The awesomeness of not being important

114 thoughts on “The awesomeness of not being important”

  1. Beautiful. Simply beautiful. Whether I’m “important” or not at work, on the inside I totally relate to everything you are talking about here. And I think that just means you’re not defined by your job, and in my book that puts you totally ahead of everyone else. Everyone is replaceable.

    1. Thanks Mark, appreciate the feedback! I agree that it really does come down to refusing to let your job define you, because jobs come and go. It’s true, everyone is replaceable. The earlier that we realize that, the more centered we’ll be in our work life.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. When you’re in a profession like teaching and salaries only increase based on years and number of advanced degrees, a lot of this applies whether we like it or not 😉 I actually think there’s tons of value in taking your time with what you do. In terms of not taking work home, that’s a near impossibility with my job. But I have extra time off and a pension, so I guess every job has different benefits. Have you read Kreider’s “Lazy: A Manifesto”?

    1. Hey Penny – it’s true, this whole unimportance thing is easier in some professions than others. But it’s also true that each job tends to have their own little advantages. A pension and extra time off isn’t too bad!

      I haven’t read Lazy: A Manifesto, but it is right up my alley! “Busy, so busy, crazy busy!”. Kreider is right, busy-ness is almost always self imposed!

      http://fourhourworkweek.com/2015/04/03/lazy-a-manifesto/

      Thanks for turning me on to that little gem. 🙂

  3. I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you Steve though I do concede that a lot of this depends on what job you have and how long until you can ultimately retire.

    For me, with a predicted 15 years until I can retire, to spend those years working a life of mediocrity fills me with dread. I dare say that most people seeking FIRE, by their very natures, are above average in terms of intelligence so by not pushing oneself you can leave yourself wide open to boredom and dissatisfaction creeping in. FIRE and a desire to progress at work do not have to be mutually exclusive and neither does giving it your all at work mean your personal life has to suffer. I want to work hard, I enjoy working hard and to strip away that takes away my very motivation for doing it in the first place.

    I can certainly see that you might want to “wind-down” the pace of your work since you have only 1.5 years till you can quit but I don’t think that approach is helpful for everyone. Even one year is a long time to be grinding away at a job you are completely ambivalent towards so if I had any decent length of time to go before retirement I think you’d be better off finding a job that you enjoyed and that provided you with stimulation. That way you will naturally work hard, show proficiency and hopefully be rewarded appropriately. I realise that is much easier said than done though and can change dramatically from sector to sector!

    For me personally I love my job and I plan to attack my career as if I wasn’t even considering financial independence. To do otherwise wouldn’t be doing myself justice and I know I wouldn’t be happy sitting back and coasting it. You’ll never know what could have been if you don’t give 100% and as an added upside any promotions along the way just means I can retire even earlier!

    1. Hi FIbrarian – I think you’ve hit on a very, very important element of this whole discussion. I do believe there is room to totally kick ass and give it your all at work even if you have no real desire to build a long and drawn out career at the office.

      Please don’t believe that I’m advising folks to take up mediocrity as a form of employment. As I tried to point out in the article, a solid work ethic and doing the very best job that you can at the office is ALWAYS the best option, and there is room for both kicking ass AND not giving two hoots about what today’s typical corporate environment looks like. Instead, my point was geared towards the happiness that can result from simply not caring about how important you are and stead focusing on getting your work done, then enjoying your life.

      But, I also largely agree with you – especially if you’re still a few years (or more) away from retirement, finding a job that you truly enjoy will certainly make those years go by much, much faster. No doubt about that! However, I would argue that even in this situation, doing your job well and going home for much-needed rest and relaxation still beats involuntary overtime and additional stress, because that’s a recipe for HATING your job, and quickly! I know first hand.

      Of course, we’re all different. My humble opinion only.

      Thanks for reading, and I definitely appreciate your insight!

      1. Absolutely Steve and thanks for clarifying. It’d be a boring old world if we all agreed and anyway that’s why I read your blog, you don’t sit on the fence 🙂

  4. I personally hate my job. I hate the idea that I am of a calculated certain worth and get paid hourly accordingly. On the other hand I enjoy life, and at this point in time work is a big part of it. So I need to find a way to extract enjoyment out of my work. It should make the process or ER much easier for me. I think it is a good habit to always try your best and always put in 100% effort, however I won’t go out of my way to look for that extra work just to become important at work. Ehh I just got the chills thinking about extra work at work.

