The real reason you hate your job
In June, the New York Times published an Op-Ed titled Why You Hate Work, written by an executive of the consulting firm The Energy Project. The article had clearly struck a chord with its readers and immediately jumped to the top of the New York Times’ “Most Emailed” list. It definitely piqued my interest, but when I read it, I was deeply troubled by its conclusions.
We spend our young lives training to become two things: employees and consumers. And we’re told that fulfilling these roles is a lifelong endeavor. As children we’re expected to study hard so we can get a good job. “And then what?” we ask. And the answer is work. Work until we die.
“Why You Hate Work” rehashes old ideas about how a company needs to “put its people first” and “take care of” its employees. Take more breaks. Provide free food. Provide flexible schedules. But the real solution to employee satisfaction? Stop being an employee.
The reason we hate our jobs so much is that we do them for way too long. We work so long in jobs we hate because we are dependent on them for our survival. If we stop going to work, how will we pay for our student loans, the mortgage on our house, car insurance, the electric bill, the groceries? What choice do we have besides working? A lot more than we think.
People say that time is money, and that’s very true. Every dollar that we spend obligates us to more time working. In contrast, every dollar that we save and invest wisely brings us closer to the day when we no longer have to work for money, because we can live on the growth and income of our investments. This is traditionally known as “retirement.”
If you follow the standard script of the middle class, you will most likely graduate college at 22 and get hired as an employee at a company (or three or four over time). You earn money and save 10% of your income towards retirement (Good job! That’s almost double the national average as of June 2014). The other 90% goes to buying consumer goods and services that you “need” and “deserve.” This is America and you can’t live without a new F-150! And a big house to fit it in. And a gardening service to make the house look nice. Put it on the Visa! Finally you reach age 65 and have a decent nest egg built up. You retire and live on your 401(k)’s growth and income. But you dip a little into the principal each month, because you’re not going to stop your high rolling lifestyle now, right? You deserve a seniors’ Caribbean cruise each summer. So your retirement savings start dwindling and suddenly you’re 90 and you’re still alive. And in debt. Total time worked: 43 years (and no better off).
Let’s try a different strategy. You graduate from college at 22 and get a job. This time, you save 50% of your income. The other 50% goes towards life-enriching activities like bicycling to work, living in a smaller, easy-to-maintain house with a little garden that leaves plenty of time for activities like vacationing with friends and family. At age 39, your wise investments have reached the point where you can live on the growth and income and keep up with inflation so you never have to touch the principal. Five decades later you’re 90 and trying to figure out how to divide your excess wealth among children and charities, but you still have plenty of life in you from your low-stress, high-happiness lifestyle. Total time worked: 17 years.
The secret to employee satisfaction is to keep employment limited. A 50% savings rate is the minimum we should strive for. Others have achieved 75% savings rates, and even 90%, which would mean a working life of 3 years.
But if we save more than half of our income, how will we afford to buy all of the things that make us happy? The reality is that buying and owning stuff doesn’t make us happy after our basic needs are met. Community, leisure, and variety are the ingredients to a happy life. And they don’t cost as much as you might think.
We don’t have to be as extreme as saving 90% of our income, but do we really need to settle for 10% or less? Can any amount of coffee breaks and team-building exercises make up for the drudgery of 40+ years of job dependency? And what if things go wrong? What if we love our job, but lose it and have to settle for less? Will Social Security exist in 20 years? An early retiree doesn’t care.
Monte Largo Financial Advisors is committed to helping our clients achieve early retirement. We prefer to call it financial independence, though, because who says you have to stop working? Maybe you want to start your own business, and finance it yourself. Or you could devote yourself to a world-changing non-profit. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination. The point is, we can escape the cycle of work and debt and live the life we want.
Instead of working in a job we hate, let’s work together towards building a future we love.
Alejandro is a financial planner at Monte Largo Financial Advisors LLC.