Four Years of FIRE: The Corporate Job

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It’s been just over four years since I handed in my notice to the MegaCorp where I spent my entire professional career.   April 19th, 2023 will mark four years since I took that last ride down the elevator and out of the parking garage.   I decided to ask Twitter what people wanted me to write about reflecting back on four years of freedom.

I received so many good questions, I decided to answer some of them individually instead of trying to cover them all in one “wrap up” post that could sit in my drafts for years.   I received three questions that were all similar, essentially asking about the pros / cons of the corporate job.

My initial thoughts….

Why should you quit your corporate job?

The first part of this answer is going to be more of a longlist of reasons to exit the corporate world.  This could apply to someone who’s financially independent and considering early retirement, someone who’s considering entrepreneurship instead of a corporate job, or someone who’s just saved up enough to earn a career break. My disclaimer is these observations are from personal experience at a single company with a deteriorating quality of work over time.

  1. Quitting the corporate job (or FIRE) breaks the lifelong cycle of other adults telling you what to do.   This is the strangest thing I look back on as someone who quit four years ago.  We live our life with parents, schools, and bosses telling us what to do with little break in between.  When was the last time you experienced a *real* break without other adults dictating what you did?  A summer break in college maybe?   Waking up with near complete control of my time every day is priceless to me.
  1. There’s so much wasted time / energy in corporate life.   Large bureaucracies breed positions and meetings where people do more to justify their job then actual work.  I always thought the part in Office Space was funny when they interview the guy who’s the “go between” for engineers and customers.   Why?   These positions are everywhere in corporate america and it turns into a game of whack a mole to try to eliminate. I’m no longer forced to interact with people I don’t like discussing projects I don’t enjoy.   Never underestimate the lengths an empty suit will go through to preserve their job.
  1. I worked in Big Finance and this also applies to law and accounting:   I was a professional employee selling my time for economic gain.  I was paid a base salary plus a bonus.  The company was slow to adjust the base salary up and constantly worsened the incentive system to pay a smaller percentage of the revenue generated for the company.  How did bosses try to make up for this?  Future promises!   “This will be good for your career” and “the company will remember what you did”.     What happens when you see someone higher up that’s successful, but has a miserable quality of life. Is the time vs. money trade worth it?  It’s rare things get that much easier as you go higher up in these organizations.  What if I don’t want to be the next CEO?  
  1. Limited vacation days, offices, commutes, and general friction that comes with “work”.   There’s a lot of expenses that go away when you quit a corporate job,  They’re different for everyone, but prepared meals, parking, commuting, lunches out, wardrobe, daycare (child or pet).
  1. Health. It’s difficult for people working a full time job to get enough exercise.  Some of it’s discipline, but for others it’s just mentally exhausting and stressful on the family situation to then be able to get 30 – 90 min away to exercise on top of a job.  You only get one chance on this earth and so many people I saw in corporate america starting “letting themselves go” after 35 between a poor diet, lack of exercise, and high levels of life stress.  Leaving the corporate world can reverse this cycle.  
  1. Sleep.  My sleep has been incredible since quitting work.  No squeezing in workouts after work that take time to settle down from, no alarm clock in the morning forcing me awake.  There were so many days / weeks / months where I felt like I was operating in a state of sleep deprivation.   
  1. Off Peak Travel.  It’s wonderful not to deal with crushed airports or weekend hotel prices when we can avoid it.  Not everyone will immediately get these benefits because of things like school calendars, but not trying to fit travel around a holiday schedule has been wonderful.  
  1. Freedom!   A reader recently left this comment: I’m 5 years out. I took a fully remote position last year, but only worked 6 months. I took the job, because I felt like I was doing nothing — reading, watching TV, and playing video games. I found work to be incredibly boring and just wanted to go back to doing nothing!   If your idea of fun is reading and video games, then do it.  You don’t owe the world some level of productivity.  Financial independence means you front loaded your contribution.

Why shouldn’t you quit your corporate job?