    -Andrew

    1. Andrew – I know how you feel. The industry that I work in can be incredibly draining if you let it. And once upon a time, I did just that. I don’t even want to know the number of stressful unpaid hours of overtime I’ve devoted to my job in the past. 🙂

  5. Do I think that my employer considers me important? Probably. At least today I am. I’m happy for my contributions, for being involved, for doing things I enjoy. But I no longer seek advancement. In the past, all I wanted was to advance in my career, perhaps become VP of Marketing one day. I have no idea why. My attitude about work has shifted. Today, I’m doing what I enjoy, saving money, and working towards FI so I can travel. Life is far simpler (and less stressful) today than when I desired career advancement. Kudos to you!

    1. Good on you, Claudia! That sounds very much like my progression through corporate America as well. It’s only natural to want to advance, especially when you’re younger and just starting out. Now, it’s old hat, and quite frankly, I won’t want more responsibility.

      Thanks for your thoughts! 🙂

  6. Very good post. Very interesting.
    You have put yourself in a position to behave the way.

    Unfortunately for me I am not.
    But more important is that reading post like this one makes me understand what need to be change to put myself ultimately in a similar position of becoming independent.

    Good job.
    Great exemple for all of us.

  7. YES to everything here. This is such a thoughtful post — I love all the ways you look at this. As you already know, we got suckered into thinking that a more senior level is better, and now that we live in a mountain town with no other comparable job prospects, we’re stuck having to suck it up in overly demanding, overly “important” positions. On the plus side: the money makes saving a lot easier. But you bet we lament all the time that we can’t get demoted and take a pay cut in exchange for less pressure and fewer demands.

    The part of this that really struck me was that you can only be unimportant if you were once important. That makes me think of my mom, who will be retiring well after me, and is completely blind to the fact that her work ethic always has and always will hold her back. She’s bitter that she’s not important, but refuses to work past 6, give out her cell number, or generally commit to any job at the level that’s needed to become important. So she’s unimportant in the bad way, not the way you describe. That’s got to feel crappy for her, but that doesn’t make it any less her responsibility.

    Here’s to becoming unimportant ASAP! 🙂

    1. Totally! It is interesting how many people want extra prestige and responsibility at work, but refuse to put in much in the way of additional effort. I remember when I was younger, I told my dad that all I wanted was a regular, 9 to 5 job. His response? “You aren’t going to make lots of money by working 9 to 5”.

      Yet again, he was right. 🙂

  8. Very well summarized Steve. I like how you put together, the less important you are, the less stress you’ll be. The whole climbing up the corporate ladder concept never made much sense to me. Definitely need to become more like you.

    1. Thanks Tawcan, appreciate your kind words. Climbing the corporate ladder definitely isn’t for me any longer, that’s for sure. It just seemed like that’s the thing that you do when I was younger, so I followed through like a good little minion. 🙂

  9. I do think this is an interesting discussion. It seems there are three camps. There are those who love their jobs, who want to give it their all (I am one of those), those who want FI to do what they want, and those who want FI to, ironically, become important. Do you think you will ever want to be “important” after FI?

    1. That’s an excellent question, Jason. I guess it depends on what “important” actually means post-retirement. I have no real interest in the more traditional definition of “important” to be perfectly honest. Really, all I can ask for is being a good husband and travel companion, not to mention the best photographer that I can possibly be. 🙂

  10. Great to be in this position Steve, good for you! I think there are too many people who are not in this position and have to resort to the ass kissing, promotion chasing because the are ruled by their money, They have no control over it, it has control over them and forces them into these type of behavior at work. Once you take control, have a plan you can reduce the need for these tactics and just focus on doing a good job.

    1. Hi Brian!

      It’s true, once people take control of their life, they have the power to make almost everything better, and that definitely includes their work life.

      Thanks for reading! 🙂

  11. I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot lately. It’s tough because I have to “pretend to care” more than I really do, as I still have a 10 year career ahead of me before I’m FI. I’ve never been one to slack off, and I try to exceed expectations, but it’s a little tougher knowing I’m not going to be working for another 20+ years. Right now the exceeding expectations and sucking up comes in handy when I want or don’t want certain projects, or when raise/bonus time comes. If I was in your position, I’d do the exact same thing as you.

