Why I Really retired from Corporate Work

I’ve been reading some incredibly thoughtful and zoom-out-and-look-at-the-entire-human-race-from-the-perspective-of-an-alien articles on other blogs recently, and they forced me to re-think some of the reasons I quit my job as a computer engineer back in 2005.

Two of the articles, which I wouldn’t recommend digging into while at your own work unless you are a very advanced slacker because they are so long, are these:

Are you Suffering from Careerism, at Early Retirement Extreme. Here the author points out that at some point in your career, your advancement or survival may start to depend on politics rather than performance.

The Gervais Principle, on a blog called Ribbonfarm, dives deep into a theory that all big companies are actually made up of only three very tragic-sounding levels of people. While quite bleak overall, the description is strikingly accurate and is really just a workplace-specific zoom-in on human nature itself – the annoying tendency some of us have to compete for power when placed into large groups.

The Dark Side of Early Retirement, on Financial Samurai, suggests that perhaps quitting your job is a result of being a bit of a wussy who was afraid to make it to the top, rather than a Mustachian Hero. He also points out that early retirees tend to go around promoting how good it is to be an early retiree, much like people who move to Florida talk endlessly about the warm winters. These tendencies sound pretty annoying so I’d better be careful myself.

When I read all three of these things together, it made me wonder a bit about my true motivations for quitting.

Was it because I was afraid I was not good enough, so I just quit instead? This is a sensitive topic, because I was still just a non-management employee by the time I retired – no major waves were created, no newspaper headlines were written, and I’m sure the other worker bees seamlessly swarmed in to replace my empty cubicle and pick up the work I left behind. The company didn’t miss me a bit. Was I quitting because I wasn’t good enough to reach the top?

Was it because I had started to see the true nature of big-company politics, and I didn’t like them?
As a 19-year-old engineering student just finishing his first year of university, I scored my first engineering summer job at a very good company. It was an incredible thrill and I will never forget the utter joy of even entering a real office building. The big windows overlooking professionally landscaped grounds. The luxurious front lobby and fancy bathrooms. The electronic ID badges. And even the exotic low-pile office carpet and my very own cubicle and desk.

Objectively speaking, I can tell you that professional offices are actually fucking awesome places to work compared to gas stations and convenience stores. But over the years, you grow accustomed to the luxury and human nature starts to find things to complain about rather than just being permanently starstruck.

I call this the California Effect, where people from California and especially Los Angeles, are permanently jaded, because they were born in a place that is already absolutely beautiful, with mountains, ocean, non-stop perfect weather, infinite money, and a free society in which you can easily become a multimillionaire. The arrangements of tropical flowers which bloom and lick at your ears from even the lowliest McDonald’s Drive-through are infinitely nicer than even the most advanced garden in my own hometown. But jaded LA residents insist on finding problems with it instead. And compared to Southern California, the rest of the country seems even crappier, because SoCal is actually the nicest piece of land in the country (note that I’m talking about geography rather than culture here).

So goes it in the office lifestyle as well. After I became used to the building and the cubicle and the oversized paychecks, I did start to notice that my efforts to improve company morale and profits were sometimes falling upon deaf ears. Many of the more senior managers of the companies I worked for seemed to be content with maintaining a peaceful status quo rather than really taking risks to improve the company. And that’s when it hit me: at a big company, people are not actually trying for ultimate achievement.. they are trying to prolong a stream of paychecks because they are living a life that depends on several more decades of these paychecks to come in an uninterrupted fashion.

I did have the pleasure of working in some smaller and more dynamic-feeling companies earlier on in my career. Those were a lot more fun and I could imagine someone making a longer career out of hopping from one youthful place to the next, leaving only when the company grew too large to be fun.  I did a couple of hops myself, but then the 2002 tech recession hit and temporarily extinguished the supply of start-up companies in my area.. so I settled in for a longer haul.

So yeah, I would have to say that the dull and neverending nature of big-company work is what did me in. It was definitely pleasant enough to endure for as long as I needed a paycheck. But after that point was passed, the gain was less than the pain so it became logical to leave.

My self-employment gig, on the other hand, is worth doing regardless of monetary factors. That’s the kind of work that builds up energy rather than subtracting it, and sucks away abdominal fat and health problems rather than creating them. So I don’t plan to ever quit that one.

