Category Archives: career

avoiding the Waiting Place

the_waiting_place

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time (or for that matter, talked to me in person) you’ll know that I have been an avid proponent of consulting as a career choice for a long time.  I started my career working for two of the biggest consulting firms in the world, and spent almost 9 years as an independent contract consultant.

Spent?

I have written again and again about the benefits of consulting:

But one of the things I have also espoused in the past was that any change in your life, from losing weight (101 thoughts on losing 100 pounds) to simply making a change (the only impediment to change is yourself) is driven by you.  The reasoning for the change, the motivation, the execution – all have to come from within the individual.  And that’s what happened to me.

There is a danger in any career path that you can become lazy.  Not that the work becomes easy, necessarily, and not that you don’t still have to work long hours at it, but it can become busy…rather than challenging.  I know many accounting clerks who stay wildly busy, but whose jobs have not appreciably changed in form or function in years.  As you move higher up the career ladder, this is harder and harder to do, simply because businesses change and in management positions you have to change with them.  Nonetheless, a sameness can set into your routine and you can end up (a la Dr. Seuss) in the Waiting Place.

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

NO!
That’s not for you!

From Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss

I felt I had ended up in that place.  Despite enjoying consulting, and contributing (I believe) fairly substantially to most of my clients, a sameness had set into my daily routine that I wasn’t enjoying.  Part of it was the current client; typically I spend about a year at each client (usually as part of a single large project, beginning to end, or as a temporary ‘fill’ while a position is vacant).  I had been three years with my latest client, performing one major project after another.

The opportunity to become a permanent employee again had been a vague possibility for a while.  Obviously for a company to keep a high priced (ahem) consultant on board year after year is eventually more expensive than the cost of having a ‘permanent’ employee.  Not only is it more expensive monetarily, but you do run some risk in that consultants are more likely (at least in theory) to move on, taking their expertise with them.  I’d argue that is not really true – after three years I was just as much an employee as the next cubicle Joe, but that’s the perception.

My client had been considering starting up a new function for a while.  I have bounced back and forth in my career between finance and auditing.; my client was starting up a new internal audit function.  While I’ve been in senior management since the late 90s, my detour into consulting had prevented me from ever actually being the head of an internal audit function, something I felt quite ready to do.  So here was the opportunity, for a growing company, to head up a department (albeit at first, a department of one supervising consultants, but with the possibility of starting to hire managers and staff within a year).  I thought I had to try it – mostly just to have tried it.

So as I hopefully begin to write more often I can make a comparison of my new executive role versus the role of the consultant.  It’s interesting partially because it’s with the same company – everybody has known me as the consultant, so changing that perception was one of the early challenges.  Getting used to needing to engage in office politics is another one I have resisted.  Having good benefits is nice; having long hours with no overtime pay is not.  So while I quite enjoy the role and the challenge, I am looking forward to making a more balanced assessment in a year or two.

If you’ve come to the blog to read a consulting post, or how to make money without a job, I’d still stand behind those ideas.  Consulting is a great skill.  With my consulting background I feel confident that I can always return to consulting, at any age, and be successful at it.  But life is full of change AND opportunities to change; after following my own advice to go it alone as a consultant for almost a decade, I decided to take the fork in the road, and avoid the Waiting Place.

what are the benefits of a virtual office?

virtual office

Not all business owners are able to splurge on start-up costs or office furniture. For individuals that are in need of an office space but are on a budget, virtual or serviced offices can be the perfect solution. Virtual offices (also called ‘serviced offices’) offer small businesses many financial benefits.

Furniture can be a very expensive bill for new and existing businesses. Virtual and secured offices are able to eliminate many costs by providing furniture and other office equipment. Individuals are able to comfortably conduct business in a personal office or hold meetings in a conference room without having to spend money on chairs, tables, or desks.

Virtual and serviced offices also allow businesses to save money by providing a long range of services. No more separate bills for cleaning services, utilities, or internet. These services can be included in the monthly cost of having a virtual or serviced office. No more calculating if a particular service is affordable, with a virtual and serviced office the cost are more than likely included.

Virtual and serviced offices provide businesses with an office space that does not place the burden of maintenance on individual tenants. Monthly lease and rental cost include all services that are needed in order to run an office.   There are no hidden surprises – no expenses to repair leaking roofs or fix electrical problems.  The time and effort needed to attend to those types of problems are replaced with a quick call to the property manager; and time is money.