    1. Hey Fervent – Sounds like you’ve found a good angle by pretending to care, in that you have more autonomy to pick and choose the work that sounds interesting to work. In a company, that ability is certainly not common! Good on you for making that happen. 🙂

  12. Haha! This is great. This reminds me of the conversation with my manager 6 months ago about, “do you want to go manager or stay on the tech side?” I said, “Well, if it means ending up in a position like yours, managing 27 people, and endlessly in meetings, then no thanks! I’m fine doing the technical work. If it means a team lead of 5-7 people, yeah that could be fun!” Needless to say, I’m still technical. 🙂 I can stay importantly un-important and just contribute, do what I’m asked and a little more, because that’s just me, then I go home.
    I made the move from my last job at a perfect time. I got a 30% raise, double bonus, and even some golden handcuff incentives, and hell, I LIKE my new company, job, and people I work with. Even though raises and promotions have been suspended due to the downturn, I’m fine with it. I don’t want another promotion, I’m in a great spot and loving it. Double bonus is I work on a desktop at my new place, so there is no taking that home. 🙂
    I am SO okay with not being that guy working my tail off trying to get even more ahead. I’m good where I am.

    1. Amen to that, Mr. SSC! It sounds like you’re in a good position right now with where you work, and I agree, getting to work on a desktop instead of a laptop does imply that you can’t take your work home with you, safe any access to web-based email. 🙂

      1. Ironically, I just found out that my current project scope has now increased by more than 5 fold. I was also told I was going to mentor a new geologist and she could help with the project since the scope increased so much. 🙂 Both are exciting changes, I just found the timing hilarious in respect to this post.

  13. I’m important at my company but that’s because it’s so small. And we could always use the overtime money. And because, as the only income earner, I need to be integral to the company.

    But I think your strategy is much healthier than most people’s. There’s an unhealthy obsession with finding meaning in your work or doing what you love. Sometimes it’s just about doing what required (but doing it well) and getting on with your life. To paraphrase an old adage, “Work to live, do not live to work.”

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Abigail. I definitely agree that old adage definitely has a place here, and I couldn’t agree more. Do your job, but don’t live for it! 🙂

  14. I’ve been thinking a lot about this and what I want – having now probably progressed from ‘entry level’ to whatever comes next, and also learning that my boss is my age!

    I’m totally happy at the individual contributor level and at not checking my phone constantly off hours. But I DO want to progress and upskill and earn more.

    1. I can definitely respect that, NZ. The desire to learn is certainly a positive quality, and that’ll serve you well in life for sure.

      Thanks for reading!

  15. This is by far my favorite post of yours. So feisty and intuitive and INTERESTING at the same time! While I don’t agree on 100% of it all, I agree with 95% and really it’s just such a different way to think of things. Something most people (and especially $$ bloggers!) would never say. And that means you’ve got some huge cajones sir. And I like it 🙂

  16. I am now less than six months away from my early retirement, but I started appreciating the role of the unimportant about a year ago. I love your list of things that you no longer care about – I can definitely relate with each and everyone of them. I am still committed to doing a good job, but I don’t worry about BS and turf battles the long-term “career builders” do. I have even been known to sneak out of the office early on a Tuesday and catch a movie… I never did this earlier in my career (when I was working hard to reach FI).

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, MrFireStation. “I am still committed to doing a good job, but I don’t worry about BS and turf battles the long-term “career builders” do.”

      — I couldn’t have said it better myself. That’s the key – do a good job and literally forget the rest!

      I’m looking forward to finding out how you like early retirement coming up in a few months. 😉

  17. Fantastic article! I am proudly another one of the minority. After a decade of management and accompanying politics, I am now a casual worker that calls my own schedule and doesn’t pay much mind to anything other than to do my job well when I am there, and not to worry when I am not. I don’t ask for permission to take holidays, I have my schedule around my family and personal things that need taking care of. The manic race has stopped for me, and I couldn’t be happier!
    I think a lot of people could do this….I actually make no less than I did when I was working full time with all the deductions. I wonder why it took me so long to have the courage to ask!