What will YOUR job, or lack thereof, look like in retirement? It’s worth thinking about from time to time, since you’ll be getting the opportunity sooner than you might expect.

 

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32 Responses to “Why I Really retired from Corporate Work”

  1. Kevin M June 23, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    This:
    “So goes it in the office lifestyle as well. After I became used to the building and the cubicle and the oversized paychecks, I did start to notice that my efforts to improve company morale and profits were sometimes falling upon deaf ears. Many of the more senior managers of the companies I worked for seemed to be content with maintaining a peaceful status quo rather than really taking risks to improve the company. And that’s when it hit me: at a big company, people are not actually trying for ultimate achievement.. they are trying to prolong a stream of paychecks because they are living a life that depends on several more decades of these paychecks to come in an uninterrupted fashion.”

    Sums up my thoughts…and I work at a small company (10 employeees).

  2. pennyfactory June 23, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    I think my retirement job will look a lot like my regular day job, only I’ll do it from a little office adjacent to my home and I’ll only do as many hours as I prefer – hopefully somewhere around 1-5 hours a week. My work with clients is basically an hour by hour type business so the trick will be maintaining referrals.

    Alternatively, I’d like to do something like weekend courses for large groups of participants at a hotel maybe 3 times a year – using my knowledge and skills while leaving my days largely free.

    But I sometimes think I limit myself to my professional career type stuff that I might not even want to do post retirement. I also love cooking in bulk – maybe I could start a business providing high quality pre-prepared frozen vegetarian meals for busy people? Just totally take a different track than my work life…? That’s the most exciting part about early retirement – the flexibility and finances to try different things. :D

  3. mike crosby June 23, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    May I diverge please? Your comment about California.

    Sometimes, when playing golf here in SoCal, especially in Jan or Feb and the weather is absolutely gorgeous, I’ll hear someone in my foursome complain about the weather. At first I think, maybe I didn’t hear him correctly, but then realizing I did, I have no response. I’m just dumbfounded.

    Southern California definitely has its problems, but I marvel too at the gardening facades of these fast food restaurants. You put yourself on the fast track for heart disease by eating their food, but at least you can look at the pretty flowers while doing it.

  4. Fu Manchu June 23, 2011 at 11:18 am #

    Wow, the Gervais Principle article is brutal. It’s as if it were a study on my exact workplace. I am left at a loss…I suppose my best route will be a “Loser” who is quietly squirreling away a ‘Stache (fully realizing that “loser” in the context of the article isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

    Hopefully I can get out as quickly as possible. I sure as hell don’t have it in me to be a sociopath or an overly-loyal “Clueless.”

  5. Early Retirement Extreme June 23, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

    I eventually became a ‘Loser’ after realizing I had been ‘Clueless’. I didn’t have it in me to be a ‘Sociopath’ although I’m sure it could have been ‘fun’.

    The work place of large organizations if also fairly well described by the Dilbert cartoons.

    • MMM June 23, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

      It is nice to have you hanging out here at my house, Jacob. I feel like I attended a party at your virtual pad back on May 24th, and ever since then a bunch of your friends have been over here as well. Ahh, blogging.. what a party :-)

      As for the Gervais ranking: I too was a loser just deliberately breaking into the ranks of the clueless when retirement hit.

      One thing I disagree with is the concept that the losers have made a “bad economic bargain”. It seems that the rate of pay even for rank and file office workers is quite high, when measured in how much food and other living expenses you can earn per hour of work. Especially in fields like engineering..an entire lifetime of economic needs paid for in under 10 years? Good Economic Bargain. The Sociopaths may attempt to hold pay down to a minimum, but when capitalistic competition for workers escalates as it has in engineering, the pay seems almost irrationally high.

      Then again, I was even excited to earn $4.15/hr at the gas station in 1990, so I’m easily impressed.

      • Early Retirement Extreme June 23, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

        The return on effort is certainly higher for Losers than it is for the Clueless. In terms of compensation, the Clueless are the true losers.

    • Wiiksi Wallu June 25, 2011 at 2:48 am #

      I had to stop reading Dilbert because it resembled real life in a big corporation all too well. Back when I started my career ten or so years ago I thought Dilbert was funny. After several years of corporate life with general cost cutting measures and getting rid of employees, reading Dilbert became painful.

      Someday I hope to recover and read Dilbert with a smile on my face.

      • lurker September 28, 2013 at 10:18 am #

        amen!