The price to employ administrative support can be reduced by choosing a virtual or serviced office. Many companies spend money to hire and train secretaries. With a virtual or serviced office this feature is already included. The small business will receive a professional greeter or voice over the phone. Small businesses can save money by eliminating the monthly cost of administrative support from their monthly bills.

Virtual or serviced offices can help to save money when it is time to expand one’s business. Expanding can be very costly for any business because it can possibly include the purchase of new furniture items and hiring more staff. A virtual or serviced office can be able to offer bigger offices or additional spaces for small businesses. No need to speed money looking for a bigger office, making additional purchases, or putting a down payment for a larger space. A virtual or serviced office can remove those costs by providing the larger or additional space.

A virtual or serviced office is a wise choice in this economy for any small business. Virtual and serviced offices can save an individual money in many ways, and the greatest benefit is probably in the time saved by having a third party manage the property.  Every minute spent on property maintenance by a small business owner is a minute taken away from growing the business, so this financial benefit can be the greatest single benefit of all.

9 characteristics of a great job

Q: Did you always dream of drawing and writing, or were you about to happily settle for a so-called normal job? Was it the misery of “humiliating and low-paying jobs,” or the joy of drawing and writing, that pushed you this way?
A: I pursued a normal job so I wouldn’t starve to death while figuring out how to have an extraordinary job. I just didn’t know how it would play out. –Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert (link)

How can you find an extraordinary job? What’s the secret to a fulfilling career?

The perfect job. Who doesn’t dream of finding that perfect job? Flexible hours, massive responsibility (or lack thereof), great pay, interesting work, convivial colleagues, travel with perks, and a corner office overlooking the city. Chances are that it’s just that – a dream. Most of us who work for a living – as opposed to entrepreneurs – are stuck working at something less than our dream. The need to pay the rent, the mortgage, the medical bills and so on simply makes the necessity of a paycheck too much to disregard. There are some positives about having that not-so-perfect job, though. Here are 9 things to remember about your current less-than-perfect job:

1. You don’t have to go out feet first. I pose this question to people at work often: do you plan to die at your desk after decades of working for this company? The answer is always no, so I say “then you plan to quit – it’s simply a question of timing.” Remember that your job is not forever. The drama and politics that seem so real now will be gone in 10 years – probably even less – from your memory.

2. You are not your job. Albert Einstein was a patent clerk. Nobody remembers Einstein for his year-end patent clerking evaluation, or the patent clerk staff meetings he skipped. He was not defined by his job, but by his work. If you love to paint, don’t let the fact that you work in retail sales discourage you from painting.

3. Take pride in your paycheck. It may seem like a small thing, often dismissed as “not following your dreams,” but there is some value to simply bringing home a paycheck. If you have a family, be proud that you can provide for them. If you are single, be proud that you stand on your own feet without help from your parents. Even if your job is not perfect, take some pride in the fact that through this job you can support yourself (and your family).

4. Never stop learning. Even the worst possible job presents opportunities for learning – even if they are lessons like “I never want to do this again.” Try and find opportunities in your job to learn new skills. Those skills might come in handy at your NEXT job.

5. Your colleagues may change. If you suffer with a particular colleague, remember that they may leave any day. You don’t necessarily HAVE to be the one to blink and quit! Sometimes you can outlast people that irritate you.

6. The next job may not be that great, either. Everyone has experienced the sinking feeling of quitting one job, moving to a new one and discovering it may be even worse than the one before. If you set an expectation that your life will be a never-ending series of triumphant improvements, you may have some too-high expectations to overcome. Even a near-perfect job will have its off days.

7. Working on the side is only possible if you have “a side.” Writing the next great American screenplay is a terrific idea (although you’ll be crossing the picket lines if you do). However, nobody has ever said that you have to do that and nothing else. There is no shame keeping your day job to support yourself and working on side projects meanwhile. Scott Adams kept working at the phone company in a cubicle even after Dilbert became a syndicated comic strip. Keep at it. Success will come.

8. Don’t discount the social aspect of a bad job. Sometimes the job duties may be bad but the people you work with are great. If you have a bad job but you like your co-workers, keep in mind that a rewarding job doesn’t always guarantee like-minded, friendly colleagues.

9. Motivation isn’t always positive! Sometimes keeping that not-so-perfect job is what spurs people on to avoid “jobs” altogether. Maybe the employee lifestyle just isn’t for you – use that frustration with your current job to inspire you to discover your real passion and break away!

