Thursday, November 17, 2011

Downshifter or Slacker?

Are you on the fast track or nap track?

I recently stumbled across David Robert's great, five-month-old article on Grist, "The Medium Chill." If it's new to you too, you should go give it a read, like, stat. Go ahead, I'll wait.

This article touches upon something I've been realizing over the past few months (maybe longer?) that would surprise my younger self: I no longer want to climb the career ladder. In fact, I think I'm pretty happy at the level I'm at. I'm thrilled to know that others are thinking along these lines and want to have these discussions, not just for the sake of our planet, but also for the sake of our sanity.

In my college days I used to daydream of being so busy and important, that I too would need to have my cell phone glued to my ear as I drove (my expensive luxury sedan) into the office. There would be important notes from my secretary that couldn't wait, and vital decisions that only I could make, NOW! I know, major eye roll, right? I mean, who dreams of being a yuppie? Me, apparently.

Ah the folly of youth. Now those long-lost dreams make me laugh and give thanks that they never came true. The stress of a job that required me to be constantly connected would be agony. While I wouldn't turn down more money if my bosses decided to give it to me (I'm no dummy), I've realized that moving up would almost undoubtedly require more stress than the requisite bump in pay would be worth. I want to spend more time away from work, not less. And supervising others? Total pain in the tookus.

A year or so ago I had a networking lunch with a friend of a friend who is doing extremely well in his career. A long-time VP of a large organization, this guy is about as close to the top as someone in my industry gets. I was sweating this lunch big time. First, I'm not great with meeting people in general. I get nervous, freeze up and can't think of anything to say. Plus, this was someone almost twice my age, definitely twice (and then some) my income bracket, who was levels above me careerwise, and who's favor I wanted to earn.

I need not have worried. This very successful man is the nicest, most-down-to-earth guy you'll ever meet. He was a pleasure to chat with. At the time I was having some career angst. I was debating the need for a change and wasn't sure how, or if, to go about it. This gentleman was a great listener who provided great advice and went out of his way to offer his assistance. I was at that point in my career, he advised, where moving up gets more challenging. Among some of the less-personal advice he gave me was to pursue a master's (since I was thinking about it), join a professional organization in our field, and volunteer in a capacity that was resume-worthy. But what I remember most about our conversation, is what happened after he finished telling me about his action-packed summer, which was full of meetings, work travel and major projects.

"Isn't it hard to have a work-life balance with all the responsibilities you have?" I asked, mostly because I was struggling with the same issue, with a schedule that was less than 25% as full as his.

He laughed, oh how he laughed. There is no work-life balance in this job, he said, it's all work, no life.

Umm, I want to have a life outside the office. In fact, I want more of a life outside the office, not less.

In the days that followed that meeting, it hit me. I didn't want to invest even more of my time to a career, that while it can be creatively rewarding, can also sometimes feel like the bane of my existence. I didn't want the extra hours of my life energy drained, and certainly not the extra stress involved with climbing the career ladder.

Sometimes I feel out of place for thinking these things. I have many co-workers who are always worrying about getting ahead, bettering themselves, and getting the next promotion. I have a friend who made disparaging remarks about a neighbor who retired young and "wasted his time" not working or achieving. I want to argue with these people, to tell them I admire anyone who has managed to retire young, or thrive on less, but I generally take the easy way out and keep my mouth shut.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about being stagnate. I still want to learn new skills, I still want to grow, to be challenged. But moving up and dealing with the politics, meetings, stress, demands, etc. that come with it? No thanks.

I think the view from here is just fine.

What about you? Is downshifting more your speed? If so, do you openly discuss this with friends and family, or do you keep your quest for less to yourself?