  6. Paul T June 23, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    Epicuris described a phenomenon that he had observed 2000+ years ago. His friends would make a purchase, a new vase, some new slaves or new clothes for their slaves, some cutlery. In the moment of purchase they would experience a joyous feeling, unfortunately this would wear off rapidly. They could then only get a happiness boost by showing off their purchase to their friends. After that, the joy wears off almost completely. Everything eventually returns back to normal.

    Alan de Botton in his “Consolations of Philosophy” uses this ancient observation to describe why an executive, finally reaching the level of flying around the country in a private jet, will eventually resent it as much as you and I resent our daily commute, it “normalizes”. The following TED lecture by Dan Gilbert covers a similar point…

    http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy.html

    “Because the fact is that a year after losing the use of their legs, and a year after winning the lotto, lottery winners and paraplegics are equally happy with their lives.”

    Louis CK describes a flight where the Stewardess announces “Internet in the Air” for the first time. Within 5 minutes it stops working. The person sitting next to him is furious, FURIOUS. He is sitting in an armchair in an aluminium tube flying through the air at 30,000 feet, 400 MPH, surfing the Internet… normalized in 5 minutes. Interestingly there was no other person involved, Louis later admitted that he was the infuriated passenger.

    We normalize our entire lives, we cease to see the wonder all around us. Consumption doesn’t matter. Fast lifestyles don’t matter. Stop and count your blessings. Write them down, 5 of them, every day. Things I am thankful for.

    And for you youngsters… the passage of time seems to speed up the older you get. Grade school takes a lifetime, High school another lifetime, College – another lifetime, the next 20 years? Well, they seem like a couple of months.

    On her 70th birthday my sister asked my mother what it felt like, looking back on her life, she thought for a moment and said “An afternoon”.

    Slow down everyone.

    • Early Retirement Extreme June 23, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

      Life speeds up as soon as you stop learning (building neurons/connections). Most people stop learning after they exit college.

      • Bakari Kafele June 23, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

        your probably right, but the more I think about it, the more incomprehensible that seems.
        I mean, come on, THERE IS SO FREAKIN MUCH TO LEARN!!!!!!!!!!

        I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface – just of the things I’m even interested in, which it self is a tiny subset of all human knowledge (itself a subset of all that could potentially be known)

        What is it in some people that makes them not curious about how all this works?

      • Mark June 23, 2011 at 9:13 pm #

        Why does life speed up so much? Honestly, the last 4 years of my life have felt like a few months. My 4 years of college felt like 10 years.

        • Bakari Kafele June 23, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

          Because the older you are, the smaller the percentage of your life each unit of time is.

          For example, when you are 3, a year is a third of your entire life!
          When you are 50, a year is just 2% of your life.

          2% feels like a lot less than 33%.

      • MMM June 23, 2011 at 10:55 pm #

        Nice, I had never heard that “learning/building neural connections” explanation of time passage perception. My own experience is consistent with that though – the six years since I quit working have felt like about twenty years. And I’ve been learning much more in that time than in the six preceding years because of the increased freedom to read and try new things.

    • MMM June 23, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

      Damn Paul, your comment is better than my article. Thanks for sharing those ideas with us!

      I also didn’t realize that this wordpress blog software lets you embed clickable video links right into a comment. Fancy.

  7. Bakari Kafele June 23, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    I never had a job last more than 10 months before I quit for the first 26 years of my life.
    I spent time as an armored truck driver, a lab assistant, a security guard, a bike messenger, a fund raiser, a carnie, a personal assistant, a cashier, a forklift driver… and that doesn’t even touch the jobs that lasted a month or less.

    That finally changed when, post-college career plans had a rocky start (the position I got accepted to was eliminated before my training began!) I put up an informal Craigslist ad offering to do deliveries in my truck just to make some pocket cash until I found a “real job”
    5 years later and “BioDiesel Hauling” is a certified green business, I do zero advertising because I can barely keep up with repeats and referrals, and I am about to do (another) video interview about my life.
    Being self-employed, I can look back and see why I kept quitting.

    Real jobs suck!!!!
    9-5, M-F?? Seriously?
    And then the people you work for get to keep most of the money that your productivity generated.

    I suspect that when the day comes that I can live off of savings and interest the rest of my life, I’ll do exactly the same jobs I do now – I’ll just put in much fewer hours and charge less.
    And then, since I can live off of my savings and investments, the income I make from work can go to luxuries without a second thought!

