Work Update, and The Importance of Being Able to Walk Away

I’d like to cap off this week of work-related posts with a quick update. I ended up talking to my manager about my plans: I didn’t say exactly what I was going to do, just that I was going to be leaving within the next 8 months “to start my own business.” I’m lucky in that we see eye-to-eye and he has seen many of my colleagues move on to bigger and/or better things, and so he didn’t kick up a fuss. In fact, he was very understanding and saw it as endemic of the department we work in that people move on.

It means that I am going to continue in my job, for now, with an implicit understanding that my manager isn’t going to send the soul-crushing bureaucratic work my way because he knows exactly where I stand: that if I think it is becoming too much that I am simply going to leave. Now, I don’t want to leave just yet and he’s aware of that, but it’s still a plausible threat.

On my end, I’ll be logging in / arriving at 9am each day (we are supposed to start at 8:30), and I’ll be taking two hour lunch breaks. Once we’re back in the office then I’ll shorten that lunch break down to an hour and a half and then take another break elsewhere. I’ve also got a new policy of not responding to emails until the person chases on it. There’s the old adage that “if you want something done, give it to a busy person.” The idea is that busy people are the doers and slackers are the ones which take ages to get anything done.

The perverse outcome of being good at your job is that more people come to you for help and expect that you can solve all their problems. Now, that’s fine if you are in a revenue-generating role because your input leads to more output and so you are incentivised (for yourself in terms of pay/bonus), but not if you’re in a service based role where you get paid a salary no matter what happens. I’ve seen countless people in our department who aren’t that smart but continue getting paid. All they have to do is not rock the boat. That is where I am right now. I want to stay there for the remaining eight months** and pick up my salary and a small bonus. I did a back of the envelope calculation yesterday and it came out to about another eight months of living money, which would be great to have. I reckon that if I can’t get this business breaking even within three years, then I will need to move onto something else, or at least supplement it with some sort of part time job.

** and it’s not even eight full months, given I still have about five weeks worth of holiday to use.

That moves us onto something important here: I can do all of this because I’m willing to walk away. If I gave in my notice tomorrow, I would already have money saved up to live off of. That’s a classic piece of advice: have a “fuck-you fund” which means that you’re not beholden to your current employer. And currently that is sitting around the recommended sweet spot of two year’s worth of funds.

The next thing is that I don’t live an expensive lifestyle and I don’t have any liabilities like a car or a mortgage to pay off. In fact, in the past few years, I’ve been systematically reducing my outgoings so as to maximise my savings and (inadvertently) learn to live a more frugal lifestyle. I made a list of expenses and I recommend you do the same. What really caught my attention was how things like a takeaway coffee or bottle of coke zero compared to my daily expenditure on food. I spend £7-10 a day on food. Then a coffee can come in easily close to £3 in London. That’s a large proportion of my daily expenditure. Or how about taking public transport? The train costs £2.40 (one-way), and so it is a no-brainer when I can simply walk wherever I want to go.

Lastly, there’s a personality element: I really dislike being told what to do, especially if I don’t agree with the motive. That was one of the driving forces for me this week: the meaninglessness inherent in bureaucratic tasks, which other people tend to relish. It’s because they’re playing the career game and so it incentivises them. Not for me, though. The result here is that I am willing to walk away and trade a cash-filled, comfortable lifestyle with one which is harder and with limited cash, but with more freedom and more meaning. The cost of comfort is simply not worth it for me for much longer.

In fact I told my manager, with 100% honesty, that if he doubled my salary tomorrow then I would still be in the same boat. I don’t think he believed me there, but I was telling the truth, and I think that’s because most people are “plugged into the matrix,” to use a cliche. I don’t think it would enter their minds that other people are driven by other things.

You can take this lesson and apply it nearly everywhere. I remember hearing Torero often say something along the lines of “the person who needs the other one less has the power.” But all too often we paint ourselves into a corner. First we convince ourselves of all the bad things that will happen if we eject from the situation, or perhaps irrationally think of all the sunk costs we will incur. Then we big up the opposing side as some sort of all-knowing, all-powerful institution, whether that’s the “institution of hot girls” or our employers or anything to which we feel beholden, or might feel guilty for leaving. At the end of the day, there are always more hot girls and there is always a random way in which you can make money so that you don’t starve.

Yours unfaithfully,

Thomas Crown

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3 thoughts on “Work Update, and The Importance of Being Able to Walk Away

  1. Perhaps you are already planning to or already have but the 8 months of run way you have would be an ideal time to start the business you have in mind, less pressure later on once you’re out. Definitely agree with the slowly reducing output/work to the point you do barely any work and focus on business tasks.

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