    1. Thanks for the comment LC. I love this quote: “After a decade of management and accompanying politics, I am now a casual worker that calls my own schedule and doesn’t pay much mind to anything other than to do my job well when I am there, and not to worry when I am not.”

      Well said!

      And like you, I don’t make any less, either – in fact, I actually make MORE. Maybe it’s the confidence and stress-free decision-making that appeals to companies more than simply hours spent at the office. 🙂

  18. All I could think while reading your post was: Yes. Yes. Yes!!! What a great article!

    I spent years chasing the promotions and the key assignments. And I kept moving in the “right” direction…until I realized that the next promotion would mean losing whatever little bit of a life I had left. Despite having repeatedly been offered this “opportunity”, even after having left the organization, I’m thankful I never took the bait. Being available to work 24/7, along with having the skills and ability of course, was the price of admission and it’s a price I’m simply not willing to pay, no matter what financial rewards and status are attached to a position. It’s akin to selling your soul to the devil! Here’s to doing a job, doing it well and still having a life.

    1. Amen to that! I am heartened to see that more and more people are prioritizing their life and stress level over their job titles and responsibilities at work. The more people do that, the happier we will ALL be as a result. 🙂

      Thanks for dropping by!

  19. I love this and sometimes feel the same way. My boss (of our two person company) recently informed me he will be retiring towards the end of next year. This give me options (hence him telling me so early). I could, if i want, take over his job and be in charge of the office. Yes, this would be a great opportunity and would probably be a nice raise with the promotion but I don’t think I want it. I want to continue to just come in, do my job, and go home. I don’t need a fancy job title or big raise (although the money would be nice). I like not having any stress and having someone else to take care of stuff if $hit hits the fan. Would it be good for me career? Probably. But then again I don’t want to work for another 20 years so I am included to stay in my current position. Lazy? Maybe. But I am happy.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Mrs. SFF. That’s a unique position to be in for sure, but I absolutely agree with you that as long as you’re happy, that’s all that should matter. 🙂

  20. Great article! Reminds of this quote. “Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.” Henry David Thoreau

    1. Thanks Justin, appreciate you dropping by. It’s true, success does have a way of finding people who aren’t necessarily looking for it. You don’t find it, it finds you! 🙂

  21. This post reminds me of a recent commercial where it says “when did leaving work on time become an act of courage?”. At my last job before retirement, I told the interviewer that I was 7-10 years before retirement. I think the reason I got along with my supervisor so well is that she knew I was not a threat to her. I wasn’t looking to move up the ladder or compete with her for glory assignments. I went, did my work, stayed a “little” later if necessary to complete a task, but for the most part just put in my time. When I was a month away from retirement, I trained my replacement plus took on the duties of another employee on a 3 week vacation, which was the most extra stuff I’d ever done there and received a very nice check on my last day there in appreciation for that work.

    1. Hey Kathy – I actually remember that commercial, though I don’t remember what it was a commercial for. 🙂

      That sounds like an awesome way to quit full time work. And, it also means that if you ever need to go back to work for whatever reason, you probably have a job waiting for you. That never hurts!

      Thanks for your comments.

  22. Most days I love the professional babysitting. I’ve had horrific bosses after college and I determined when I was the boss I wouldn’t be that way. I had no idea there could be a different way until I was at my new job and my boss came around one day and said, “why don’t you go home there is nothing to do today.” Really? We can do that? I then took over for that boss after a few years of learning a different way. No micromanaging, no “monthly” staff meetings or weekly meetings, and no meetings at all really. We all talk at 10 am each day informally and hang out to talk about what concert they went to and what else ifs going on in life and successes.

    Most people leave because of their boss. I love productivity and not hours worked. Get your work done early, then leave! You have tons of PTO saved…hey you need to take time off of work and go on vacation. If you don’t you are going to be miserable to please plan to leave work. Someone has to be a boss, it might as well be me and I might as well make it fun and make it a retirement job so it doesn’t feel like work. Doesn’t happen everyday but a little creative thinking doesn’t hurt productivity, it enhances it because i have happy people around. I kind of feel bad for my employees when I walk out on them in my mid 40’s and retire early…but I’ve done what I can and hopefully someone keeps up the tradition of no traditions.

