Mrs YFG: why I stay

The usual reaction to someone disliking their job, or their job negatively affecting their life, is “move”. I get this suggestion often, and I know a few readers have also suggested it.

I work long hours. My brain is melted once I get home. My job is high-stress. I get tired of my job like anyone would do.

When I complain, I’m told I should quit. And I think about it….and then I stay where I am. I’ve considered moving firm, qualifying in something else or just leaving altogether and seeing what happens. But I’ve never actually jumped. Even if we had reached our FI target today, I don’t know if I would quit.

I’ve never really thought deeply about why that is until now.

Nothing like a bit of forced relaxation

A recent unexpected hospital stay forced me into bed rest. I could not get myself out of or into a chair on my own, nor in and out of bed, for about three days. For another few days, I still wasn’t functional. I couldn’t do what I usually do (tidy, clean, organise, play with pets, leave the house). I was on actual bed rest for a week.

This drove me mad.

I am the first to admit that I am virtually incapable of truly relaxing and resting. I don’t really know what that is for me. The idea of relaxation for me is getting tasks done at home. If I’m on the sofa with my feet up I’m still busy ticking off tasks. Right now as I write this at midday my feet are up, but I’m halfway through a book, with my half-finished cross-stitch on my lap and having put washing in the machine, painted a cabinet upstairs, reorganised our stationary drawer, and done some shredding. For me, this is a relaxing morning.

To get back to the point, Mr YFG forced me to relax for a week. And I realised that I don’t yet know what I would do with myself if I was home with him. If we were FI, and I quit my job, at this rate I would be climbing the walls. Even though my job is stressful and takes a toll on my mental and physical health, I stay. The time off made me think and explore why.

Salary

Well, duh.

Mr YFG and I have various spreadsheets but my favourite is my FI Countdown. This plots current net worth plus expected salary, expenses and investment returns to give me a number: how many years until I hit FI (we are aiming for “Fat FI” with a relatively high expenses level). The spreadsheet tells me an estimate based on historic investment growth in our portfolio and an estimate which is much more conservative (worst case).

Based on historical figures and on my current (full-time) salary I have about 3 years to go to hit FI in my own right and to reach our joint target. On a very conservative estimate, I have five years to go.

If I moved job and took a pay cut, or went part-time, this would push the boat further out. Yes, I might be happier, but I may also end up doing the same work and hours for less pay. I’ve seen my colleagues suffer this and it’s something that holds me back. I’m not sure I am willing to swap for a longer working life right now.

A devil’s advocate might ask why I would deliberately commit myself to 2-3 years of unhappiness for the sake of money, and put my life on hold? It’s a sensible question, and all I can say is that I’m not unhappy enough yet.

Starting anew would be difficult for me

Mentally and physically. Leaving a job and starting a new one, to me, sounds infinitely more stressful than staying somewhere where things are difficult. Better the devil you know, and all.

Moving involves starting from ground zero when at the moment I’m cruising and kinda know what I’m doing. I want to impress and to make people happy and starting in a brand new environment would be terrifying at the moment. Rather than worrying about my technical ability to do the job (which isn’t in question) my fears are centred around not fitting in with the team or not liking my surroundings.

You never know I might change my tune but that’s how I feel for now.

Comfort and familiarity

My life is somewhat like going to boarding school. [insert boarding school shower time joke]. You go in every morning (you may have slept there overnight) and you go to your dorm (office). You eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with your colleagues one of whom you room with and the rest you see more often than your actual spouse (maybe a good thing?). If you go home that night, you go home after dinner to use your real house as a bed. It takes a lot to up and switch dorms, roomies and such. I’m comfortable.

Fun fact: some big law firms have perks for their employees like in-house doctors and physios, beds, gyms, restaurants and taxi services. They often provide these facilities because it’s cheaper to in-source them than for employees to come in late or leave early to use them elsewhere (and lose billable hours). It enables employees to work long hours but have all conveniences to hand. It also forms part of their pay package to compete against other similar outfits.

If I left my job for a quieter life, this means a smaller firm possibly without these perks. Before you whip out your tiny violin, the perks are a part of my pay. Without them I would be spending my own money. If you work 12 hours a day the perks help you keep up a semi-normal life. Therefore a move necessarily involves assessing what I’m giving up.