(photo by Ol.v!er [H2vPk])
faulkner grave

lacrosse and Russian

 

faulkner grave

 

I didn’t get that much out of college, other than friends, knowledge, life experiences, and the ability to blow up an opponent in lacrosse.  I majored in math, and now I’m a finance and systems consultant.  Related, fine.  But they are two different disciplines.  I studied linguistics, and while I’m able to speak several languages, I don’t really pay much attention to language, per se.  I minored in Russian, though, and that deeply, thoroughly, and massively affected my life – the choices I made, the places I lived, even all the way through to my spouse and (eventually) my kids.  So don’t assume college doesn’t matter… it just doesn’t matter the way you think it will.  I thought I would be a famous mathematician based on my time in college.  Nope.  But little did I suspect I’d become a Russophile and become “russkiy v sertsye” – Russian at heart.

From Good Financial Moves for College, Part 2:

But that’s not the biggest part of it. Without developing my Russian skills I wouldn’t have met, pursued and married my wife. Maybe if I had taken Japanese I would have lived in Japan, developed a fondness for all things Japanese. Hard to say. But I do know that the decision to learn Russian set in motion the life process that brought me to where I am today.

Photo LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by Bridgman Pottery

angel of business

you may not be an entrepreneur

angel of business

 

I’ve often fantasized about becoming an entrepreneur. It’s an easy thing for someone who works in the corporate world to do. I made a halfway move: I’m a consultant. I don’t really live ‘in’ the world that my corporate colleagues do, but I do physically sit in the same place and enjoy the same pleasant fluorescent-filled days they do. But you’ll find in this corporate world that many employees dream of a future, full of boss-less days, exciting work and endless financial rewards. Here’s a wakeup call.

If you are an entrepreneur, nothing will stop you. I had friends in college (and in high school) who were entrepreneurs. They not only didn’t want to take a job while they built a business – they NEVER wanted a job. The very idea of a job was antithetical to the way they thought. I have relatives like this, too. They would rather live in a dump than take a ‘job’. They might work at at gas station for a while, or a temp job, just to put a roof over their heads. But they never, ever would engage in the kind of corporate jobs many people accept for granted. They wouldn’t give up the time when they could be building a business to sit in a cubicle and wait.

That’s not an indictment of corporate employment. It works for some people. But I don’t like the idea that within ever corporate employee there’s an entrepreneur waiting to bust out. That’s possible, but not likely. Most of the entrepreneurs I’ve known were uncontrollable maniacs – they had to get out there and build something. They were never going to settle for sitting at a desk.

It’s hard to admit what you are, sometimes. I wasn’t an employee – that was an easy admission for me to make, after I made the switch. What was tough for me was admitting that, other than my side income through my blog, I wasn’t an entrepreneur. I’m not. It’s not my skill set – I’m technically savvy but I’m a terrible marketer and salesperson. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you’ll do it as soon as you have 30 days’ worth of rent money saved up. You’ll be ready for the risk. If you don’t? You’re still a good person, but you’re probably better off leaving the business-building to someone else, and concentrating on your job.

Photo LicenseCopyright All rights reserved by sangyul

airplane

how companies miss the big picture

airplane
Years ago I was at a conference in Indonesia, of all places. I had dragged myself down there from Moscow, suffering (as I would later find out) from pneumonia.  The semi-tropical climate was nice, and I felt much better – but I was still suffering.  I knew that the 24+ hour return flight (Surabaya-Jakarta-Kuala Lumpur-Frankfurt) would be excruciating in my condition.  Traveling on Lufthansa on the way to the conference I had been placed in the smoking section, which was – as you can imagine – tortuous for someone suffering from a lung ailment.   I dreaded the return flight, and called the partner I was reporting to at my firm to prostrate myself via an international phone connection.

“Please let me upgrade to business class,” I asked.  “I am very sick and I’m headed to the doctor the second I get back.”

“It’s not in policy,” he responded.  I was a mere manager, and managers traveled coach, and didn’t get to complain when they were shoved in seat 76B of the smoking section.  “Take Monday off when you get back.  You’ll be fine.”

Of course I was tortured on the return trip by the wafting smoke throughout the plane. My pneumonia tripped and tra-la-la’d into double pneumonia and I passed out at work before being told by my doctor that I was in serious, serious health trouble.  The end result?  I packed it in, quit the firm and left Moscow.