  8. Mark June 23, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

    OMG the weather? That is all people complained about when I lived in soCal. People can survive anywhere on the face of the earth and we still complain about it. How bout we try pluto or venus instead then folks?
    I NEVER care about the weather – NEVER.

    • MMM June 23, 2011 at 10:38 pm #

      Nice to hear Mark! .. Again I have been out-badassed by a reader. I do really care about having serviceable weather for biking and other outdoor work. (above freezing most days year-round, sunshine and low precipitation). That’s the main reason I can’t move back to Canada – it is just not fun to set up your carpentry workshop outside in a blizzard.

    • Bakari Kafele June 23, 2011 at 10:42 pm #

      I find that periodically spending a couple months to a year anywhere else besides CA really makes me appreciate home.

    • Mr. Frugal Toque June 24, 2011 at 6:56 am #

      I biked to work in the rain today, after several years of refusing to do so.
      It turns out that it’s just water.
      It washes off.

      • MMM June 24, 2011 at 7:25 am #

        D’Argh.. my brain is hurting as I am being forced to learn new things and become tougher because of Frugal Toque’s example.

        Hey, this must be what it feels like to be a brand-new MMM reader learning about the existence of frugality for the first time, haha.

  9. Freebird June 23, 2011 at 11:10 pm #

    Amen, Mark. I had the exact same conversation today with a buddy at lunch about my hatred of the use of weather as a conversation starter. The weather, really? Couldn’t we just have comfortable silence? I live in Texas and it has been the hottest June in recorded history. Pretty miserable. But I wish I could buy a beer for the man that refined the industrial ac units I surround myself with constantly.

  10. Jen June 24, 2011 at 7:28 am #

    I only care about the weather these days because the world seems to have gone crazy and here in Indiana we have a tornado warning every five minutes! All day, it’s huge, sky-darkening thunderstorms for three minutes followed by sunshine. Creepy! Otherwise, I agree, it’s just weather.

    I think the weather is the only thing one can talk about at work since we have to pretend to be endlessly chipper people with no political opinions or religious beliefs.

  11. Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple June 24, 2011 at 8:45 am #

    Wow that Gervais principle was kinda depressing. I just skimmed it, but I have to say I certainly see myself in the over-performing loser category that’s been promoted to middle management (what keeps me from upper management is my own strange, selfish desire to actually spend time with my husband and child vs. climb the ladder).

    Retirement, hmm…not until I am at least 70 (I am a bit shy of 41). I love the work that I do. I hope when I am 70 I am still able to contribute technically to an exciting semiconductor manufacturing organization, assuming there are any left in 30 years.

    I fear I am one of those people that would wither away if I actually “reitred”, so I can see myself getting a job after official retirement in something more “fun”. Working for Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, or a local farm, or something like that. I’m really into food, and I did enjoy working at a grocery store (granted, I was 17-18 years old.) I’d probably also like to volunteer for local schools and such. Plus gardening and quilting. I’d add watching my grandbabies, but since we don’t live near our parents, I’m pretty sure my kid will move away too.

    I live in So Cal, and one day 12 years ago I was going to lunch and a local (I’m originally from PA) said “Goddammit, I just want to say that this weather SUCKS!”. I laughed. It was 68 and sunny. He wasn’t kidding! He thought it should be warmer.

  12. Sam June 24, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    Hi Mate,

    Good discussion you guys have going! I really think it is hard to maximize one’s potential in this hyper competitive environment, so rather than see how far we can push ourselves, we short-circuit and give up. Perfectly rational.

    Not everybody is destined to do great things, and not everybody has to.

    What are your thoughts about jumping back into the work force after an extended break? Curious to know the income streams you’ve built besides your self employment endeavors that allow you to survive and thrive. Pls point to a post if so. Always curious.

    Thx,

    Sam

    • MMM June 24, 2011 at 10:38 am #

      Financial Samurai! THE financial Samurai? :-)

      I am very optimistic about the idea that people can jump back into the workforce after a period of retirement. I think the people who talk about “skills becoming obsolete” are just wussies using that as an excuse. Because getting and keeping any job mainly involves PEOPLE skills. These only change at the speed of human nature itself, i.e., evolution. Despite the fact that humans are now running evolution in reverse, it’s still a process too slow to be noticed during the span of someone’s career. Also, taking an early retirement usually coincides with quite a bit of additional learning and self-exploration. So you would come back to the workforce as an even more useful and well-rounded person.