Leave because you want to move somewhere else, not because you are escaping your current role

When you’re in the middle it’s very easy to see every other role as a saviour. [insert grass is greener metaphor]. Unfortunately, once you leave and get there, you’ll probably run into the same problems.

Just like a rebound relationship, you’re looking for something in the new role which may end up disappointing when you get there. It’s important that the motivation for your new role is the quality and characteristics of that role itself and not seeing it as an escape.

Often the problem is not the job but the hours, a particular colleague or even something as simple as your open plan office (shudder). Is there anything you can change? Have you asked for help?

When I left my last firm, I didn’t take the first job I was offered. I took a few months off between jobs to interview and find the role I really wanted. Not everyone is able to do this. I just know my life would be very different had I jumped when the going was tough. I think if I did leave I would have to do the same again and take some time off: step out of the woods so I can assess the trees.

My aim is not retirement

Some people on the FI path see FI as a golden number, once they have reached it they can quit and never work again. Some people dislike working so much they are willing to cut their expenses to ridiculous levels (Mr YFG?!) to avoid the “rat race”. I’m not one of them. I am happy to work: I just want to do it in a more balanced way. I want work to be part of my life and just one of a few things I choose to spend my time doing. However, I don’t want it to be all-consuming, mentally and physically, as it is now.

I think a happy medium would be part-time: doing the job for fewer hours a week. I’d have to be careful this doesn’t end up full-time hours in fewer days (which is a risk with part-time!) and that I keep my boundaries in place. But I think it could work. If that isn’t an option, I think I would work until we hit FI and then take some time off and consider moving into a part-time role somewhere else. Eventually, I would like to try to make money doing something I enjoy (crafts, personal organising etc.). I’m not a natural entrepreneur, but I’m good with people and not afraid to get out and about, so I hope I could think of something.

Advice welcome

My mind might change, no doubt about that. I’m always grateful for advice and views from people who have been there, done that, or are in similar situations right now.

FYI: nine days post-op I was replacing sealant in the bathroom (a task I wanted to do for ages). Can’t keep me down.

21 thoughts on “Mrs YFG: why I stay

  1. Obviously, you shouldn’t leave if you don’t want to! I guess what is missing for me in your list of good things about your current job is whether you actually enjoy the work, and whether it’s something that you think is is worth putting your energies into (beyond the instrumental reason of bringing you closer to FI – I mean is the work your organisation does something that you want to be part of, on an emotional as well as intellectual level). For me, that’s what being FI enables – the freedom to choose where you put your energy to work (or to play). But I also believe that people shouldn’t wait until they are FI before moving towards that goal. Clearly the more dependent you are financially on your job, the less room for manoeuvre and the more compromises you may have to make. And, it’s also not that simple – just having the means to quit a job doesn’t necessarily mean that you can choose exactly what you’d like to do next – there are some contributions you can only make by being part of an organisation or from a paid role of some sort.
    About 7 years ago I became unexpectedly FI – as in, my spouse and I almost certainly don’t need to work for money ever again. Aside from the fact that it took me about 3 or 4 years to be fully convinced of this, it’s taken until now to finally decide to leave my ‘career’ job – something I had invested a lot of time and energy into, and which was really not a bad deal in a lot of ways, but had become boring and unchallenging. My spouse on the other hand has absolutely no plan to leave a job he enjoys and where he feels he is making a difference – he knows that he couldn’t contribute to this work in the same way outside of a formal employment arrangement. I suppose the point I’m making is that ‘working’ or contributing or creating is something that a lot of people feel they want to do. Lucky (and determined) people can do this through their jobs, for others, their jobs are what is stopping them.
    I do think balance is important though, and some jobs which would be otherwise interesting and enjoyable stop being so because they just demand too much. A job which is fun at 30+ hours a week is much less so at 60+. I have worked part time for longer than I worked full time, and I would agree that without a firm commitment filling the time you liberate, it may well expand to fill the time available. I dropped my hours when I had a family – and found it a very effective way to limit what was otherwise a potentially infinite workload!

    1. Hi Red Kite, thank you for your thoughtful comment. You’re right, I didn’t even mention whether I found the job fulfilling! Yes- I work in a niche area of law and I do enjoy the complexity of my work navigating the labyrinthine mess of the law. My clients are nice people, and I enjoy being able to say I’m a lawyer in the City. I am tested every day – which is welcomed- although it’s very tiring. I couldn’t do a job without this mental challenge. There are a lot of nice things about my role which I often forget.

