In my last corporate job, I survived five rounds of layoffs. I watched the IT department shrink from fifty developers to four, including me.
Our start-up company was burning through the investor’s cash and had no revenue. The financial cliff was approaching.
The first time nobody knew what was going on. Management led half of us to a small auditorium. Then we were told the people who weren’t there were being let go and escorted out. Suddenly people started poking their heads up and looking around the room.
Who’s in here?
Did so-and-so make it?
It was on that day I first learned job security doesn’t exist. It could have been me in the other room getting shown the door.
I won awards just as I had in my previous corporate job. All of which I trashed in the past year as I asked myself why I hung on to them for work I did years ago. Does anyone care I was Employee of the Quarter? That I was part of a team that rolled out a successful project for our biggest client – UPS? In short, no.
I had been moonlighting for three years working on a side business with a couple of other guys. I worked nearly all nights and weekends. I had been dating a girl during this time. She got fed up with me putting work before her, so she dumped me. That stung quite a bit.
Then I got the call from my dad that you don’t want to get. He had prostate cancer. It’s common among men, but the C-word scares the pants off you no matter what. (He eventually recovered).
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
That’s a verse from the Bible that struck a chord with me during that time. I started to question what I had been doing with my life. Working! That’s it.
And while I enjoyed what I did, it’s all I did. I had no friends, no goals, no purpose. I was extremely successful on the outside. Inside I was tired. My corporate IT job was just that – a job. I could have gone off to live in a shack in the hills, and the impact on the world would have gone unnoticed. I was working for what?
At the time I had no idea what a budget was, but I had been tracking my expenses. I knew what I spent on stuff.
So I did some quick math – what do I need at a minimum to pay my bills? Mortgage, food, utilities, insurance, gas.
And there it was – just over $30,000/year. Most of which went to my big fat mortgage.
To cover my needs, I would be taking a $50,000/year pay cut from a great job. But I was prepared.
I had a fully stocked 6-month emergency fund to fall back on. I had paid off all my other debts – the furniture, my school loans. I had already sold my car and got rid of the payment and paid cash for a beat-up pick-up truck.
I called my business partner and asked:
Do we have enough money to pay me $2,500/month, so I can quit my day job and work on our business full-time?
He said he would get back with me. Later on that day he called back and said yes, the business was making enough for me to get a paycheck.
When our call ended, I started writing my resignation letter. The following Monday I handed it in. I was sad I would be leaving a job I enjoyed, and people I enjoyed working with. But I couldn’t go on as I had been.
There is a trap I fell into. And it’s far more common for men to fall into it than women.
If I work more, then I can make more, to give my family more, so they can have more. They will be happier
At the time I wasn’t married and didn’t have kids. But the trap is the same for everyone: more.
There’s an old song named Cats In The Cradle. The opening lyrics are:
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
That’s the trap. I was after bigger, better, faster, more. The problem is the wasteland that’s left in your wake as you work towards those things. Broken relationships, poor health, lost time, overwhelm, and stress.
It is a chasing after the wind. I’ve never caught the wind, have you? Even today sometimes I will find myself trying to catch it. I have to hit the reset button and remind myself:
You’ve been down that road before. It leads to nowhere. Stop and smell the roses.
I now have the luxury of working because I want to, not because I have to. I wake up every day getting to help people avoid the mistakes I’ve made and live their best life today, not someday.
And yes, every time I see a rose, I stop and smell it. It’s a reminder to enjoy the now, instead of focusing on the next.
I could work more.
I could buy more.
I could earn more.
I could do more.
But from my experience with seeking more, I’ve always ended up with less.
And the inverse is also true:
The less I work.
The less I buy.
The less I earn.
The less I do.
I end up with more. More of what is important to me – free time, stuff that matters, health, relationships, and peace.