I had an extremely good relationship with one of the clients of the firm; this client happened to be one of the biggest and most prestigious clients the firm had. They fired the firm soon after I left (not solely because of me, of course, but I’m sure it didn’t help). Other than that, of course, life continued on for both me and the firm.

Companies need to realize that it’s not always just about the “big things” like salary and titles. Little perks can make a big difference, and they aren’t always just perks. It doesn’t even have to be something like upgrading a sick business traveler from coach class. It can be small things like letting employees take time off for doctor’s appointments, or letting people come in a hour later and leave an hour later if that suits their lifestyle better. I think in today’s business world, the idea is that you can treat people like dogs (or worse than dogs – dogs have gourmet organic food these days). You can charge airlines passengers for tap water. And in my opinion soon you’ll see the final “perks” start to go as more and more companies decide that employees have built-in obsolescence: companies should simply squeeze employees as hard as they can for 2 or 3 years before they move on.

Treating people (employees OR customers) like this won’t be sustainable. The human spirit can only take so much abuse. People get tired of feeling like their company’s only recognition of them as human is the biweekly paycheck. Small things don’t cost companies much in comparison to the constant turnover of key employees (or loss of customers). Somehow it all became about the bottom line, but maximizing the bottom line is only going to go so far.

Photo Some rights reserved by Vox Efx

MIT

in the future, college will be for the rich and smart

MIT

 

Read this:

In 2003, only two colleges charged more than $40,000 a year for tuition, fees, and room and board; by 2009, 224 were above that mark. The total amount of outstanding student loan debt is now more than $1 trillion.

That’s from this NY Times article.  The simple fact is that in the future the smart and the rich will attend college, and if you’re poor or middle class and attend college, you’ll be saddled with tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars of student loan debt – the only debt that the US government won’t allow you to discharge in bankruptcy.  Wonder why the government wants every kid to attend college?  Because you can’t discharge that debt – you’re on the hook whether you can afford it or not.  So we all need to attend college, and a good one, and incur plenty of debt doing it.  I didn’t buy it – I turned down the Ivy League and went to a state school, and still ended up with a six figure career.

I’ve written about this before.  I do not plan to pay for my childrens’ college education.  They will have to be smart enough to get scholarships, or they’ll have to work their way through college, or they can start a business right out of high school.  I don’t plan to indebt myself a quarter million to send them to a private school – a waste of money in my opinion – or allow them to indebt themselves, either.  That may sound cruel, but I think it’s far crueler to allow your 18-year-old – who doesn’t understand the world or personal finance – to go into a quarter million dollar debt for their English degree from Harvard.

There are exceptions, of course.  If you want to go into debt at Harvard to study government or finance and you’re going to leverage that into a job at Goldman Sachs, sigh, fine, have at it.  If you want to work your way through school to get a social work degree and you need an extra $10K to cover tuition, OK, that’s fine.  But if you want to study Sanskrit at Brown, and you’re my kid, good luck.

Here’s a simple rule of thumb:  don’t take out more in student loans than you can make (reasonably) in your first year out of school.  If you’re in education, and you plan to make $30K in your first year as a teacher:  don’t incur more than $30K in debt for school.  That may not sound like much, but after you pay for housing, food, insurance, and on and on, you’re going to be chipping away at that $30K per year for a decade.  And if you decide in the interim to get married and buy a house?  Forget about making headway against that loan.  Kids?  Paying it off at 50.

Generation X had a mixed bag: some paid, some earned, and some coasted on their college scholarships.  Many Gen Yers coasted.  Many Gen Xers – or whatever they are called – are counting on coasting, and will be shocked to find out their parents don’t have the money to let them coast.  Here’s hoping the Millenials – which include, I guess, my own kids, or whatever their generation will be called – will realize that they need to be smart and win scholarships, or be hard workers and sludge through community college and state college, or else will need to forge a college-less path through life.  I won’t encourage either of them to incur massive amounts of debt to get a low-earning degree; they’ll be better off starting a business or working as freelancers.  And you know what?  Motivated, talented people will always succeed, degree or not; and unmotivated, untalented people will always fail, even if they go to $100K/year schools.