  1. You want to buy a house and need a mortgage.  The government backed mortgage process treats a retired millionaires like garbage while it’ll give someone with a W2 a 97% FHA loan.   I couldn’t get a mortgage at a reasonable rate even though I had 5x the investments of the amount we were trying to borrow and perfect credit.   IRA and Roth IRA assets are completely discounted in the mortgage process and it’s an infuriating experience.     
  1. Corporate work is a reliable path to financial independence.   Earn more than the average citizen, spend at or slightly below average, and invest the difference over 15-20 years is an incredibly reliable path to financial independence.  
  1. You receive fulfillment from the work you do and it’s difficult to do on a project / independent contractor basis.   There are people who find work that is equivalent to a hobby they enjoy and can limit the amount of negative stuff involved.  Many financially independent people eventually find this type of work once they have the power to say no to anything they don’t like.
  1. You have autonomy in deciding what you do and how to do it, provided you deliver results for the company.   I think if my career started 5-7 years later, I may have landed a nice work from home position that could have kept me in corporate for a few more years.   Unfortunately the institution I worked for was geographically focused and insistent on in-person work.

This gets to the remaining question, what do I miss from work?

  • There’s a social circle that comes from employment.   It’s often different people from different backgrounds facing common goals, challenges, and accomplishments.   When you remove the commonality of work, you no longer have that commonality to bond over.  
  • You can help build / develop people.   I enjoyed mentoring, sponsoring, and leading people.  There were plenty of “turd sandwiches” I had to eat in management, but I enjoyed teaching skills that allowed people to grow their income exponentially.  I could make a life changing impact helping someone move from a $60,000/year skill set to a $150,000 skill set over the course of a few years.  
  • Immediate credibility / expertise.   I worked in a certain position and had been with the same company for sixteen years.   There was little need to sell myself, my credibility, or my expertise, which I occasionally do now on a random project.
  • Fringe benefits.  Client entertainment eventually got old and was still work, but looking back at it I was able to experience and attend some interesting things.  College basketball national championship, concerts, playoff hockey, NFL games, and college football games.  I was able to hang out at Wharton for a week every summer for three years for continuing education.  White tablecloth lunches and dinners with clients were delicious even if they weren’t great for my waistline. Those were benefits that came with the position.   

Would I want to go back to work full time or for a large corporation?   Absolutely not.   The benefits of freedom and the overall removal of stress far outweigh any of the corporate benefits.  It did take time to adjust to life after corporate, but I never regret finding financial independence and buying our freedom.

I appreciate the question(s) and looking back at this four years later.

4 Replies to “Four Years of FIRE: The Corporate Job”

  1. I am totally aligned with your feedback. I have no interest returning to a full-time position. Regaining full control over my time is priceless.

    I just published a post about the struggles of a FIRE life, and the gains and losses of FIRE vs working life an hour ago. It seems that we share many similar points of view.

  2. This was an excellent read. As someone who has also been retired for around four years, I can tell you put a lot of thought into this article. This is all spot on!

    “Quitting the corporate job (or FIRE) breaks the lifelong cycle of other adults telling you what to do. “ is very insightful and took me a long time to adjust to. Not so much that I need someone to tell me what to do since I’m a self starter, but the validationloop of “good job / keep it up” is lost and you sorta loose that reason to keep going. In retirement I’ve had to find my own purpose & fulfillment which has been a slow but enjoyable process for me.

    The mortage thing is funny. I bought my house in full with cash. Decided to pull out $300K when rates hit 2.3%. The amount of BS I went thru to show I could afford the payments was insane. I literally owned the home in full and the bank is nitpicking my finances like I’m a high risk borrower! 🤣🤣

  3. Can’t disagree with much, very well said. I do think you can get an equal amount of purpose with volunteer work. I loved developing young engineers, but I can and do still do that as a volunteer mentor with my college engineering department. I liked the travel aspect of my job but of course I still get that doing volunteer work and road tripping with my wife. And in this small town area I still get to see my work friends as much as I want to. Oddly, I did accept a contract gig this week, very limited, a week’s work at most, spread out over a couple of months. That does keep me in touch with an out of town set of friends and really stretches my aging mind. Being an expert witness during litigation means going up against hostile lawyers cross examining you trying to make you look as non-expert as possible. It’s a challenging head game so I agreed to do it one more time.

  4. Great article and echos my sentiments from when I quit. Your 1st point still resonates. I was worth $10M and had some joke, broke-ass Fortube 500 President giving me directions on how to do my job. I just kept my mouth shut and did my thing. 5 years of freedom later here I am and he’s still living giant paycheck to paycheck.

    We chose the right life, my man!

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