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My FI Journey » Career, Reflections » Grow Your Career to Achieve Financial Independence Faster: Part 1

Grow Your Career to Achieve Financial Independence Faster: Part 1

1259083_untitledWhat does growing your career have to do with achieving financial independence?  The short answer is: everything!  Even if you’re an early retirement aspirant who wants nothing more than to make a permanent escape from the daily grind, growing your career is something that I would strongly suggest.  I’ve already written about how having a higher income will help you save more money, and the more money you save, the faster you can achieve financial independence.  Yes, you could concentrate solely on frugality, but you can only reduce your lifestyle down so far before life ceases to be any fun and savings becomes nothing more than a chore.  Below, I begin a discussion about a variety of techniques and strategies to help you maximize your career potential.

I’m going to level with you.  There’s no magical technique to take you from being a grunt in the mail room to a Senior VP with a corner office overnight.  Growing your career takes work and it takes time.  But in the end, if you put the effort in, you will be rewarded.


Understand the rules of the game

Not all careers are the same.    I’m realist, and I’ll tell you, with all honesty in my heart, that there are plenty of go-nowhere jobs out there.  I’ve worked at several.  But I’ve also had jobs where hard work really mattered and my efforts were rewarded.  You need to understand how your particular work place and career field function before you can determine how best, and whether, to apply yourself to growing your career.  Some common career scenarios include:

  • Work hard, get recognized, and get promoted.  The stereotypical meritocracy.  You plug away and do your best and your efforts are acknowledged and appreciated.  I wish every job were like this.
  • Work hard until you hit the ceiling.  Some fields have ceilings that you can’t get past regardless of how hard you work.  Maybe you need more education or certifications to move up to the next level.  Or maybe there are just very few positions available above you, vastly reducing your odds of getting ahead.
  • Working hard gets you a token bonus, nothing more.  Some jobs reward your hard work by throwing a tiny bonus your way.  The size of the bonus is so small that it doesn’t even make the extra work worth it.  Don’t expect any kind of sincere acknowledgement of your efforts, for instance a raise or a promotion.  Just be happy with your tiny bonus.
  • Schmoozing is the name of the game.  Working hard gets you nowhere.  Well, it might get you more work, but it’s certainly not going to get you ahead.  This game is all about kissing ass.  Basically of the opposite of a meritocracy.
  • Working hard gets you nothing.  Sometimes you’re just a grunt.  And you can be replaced by another grunt at the drop of a hat.  No one really cares how hard you work.


The basic rules of the working world

These rules apply to every job under the sun.  Understand these rules and live them.  Things will become much easier afterwards.  You might even start liking  your job.

  1. Your primary job is to make your boss look good and be happy.  Your boss’s primary job is to make his boss happy and look good.  And so on up the chain, all the way to the CEO.
  2. Your other job is to make your coworkers happy.  You don’t have to like them, but you do have to do your best to help them out when needed and make their work life happier and more productive.
  3. You don’t get to be a boss until you’ve proven that you can be a grunt.  While there are exceptions, you need to prove that you can do all of the work given to you, and do it well, before you should even consider that you have any standing to call shots.
  4. You are, and always will be, replaceable.  The only reason that you have a job is because your boss is too busy to do it.  Your company will happily replace you in an instant with another person, a robot, or an outside vendor.


But I truly hate my job!

At this point, some of you are probably whining about how can’t grow your career because you hate your job.  Your boss is a dick and your job isn’t helping you fulfill some higher social goal of saving the world.  I’m just some guy typing words on the internet, so I can’t really comment on how valid your complaints are.  However….

The first thing you need to do is have an honest talk with yourself about why you hate your job.  Is it because you work in a toxic environment (I’ve been there) or because your chosen field doesn’t motivate you in the least (I’ve been here too).  Or could it be because you refuse to embrace the basic rules of the working world (I’ve even been here).

If you’re stuck in a toxic workplace, then you need to leave.  Not at some nebulous point in the future when you’ve achieved financial independence, or saved enough for early retirement, or when your niche blog affiliate-marketing empire finally takes off.  Now.  The last thing that you want is to be stuck in a toxic environment for the next 10, 20, or 30 years of your life. All motivation and joy in your life slowly being drained away.  The dangers of not quitting a job that makes you miserable are that the negative emotions created by your job will start spilling over in the rest of your life.  Destroying your relationships and even your health.

If your chosen field fails to motivate you, then leaving is probably in order.  But I wouldn’t consider it urgent.  I would instead try to find every possible way to shift your career within your field of employment. You might find a new role or function that really suits you.  The big danger of career shifting is that you may have to burn a lot of time and a lot of money going back to school to get trained for a new field, that you only think you might enjoy.  The grass is always greener on the other side, as they say.  Although sometimes, it actually is greener.

But more than likely, the reason that your job sucks, even with it’s high salary and excellent benefits, is because you refuse to accept the rules.  Stop thinking that you’re special, or entitled, and get your ass to work.  Do your job well and focus on positioning yourself to move up and out of current position.

In part two, we’ll continue our discussion, focusing more on what exactly we can all do to grow our careers.

Readers: What do you think of the rules of the working world?  Would you add any?  How important is growing your career to your financial independence plans?