Photo LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by Francisco Diez

the only impediment to change is yourself

tomorrow

I entered accounting for a simple reason. Having spent time in Germany during high school as an exchange student, I wanted to get back.  I realized two semesters into my mathematics PhD that getting a PhD in math was clearly not going to help me achieve this goal.  I also thought that it wouldn’t achieve another goal, which I believe at the time was critical: making money.  So I dropped out my PhD program and spent a long time trying to come up with a list of career paths that would make money and let me live a jet-setting life.  Be careful what you wish for.

My MBA helped me achieve one of my goals: I lived the jet-set lifestyle.  I traveled for ten years to all corners of the globe – from Siberia to Indonesia to South America to Boston (Boston was colder than Siberia).  I made a lot of money.  I thought this was what a career was, and by any measure I was quite successful.  I zipped right up the corporate ladder and thought the progression up was itself purpose and goal, wrapped into one.

During that time I had one – 1 – boss I liked working for, out of maybe 5 or 6. That’s not a good ratio.  A saying I heard once – I wish I remember where – was that the only common element in all of your bad relationships is you, so I’m sure that some of the bosses weren’t bad – I was just a bad employee.  That may be.  I always had the skills to do the job, and I did my job well (at least that’s what my performance reviews and clients always said).  But something was wrong, and it got worse as time went by. That’s when I realized that the net enjoyment I was getting out of my job had turned negative.  Long hours, tense relationships with bosses, and a stressful profession started taking their toll.  After I got married I knew things had to change.

I like to think of myself as a risk-taker when it comes to my career, and yet at the same time I am risk-averse. I abruptly changed career paths in college, going from a mathematics PhD program to an MBA program.  I went to live and work in Russia during the chaotic 90s.  I have worked on audits and frauds where I had bodyguards to protect me.  But I hated taking risks and my risk-taking muscle atrophied over the years – or maybe it just got strained from overwork.  I wasn’t ready to leap from paycheck world to entrepreneurial world, so I took a halfway step, going to contract consulting.  I just couldn’t imagine going further, even though I wanted to – badly.

In retrospect this was a mistake. The early aughts (whatever we’re going to end up calling this decade) were a good time to take a chance.  Bubelah was still working, we didn’t have kids yet and the market favored individuals, not companies.  Most importantly, I needed to do something different.  If I learned one thing from my half-hearted shift to consulting, it is this little nugget, oft-repeated and seldom heeded:

THERE WILL NEVER BE A BETTER TIME TO MAKE BIG CHANGES IN YOUR LIFE/CAREER/HEALTH/WEALTH/ETC. THAN RIGHT NOW.

Don’t think that next year will be the year you can finally get fit, or get out of this dead-end job, or start paying down that debt, or get around to skydiving or writing that novel or having kids or…well, whatever. It is time-worn advice, and I know many people (including me) dismiss it – eh, I’ve got the thing coming up with the people and the stuff… maybe tomorrow I’ll get on it.

I knew I was sick of corporate life. I knew I didn’t want to do it anymore.  I still don’t.  I have not missed it at all.  I thought I might be more nervous, or miss the interaction or the environment but I don’t.  At all.  And I can pinpoint the moment at which I got sick of working in this environment – the moment at which the net enjoyment went from positive to negative for the first time. You want to know the awful answer?

My first week at work after I graduated from college.

Yep.

As I said, there were points when I was traveling to places I never would have gone (or chosen to go) when I was deeply grateful for my job. But I could have spent my time earning less money and taking more time off as a teacher after getting a math PhD and traveling (on a budget, admittedly) to the same places.  Traveling for business took me to some neat places, but some – like Warsaw, for example – I remember in conference rooms and hotel rooms and hotel bars and restaurants.   Many nights I ate dinner at 10 pm in the Warsaw Sheraton at the bar after another 16 hour day.  The only time I ever got to “see” Warsaw was when I took a day off after three weeks of 16 hour days to spend time with a former colleague of mine and her sister.  I saw the city for the first time after working there for three months.