    Fantastic article.

    1. Thanks Lance – it’s true that the boss very often has a huge impact on whether people stay or go at most organizations. I’ve had okay bosses throughout my career, fortunately. The one that I have right now pretty much lets me do what I want, which is always nice. It’s probably what is keeping me around at this point and not calling it quits even MORE early than the plan. 🙂

  23. Steve,

    Great stuff. Couldn’t agree more!

    I’m all for working hard for what you want in life, but working hard to appease/impress superiors who view me as completely expendable never appealed to me. I think working hard and putting in 100% takes on a whole new meaning and becomes so much more worthwhile/rewarding when you’re doing it on things you actually love. Working hard on passion projects is very different, for me, than working hard at the office. Although, even passion projects have their limits for me as I’m just the type of person that enjoys unstructured free time. It seems some people fear unstructured free time as if you’ll just spontaneously combust if you’re not busy all the time. And I think a lot of this comes down to the idea that so many people identify themselves by what they do for a living. Without constantly hammering away at that identity, some people might feel lost.

    Thanks for putting this together!

    Cheers.

    1. Hey Jason! Thanks for reading – and I couldn’t agree more that passion that I get working on projects that I truly enjoy is so much more important and meaningful than just putting in a ton of hours at a full time job.

      Like you, I love unstructured time. Gives me the freedom to do things based on how I feel, not based on someone else’s schedule. 🙂

  24. Great post! I must save, I have a slightly different spin on this, working for the government … Not the most productive bunch, hah.

    This is great “anti-career career advice” to people my age just starting out in the work force. I’ve quickly realized, having been promoted twice this year, that as long as you keep a solid work ethic, you can let all the other crap slide off you – the endless overtime, stress, everything you’re talking about. We are conditioned to think the only way to “get ahead” is by being “important,” when in reality, cultivating a strong work ethic is what’s truly going to get you ahead in life. IMO, this is even MORE relevant if you are FIRE track! Retiring early with ambition in all the right places (hobbies, self-discovery, true work) instead of just the career ladder, you will be more equipped for a fulfilling post-work life 🙂

    1. Hi Christine – I like it, “anti-career career advice”! And you’re right, work ethic is definitely independent of all the other crap that full time office work tends to bring your way.

      Thanks for reading!

  25. I like being that unimportant guy.. and the nice thing is I do make great money because of the niche area I work in it is hard to find folks with my specialty skill set.. Only 2 years ago was a formal college degree created for my position and it is still only offered at 2 colleges in the US… But give it time… 4-6 more years and I’m sure it;ll be saturated…

    But for now I enjoy my stress free environment that is stepping me up nicely to Early Retirement..

    1. Hey Tim – yup, finding a niche area is tougher and tougher to do, but if you are able to find that area, enjoy the hell out of it while you can!

      Thanks for reading. 🙂

  26. Whoa, this piece is like you’ve spent a day rooting around in my psyche about the topic, except you’re far more articulate about it than I ever could be! You’ve expressed my “career goal” exactly: to not be important and not give a shit about ‘getting ahead.’ To reach my personal goals, all I’ve required of my employers is to pay me reliably and fairly. All the rest means nothing to me. Thanks!

    1. I like that attitude, Kurt – do a good job and get paid fairly for it, then forget the rest and let someone else handle that stress. Music to my ears! 🙂

  27. I think the money-hunger world tries to sell us on being important. Fame isn’t for me. Everybody wants to be in the spotlight until they are, then they realize that it’s not as fun as they thought.

    1. It’s true, Kalen – I guess that’s where the phrase “be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it” comes from. People only notice the good things about fame and importance, but they don’t get to experience the negative side until it happens to them.

  28. Have you ever considered slacking off even more since you’re so close to retirement that you actually can get fired and collect unemployment benefits for a while instead of just retiring early? It would be kind of like a bonus paycheck that you wouldn’t need to work for anymore 🙂

    1. Ha! I hadn’t considered that exactly, but I have considered the layoff option, which would include a severance. I’d rather take money from the company than from the gov’t via unemployment. I’d just have to time the layoff for around this time next year, then I’d be golden. 🙂

  29. This is an awesome message. I feel like I’ve hit this in my career, as well. It’s enjoyable going home much more stress free. It makes your home time so much more enjoyable when you’re not stressing out about work. I just feel that we, as people, have much more of a grand plan for our lives that is beyond the responsibilities of a nine to five. We have so much more potential and we need to realize that potential on something we are completely passionate about. For some people, that MAY be getting ahead at work. Not me.