      But because I am in a very specialised area of law I can only really move laterally in the same specialisation, and so the comparison becomes less about the work (which would largely be the same) and more about the environment and work life balance. This is why when I think about moving, it doesn’t automatically occur to me to think about whether I would enjoy the work- I know I would as it’s what I do now!

      It’s also about context: I find my work fulfilling in the context of the social status I enjoy, salary and the mental challenge. I would not do it for free.

      My challenge – for FI or forever- is to find a role which gives me the mental challenge and enjoyment I need, which I would happily do for free. You sound like you’ve got a wonderful balance with your job and it’s really nice to hear your story! Part time seems to be a theme with a lot of people in the FI community for a happy life, although you are right when you said work might expand to fill the gap (which is my fear!).

  2. One thing I’ve noticed is that FI bloggers are driven people (you’d need to be to research and write such blogs with no external pressure), so they often struggle with doing nothing. They are always looking for projects, and feel lost without them. As I don’t believe you can really change personality traits, just accommodate them, you need to have a plan for what to do outside jobs.

    As for me, I’m a plodder, had no ambition, and am quite happy frittering the days way. I have projects indoors and out, but they don’t require the commitment of a job. TV days are good days, so there is not much advice to give

    Scruffy John

    1. Hi (Scruffy) John! I must say I admire your ability to just “be”. This is something Mr YFG has and I will sadly never possess. I constantly need a project -as you say- and am significantly more driven than my husband. But he is so calm and just content with life, as you seem to be, and I envy that – being able to slow down and just be satisfied. It makes for a much happier life.

      That said, I suspect if I was like my husband we would both live in pyjamas and exist solely on Pringles and cups of tea….

  3. ‘Just like a rebound relationship, you’re looking for something in the new role which may end up disappointing when you get there. It’s important that the motivation for your new role is the quality and characteristics of that role itself and not seeing it as an escape’
    This sentence really stuck with me. I am working a job that I am slowly growing to hate after four years but I just worry that going for another position would be greener grass still last time I felt like this I changed jobs and the new challenge in a new area really helped me.
    Hard to know what to do sometimes. I worry that my joy in my profession has deserted me and I am only doing it for the pay check at this stage which isn’t helping my own mental health

    1. Hi Ed, thanks for your comment and I’m sorry it’s tough for you right now. My advice – from experience- would be to interview. Put the feelers out, talk to recruiters or go on LinkedIn, do your CV and go for an interview. I have often found when interviewing elsewhere, what you value and like (or not) about where you are really comes to a head. Interviewing and physically seeing what is out there forces you to actually identify what is missing that you want right now. When I’ve interviewed elsewhere I ended up dropping out on realising that I have a pretty good deal and that what I wanted wasn’t out there. You may have already done this, but it helped me.

  4. I retired when I realised I’d not enjoyed any of the last 7 roles over 15 years. It clearly wasn’t the jobs, it was me. I did enjoy the job I did for 8 years before that.

  5. For a horrible moment I thought this was a follow up to the last post about divorce!

    On a serous note I can sympathise with alot of what you’ve said here. I’m fortunate I’ve got through the high stress long hours part of my job and have a much better work life balance now. I’ve earned my right to cruise as you put it though I try not to be complacent as I’m still young and won’t fire for a long time yet at 38 but I’m financially secure enough that I could leave and be OK for a good while

    I really respect people who do what they love without regard to the salary but the income is a big part of it for me. I’m not sure that says particularly good things about me but we are where we are though I enjoy my job for the most part

    1. Hi fatbritabroad! Wow yes I’ve realised the error or my phrasing… don’t worry it’s too expensive for him to divorce me, easier to kill me for the life insurance.

      On that fabulous note, I completely agree that I wouldn’t do my job were it not for the salary (and life insurance…). There is nothing wrong with saying that – I mean that is literally the purpose of employment: we do it for money.

      I would love to want to do my job without being paid to, and I work consistently above and beyond what I’m paid for! The challenge is to find a job you love with the right level of mental challenge, regardless of pay. Some people just end up in such a role, but I suspect it’s quite difficult to find!