But the big paychecks and the big travel and the big meetings all failed to deliver net enjoyment. I realized that I enjoy being at home most of the time, reading, writing, learning and maybe even playing. I know the pay’s not as good, but the net benefit to me is tremendous.  The net benefit to my family is significant.   I took risks to leave the US and work in a chaotic and dangerous country (at least, it was then)  once before.  Should I be scared to leave the corporate world?  Yes, but that shouldn’t stop me.  I left behind hundreds of colleagues who are OK with that kind of work – the pay makes it worth it, or the sense of self-worth from working on Wall Street or just the opportunity to get away from home a few days a week.  Not for me, and if it’s not for you, you shouldn’t wait until the perfect time to make a change either.

photo by taiyofj

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calm waters

stability and desperation

The same people who crave stability and the idea of “never being without a paycheck” are often in the most unstable positions – they just don’t realize it. They are so dependent on the next paycheck that they can’t begin to imagine even two or three weeks without a paycheck. There are other people who never anticipate a paycheck – they are always working on freelance gigs or alternative income. I’m somewhere in-between; I welcome the chance to work on my alternative income streams when my paychecks from clients run low. For me it’s a challenge, and I think it’s largely because I’m willing to think of life without a paycheck. Too many people think that life without a paycheck almost literally means death and despair.

Many of the employees around me are in total terror of a single week without a paycheck. Their expenses continue without pause and their income stops at the drop of a hat. I am much more comfortable knowing that some of my income will trickle on even when my consulting income stops, and far more comfortable knowing that I have a long-term plan of succeeding with my alternative income – something far too many of my colleagues don’t even admit is possible. Most are consumed with worrying about their IRAs and 401(k)s that they aren’t eligible to touch for years and years. Their time would be better spent worrying about what they can do to make more money on the side, NOW.

What all of these people fail to realize is that the instability they feel in uncertain times like these arises from their own lifestyle, and not from the government or the corporations or “the economy.” Learning how to build prosperity, not just surviving paycheck-to-paycheck, is a big first step. Learning to live within your means gives you a more stable life. Learning to think more about making money than saving money helps create stability. Creating alternate wealthstreams in your life gives you stability. Getting a paycheck twice a month doesn’t guarantee any sort of stability at all.

Desperation arises naturally when people face an unknown future with limited choices for action. Creating more choices for yourself is the best way to avoid desperation. Being an employee is a necessary evil for a lot of people (and there are still, believe it or not, people out there who love their jobs). Health care benefits are a big reason. The idea that being employed is “more stable” is hammered into many of us from school age. Even an entrepreneur can tie up too much of his or her wealth into one stream. The real answer to desperate times is to constantly look for ways to start new “wealthstreams.” Just as a chair with four legs is more stable than one with three, a person with multiple income sources is always going to be more stable than someone with only one income source – regardless of who makes more in total.

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by Horia Varlan

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2003-02 Central Park

home before dark

Related to an earlier post about consulting, I had an interview with a ‘traditional employer’ back in the mid-2000s. I’d had a long standing consulting relationship with the company and was even offered a position with them about a year into working with them. Once every six months there would be a brief flurry of interest about bringing me on board as a regular, full-time employee. The last time this happened, when I received an offer, I wasn’t ready to join for many of the reasons I mentioned in my earlier post: I wasn’t willing to give up the flexibility or decent hours that I enjoyed. Another reason I didn’t share with them was my general state of mental exhaustion with audit and Sarbanes-Oxley. I just couldn’t bear doing that full-time forever, and hoped to start transitioning more to finance and systems.

So we went through another little series of feints at one point and I was left feeling a little queasy. A new group had been formed in the company to do work similar to my area of specialty, but probably a little more technical than my usual ‘big picture’ work. I interviewed with two women, both of whom were very pleasant. I had spoken with one of them before as a consultant, but she didn’t remember me and I didn’t bring it up.  The other one I hadn’t met before, but she placed a great deal of trust on the recommendation from the woman I had reported to for the on-and-off couple of years I had worked with the company.

Both of the interviewees made cheerful – almost gloatingly so – references to how hard they were working and how much travel they were doing and how they worked weekends and late into the night. It made me a little bit sad and a little bit angry both at myself and at the culture I live in.

They were proud of spending so much time away from home. One of the women told me how important it was to get along with the team because you spend more time at work than you do with your family.  True, perhaps. But I thought ‘how sad for her family.’ When did that sort of thought process become normal? I think it is important to get along with your coworkers, but the way in which it was presented made it seem like it was a choice, and that the choice should be to focus on your colleagues even at the expense of your family.

