What 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?