A Barrier to Independence – Your Job
If you’ve been a regular reader you might have noticed that the output from the grizzlies has dropped off over the last few weeks. I’ve been lucky to get one post up a week, and Grizzly Mom has disappeared entirely. You might have thought that maybe we returned to the woods to live out our bearish existence? Maybe we went off on a well-deserved vacation? Or perhaps we just took a short hiatus from writing to pursue even more interesting endeavors? Unfortunately, you would be wrong with all those guesses. We were both simply working. Working our asses off. Grizzly Mom had a number of cases at her firm blow up suddenly. Couple that with a host of other associates quitting lead to a hellish few weeks for her. My own personal nightmare has simply been the craziness that surrounds every major public company towards the end of the year.
So the Grizzlies have been a little busy, but I thought this was a perfect time to talk about one of the most significant barriers to achieving financial independence: our jobs. You might call this crazy! Our jobs give us these massive salaries. Our jobs provide the very means to leave them. But there’s an old phrase, “What one hand giveth the other taketh away” that seems quite apt for describing the state of many workplaces in America. And perfect for the Grizzlies. So why exactly are our jobs such a barrier to making this transition? It comes down to three things.
The first problem that is somewhat unique to jobs like ours is the culture you are immersed in every day. It is a culture of excess and a culture of money. Your average lawyer or average tech company worker makes a lot of money, and in most cases they spend it. Everyone buys a new car every year, often a very expensive one, and then proceeds to mock the 2006 civic or 2005 RAV4 the grizzlies drive. Everyone buys new clothes regularly and looking a certain way is a prerequisite for fitting into the company culture. Most people we know have plans to send their kids to private school even though the public schools around here are great. Condescending conversations about how great their private schools are often follow.
I would love to say that the Grizzlies have a skin of steel and that these comments and undertones roll off our back leaving us completely untouched. That we can go back to our wonderful lives of frugality and never care about any of it. That would be a lie. We have progressed very far down the path of not caring about material goods and status, but there is always that tickle in the back of your mind. The allure of the shiny object. It’s much harder to resist that allure when you are surrounded by others relentlessly chasing it every day.
The second barrier is expectations. The higher you go the higher you are expected to go by everyone around you. If you make it to senior associate you’re expected to make it to partner. If head you’re department you’re expected to go on to head your division. If you complete one project successfully you’re handed five others that have languished. The reward for winning the pie eating contest is ALWAYS just … MORE PIE. Once one mountain is summited everyone simply starts asking you where the next mountain is. This builds on itself more and more the further you get into your career. It can be a great thing if your desire is to climb to the top of whatever corporate ladder you’re scaling – power begets more power begets more money begets more power, ad infinitum. But if you’re aim is to leave then it creates a hamster wheel that is very easy to get stuck on.
Once again, we would love to say that we are immune to this. But no one, no matter how strong, is immune to the thoughts and expectation of their fellow humans. We are social creatures, we are wired to want to please our companions in these little tribes. When our companions expect us to do something it takes the strength of Job to deny them. And often our companions in these jobs of ours expect a great deal from us.
The final barrier is simply time. One thing that we have to admit when walking this path to financial independence is that it takes time. Saving money IS more time consuming that going after the most convenient (and expensive) option available. To say otherwise is rubbish. A full reckoning of the costs will show the path that gives you freedom first is usually better, but that doesn’t change the immediate allure of a bit of extra time now. When you work a job as time-consuming as the Grizzlies that allure becomes all the more sweat. Who hasn’t wanted to just order some takeout after a 12 hour day? Who has time to do your own home improvement projects or maintenance if you spend the entire weekend answering e-mails? The jobs are terrible and often you just want some temporary relief.
But it’s worth it
Despite all of these barriers, we believe the goal is worth it. It’s worth bucking the culture, dashing the expectations, and taking the slighly harder path for a few years. We imagine freedom will taste much sweeter if it is hard earned. So for that we thank our jobs (if only for a moment).