Corporate professionals aren’t really compensated fairly. I wonder how you would feel if you calculated how much a Fortune 500 company makes in profit per year and then think about what your share of that profit was. If they have a good year, does your gross go up? No. If they have a bad year, do you get laid off? Maybe. The upside goes to the executives and the downside goes to the employees. I think half of the corporate workforce would like to say “hey, if I work hard and I’m successful, I want to be paid more.” I guess you might argue that’s what promotions do, but there are definitely plateaus there. I took a huge leap when I went from staff to management but once I hit management it definitely was a declining rate of increase each year. I make a lot more as a consultant, and if I work long hours I get paid overtime. If I work less, I get paid less.  If you’re a corporate employee on a salary, please do this exercise:  keep track of when you arrive and leave at the office for a month, and then take your monthly salary and divide by hours worked.  Include time spent at home checking email, too.  It’s the only way to be honest with yourself about what your ‘true’ salary is.

Are people just really good at hiding their emotions? I saw dozens of people in the office churning away at their work, seemingly content. Maybe they were just hiding it better than I am, but I wondered when exactly I lost that burning desire to claw my way up the corporate ladder – and to do it cheerfully. I definitely had it – I worked long hours and played the political games with the best of them for most of my early career. But somewhere in there my will to sell my life to my employers just died. I view my work as a distraction from my life, rather than the other way around. Article after article that I read tells me that unless my work and my values and my goals align, I will be miserable. That may be true, but a significant component of that equation is simply the number of hours you spend on work you aren’t that interested in.

What is the effect on young families? I really dread the consequences of generation after generation of kids growing up in America seeing their parents once or twice a week on the weekends. One of my favorite quips is that no-one ever wishes on their deathbed that they had only spent a little more time in the office.

 Does it matter if it ‘matters’? I have done my bit of mentoring and helping younger people become successful throughout my career, I guess. I have paid my taxes and earned enough to create a good home for my wife and kids, which took some effort after 2008. I don’t work for Halliburton or the Carlyle Group. One of the biggest disconnects I had with the big client I mentioned at the beginning of the article was my suspicion from my time working there that something was rotten in Denmark.  My suspicions were borne out in 2008, of course; just read The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine.

But I didn’t take the job offer, obviously, and after 7 years of consulting I still come home while it’s light out 99 out of 100 workdays. That may not be everything, but it’s something, and my hope is that for my kids it’s a big something.

bird in hand

a bird in hand, or two in the bush…

bird in hand

OK, think fast: two jobs. One pays $50,000 this year; it will have a steady raise keeping pace with inflation (more or less) for the next 20 years, but there will be no spectacular bumps up. The other job pays $15,000 this year. In 10 years it might give you the experience to make $100,000 per year – or, if you haven’t done that well, it might pay you $15,000.

What do you do?

I would argue this is at the core of your personality for many reasons. If I told you that I would give you $5 straight out, or we could flip a coin and heads you’d get $10 or tails you’d get $0, what would you choose? Investing works the same way: conventional thinking tells us that index fund investing is the way to go. You can’t beat the market! Hang in there – there has never been a 15 year period where the market didn’t go up! Be average – hope for the swelling tide to lift you along with the rest of humanity! Bet on the sure thing – take the $5!

So what does that tell you? Do you want to make money now or make money later? Would you take a job for free today with the promise of making more tomorrow? Or do you want cash in hand, thank you very much? Honestly, both are legitimate arguments. I’ve turned down two jobs in investment banking because they were bonus-based compensation and I knew that even though they might be worth 150% of what I was making from contracting, they also might be worth 70% of what I was making. You know what? That’s weak thinking.

Risk taking is fundamental for wealth building. I’m sure Warren Buffet would argue that he doesn’t take any risks: he studies exhaustively and then invests without concern because he’s done his homework. My grandfather did awfully well (until 2000) in the stock market, too, although he certainly didn’t have access to the type of research that WB does. It’s possible to take some measured risks and achieve success as long as your definition of success doesn’t mean being the wealthiest man (or woman) in the world.

I want to make money in the future. I’ve set up my lifestyle to make money in the future. I claim to want money in the present so I can retire now, but I spend a lot of time talking about making it now and coasting along on a decent contracting income without building my investments aggressively or a business or even my own knowledge (which deteriorates every day).

Here is the question: what’s the main thing you need to do? Invest better? Build a business? Or just continue to slowly build income and plow your increasing income – through maintaining your standard of living and putting the excess into savings – into slowly building wealth? One of my favorite reads is was Get Rich Slowly (I don’t feel it’s worth reading anymore), but do I want to get rich slowly? Depends on how slowly you mean…

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