Friends, I have big news! Almost exactly a year after starting this blog, I’ve made a major life change — I left my big fancy law firm job!!!!!! And I’ve gone into a government lawyering job!! I AM ABSOLUTELY THRILLED!!!!!
My new job has some unbelievable things to recommend it. On the professional side, I’ll be doing work I believe in for smart, kind people. I think my work will help society. I’ll learn new skills, and I’m also hoping I’ll excel because the job will play to my existing strengths.
On the personal side, this new job has some attributes that are virtually unheard of in today’s legal profession: no after-hours e-mail, no expectation of late night or weekend work. A predictable workflow without unexpected emergencies to disrupt things like planned travel or friends’ and family’s weddings. No clients. No billable hours. Did I mention NO AFTER HOURS EMAIL??!?!?!?!?!
So what’s the hitch?
I’ll be making 1/3 the salary I was making before. Literally. One. Third.
I realize this is heresy to those in the FI community who subscribe to the philosophy of relentlessly increasing your earnings to reach financial independence ASAP. So let me explain.
If the FI movement has one overriding principle it’s that there’s nothing more valuable in life than our time. Most people spend the overwhelming majority of their waking hours at work, for the overwhelming majority of their adult lives. And if you don’t love your job (or even hate it), that is an awful misuse of your finite time on this earth.
If you realize this and buy into the philosophy good and young, you can begin the race to financial independence as soon as you enter the workforce. You can keep your spending low low low while you’re young and don’t have kids or an already-inflated lifestyle. Being that you’re young and energetic, you can put lots of time into your job, get overtime and/or raises and/or promotions, and stash all that extra money into your ever-growing nest egg. This has allowed lots of people to retire in their 20s or early 30s.
Thennnnn there’s the rest of us. I think I was 32 when I first read Mr. Money Mustache. I had just bought a house, a car, and had my first baby. Gone were the days of living in a nice, reasonable one bedroom apartment — we had a growing family to house! So, too, the days of regularly working until 10 or 11 pm. We wanted to actually SEE our baby. Not to mention that daycare closes at 6! Oh, and daycare… an expense that rivaled our mortgage! All this to say, our financial conditions were very different than if we had begun focusing on financial independence starting at age 22.
But we didn’t despair! As we often remind ourselves, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
And furthermore, I think there is more than one way to reach the actual goal at the bottom of all this — a life where you enjoy your days and have the freedom to pursue your dreams. (What? That sounds sooo cheesy! But ok, I’m a little cheesy.) Since for us working ourselves to the bone for the next decade while missing the first 10 years of our kids’ lives was a non-starter, we had to find another way.
We decided to get our finances in order so we would be able to take a big pay cut if necessary for our happiness. Over the past year, we combined our finances and started to get a much clearer picture of our spending. We started to see where our biggest expenses were, and which expenses were fixed. We started working the long game — making the bigger changes that would allow us to cut some of those big fixed expenses. We became more thoughtful about our day-to-day spending, and started the long, challenging process of changing our spending habits.
By the time I had my new job offer on the table, we hadn’t cut our spending to the level we eventually want to reach, but we did know enough to feel we’d be able to manage the (drastically) lower salary. Our savings rate would take a huge hit, but we wouldn’t starve, we wouldn’t have to move or make any other immediate changes. That in itself was extremely liberating!
Then, I talked to 1 million people I know about making the move. One, a career counselor, told me about her decision to leave the practice of law to go into career counseling. She said she took a big pay cut for a job she liked more, and over time, wound making a nice healthy salary again. She said of my move (which she heartily encouraged), “think of this as rock bottom — wherever else you go, you’ll definitely make more money!”
But there’s more to my thinking than that. I have soooo many things I want to do in life. I want to write. I might like to start a business. Maybe those things will eventually make me money. I don’t know. But I do know that I would never get the chance to try my hand at them at a job as all-consuming as my big law firm job. Case in point — you may have noticed it’s been oddly quiet on this blog for the past few months. I was so busy with work and raising kiddos that I haven’t been able to finish even one lousy blog post since February!
In fact, I’ve been so exhausted that I keep wondering whether perhaps I have mono or something. I’m pretty sure I don’t — I’ve just been overextended. But being over-extended does not allow you to do great things. Many wildly successful (and fulfilling) ventures come about when people give themselves the time and space to think creatively, and to actually pursue ideas further than just daydreaming about them. So I’m hopeful that this new, more reasonable lifestyle will open up some space for me to do those things.
At the very least, it’s allowed me to write this post! And that’s not nothing! I have so much more to say on this topic… so stay tuned for more NEXT TIME!