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FIRE And Career Progression | Fiery Millennials


As my 31st birth­day rapid­ly approach­es, it rou­tine­ly sur­pris­es me that I have been a work­ing adult for a decade. As I reflect over my career, I won­der what the impact of my pur­suit of FIRE has had on my career. 

I start­ed my career in the mil­i­tary as a mem­ber of the Air Nation­al Guard. I real­ized mil­i­tary cul­ture and I were not a good fit, so I said farewell to doing 20 years and got out after my ini­tial 6 year enlist­ment was up. 

When I grad­u­at­ed col­lege, I start­ed work­ing for a For­tune 100 com­pa­ny. Many peo­ple joined the com­pa­ny young and stayed for 30, 40, even 50 years. They offered excel­lent pay, ben­e­fits (which includ­ed 10% 401k match­ing and a tra­di­tion­al pen­sion), and a sense of sta­bil­i­ty. It was incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to be let go from the com­pa­ny. You were set for life if you man­aged to get in as an employ­ee and not as a contractor. 

sleepy coworker e1633797759241
This guy slept on the job and did­n’t get fired.

But that com­pa­ny, despite pay­ing me close to six fig­ures in my mid-twen­ties in a low cost of liv­ing area, was flawed. They were very bound by the rules and did not bend them for any rea­sons what­so­ev­er. I grew frus­trat­ed when the answer to my “why do we do it this way” ques­tions were always “because we’ve always done it this way”. Career pro­gres­sion was lim­it­ed once you made it to a cer­tain grade. At the time, I was 110% into ear­ly retire­ment, so I left that career possibility. 

I regret­ted that deci­sion for a sol­id two years but I have made my peace with it now. My friends still at the com­pa­ny have told me I got out at a real­ly good time, as they have a new CEO who has made a lot of changes (and not real­ly for the better). 

work toned e1633797822634
I told my cowork­er “Check it out, I’m get­ting toned!”. He glared at me 🙂

Then I got involved in the mil­i­tary indus­tri­al com­plex when I got a job in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Work­ing at the Pen­ta­gon quick­ly remind­ed me why I left the mil­i­tary. I last­ed 6 months. My next job at a mil­i­tary con­tract­ing com­pa­ny last­ed a mere 7 months. I did­n’t like being on the East Coast. 

Near­ly 2 years ago now, I moved back to the Mid­west and start­ed work­ing at a qua­si-gov­ern­men­tal agency. I real­ly enjoy work­ing for my employ­er (and no, I’m not just say­ing that because they pay me). My cowork­ers are fan­tas­tic and I am 100% sold on the com­pa­ny mis­sion. I feel like we’re doing real­ly good work for the com­mu­ni­ty and the coun­try at large. 

Since I’ve start­ed pur­su­ing the FIRE life, it has giv­en me courage and flex­i­bil­i­ty in my career. Courage to leave a very com­fort­able job. Courage to move across the coun­try and back again a year lat­er. Flex­i­bil­i­ty to take unpaid days off or buy more vaca­tion when 10 days did­n’t cov­er all the things I want­ed to do. 

work meme

But I also won­der if it has­n’t hin­dered my career. I’m 31 and a Senior Ana­lyst. I’m still on the low­er end of the indi­vid­ual con­trib­u­tor scale. I have friends in the mil­i­tary who are now senior enlist­ed. I have friends that have start­ed mil­lion dol­lar com­pa­nies. I know peo­ple who are already retired at my age. I’m nowhere near earn­ing six fig­ures. (I real­ize $78k is a lot clos­er than many peo­ple and I rec­og­nize I have noth­ing to com­plain about — but the gap between $78k and $100k is sig­nif­i­cant at my company.)

I have absolute­ly zero moti­va­tion to move up the lad­der. I’m con­tent doing what I’m doing. I don’t want to man­age peo­ple. I don’t want to man­age projects. I can bare­ly man­age my life from falling apart. I don’t want the weight of being respon­si­ble for oth­er’s careers. 

So I’m left won­der­ing, where does this take me for the next 24 years of my work­ing career? 

work meme2

But Gwen, 24 years is super far away and odd­ly spe­cif­ic. Why not save a bunch of mon­ey and retire ear­ly if you don’t have any idea what you want your career to be?”

Great ques­tions. 

I will be work­ing until I am 55 as that is when I am eli­gi­ble to stay on our bomb-dig­gi­ty health insur­ance plan at employ­ee rates as a retiree. My health insur­ance plan for just me costs sligh­ly over $100 a month with zero deductible and low copays. That is a set of gold­en hand­cuffs I can­not ignore, espe­cial­ly with a part­ner who is immuno-com­pro­mised and requires all sorts of med­ical care/supplies. 

Anoth­er rea­son I don’t ramp up my sav­ings rate is I don’t enjoy sav­ing tons of mon­ey any more. I get super stressed out. I don’t enjoy hus­tling every minute out­side of work to earn more mon­ey. I want to enjoy my time on Earth and it’s eas­i­er to do that when I don’t wor­ry about whether my sav­ings rate is 60 or 65% that month. 

What’s sparked all these thoughts is a reorg of our divi­sion and group. As part of that reorg, my cur­rent man­ag­er will become a senior man­ag­er over my new direct man­ag­er. I had a meet­ing with my new direct man­ag­er this week where I told them I would be an easy employ­ee because I have no aspi­ra­tions, and a dif­fi­cult employ­ee because I have no aspi­ra­tions. For­tu­nate­ly, both my cur­rent man­ag­er and new man­ag­er are a part of the FIRE com­mu­ni­ty, so both of them know where I’m com­ing from and why I think the way I do about my career. 

Maybe I’ll fig­ure out how to join the pod­cast team. Maybe I’ll take over as the guru of retire­ment ben­e­fits. And maybe, I’ll stay in my cur­rent role for the next 24 years. One thing is for sure and that is there is no such thing as a dream job. I don’t mind work­ing as long as it does­n’t suck. And right now, work­ing does­n’t suck. 

As always, thanks for read­ing! How has your pur­suit of FIRE changed your career progression? 

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