As someone who writes in the personal finance/financial independence space, I’ve read a lot of stories about people pursuing financial independence and then leaving their careers. One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that people chasing financial independence often characterize themselves as being good at their jobs. You very rarely see someone say they want to reach financial independence and get out of the workforce because they’re doing a bad job at work.
I sometimes wonder how true these characterizations are. I know for me, as much as I’d like to think I was good at the jobs I had, the truth is, I wasn’t very good at them. Most of the time, I was just going through the motions. I imagine if I was actually good at the jobs I had, I probably wouldn’t have been in such a hurry to leave them. To be honest, I doubt I would have lasted very long at my jobs if I hadn’t left them first.
It’s not a matter of me not being able to work hard either. I’ve always had a bit of an obsessive personality, so putting in hard work and long hours has never been an issue for me. During my first year of law school, for example, I likely worked harder than anyone in my class, working 7 days a week for 10-14 hours per day. I did it because I wanted to do well at school and I liked studying law. But I could also work hard because of the way I controlled my schedule. Even though I had to work a lot, I still generally could do it in a way that made sense to me.
The working world was different. I struggled as an employee because the way I like to work didn’t mesh with the nature of the corporate jobs I had. The regimented schedules, the office politics, the constant status reports, the bosses looking over my shoulder – I didn’t fit well in this type of system. And so, I was a middling employee. All I was really doing was doing just enough to not get fired.
For me, financial independence wasn’t just about getting out of the workforce because I didn’t like my job. I needed to get out because I simply wasn’t that good at the jobs I had. Here are some of the reasons why I think I just wasn’t that good of an employee.
I’m Not Great With Set Schedules
The most obvious characteristic of basically any job is that it comes with a strict, regimented schedule. Sure, some schedules are more flexible than others, but the vast majority of jobs are based around general working hours. You start working in the morning, you work all day, and you end work in the evening.
I’ve always struggled with the regular 9-5 work schedule. It’s the main reason I enjoy what I do now, working for myself. I’ll likely never make as much as I could have made as a lawyer, but I control so much more of my day-to-day life, in a way that I never could have with my normal jobs.
The problem with normal jobs – for me at least – is that they forced me to live my life based on the needs of my job. I get it – jobs need us to work at certain hours because other people rely on our work, But it’s a reality I always struggled with. I think it’s one of the reasons I enjoyed college and law school and why I was able to do well in a school setting. Other than the few hours of class each day, the schedules were always pretty loose and I could generally craft my day to look the way I wanted it to look.
In an office, I always felt cooped up. I had to be there by a certain time in the morning, which meant my mornings were always terrible as I woke up and rushed to the office. I hated that I had to stay in the office the entire day. If it was nice out, I wanted to get out and bike and explore. The best hours of my day went to my employer and I only got to use what was leftover.
Some people thrive on schedules. I’m just not one of them. Work schedules always felt so arbitrary to me. And indeed, the last push I needed to quit my job and go all-in on myself was when I got a talking to at work for getting into the office too late.
I’m Bad At Doing Assignments I Don’t Care About
Jobs are tough because you have to do a lot of crap you don’t want to do. I hated getting terrible assignments that I didn’t want to do, but had to because someone gave them to me. My problem was with assignments I really didn’t like, I didn’t really do a very good job at them. I delayed doing them. I did them at the last minute. It showed in the quality of work I did.
Growing up, I thought that was what work was all about. You got paid because you had to do things you didn’t want to do. These days, I realize that’s a terrible way to think about work. Work is an important part of life. It makes up most of our waking hours. It shouldn’t be something we trudge through. And while we all need money to live, I don’t think any of us should trade our lives simply for money.
Of course, with any job or any work you do, you’re going to have to do things you don’t want to do. I think the difference is that when I was an employee, I didn’t control my assignments, which meant I had no power. But when I’m working for myself, if I’m doing something, it’s because I know it needs to be done and I know I’m doing it because it’s going to benefit me.
I Don’t Like Having To Put On A Work Persona
One of the things that a lot of people don’t think about with any job is that it requires you to put on a sort of show while you’re at work. I always had to have two personalities during my employee days. There was my real personality – the one that I have when I’m with my family and friends. But then there’s also my work personality – this fake persona I had to have at work. This fake persona is one you all probably have too – a sort of upbeat, go-getter, eager to do whatever the boss needs you to do.
I hated having to put on this show. It might not seem like that big of a deal, but I found it tiring. It made me feel inauthentic. And when you’re a minority like I am, you’re often forced to craft your work persona to match your bosses – typically old, white men with very different life experiences than the ones I had.
Working for myself means I don’t have to deal with putting on this fake persona anymore. Since I work online, I barely have to put on any personas at all. I’m just me and I don’t have to pretend that I’m anyone else.
I Hate Dealing With Supervisors And People Looking Over My Shoulder
I hate having people looking over me. I know employers need to do it because they have to make sure things are getting done, but for me, I just want people to leave me alone and let me do things my way.
This is where I struggled. Bosses always wanted status reports. All of my jobs had constant meetings to go over what we were doing. I loathe meetings. The constant status reports and meetings usually made me look bad too because I wasn’t good at keeping up with the timelines my bosses wanted.
I think this is one of the reasons I liked college and law school. In those settings, you got an assignment, you had a due date, and how you went about getting your work done was your business. No one hassled you or made you check in with them. You just got what you had to get done by the time it was due. And if you didn’t, it was all on you.
These days, I don’t have any real due dates for anything. If there is a due date, it’s one that I’ve set for myself. I have a business partner who hassles me sometimes, but it’s not the same as a boss looking over my shoulder. For the most part, I do my thing without anyone bothering me.
When I was reading these financial independence stories, I sometimes felt bad about myself because I wasn’t a superstar employee. It always seemed like the people writing about financial independence were superstars at everything – good at work, good at life, good at money,
I like to try to paint an accurate portrait of myself. I wasn’t some amazing, superstar lawyer who, despite how amazing I was, found myself dissatisfied with my career and then turned to financial independence because of how awesome I am. For the most part, I was a middling employee, doing just enough to hopefully not get fired.
Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you’re just going through the motions at work, hoping to not get fired and turning towards financial independence as a way out.
If you are like me, let me tell you, it’s okay if you’re not that good at your job. It’s not a personal failing on your part. When we don’t do well at some things, it’s often because it just isn’t a good fit for us.
I was always out of place as an employee in the corporate world – a round peg trying to get into a square hole. And even though I wasn’t the best employee, it didn’t mean I couldn’t do well at something else.