How many times in the past year have you wanted to quit your job?
How many times did you rationalize staying by saying, "It would be stupid to leave before I get my bonus." You could substitute the word raise, promotion, or vacation for bonus. If you are postponing career change until your current career rewards you, you need to start thinking about this like an addiction. Welcome to the world of golden handcuffs.
You know the movie about the thief who just needs 'one more score' before he goes straight?
Most people have a number in their head that symbolizes freedom to them. They tell a story about the day, not so far away, when they are going to quit their job because they finally have enough money to do what they want. Almost every person I work with thinks that freedom is a zero or two on the end of their bank account away. I have worked with salaried employees who want $10K in the bank before they feel safe taking a leap and hedge fund managers whose number is $100M. I'm not even talking, go on a private jet buying spree freedom. I'm talking, I can leave this job and finally spend my time doing something I love freedom. Forget about the freedom to stop working, we're talking about the freedom to choose to do the work you want.
If you see a pattern here you are bound to notice one thing.
It's not really about the money.
So what is it about?
Before he became a billionaire Elon Musk lived on a food budget of a dollar a day for a month to help himself become more agile. The knowledge that he didn't need very much liberated him to take risks. He chose freedom as his baseline. This is where he knew he would end up if he failed. Once he realized he would be fine eating ramen he was free to gamble everything else. His current success rests firmly on the confidence he has in his ability to lose nearly everything and be fine. If you have followed his career you know that he has appeared reckless with his finances, but absolutely rock solid in his vision. When his companies are in trouble, he doubles down.
Think about how you spent your last bonus. If you are like most of us, you bought new shoes and clothes, went on vacation, got a bigger apartment or a fancy gadget, ate at nicer restaurants, drank better alcohol...maybe even put a little into savings or retirement. You 'enjoyed' the money despite the fact that you didn't usually enjoy earning it.
The things we "splurge" on or "treat ourselves to" tend to act as a reinvestment in our current predicament. The more luxury you choose, the more you need your current job. We become less agile, not more. Be honest, how often do you rationalize an expensive purchase as something you "deserve" or as a "reward" for how much you suffered at work? Rather than feeling fulfilled by the intrinsic value of how you are spending your time, you seek material comforts to dull the existential pain of living out of integrity.
Ask your 10 year old self how he/she feels about your current career. The toys you buy amount to bribery or hush money to the parts of you that want to revolt and quit. You require a vacation, fancy dinners, a new phone and a massage to convince yourself to show up again tomorrow. Quitting would mean trusting that hopeful, inspired, enthusiastic part of yourself that ruled when you were younger. Put more simply, changing careers is about trusting yourself; about trusting that you have more to offer the world and giving the world a chance to respond, rather then preemptively declaring yourself a failure.
We spend the vast majority of our waking hours working. When was the last time you woke up energized and excited to go to work? Every single one of us wants our work to be personally interesting and feel like a significant contribution to the world. We all have different ways of contributing, but when we admit what truly inspires and excites us, it is never a cash bonus. We get excited thinking about we will do once we have enough cash to follow our heart.
Working a job you strongly dislike is like driving a car with the emergency brake on. It will move, but a lot of energy is wasted in the process and pretty soon something is going to break. Those luxuries are like throwing extra oil into the system. It might slow the wear, but it doesn't address the fundamental problem.
Ever read the top 5 regrets of the dying? We only need to look at the first two:
1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life life truer to myself
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard
Often times following your heart will actually lead to more money. It did for Elon. It has for me. But what if it doesn't? Did you lose or win? Is a life well lived more about the comfort you can buy or the rewards inherent in spending your time doing what you love? This isn't idealism. This is a practical question.
Up to a certain point, money is directly correlated with happiness. Once you have a roof over your head, decent food, functional clothes and a little bit in savings, more money stops equaling more happiness. At this point, we are "chasing the dragon". We are searching for freedom by building a more expensive lifestyle instead of choosing freedom by limiting our dependence on things that don't provide lasting pleasure.
Not everyone is meant to live a life of self actualization and adventure. Most people in the world feel blessed to have a job that will allow them to survive. Keeping their family fed is adventure enough. But here in America, those of us who are lucky enough to have a bonus season, a corporate ladder to climb, or paid vacations have some interesting choices to make. You get to choose if you want to keep chasing the next raise or if you want to listen to that still small voice in the back of your mind that is telling you to live with more purpose and more integrity. If your bonus has been the motivation for staying through the year, perhaps it is time to simplify.
Imagine for a moment that you were to walk away tomorrow. Don't just read this, take a risk and be curious.
Can you see your old job behind you?
Now look straight ahead.
Let yourself dream just a little bit.
What do you see in front of you?
Now focus on your chest and your stomach.
How do you feel?
Do you feel more alive or less?
Is this a feeling you want to wake up to?
Next time we'll talk about finding your purpose.