  6. As a fellow City lawyer, a lot of this rings true to me. I’m probably a bit more of a flip flopper than you in terms of deciding whether I want to ride it out all the way to FI (some way off for me so it’s not just sticking out a few more years) or doing something different. This month my “alternative plan” is to work in the City a couple more years until I can buy a property in a small Spanish village outright and in the meantime work on ways to build up some sort of career where I can work remotely from there (God knows what that would be!). Last month it was all about staying in law but moving to Birmingham. Yet, in between all of these various schemes I always boomerang back to the original plan of staying put. I think you hit the nail on the head with the point about moving career/job because you specifically want that alternative, not because you’re desperate to leave the status quo. And for me, as the status quo has its up sides (very much along the same lines you mentioned) I’ll keep at it unless one of my hare-brained schemes becomes a fully formed plan.

    1. Hi FF! I totally empathise with you: when the going is tough, the hours are long and the work unforgiving, you do fantasise about leaving and going somewhere else. No wonder junior lawyers move so often and people end up jumping like frogs on lily pads from Firm to Firm ! But like you, when you sit down in cold reality, you can’t pinpoint an appealing alternative. That might change and one day something falls into your lap you never expected!

  7. I think the advice that is doled out to tell people to “just change jobs” can often be a bit of a lazy response. As you point out it’s never as easy as that.

    What seems great about what you’re doing is that you have made it an active choice. As you say, you’ve considered the pros and cons of staying and going and on balance you would rather stay. I think the fact that you only have three years to go is particularly relevant – there’s no pressing need to put yourself under the stress of a move if it’s not for a long term gain.

    When I think staying is less obvious is when people haven’t considered the alternatives or are not moving purely because of fear. I know you talk about the fear aspect a bit, but you also seem to have other factors in play as well in your decision. In particular you say in the comments that you’ve interviewed elsewhere in the past. I’ve found that just knowing I could move if I wanted somehow made a stressful job easier.

    Good luck with it!

    1. Hi Caveman, thank you for your insight! I definitely agree that if someone is staying in their current role out of fear of moving, that’s not a reason to stay. The fear is a symptom of underlying anxiety and distress which I would think needs sorting before they can rationally assess their options (been there got the T-shirt).

  8. It’s very clear that as well as enjoying the status your job gives you, you are very passionate about your work so it’s little wonder you don’t consider leaving,despite the hours.

    It’s great to hear that you’re only a few years off your FI, although I wonder if you will feel any different at work when you get reach FI?

    Still, you have the relative comfort of being able to make the decision to stay/move yourself – I don’t think there’s much of a chance of lawyers being made redundant? I’d like to work in my current role until I hit FI. Although the salary’s absolutely nothing to write home about, the benefits are few and the pension only statutory minimum, I enjoy the work, I like most of the people I work with and I like the location. But it is very likely that the company will be subject to a merger or buy out in the next year or so, so there’s always the threat of redundancy, which I’ll just deal with when the time comes.

    Also, I don’t fit in with @JohnBray/Scruffy John’s description of FI bloggers as I don’t think I’m driven, I’m more like him, ‘a plodder, no ambition’ haha! When I stop working, I am looking forward to days of not doing a lot, maybe watch tv, play endless video games, days just in my pyjamas! At some point, I’ll do a project but I’d not be in any rush to do so!

    Good to hear you have recovered from your hospital stay and are up and about!

    1. Hi weenie! You definitely strike me as someone who is easy going and content (ie not like me)! I would love to just enjoy relaxation or doing nothing, take a nap and just be present- but I am wired differently. I suspect that people like you, Scruffy John and Mr YFG will live longer healthier lives than people like me.

      In answer to your question, once I am FI that doesn’t mean I’ll quit. What it does mean is that a mental switch will have flicked where I know I can legitimately walk away. I suspect it might make me more happy to ask for things, to say no and push back without any fear of it affecting the security of my job. As far as security goes, redundancy is an almost impossible prospect: you’re far more likely to just get stagnant and want to leave. The idea is after a certain number of years you make partner or you don’t: if you don’t, see if they have room for you to stay as a senior. If not, you basically have to leave. I’d rather be made redundant than simply not wanted- but for other people- including you- the decision is out of your hands. You seem to have planned this all in and are aware of it in advance which helps. Pyjama days also sound amazing.

