As my 31st birthday rapidly approaches, it routinely surprises me that I have been a working adult for a decade. As I reflect over my career, I wonder what the impact of my pursuit of FIRE has had on my career.
I started my career in the military as a member of the Air National Guard. I realized military culture and I were not a good fit, so I said farewell to doing 20 years and got out after my initial 6 year enlistment was up.
When I graduated college, I started working for a Fortune 100 company. Many people joined the company young and stayed for 30, 40, even 50 years. They offered excellent pay, benefits (which included 10% 401k matching and a traditional pension), and a sense of stability. It was incredibly difficult to be let go from the company. You were set for life if you managed to get in as an employee and not as a contractor.
But that company, despite paying me close to six figures in my mid-twenties in a low cost of living area, was flawed. They were very bound by the rules and did not bend them for any reasons whatsoever. I grew frustrated when the answer to my “why do we do it this way” questions were always “because we’ve always done it this way”. Career progression was limited once you made it to a certain grade. At the time, I was 110% into early retirement, so I left that career possibility.
I regretted that decision for a solid two years but I have made my peace with it now. My friends still at the company have told me I got out at a really good time, as they have a new CEO who has made a lot of changes (and not really for the better).
Then I got involved in the military industrial complex when I got a job in Washington, DC. Working at the Pentagon quickly reminded me why I left the military. I lasted 6 months. My next job at a military contracting company lasted a mere 7 months. I didn’t like being on the East Coast.
Nearly 2 years ago now, I moved back to the Midwest and started working at a quasi-governmental agency. I really enjoy working for my employer (and no, I’m not just saying that because they pay me). My coworkers are fantastic and I am 100% sold on the company mission. I feel like we’re doing really good work for the community and the country at large.
Since I’ve started pursuing the FIRE life, it has given me courage and flexibility in my career. Courage to leave a very comfortable job. Courage to move across the country and back again a year later. Flexibility to take unpaid days off or buy more vacation when 10 days didn’t cover all the things I wanted to do.
But I also wonder if it hasn’t hindered my career. I’m 31 and a Senior Analyst. I’m still on the lower end of the individual contributor scale. I have friends in the military who are now senior enlisted. I have friends that have started million dollar companies. I know people who are already retired at my age. I’m nowhere near earning six figures. (I realize $78k is a lot closer than many people and I recognize I have nothing to complain about — but the gap between $78k and $100k is significant at my company.)
I have absolutely zero motivation to move up the ladder. I’m content doing what I’m doing. I don’t want to manage people. I don’t want to manage projects. I can barely manage my life from falling apart. I don’t want the weight of being responsible for other’s careers.
So I’m left wondering, where does this take me for the next 24 years of my working career?
“But Gwen, 24 years is super far away and oddly specific. Why not save a bunch of money and retire early if you don’t have any idea what you want your career to be?”
I will be working until I am 55 as that is when I am eligible to stay on our bomb-diggity health insurance plan at employee rates as a retiree. My health insurance plan for just me costs slighly over $100 a month with zero deductible and low copays. That is a set of golden handcuffs I cannot ignore, especially with a partner who is immuno-compromised and requires all sorts of medical care/supplies.
Another reason I don’t ramp up my savings rate is I don’t enjoy saving tons of money any more. I get super stressed out. I don’t enjoy hustling every minute outside of work to earn more money. I want to enjoy my time on Earth and it’s easier to do that when I don’t worry about whether my savings rate is 60 or 65% that month.
What’s sparked all these thoughts is a reorg of our division and group. As part of that reorg, my current manager will become a senior manager over my new direct manager. I had a meeting with my new direct manager this week where I told them I would be an easy employee because I have no aspirations, and a difficult employee because I have no aspirations. Fortunately, both my current manager and new manager are a part of the FIRE community, so both of them know where I’m coming from and why I think the way I do about my career.
Maybe I’ll figure out how to join the podcast team. Maybe I’ll take over as the guru of retirement benefits. And maybe, I’ll stay in my current role for the next 24 years. One thing is for sure and that is there is no such thing as a dream job. I don’t mind working as long as it doesn’t suck. And right now, working doesn’t suck.
As always, thanks for reading! How has your pursuit of FIRE changed your career progression?