      To answer your other question: My income streams are a little unusual right now. I have one fairly high-end rental house (with no mortgage at all, long story…), which provides more than enough positive cash flow for our entire family’s living (see the article http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/05/27/exposed-the-mmm-familys-actual-spending/ )
      Then there are some index funds and retirement accounts that just quietly growing in the background. Then there’s the part time work, which is mostly for fun – although one of our gigs does pay for health insurance, internet, and one cell phone which would otherwise add a few thousand to the budget). So the part-time income ends up getting saved 100% as well.

      As with many early retirees, it turns out we had over-prepared for retirement, which is a nice problem.

      I see you have an article on rental housing at the top of your site today – off to read it right now!

  13. Lisa June 24, 2011 at 11:27 am #

    teaching teaching teaching

    A fresh start every September, a class full of “employers” that will keep you on your toes and infinite intrinsic rewards.

    Sure putting up with some of the administrators antics can be trying, but all in all, a satisfying job.

    I’ve been on childcare leave for 7+ years but as soon as my youngest starts Kindergarten, I’ll be back! :)

  14. Executioner June 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm #

    Methinks you have an inflated opinion of Southern California. In my own experience on the west coast, the farther north you go, the more impressive the scenery. But as they say, to each his (her) own.

    Professional office space has a lot in common with Southern California. Both are completely artificial landscapes, heavily sculpted by humans, with rarely fluctuating temperatures, and kept lush and green and clean by an overconsumption of natural resources.

    Breaking free of the office space to do something more rewarding can be seen as the equivalent of leaving SoCal for a hike through some backcountry wilderness.

  15. Gretchen July 6, 2011 at 8:26 pm #

    I worked about 100 yards from Scott Adams at a large corporation in CA where he got much of his early Dilbert material. We left about the same time. I can attest that much of what he humorously depicted was not significantly embellished. The Officers did focus groups by level of management to gauge the support for their corporate transformation after the first year of ‘implementation.’ They found that non-management, lower management and the Officers were perfectly aligned. ( Most parts of the organization had at least 5 levels of mgt before hitting the first VP, then 3 levels of VP’s) Unfortunately, 3 or 4 levels of middle management were 180 degrees off — the ‘why change the behavior that has brought this far’ mentality. These were the people who were an anchor into the past. I was on the ‘Corporate transformation Team’ and was assigned to assist a VP-level organization. In my meeting withthe VP, he showed me his ‘pay for performance’ goals. His asked:” Do you see this transformation s–t on here?” Of course, it wasn’t. His response was that he was buying a porche with his bonus. I could do whatever I wanted in his group as long as I didn’t interfere with him getting his porche, but the minute I got in the way, my a– was out of there. At least he was honest.

    The Officers did not believe the focus group, so commissioned a 100% employee survey on readiness for change. Same result. They offered retirement and buy out incentives aimed at middle-management. The best left. The pointy-haired bosses remained. The business was eventually bought out by an even bigger bureaucracy. Hard to move a large bureaucracy to keep up with the times! DIlbert is not just a cartoon. To many middle-managers, it’s a way of life… Perhaps this ‘economic slump’ will fix that.

  16. Johnny Austin August 15, 2013 at 11:04 am #

    I fell upon MMM after reading a Yahoo article and immediately started reading from the beginning. This is my first comment since starting reading a week ago. I want to write it down so it comes to fruition, self fulfilling projection, you know? My wife and I have a Texas Rock & Roll band that is 5 years old now, and each year we have managed to grow our gross earnings, not by much, musicians don’t make a lot of money, but as it grows we get closer to retiring to being full time musicians. We both work part time day jobs and keep our costs of living to a minimum. Your blog has inspired our household to get to gettin’ and start working harder and save more so that sooner than later we can retire to our music career full time, traveling the nation playing our music and experiencing this fine country! Which I plan to do well into my hundreds, that’s what retirement looks like for me, 10 years would put us in our 40′s, but I think we can do it in 5 with our current savings and our income properties, wish us luck! Rock On, Johnny Austin of The Staylyns!

    • Mr. Money Mustache August 15, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

      Thanks Johnny! I will definitely look for your band next time I’m in Texas!

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