The Road Not Taken – A Tale of Engagement

The following is a guest post from frequent commenter Curmudgeon. This post is his second guest post (“who am I?” was his first). Enjoy!


Here’s a situation you may find yourself in at some time in your life. I have a job. It’s a moderately responsible, moderately stressful, yet moderately enjoyable job for which I am paid moderately well (especially by the standards of this industry). I was promoted into this job from a subordinate role after a surprisingly short time at the company.

Well, thanks in large part to the economy (the employer just went through a significant layoff), I’m now told that I can’t be compensated at my new, higher level during 2009. I understand my employer’s point of view – I have been with the company less than a year, and have yet to prove myself at the higher level. And money is tight.

But it means that I have a decision to make. I have a standing offer of another job at what I might call a “lifestyle company,” one that is privately owned and run largely for the enjoyment and stimulation of the owners. Nonetheless, it is profitable, and the owners are willing to invest in it, and it is likely to be more enjoyable and certainly less stressful than what I am doing today. The downside is that it would be about a ten percent pay cut, a serious loss of coin but still within my means.

Perhaps because I live only a few miles from the Robert Frost homestead, I frequently consider the road not taken in life. I’m certainly not on the high performance fast track to anywhere in my career, but I have come to expect decent salaries and recognition for hard work and achievement. So it is a natural thought that I am, at this point in my career, giving too much and getting too little in return. Especially since I have available a slower-paced alternative.

A decade or so ago I was an academic – a college professor. I had a colleague in his mid-50s, a tenured professor with a PhD and loads of experience. However, at a time when I thought a professional person might fully test themselves, to reach for that last rung of the career or intellectual ladder because there would never be a better opportunity to do so, his only goal in life was to shrink his intellectual scope to the point where only the trivial mattered to him.

Now, I am not in my mid-50s, but if I stood on my toes and strained my eyesight, I just may be able to see it from here (with my multifocals on). To back off in energy or intellect now seems to accept that I will never again achieve at a high level.

In the end, I want to reach for that next rung of the ladder. I choose to continue to engage the world around me to the best of my abilities, for as long as I can. I hope that you do too.

Attribution Some rights reserved :  photo by Enchant_me

9 Replies to “The Road Not Taken – A Tale of Engagement”

  1. That happens a lot on our lives when we feel lost. But what matters is how we rise from it and solve our despairs. There is a lot to do in life. all you have to do is grab the chances and make the most out of it.

  2. I face similar dilemmas. I'm comfortable at my job, moved up, but my manager admits I'm underpaid (and by quite a bit). 2008 was a good year for our company, but due to low expectations in 2009, nobody's getting any raises. This is pretty frustrating when the company says it pays for performance, you bust your hump, and you end up earning less than you did the previous year – my bonus this year was smaller than last year's, too, even though my performance review results were better.

    So why do I stay? I've had opportunities to leave. But there is always a reason to not go: I'll be the 'new guy' and start over; I don't want to be the newest employee when the company decides it has to downsize; I don't want to move; I don't want to increase my commute much beyond the 15 min it is now; I have great camaraderie with my current teammates.

    Should I follow the money and take the 20-30K bump in pay, but sacrifice my commute and time at home? Or do I stay here, continue to hope things improve, and spend my extra time working on ways to free myself from the rat race?

  3. I had a similar situation where I was let go from a position that wasn't for me and I didn't like but I was making better money. Now I am working at a more risky start-up, enjoy it better, but making less money. I am young and don't have the financial responsibilities that others may have so it was an easier decision for me. In the end you have to go with your gut and do what's right for you.

  4. As much as it is important to follow your gut feeling when accepting a position you must also seriously consider how those around you will be potentially affected. Being a young person nobody is really affected by my choices, but when you have a family that relies on your steady pay check then that changes everything.

    1. @Studenomics: I've thought that for a few years now: that once you have a family you have responsibility to provide a paycheck and a steady standard of living. But is that true? Maybe it's the wrong way to think – maybe you're condemning yourself to an increasingly miserable lifestyle doing something you don't want to do. Maybe you'd succeed more if you took a chance. I hear what you're saying – I was living it until recently – but it's not as clear cut as saying that a steady pay check is the end-all, be-all of a life.

    2. Steve, I also wonder what I might owe those who remain behind if I jump ship. Not from a sense of obligation, but rather from the role of leadership. Is it true that the higher you are in an organization (the role I'm considering giving up is at the director level), the more you need to take into account those who you are leaving behind?

  5. I must be very selfish, because I always take the road most gratifying (even if it's long term gratification). 🙂

    As far as I know, those I've “left behind” have been perfectly fine.

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