    We are definitely all expendable. I would rather use the time that I’ve been able to free up to do something I feel is productive – something that I feel passionate about – and that will eventually lead to “getting ahead” in its own sense.

    -DP

  30. Just stumbled upon this post today, and I LOVE it! I’ve felt this way for a long time, but I’ve never heard it worded quite so cleverly. I have been amitious to an extent (I have two master’s degrees and what one could call a “career”), but I’ve never sought out leadership positions or anything high profile. I am one of those women who refuses to “lean in.” Why? Because my personal life, the people I love, and my well-being are more important! True, my nice job funds a lot of the things I enjoy in my personal life, and I appreciate it, but I’m not striving to climb the corporate ladder. I like my work, have an awesome team, and then I forget about it entirely on nights, weekends, and holidays. My job is something I do. It’s not who I am.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Melanie! Good on you for recognizing what is truly important to you and not compromising for the sake of a “Career”. “My job is something I do. It’s not who I am”.

      Love it!

  31. At my last job, I was annoyed working on what I regarded as unimportant tasks, until I noticed how the important people were always running around like Chicken Little and pulling huge overtime. So I decided being unimportant wasn’t so bad, especially considering how the small pay increase would have entailed a big workload increase.

    1. I definitely noticed the exact same thing, Stevie. And at one point I was one of those important people, and I suppose if you want a long, drawn out career, being important is “good”. I sure don’t, and I’m comfortable just being a staff member these days.

  32. Great blog. This pretty much sums up where I am now, with just over 2 years to reach FI. Coincidentally, we’ve just had our annual company salary review and I really didn’t care because we can achieve FIRE on our current salary with zero future raises – but, hey, the extra will increase our investment pot!

    The hardest part is trying not to get too involved in changing things for the better. I want to support my direct teams to have less stress and more fun at work, so quite fight the battles with the business on their behalf. So sitting back and just doing the job is something I’m finding hard. But I’ve saved this post URL and I’ll ready it regularly to keep me on track!

    Thanks again for providing the inspiration to focus on reducing work stress and becoming unimportant.

    Paul

    1. Thanks for your comment, Paul. I definitely understand your position – sometimes it is tough. And frankly, there is certainly nothing wrong with getting more involved in areas that make the most sense, remembering that your job is just that…a job, and definitely not worth leading a stressful life in order to pursue! 🙂

  33. I need to do this. I spend way too much time at work then thinking about work after work. I work with someone that spends her day letting everyone know how important she is and it grates under my skin. I need to stop caring.

    1. Thanks Savvy – my position is to do the very best job that you can, but understand that it’s your job, not your life. There are WAY more important things to focus on in this world than a job. 🙂

  34. 21 years working for software Megacorp have me drained. I am 100% with you on your list of 6 steps. I recently was given new responsibilities (temporarily). I did the tasks for 2 months. It was stressful and my regular job suffered. I told my manager that I was going to quit. They moved the task to another person and I have returned to a level I can live with.

    I continue to detest the company I work for. Blow 1 billion and pinch pennies all over which causes overworked, stressed out employees.

    I am close to want to making 1/2 as much with 1/2 the stress. I just haven’t gotten the guts up to actually really try to find another career.

    1. Hi Wade – I had a very similar experience, though I’ve never really detested the companies that I’ve worked for necessarily. Instead, I was just dissatisfied with what I was doing in general…regardless of company. I wanted to find another line of work for myself, but like you, I had a real tough time actually pulling the plug on IT. The problem is it pays so darn well.

