If you’ve ever seen The Firm, a classic movie starring Tom Cruise, you’ll know where I am going with this. Tom plays a bright, young, bushy tailed lawyer dropped into a prestigious law firm where life seems sweet – until he realises that he is trapped and The Firm isn’t all what it seems…
Mrs YFG and I both, for many years of our lives, were absorbed into our respective Firms – legal and accounting. Whilst training in a profession and securing a job in a competitive industry is a big achievement, the reasons for doing so often don’t appreciate how much you give up of yourself in return.
The Firm finds you when you are young at university. At 18 or 19, you’re lured by the bright shiny offices and the promise of luxurious salaries and the badge of honour. You carry a shoulder bag or rucksack with the name of the Firm on- you have been chosen. As a penniless student you’re desperate to secure any kind of income for when you graduate – the numbers look fabulous.
You graduate, with your contract safely signed. You know you’re going to the Firm, you’ll be taken care of. As long as you give your time, your energy and your effort to the Firm. The Firm owns you, but they’ll make it worth your while – you’re in the family now.
If you work hard enough (according to arbitrary rules of the Firm), you get rewarded. The Firm shows you how many hours you are charging to clients and urges you to beat targets of billable hours, beat your personal best. More billed hours means more pay, and more pay means you can reward yourself with Things for working so hard for the Firm. Maybe you can buy beautiful clothes and have a beautiful house and a beautiful wedding thanks to your salary from the Firm.
You never have to leave the Firm’s office. The office has a gym, beds, an in-house doctor and beautician, a gift shop, restaurant, dry cleaner, chauffeur service. Everything is taken care of. Organise your house insurance and your mortgage with the help of the Firm, keep it in the family. The Firm will even start on the young’uns from when they first walk – they will arrange your childcare at their free creche. Your kid is part of the family now.
For years, Mrs YFG has been indoctrinated into the Firm. She feels a need to deserve or earn her salary – the Firm looked after her, now she has to demonstrate her loyalty. She feels guilt if she doesn’t work as many hours as her colleagues who must think poorly of her for slacking. Their
soldiers associates are out earning and hustling, she’s gotta step it up. She sees the hours as normal, everyone does it. It’s just a part of life and the bargain she struck for her pay. She can’t complain.
Granted, it’s a choice and not a choice that everyone can, or wants to, make. But neither of us truly considered what we wanted before we signed up ten years ago. We mentally and physically exhausted ourselves working under the assumption this is just what society expects of us. We don’t want to waste the advantages we have had, instead we want to maximise them- stay at the Firm because we want to (not because we are afraid to leave).
You come to realise that it ain’t all its cracked up to be, and your priorities at work change. The unyielding loyalty to the Firm dies and you now plan for a better future – outside the confines of the office. But even if you continue to work hard, and perform at the highest level, the Firm knows and will treat you like a spurned lover (usually through the soul-crushing annual review process). It knows it can no longer play on your insecurities to keep you in line. And it’s clear that the loyalty was only ever one way. On reaching FI I could see the machinations all around me in the white-collar world – and that I didn’t want to be part of that game. Perhaps it’s just me, but I will never be comfortable being forced to justify my existence every 12 months. In FI everything has flipped around – that world has to justify itself to me and my precious time.
All the best,
Young FI Guy