  1. Great post! I've read some excerpts from The Medium Chill and I think it's a fantastic philosophy. There's simply nothing wrong with having a more low-key career. The anxiety I have struggled with is, now that I am no longer trying to climb the ladder, will I be able to just keep doing what I'm doing? So far it's been ok -- I've been in the same job for 4 years. But I worry that as I age I will be replaced by someone younger and cheaper, and I will have nowhere else to move, laterally or otherwise. I'm hoping to be in a financial situation where it won't matter, but there's always that thought in the back of my mind that I won't get to that financial point before someone decides to pasture me. But I'm going to stick to my guns. I've watched my peers scramble for the next golden ticket. Personally, I like having my evenings and weekends to myself. :)

  2. Power to the slackers, I say!!!

    Seriously, I read the Grist article, and while part of me was thinking "yes, yes, yes" the other part was thinking "Jesus Christ, do people really live that way?" I guess I'm so far out of the mainstream that even the "Medium Chill" sounds like WAY more work than I'm willing to put in.

    There was a time in the not too distant past, when most families in this country were supported quite nicely by one income... one income of a fellow working only 40 hours per week. When did it become "normal" to be on call 24/7? Used to be only doctors and other "vital" type folks were ever expected to be on call... and even then, they took turns at it and got extra pay for the bother!

    I just can't escape the feeling that the entire country has been duped by the corporatocracy and it's giant mass marketing wing.

    As for me, I'm stickin' to the nap track!

  3. Type A - That is a valid concern, but I agree it's not worth worrying/changing for. Even if you work yourself to the bone and move up the ladder you could always be replaced by someone younger/cheaper. I think my final straw was going through a consolidation and seeing how the takeover org totally screwed people who had dedicated years of their lives and personal time to an organization, only to be not just let go, but treated horribly, then let go. I was always taught that if you work hard and do the right thing you'll be treated well, but companies and even non-profits rarely seem to play by those rules anymore.

    For me the key is to work while at work (which I'm amazed how many people I see who don't do that), then my time is mine, guilt-free.

  4. ECL - I keep wracking my brain, but haven't quite figured out to take the nap track, and keep a roof over our heads plus keep us all in kibble. (I blame the cats, they eat a lot!) I guess I'm still more tied into the consumer lifestyle than I want to admit, but I keep chipping away at it, keep saving and keep planning. But right now the simple life is still a depressing amount of time away.

  5. Ha! I know what you mean. I think my cats are second only to my mortgage in terms of overall expenses!

    Have you ever read the book "Your Money or Your Live" by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin? I read it back in the mid 1990's and it really helped me figure out how to "get there" financially. I know the financial landscape has changed significantly since then, but I believe there is an updated version of the book. Anyhow, you might want to check it out. You can probably find it at the library, or get a used copy cheap on Amazon.

    It took some effort to get here, but it's so, SOOOOO worth it.

  6. Now who's the one with blog envy? I love this post, especially that you used the word "tookus". Your portrait of the older executive was poignant. I had dreams of a career as a lawyer until I realized that all I ever wanted to do was write.
    Our province has made the shift to all day kindergarten recently and I was shocked when a psychologist friend told me that the move was meant to stimulate the economy so both parents can work and not based on the developmental needs of the children. Yikes!
    I was reading the Minimalists blog: and someone commented that Joshua was just a burnt out executive who should get his job back. His response: Get my job back? Ha ha ha ha!
    Happiness is always the best revenge!

  7. Very thought-provoking post! I'm in a very competitive career and have always dreamed of being CEO of a world reknowned firm... but now I've come to realize the same thing you did... I want a life outside of work or at least I want to work a job that is so fulfilling and fits my dreams and passions that I don't mind devoting time to it. There are different avenues and definitions of success and higher position and more money doesn't equal it in a lot of cases. Happiness is essential and doing what you love and spending time with those you love is living successful in my opinion.

  8. "It doesn't matter where you have come from or where you are going, it just matters who you meet along the way." It's OK working your way up that ladder but is it really going to make you happy?

    It seems you are happy where your are so good for you.

  9. I'm late to comment but I just wanted to say that I really NEEDED to read a post like this.

    I'm feeling stagnant in my job and income potential yet I just can't muster the enthusiasm or energy to keep climbing and I do worry that as I get older, it is somehow "embarasssing" to not have climbed up to a certain level, even though on most days I really don't care what others think.

  10. oilandgarlic - So glad the post resonated for you, thank you for saying so. I can understand your fears, and yet, most of the people I see who move up just seem more stressed and crankier. Not all of them certainly, but to me it's like the things we're "supposed" to want don't seem all that appealing in reality, you know?


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