Leaning in vs. early retirement

I have been thinking about ladder-climbing, or “leaning in,” the version of the idea targeted at women.

On some level I am a ladder-climber.  I think of promotion as basic workplace preservation: if you are doing well enough not to get fired, you will eventually get promoted.  And if you do well enough to get promoted and applauded all the time, you are very unlikely to lose your job!  And so I am in constant over-achiever mode.  I want every day at work to be a rockstar event, to best ensure my chances of promotion and avoidance of getting sacked.  I would like to be the farthest in the pile from getting sacked.

But you can really make some extreme lifestyle commitments in the name of job security.  Long, unpredictable hours; weekend work; after-work networking.  At some point you need to decide what this is all for.  If you are committed to working your entire life and want to become an executive asap, you should probably spend even more time at work and less time at home or with loved ones.  On the other hand, if you feel you could retire in 10 years and are fine with that outlook date, you should logically optimize your work to find the easiest job you can do while still making the same amount of money you do now.

That is what I have come to.  I am not quite ready to look for an easier job, but it is fair to say that I would rather retire in 10 years if possible than work forever.  But I am also operating under the assumption that it would be fun to get promoted as highly as possible until it is time to retire early.  That is not optimal, but for now it seems ok.  The other alternative is finding the highest-paying job possible to get out of the game asap.  I don’t plan on doing that either – I guess I am too lazy, and have too good a thing going already. 

I am not sure who “leaning in” is for.  If you are a single woman determined to have a powerful career at the cost of a personal life, I imagine leaning in is quite easy – and enjoyable.  If you have a personal life you care about, I see a high-stakes question of priorities if you are going to try to have both.  I don’t think you can do both equally well, unless you don’t sleep.  There are only so many hours in the day.  How many hours in a week does it take to be exceptional at work?  (50 for me.)  And how do you quantify happiness in the home with the few hours that are left?  (I don’t know.)  And how many of those minutes do you spend fretting that you haven’t vacuumed in forever?  (At least 2 every time I walk in the door.)  Is there a way to have a non-zero-sum game out of it?

Which leads me to the question of why people want to lean in.  What is “leaning in” for?  If it is for money, I believe there are a number of high-paying jobs that are reasonably easy to get.  Waste management comes to mind.  I tell myself that I work so hard to make more money so that… I can pay off my loans.  Well that is almost done.  So the next logical goal is getting out.  I have no interest in working long hours so that I can drive fancy cars to fancy pools to swim in until jumping on a plane to fly 1st class to luxurious vacations.  And then work some more.  Especially if there are loved ones to look after!

If leaning in is for the satisfaction of career or even contribution to society, I think that is somewhat at odds with the needs of the family.  I imagine that if I had kids, I would want to optimize my life around spending time with the kids, enjoying them, and giving them the love and attention they need.  I know… old-fashioned alert!  But it is already hard enough now to feel like I am advancing in my job, and also accomplish and enjoy everything I want to in my private life.  I could not see doing that all through my adult life and constantly juggling and trading priorities.  The two goals seem contradictory.

In conclusion, for now, I do not see a sustainable way to lean in.  I guess I would rather reclaim both sides of my life by spending 10 or 15 years working earnestly, gaining rockstar status and accomplishing moderately great things in my young career, and then get out as early as possible to enjoy family and life.  Ideally with wealth amassed and no longer a driver.  Going this way I will never be CEO, might not get to go on exotic work trips (aside from the moderately exciting ones I have already done).  But I am honestly still grappling with this alternative.

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3 thoughts on “Leaning in vs. early retirement

  1. I’m with you V! I have been trying so hard to “get that promotion” at my current job, and when I didn’t, I had to revisit some of the other workplace ideals I had in mind beyond simply moving up. I started looking for jobs that would allow me to work remotely, for instance, because I wanted to see what it would be like to have my office in the home (to prepare myself for independent consulting). I also looked for a position that readily used remote techniques in their research toolkit, and support remote versus in-person meetings with clients to help reduce my travel time.

    In the end, I found what I imagine will be a great job, and hey, I didn’t even have to take a pay cut! If you want it, and you know what it looks like, chances are you’ll find it. That’s what I believe.

  2. Not that it’s an option that’s available to us, but the average adult in a hunter/gatherer society works about 20 hours a week. The rest of the time is spent screwing around. Just saying.

    “We are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you any different.” –Kurt Vonnegut Jr

    • Ha that work ratio sounds about right to me! You’re right, I want the liberty to fart around for the majority of my time in whatever manner I want…

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