The awesomeness of not being important

Published June 28, 2017   Posted in How to Think

You know how awesome it is to not be important?  To be that guy who comes into work every day, does his job and goes home?  The guy who never volunteers for additional work, 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? Or his performance review?

You don't need to be important - you just need to...be!The guy who actually smilesgenuinely 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. 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.  

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.

Seriously. Like, next to no work-related stress. No stress at all, really.

Am I going to get ahead playing this game? Of course not. But, I also don’t care.  Not one bit. I don’t want to be the guy who gets called over the weekend because something broke; I’ve already been that guy.  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.

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.
  • 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 thinks 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 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 my retirement from full-time work last December. 

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Comments

109 responses to “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.

    • Steve says:

      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”?

    • Steve says:

      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. FIbrarian says:

    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!

    • Steve says:

      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!

  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

    • Steve says:

      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!

    • Steve says:

      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! 🙂

    • Steve says:

      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. Tawcan says:

    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.

    • Steve says:

      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. Jason says:

    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?

    • Steve says:

      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.

    • Steve says:

      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.

    • Steve says:

      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. Mr. SSC says:

    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.

    • Steve says:

      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. 🙂

      • Mr. SSC says:

        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.”

    • Steve says:

      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. NZ Muse says:

    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.

    • Steve says:

      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. J. Money says:

    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. […] over at ThinkSaveRetire wrote this great article on the awesomeness of not being important. Because he’s planning to reach FIRE soon, he’s pulled back at work and has much less […]

  17. 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).

    • Steve says:

      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. 😉

  18. LC says:

    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!

    • Steve says:

      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. 🙂

  19. 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.

    • Steve says:

      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!

  20. 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.

    • Steve says:

      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. 🙂

  21. Justin Murphy says:

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

    • Steve says:

      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! 🙂

  22. Kathy says:

    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.

    • Steve says:

      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.

  23. 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.

    • Steve says:

      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. 🙂

  24. Jason Fieber says:

    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.

    • Steve says:

      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. 🙂

  25. Christine says:

    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 🙂

    • Steve says:

      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!

  26. Tim says:

    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..

    • Steve says:

      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. 🙂

  27. Josh Collar says:

    This is freaking brilliant! Something that I wish I’d written myself. Been nodding my head after every sentence.

  28. Kurt says:

    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!

    • Steve says:

      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! 🙂

  29. Kalen Bruce says:

    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.

    • Steve says:

      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.

  30. Zee says:

    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 🙂

    • Steve says:

      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. 🙂

  31. Very interesting perspective. Really makes a person think.

  32. 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

  33. […] The awesomeness of not being important by Steve, thinksaveretire.com. This is a great, if under-appreciated, goal to achieve in one’s career. […]

  34. […] I drag my unimportant ass across the entire house and plop down in my comfy office chair, occasionally re-surfacing […]

  35. […] you’re not busy 24/7, you’re either unproductive or unimportant. If you’re not driving a $50k auto, you aren’t successful enough. If you’re […]

  36. Melanie says:

    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.

    • Steve says:

      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!

  37. Stevie Wonders says:

    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.

    • Steve says:

      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.

  38. Paul Jackson says:

    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

    • Steve says:

      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! 🙂

  39. […] caring less at work can provide much-needed happiness. Well stated – and it reminds me of my unawesome blog post of month’s […]

  40. […] less at work can provide much-needed happiness. Well stated – and it reminds me of my unawesome blog post of month’s […]

  41. Savvy says:

    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.

    • Steve says:

      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. 🙂

  42. […] can you take the unimportant route and get out of it […]

  43. […] point where I am disconnected to the output. Steve over at Think Save Retire has talked about the awesomeness of being unimportant. For some of us, being the one solely responsible for the success or failure of a project sounds […]

  44. […] on board! In fact, I enjoy my relative unimportance at the office. It gives me much more time to focus on my life, my wife, and our looming early […]

  45. Wade says:

    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.

    • Steve says:

      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. 🙂

  46. YellowWLS says:

    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.

  47. SteveK says:

    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.

  48. 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

    • Steve says:

      Being a nobody does rock, doesn’t it? 😉

    • SteveK says:

      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.

      🙂

  49. dave says:

    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.

    • Steve says:

      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.

  50. Note to self. Frame this and put on wall.

  51. 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!

  52. Chris says:

    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!

  53. Steveark says:

    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.

    • Steve says:

      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!

  54. William says:

    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.

    • Steve says:

      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.

  55. 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.

    • Steve says:

      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.

  56. […] The awesomeness of not being important – Think Save Retire […]

  57. […] The Awesomeness of Not Being Important by Think Save […]

  58. lesscode says:

    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…

    • Steve says:

      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!

  59. Menard says:

    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.

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