be able to focus more on your independent passion projects or hobbies, leave the drama behind!
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 job titles. I do my job, then I stop.
What about you? Are you "important" at work? If so, are you enjoying it?
Note: This article was originally published in October of 2015, but has been updated after Steve's retirement from full-time work in December 2016.