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24 Responses to "Grow Your Career to Achieve Financial Independence Faster: Part 1"

  1. These are great and so true! As soon as you accept and understand the rules of the game that is when you are the happiest and it the best position to get a promotion. I try hard most of the time, but sometimes the extra work is not worth it and it is essential to learn when it’s okay to “slack” and when it’s not.

  2. There’s only one thing I’d add: You tend to get much larger pay increases by moving from company to company than by moving up within a company. As a rule of thumb, most companies will pay 20% over whatever you make currently to coax you away from your current job. Two or three moves could rocket you right up the pay scale.

    1. MFIJ says:

      I know some people who had incredible career advancement doing that. They were total mercenaries and hopped jobs every few years before the economy tanked in 2008.

  3. Janice says:

    Growing your career is definitely one way to achieve financial independence. Another way is to engage in side hustles which is what I’m currently doing. If circumstances permit, I would not want to rely too much on my main job. Personally, I don’t like to be over reliant on one job because of the possibility of being laid off. In addition, working in a bank has higher chances of me getting retrenched! :/

    Great post. Thanks for sharing!

    1. MFIJ says:

      Side hustles can be great, but most aren’t going to compare to a traditional job in terms of earnings power.

  4. Integrator says:

    I’m content to maintain and possibly slightly extend my current role if possible, but I have no great career aspirations at this point. I’m much more focussed on trying to rapidly ramp my passive income to my target goal. I do enjoy what I do and feel I’m well compensated but the office politics starts to become pretty nauseating at the level above mine.

    1. MFIJ says:

      So far I’m really liking my job. Yeah, there’s plenty of annoying parts to it, but it’s a job. I get to work on important projects, have a cool boss, and am compensated well. I imagine that I’ll hit a ceiling at some point, but since I’m still new I’ve got a ways to go before that happens.

  5. Good post, you’ve made some points on what it takes to get ahead in a work setting. I recently left my 9-5 job and some of the things you mentioned are actually part of the reason. #1 I didn’t get paid any more for working harder. #2 I was paid for time and I hated being there 9-5 when I could do other freelance things that paid more for less time

    1. MFIJ says:

      You’re lucky in a way that you have freelancing as an option. My skill set is so narrow that I’m not really employable outside of a few corporations.

  6. Nice post MFIJ! I agree that if your workplace is toxic, then you need to find an alternative. There is no subsitute for happiness, including money.

    This is why I recently turned down a 30% raise to switch jobs. While the money would have been kick-ass, the job was more restrictive, stressful, and the differences in coworker personalities were too much to overcome.

    1. MFIJ says:

      I hope that you’re happy in your new position. Passing up the raise must have been hard, but I’ve been in some toxic work environments before so I can empathize with your situation.

  7. I like to be as loyal as possible to the company that I work for. I work hard to move up the ladder, but if I tend to not like what I am doing, then I would move on. I have not hit that place in my current role, but I am rewarded for doing great work, so it always makes you feel better when this happens.

    1. MFIJ says:

      I would prefer to work for one company for a while rather than jump around at every opportunity. Moving is just way too disruptive. And the fact is that I really like where I am at the moment. Is it perfect? No. But it’s probably as good as a job is going to get.

  8. So true on every point here. One very wise boss told me “If you don’t sing your praises, nobody else will.” Not in a bragging way, just in a way to let your boss know what you’ve done/are doing to help make him look good and make his job easier, just like you said. Also, making your co-workers happy is hugely important too. You might rise up without doing that, but it won’t be fun at the top if everybody hates you.

    1. MFIJ says:

      I try to make all my coworkers happy. The fact is that we work in teams and that even if I don’t interact with a given person today, that doesn’t mean that we won’t be on a project together tomorrow. The more people like you, the more people are willing to put in extra effort for you.

      Then there’s the mental health aspect. I’ve worked in places where everyone hated each other. The stress from the interpersonal conflicts turned what should have been an easy job into something that was harder and more painful than it ever should have been.

  9. Justin says:

    I love the point that you made. Financial defense is very important, often it’s more important than how much money you make. However, you’re right that there is a point when you can no longer cut things out.

    1. MFIJ says:

      You can always cut more out. The question is just how close to the poverty line do you want to live? I’d rather not give up my small luxuries (cats, washer and dryer, air conditioning, etc.)

  10. “Your primary job is to make your boss look good and be happy.” This means they will take credit for your work. And their boss will take credit for it, and their boss… all the way up to the CEO. So keep track of it. During your 360 review, don’t hesitate to remind people that it was your idea that made all those people look good!

    1. MFIJ says:

      We just finished our performance evaluations. They’re like a beauty pageant where we itemize every single accomplishment that we’ve made and try to make ourselves look as good as possible.

  11. Untemplater says:

    Some jobs unfortunately do have ceilings. I felt I hit one earlier this year when I didn’t get a promotion I thought I had in the bag. I took action and let my thoughts be heard so even though it will be later than I hoped, I think I will get a promotion and raise by year end. Sometimes we have to fight for what we deserve.

  12. Very true. I wish more people understood that by working hard in your profession and earning more money coupled with living below your means you will be rich.

    1. MFIJ says:

      I’ve noticed that the early retirement/financial independence community seems to have a lot of people in it who just hate their jobs. If I hated my job that much, I wouldn’t be very interested in growing my career, only in checking out.

  13. […] Grow Your Career To Achieve Financial Independence Faster by My FI Journey […]

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