It Never Looks the Same Twice

When you look at an intricate painting, you tend to notice different things, depending upon your present perspective and what element currently holds your focus. I’ve learned that hindsight is very similar; events look very different as the lens through which you view them evolves. When I started sharing my experience leaving a pension behind, I ended with the question “would I do it again?”. In that post, I was focused on the long-term financial impact. I do realize even pensions aren’t guaranteed; in fact, the one I left had already ended as a benefit for new hires, though it is still in force to this day for those who were already covered. This knowledge made gauging the financial impact of leaving pretty straightforward. Even though financial ramifications are certainly of great import and, likely of great interest to those reading this blog, they are just one piece of the puzzle.

Financial considerations aside, the results of leaving that job were mostly positive; at least initially. I learned many new things about my trade in a new industry. I was able to experience a huge (Fortune 50) publicly-traded company from the inside. Best of all, I worked from home most of the time, which was a huge blessing. Not only was I able to support my family while literally working a mere 20 feet away from where my children laughed and played in our back yard, I got to talk with and, occasionally, help Mrs. Frugal Source throughout the day. Now that my oldest are visiting colleges and preparing to flap their fledgling wings in preparation to leave our noisy nest, I realize how truly rare and priceless that opportunity was.

For a time, the new place was the best place I ever worked. Over the course of the four years I worked there, however, it morphed into my worst workplace experience. On my first day at the new place, I got up early and treated myself to a premium coffee. As I psyched myself up to head off my first new job in nearly nine years, I experienced some ironic and chilling foreshadowing. The newscaster on my radio reported that the CEO of my new company had announced his retirement just that morning. While it took some time, this triggered changes that cascaded through the organization, eventually reaching my seat at the lowest level.

A few years in, the CIO retired as well. One of the new technology leaders brought in folks who had worked for him at a previous employer and, with them, a toxic culture. I knew I was in trouble when the gentleman two levels above my manager introduced himself to our team. He bragged about having two full-time jobs at once while rising through the ranks and getting up at 4:30 every morning for a 5 mile run. Most tellingly, he joked that, while his address was in a large city not far from us, he was usually on the road and saw his family maybe once every two weeks. He seemed to be happy with his decision, but the expectation that others would follow suit eventually drove me out.

After a long slog of 60 to 70 hour weeks capped off by working over 24 hours straight — into a corporate holiday, no less — just before some badly needed time off, I was feeling my mental and physical health deteriorate. I started looking for a way out and found one in my previous employer. Even though, eventually, we parted ways again, this time for good, I will always be grateful for the chance they gave me to escape the horror my new employer had become.

A couple of years, which were generally good, passed. I left again. This time, I left for the right reasons. As I mentioned, things were pretty good at the old, new-again place. My work was challenging, I had the respect of my teammates and leadership, and had a good work-life balance. My second departure was right because I was not leaving out of fear. It was good because I was excited about the opportunities that lay ahead with this new job that was truly a bolt from the blue. I was eager to learn new things, intrigued by the vastly different culture I perceived at my new employer, and enthusiastic about the chance to do something entirely new.

The main lesson I (eventually) learned from this part of my life is not to make decisions out of fear (thanks to James Altucher for help throwing that into sharp relief). Looking back over the years, most of the bad decisions I’ve made, especially with regard to finances, were made out of fear. Emotion isn’t a good foundation for analysis. Though you can’t easily set them on a shelf, you should work hard to distance yourself from your emotions to maximize your objectivity. You owe it to yourself to try to get down to the raw data and work out the possible impact of your decisions. Had I done that initially, there’s a good chance I would have stayed, and may very well be planning how to start spending my retirement (or, at least my first retirement) in about a year or so.

That brings us back to the question we started with; would I leave again?  To be honest (and slightly evasive) it depends.  If I were to go back in time, without knowing any of the joy that I was able to experience due to making what, from a strictly financial perspective, was a misstep, then probably not.  Having the knowledge I do, however — remembering smiling faces and squeals of joy as my children squirted one another with the hose, or chased each other around the yard; being able to look up from my work and behold my wife’s cherished smile — there’s not a chance.  I wouldn’t take the ability to retire a year or so from now with relative security.  I would even endure the temporary hell of a bad workplace that resulted from my initial departure just to get to where I am now.

While money and financial security are nice, as the old saying goes, we can’t take it with us. There are many things that are far more important. Chief among those are the good memories we carry with us until our last and, more importantly, the memories we leave with those we love once we’ve departed. These hold more valuable than all the gold in Fort Knox.

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