  9. I agree the “just quit” advice while well-meaning is rather lazy. I’ve been it proffered too often myself. Oftentimes people don’t need a problem to be fixed, they just need an outlet and acceptance.

    I think there’s a balance to be achieved between being and doing – but it’s one I’ve only begun to properly appreciate now I’m middle-aged. Being lets you recover, take stock and allows your mind to roam and find creative solutions to problems. It’s an essential part of maintenance. Elite sportspeople know this – but somehow, the rest of us assume we can perform at high levels for years without sufficient recovery.

    There is quite an interesting read I’ve come across recently called the 100 year life. it talks about building explicit periods of your life for re-creation, for building intangible as well as tangible assets.

    BTW, another FI part-timer, flexible and remote worker. My work has a lot of meaning and purpose but it would feel like a trudge if I had to work the hours under the conditions I used to.

    1. Hi greencat, yes I think people often assume that they have to keep “busy” and that time off just to take stock is somehow wasted. I say that as though I’m not one of them, but I definitely used to be. It is so important just to actually relax, sleep, take a day off, step back and actually let your body recover. Since my operation this became even more important for me and I realised what I’d been putting my body through for years without rest. This year I need to concentrate on resting when I’m not working, and trying to work less (part time if I can!).

  10. Hi Mrs YFG. Thought-provoking post as always. I have two questions for you:

    1. What are your chances of keeping up the pace? By that I mean how do you factor in your chances of getting through the next 3-5 years without seriously / permanently affecting your health? Some people coast at a level that’s unlikely to leave them with scars, but you seem to be running a real risk of hitting the wall.

    2. What are you doing to challenge your views about status, self-worth, purpose? They are obviously an important factor in your decision-making. But given how much of your life is lived in the ‘boarding school’, I wonder whether other influences might help? Drawing upon the wisdom of the ages so to speak.

    1. Hi TA- I love this comment and it took me a while to think how to respond. You’ve hit the nail on the head on both counts: I can’t keep doing what I am doing forever, but I don’t know how to leave. To take your first point: I’ve burned out more than once and I know it will happen again. I see my colleagues and some of them seem to cope with life in the fast lane, but I do wonder what they’ve given up to do it. At the moment I’m in a relatively good place and trying to take advantage while I can. I am fully aware that if the proverbial hits the fan I need to seriously consider Plan B.

      The more important point, and one I have to fix before I leave, is my purpose being tied up in my job. I do get an immense sense of satisfaction, purpose and pride from my job. I believe it is the only thing other than money that keeps me there. My self worth and raison d’être, if you will, is doing my job. It sounds very silly, but I can’t think of anything else that would satisfy my incessant need to please, my competitive streak, and keep my self esteem on an even keel. Of course I have no experience of any other career and so this is the result of being somewhat cocooned in one industry since I was 19. My challenge for this year is to do a different qualification- something completely outside my field- so I can consider what else I might be good at. There’s way more to life than my work, and I’m sure you know that much better than me!

  11. I don’t think it sounds silly at all. I think grappling with this self-worth question is critical to the FIRE journey. I think it’s why much of the mainstream dismisses FIRE out of hand. And I think it underpins many of the confessional pieces I’m seeing at the moment along the lines of ‘I hit FIRE but life’s still tough.’ Superficially I don’t feel like much of my self-worth is bound to my job. But I have a feeling self-worth is like a cobweb of mutually supporting strands. Take one of the mainlines away and the whole thing is liable to unravel. I don’t see why a job can’t be replaced by a different form of communal participation, but I think it probably takes a while to find a good fit. Especially as having a job is the standard way we signal our usefulness to society. These days I spend less of my FIRE time considering finance and more working on my values, combatting status anxiety, committing to a more rounded notion of the good life. I’m impressed that you’re exploring this through a new qualification.

    Re: health. I don’t want to overstep the mark and I’m sure you’ve considered this: sometimes a person doesn’t get to switch to plan B if they leave it too long. Or they do, but not before they’ve permanently damaged themselves.

    I agree that we’re generally unaware of the struggles of those who seem to have it all. I’m reminded of a podcast with a ‘psychiatrist to the CEOs’. He said an astonishing proportion of his clients were alcoholics / suffered from imposter syndrome.

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