I recently turned down a job offer to make significantly more money than I make right now (about 25%). Not only that, I think the job would have offered more opportunities for career growth and somewhat higher job satisfaction.
Why would I turn down this job? The primary reason is that it's not the right time for me to double down on my career. That won't happen until I'm about 45 (yes, seriously).
If you are curious about why I plan to plug into the rat race at the same time all of you FIRE folks are getting ready to do some slow travel or start an artisan underwater basket weaving convention, feel free to read on. If not, have a nice day, I'll see you next time :).
The story of my "alternative" career goals
As a fresh college graduate of the class of 2010, I entered the workforce in a burgeoning field (analytics) for a Fortune 500 company. I began to develop my technical skills, but I also noticed that I had leadership potential (and it was clear that others noticed as well). I realized that I could choose a powerhouse career, if I dedicated myself to that path. Maybe I would be an entrepreneur, or maybe an executive. Either way, I saw the runway, and I started down the path.
At the same time, I fell in love (not with my job, with a man). I fell hardcore for the best man in the world for me. Our first date was snowboarding, and he brought homemade peanut butter fudge. My heart melted. After our first date, we spent nearly every evening together for a year until we got engaged and quickly married (our engagement was only about 5 months long).
Throughout this time, I continued to work incredibly hard to get ahead at work, and my boyfriend, then fiance and then husband supported me every step of the way. I rose to the top of my team, and started being groomed for a leadership path. I would wake up as early as 4AM to take calls and begin work on the large scale initiatives that I had taken over (taken over is definitely the right word).
One morning, I found that I was having trouble getting up. I had a hard time concentrating at work, and I felt a little sick. I didn't have a fever or anything, but I was exhausted. I started drinking copious coffee, but I still couldn't cope. This went on for weeks (about six) before I realized that I was probably pregnant. I was shocked (but I probably shouldn't have been), and after peeing on a bunch of sticks, I called my husband (who was out of state) to tell him the news.
I couldn't even pretend like it was good news. I started crying. He assured me that we would love the child, and that everything would be okay (the first of many times).
My husband and I started to get our act together financially (which is why I think babies aren't the net worth killers everyone makes them out to be), but my personal finance moment wouldn't be for nearly a year, and in the intervening months I had a career identity crises.
I realized that I couldn't have it all at once
Because I had such high career aspirations, I (heavily pregnant) watched as Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo) announced that she was pregnant, and as Sheryl Sandberg began the publicity for her book Lean In (which didn't actually get published until a year later), and I began to study the lives of these women to decide if (like them) I could really have it all.
As I studied their lives, I began to realize that "reaching my full potential" has always been the overwhelming theme in my life. I'm not so much obsessed with "winning" as I am with laying everything out for the purpose of whatever goal I happen to be chasing at the moment (unfortunately four years at a liberal arts school was not enough to convince me to lead an examined life). Whether it was school, tennis, running, snowboarding or business; I've always given my present goal my all. The "Lean In" mantra wasn't something I needed to adopt, it was a habit that I started to examine. Would this de facto method of operation continue to work as motherhood stared my down the barrel?
The more that I examined the lives of these women, the more that I realized that I could not attain their lives. Unlike Mayer and Sandberg, I wasn't an already accomplished career woman with my biological clock ticking. My career was rapidly progressing, but I hadn't hit a six figure salary, nor had I made a big career move that would cement me as the best candidate for executive grooming.
If I wanted a big career, I realized that I was going to have to make big sacrifices to make it happen. And I wasn't the only one who was going to have to make sacrifices, my husband would have to as well. There would be no moving out of the state for him to start grad school. If any moving was to happen it would be to Silicon Valley or Seattle for a new and better job. My husband would be in charge of baby drop off and pick up or better yet, be a stay at home dad.
I wouldn't have time to be home for dinner every night (much less prepare it), and the impending baby- well who knows how we would squeeze in time for him. If my husband didn't choose to stay home, we would be spending a lot of money on help of various types (housekeeper, chef, etc.), and I would barely see him or the baby.
Was that a price that I was willing to pay for a big career? Even if I was willing to pay it, was my husband?
Slowly we began to realize that my dreams of a big career would have to wait.
My big career aspirations didn't have to die!
Yes, I said my career aspirations would have to wait. For about two decades (if my math is right).
Having a child at a young age means that whether I wanted it or not, the next ten years of my life is going to be focused on my family rather than focused on my route to the C-Suite.
But it also means that my kids (hopefully there will be more) are almost assuredly going to be out of the house before I turn 50. Fifty years young (not fifty years old). That's fifteen years before a standard retirement age. Age fifty is plenty of time to kill it on the career field if I want to!
Can you imagine having all the vigor of a 22 year old combined with the life experience, wisdom, and the I don't give a flip attitude of a 50 year old? And what if I manage to develop a reasonable business platform in the next two decades, and then really devote myself to it later in life. And what if I can do all that as my husband is winding down his primary career and maybe starting a second career (perhaps as a chef or a personal trainer for middle aged women or as a craft coffee brewer)?
Maybe I'm imagining that I can have my cake and eat it too, but having a family first and a career second seems like an excellent (if unplanned) choice for me.
So about that job offer?
It was a little weird that I even entertained the concept of this job, but it's on a busline and the company is doing incredible things (and they just went public). The recruiter had been reaching out to me every 3-6 months for the past two years, and decided that I just had to nibble.
I went ahead with the interview, and I got really excited about the prospect of the job. With my son nearing two years old, I'm starting to feel more comfortable with the idea of putting him in a traditional daycare setting. However, taking the job would represent me moving back into career mode rather than moving more towards mom mode, and that's not the direction I think that I should be heading right now. So I decided against it.
I am currently working towards the last major promotion that I can expect in a purely technical role. To move forward at my current company (after that promotion), I would need to move back and rededicate myself to the leadership track that I was on before. This means being part of the top 1% of performers instead of the top 10%, and the difference between the two is huge). In reality, I could probably do this at any major company with a growing business intelligence space.
That being said, I'm not as committed to the "analytics" path as I was when I first began my career. As I've grown from a technical and insights standpoint, I've noticed that automation and simplification are the two business themes that I am most passionate about. Like with finances, people make business too dang complicated. These themes may persist over the next twenty years, or new themes may emerge. I hope to keep my pulse very close to the business world so that I can lean into my career when the time comes.
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.