      I guess that’s only because it has to or nobody would actually do the job. 🙂

  35. Thank you so much for this post. It is hard, especially in the FIRE community which seems to stress pursuing high-earning jobs, to find kindred spirits who are OK lower on the totem pole. My first job out of college taught me this lesson. I was making great money for the time and for my age/experience level, but I was also working until 9pm at night sometimes and responding to emails all weekend. It took such a toll on me that I quit and pursued less stressful work (to the large disappointment of my parents and MBA peers, who could not understand).
    For the last 5 years I’ve been in an Assistant role, and though my responsibility has grown (as has my pay), I’ve resisted any promotions or lateral moves that would put me on a path to promotion. It’s not for lack of my managers trying, either – it is tough to explain to superiors who assume everyone is interested in climbing the ladder that nope, I’m 100% happy with where I am. I like leaving my work behind all weekend – I’m technically paid hourly so it’s illegal for me to check my email on the weekends unless I clock overtime, which is discouraged unless it’s absolutely necessary (almost never). I get the same 401(k) and vacation benefits as someone higher on the totem pole than me, but with much less stress. I don’t make a lot but it’s enough to support my modest lifestyle and sock away for retirement. I wish more people understood.

  36. All my life I never wanted to be a manager for this reason. I just wanted to earn my keep and go home. Sure, I wanted to earn as much as I could to avoid being poor but I never wanted the stress that comes chasing after more money and running a department. Sometimes good enough really is good enough.

  37. Love it. I hate those meetings where you meet to plan for another meeting. Holy crap! Those are mind numbing.

    I’m glad being a nobody as well. Don’t have to convince anybody to like me so I can get paid. Don’t have to hang out with people I don’t like.

    Being a nobody rocks!

    Sam

    1. or the sales meetings where the sales managers make you repeat what you already told them via phone or email for the benefit of the other people who really don’t benefit from anything you said because it’s your territory and your customers and they don’t care about that.

      🙂

  38. Great post. This has always been my approach. It was never planned, but just who I am and how I am wired. When I was non-exempt, I worked some overtime for extra $. After I became exempt, I have not once worked more than 40 hours in a work week. I just show up, do my job, then go home. I have received raises and a few promotions over the years, but have never been a butt kisser. I talk to the CEO or vice presidents the same way I talk to the janitor. Being humble and keeping your ego in check is a great way to live and work. If you don’t follow that approach, as you stated, you are only fooling yourself anyway.

    1. Definitely sounds like you have your priorities in order. And I agree, exempt positions definitely have their advantages. I had an exempt position and made some pretty good money in overtime.

  39. I love love love being an individual contributor. I manage my own territory, my own time, and my success. I work in a Fortune 25 organization and the pressure is always there to keep ascending the ladder to make Manager, Director, or VP status.

    One of my former managers had a plan put together on how to advance me based on my strong performance and couldn’t wrap her head around the fact that I was happy in my current role and could do it until I retire in 20 years.

    I check email for the last time on Friday afternoon and ping it again on Monday morning. My days of being uber-responsive on the weekend to impress people are over. Thanks for showing me that I’m not the only one!

  40. Thank you for so clearly articulating my philosophy towards my career / work life… I can relate to every word, though could never have come up with them myself. Missed the original post, but Rockstar Finance made sure I got it this time. Much appreciated guys!

  41. I knew other people with that attitude but it felt very foreign to me. Your article helps me understand it some better but I can’t get my head into it completely. I just love competition and work became the ultimate arena with money as a tangible reward. I went from entry level to being the head Fred by the time I was 41. I never had to suck up I just had to be the smartest, quickest and best leader there. Most people would love to be world class at something, singing, acting, throwing a football, whatever. I just happened to find I was world class at my job and there is something almost intoxicating about being in your sweet spot talent wise for 40-45 hours a week! Now I’m slightly early retired I enjoy my life even better than I did work, but work was also awesome! I did especially enjoy working knowing I was FI and could leave whenever it stopped being fun, which was great because it finally did stop being fun and I was outta there! Love your blog and the way you are helping others find a path in life that fulfills their dreams.

    1. Thanks for your comment! There is definitely a sense of competition in the workplace, and some people do thrive in that environment. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. I say do what works for you and forget the rest!

