Avoiding the Regrets of the Dying, Regret #2

Another long night at the office

Palliative nurse Bronnie Ware wrote a viral post back in 2009 where she listed the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. I’m doing a post series about my thoughts.

This post focuses on the second most common regret, a particularly common one amongst Type A personalities in ultra-competitive industries.

#2 I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

But Working 60 Hours A Week Is Nothing To Complain About…

I look back on the early part of my career and am amazed at the number of hours I was in the office. And it was even longer when I included travel time during my consulting days.

When I was in consulting, it was feast or famine. If I wasn’t on a client project, it was a relatively lax 9am-6pm day. This was jokingly referred to being “on the beach” by junior staff. But if you’re on the beach too long, you became a cost waiting to be cut.

When I was on a project, the deadlines were always ASAP (or even yesterday). This is because clients only hired you when there was an emergency.

I would typically work 12 hour days for months at a time. If it was a project in a distant city, I’d leave home early Monday morning (or worse, Sunday night) and not get back till late night Thursday or Friday.

And when you’re traveling to a distant city for work, you wind up working longer hours than normal because you don’t know anyone except coworkers.

I then switched to investment banking in the capital markets area. It differed from consulting in that there was much less travel. But time in the office was consistently a minimum 12-13 hours per weekday (even when it wasn’t busy).

When it was busy, such as during earning season, one can easily stay till 10pm or 11pm and then spend a half-day on Saturdays. It was brutal because it was unrelenting.

Yes, all those hours helped propel my career and increased my earnings, but was it worth it?

The Golden (or Silver, or Bronze) Handcuffs

Not exactly golden, but these are still handcuffs

There is an obvious allure to these types of careers. You are paid so well and have so much prestige that you find it extremely hard to give it all up to switch to a lower paying corporate job. This is the classic definition of the golden handcuffs (or less precious metals for the junior folk, haha).

It’s that old adage, that while the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. You just hope you’ve got enough stashed away for when the music stops!

But there is another, more insidious catch, especially with investment banks. In order to reach the upper echelons of the firm (which is where the real money is), you need to specialize even further to make yourself invaluable. But this also makes you so niche that normal corporate America would just look at your resume in confusion.

So you wind up creating a situation where your natural career path can only exist within your firm or that particular industry. You’ve unwittingly trapped yourself unless you are willing to go back to school or have enough of a network to jump to another industry at a high level.

The Opportunity Cost of Time

The other catch that is just as insidious is that you simply don’t have time to do much of anything but work, sleep, and eat. And the few waking moments you do have are spent on having as much pleasure as possible in order to make your other waking moments bearable. You medicate yourself through conspicuous consumption to get through your life.

So anything related to personal development is almost completely ignored. Learning about personal finance and investments is left to just maxing out 401Ks and IRAs (if you’re actually very disciplined).

Learning about real estate investment and potential side hustles? Forget about it. You can barely to get to the gym. And often not even that.

So you wind up without any alternative form of wealth creation. People in these high intense, high income jobs are compelled to double down on their continued career success.

Get Out Before You Burn Out

I left the consulting and investment banking industries after 9 years. It was a blessing but it didn’t seem like it at the time.

The catalyst was the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. There was so much fear that many thought the entire financial system would collapse and hundreds of thousands of finance jobs would be eliminated*.

Yet entering into a less time intensive job allowed me to think and reflect and plan. It took a while, but years later I was able to think about personal fulfilment. It gave me enough breathing space to consider this path to FI.

I now have about 45 years left, if I’m lucky. The last thing I plan to do with these years is to waste them away at an office.

*Even those who were lucky enough to dodge that bullet still didn’t learn. Nearly 10 years later, investment banks were terminating 40-something year old traders who had no transferable skills and replacing them with algorithms.

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