  42. I agree with this….except, I want to climb the ladder to make more money so that I can hit my FIRE number sooner. Herein lies the struggle. I think finding a good balance is key, I like being an individual contributor, but I didn’t want my lack of experience to prohibit me from getting certain opportunities going forward. So I think getting to that level to check the box makes a lot of sense. I think it is easier to downshift back to individual contributor at some point in time (might have to take less pay) than it is to climb the ladder at some point if you decide that is what you want. I also think moving up the ladder at a smaller organization could be a good compromise. Smaller companies seem to have less annoying policies and needless red tape (not always true, but seems more common than at bigger companies). However, you may end up wearing more hats at a smaller company because of the limited resources, so it can be a risky move, but also more interesting work.

    1. That’s very true, William. There definitely should be a balance. Like I said in the article, if you spend your entire career being unimportant, then you’re leaving a ton of potential (not to mention money) on the table. That, of course, extends your working years out further than they need to be. Of course, that ain’t fun!

      And yes, moving up in a SMALL organization, in my experience, has been FAR, FAR more rewarding than in a small one. The bureaucracy inherent in larger companies can be downright suffocating.

  43. Love everything but I disagree on two points – First, I think “sucking up” a bit to your boss helps maintain a happy relationship which is important for your happiness as an employee. Second, I think it’s easy to stop caring about getting raises when you’ve hit a certain salary or total comp that makes you comfortable. I’ve hit that amount and no longer care about raises but I fought like hell for them leading up to this point.

    1. Hey J – no I completely agree. Like I said in the post, being unimportant is only great when you have spent many years working hard and kicking butt, making money and maximizing your earnings potential. If you spend your entire career as an unimportant stooge, then you’re not doing yourself any favors.

  44. I was just catching up on my reading/listening list from a couple of months ago (of course, because I’ve been too busy with work!), when I heard you mention this post in the Mad Fientist podcast. Love it. While I’m not quite ready to down tools entirely, these sentiments are exactly why I decided to switch to independent consultancy. Your “performance review” is repeat business. You give your advice and perform your contractual obligations without becoming embroiled in corporate politics. You are not “on the critical path”. You are paid for the hours you work (or want to work). You can take extended time off without the dreaded “resume gaps”. You can use this time to fully explore new technologies and approaches, or work on personal pet projects. I’m liking the flexibility it affords us until such time we can travel North America like you guys…

    1. Thanks Lesscode! Yup, there’s incredible wisdom in not letting your job completely consume you, and there’s nothing wrong with just being another staff member. Of course, earnings potential might suffer, but we all need to weigh the benefits of taking a lesser role over the responsibilities of being “important”.

      Thanks for your comment!

  45. I love this post because this is exactly how I feel. I used to be important until we got acquired by a bigger European company. I channeled that newly found free time to blogging and I’ve never been happier.

  46. This pretty much exactly describes me right now and I agree it’s very liberating: Worked (too) hard, became manager, got pay rises, hated it anyway, rolled back to being unimportant and am enjoying work and life much better now.

    However I do agree with others that if you’re starting out on your career you’d be a bit stupid to not take promotions when they came along. You might as well go up the ladder until you find your happy level, you can always go back down again if you don’t like it, as you and myself have actually done. It’s not easy but in most cases it can be done!

    I actually managed to keep my manager level salary and then also negotiate working part time (pro rated pay of course, no one is that good at negotiating 🙂 ) – although this is probably because I was getting slightly lowballed in the first place anyway the point is I got the pay rise by working my butt off and am now enjoying the pay off.

    Of course if you can get promoted and more money without extra stress, over time and responsibilities then that’s awesome but I doubt that is possible in 99% of jobs nowadays.

    Great post and of course now you are even less important to your old company so even better 😉

    Cheers!

    1. Thanks Fire Starter. Definitely, if you spend your entire career not important, then you’re probably leaving income on the table. Deciding when to dip into the waters of the unimportant is the gray area that can be fun to manage. 🙂

  47. You have described me. Even before knowing about FI, I have been then unimportant person, my children have been my priority always and I prefer to spend my time with them than working extra, also.never been the ass kisser, not my style; however, I feel underestimated and never given enough credit for.my work, but I am fine with it.

  48. There is a Chinese idiom…when you find a willing horse …. ride it until it drops…then find a new one…which is true in the teaching professions …hmmm maybe I will blog on that…I am near retirement too and have started a practice blog…will do an international living one later which is more mainstream …balance os important… http://christianprofessionalsoverseas.com

Leave a Reply