Do you ever get to a point in your career or your job that you feel like you are locked into it? You feel like you cannot leave, but you want may want to for a variety of reasons. I am not necessarily talking about myself, but I have had conversations with friends that as we get older we might want to do other things with our lives and/or we feel like we can’t do so because of the money/stability of our jobs. I have made no bones about my goal is to be financially independent so I have the FREEDOM to do what I want. I have become so into the concept that I have put out a specific date as my independence day.
Reasons for Feeling Job Locked
There can be a number of reasons why you feel like you are locked into your job/career. Here are some you might be experiencing.
- Changing income levels. For many of us feel like we are locked into a job because might not make as much in compensation as we could with another employer. Even though I live in a part of the country with a high cost of living I turned down a couple of offers at jobs a few years ago because the earning potential just wasn’t as high. The jobs were fine, but it was basically the same as I am doing now. I didn’t want to turn down the potential for salary increases that would come with a move. So I stayed.
- You receive excellent benefits. One of the many reasons people don’t leave/change their careers/jobs is because of benefits. For example, you might get an excellent 401k match that you can’t find with other employers. Additionally, your job offers fringe benefits that other employers don’t. In my case, one of the reasons I have not moved from my current position or explored other places is because of the specific health benefit that I receive from insurance. Where we live infertility costs are covered by insurance up to a certain amount of attempts. This has already saved us tens of thousands of dollars. And I don’t plan on ever even looking for another position (not that I would) until that benefit has been exhausted or we have said it is exhausted.
- Health insurance. Now health insurance is certainly a benefit, but I consider it to be somewhat separate. The lure of Obamacare, particularly for people who would be independent business owners or early retirees, was that they wouldn’t lose their health insurance if they left their job. With the uncertainty of the future of Obamacare I know lots of people, including older employees who stay at their careers because of the health insurance benefit. Our health insurance, generally, is pretty good, particularly from what I hear from other people. I don’t think I will ever retire early, in part, because of health insurance reasons. Mrs. ROB has some medical issues that make it important that we have good health insurance. Staying at my job is important for both of us or at least one of us working full-time. If we go to a single payer system that, of course, would change, but in the interim lots of people stay because of health insurance.
- Pension benefits. I have several colleagues of mine who I know are staying at their jobs because they have to work a couple more years to be eligible for their full pensions, which is 80% of the final 3 years of their salary. They certainly enjoy their work, but they don’t want to take, what could be, thousands of dollars less per year if they were to retire a couple of years earlier. The formulas that are used to determine pension benefits, to me, are a bit mind-boggling. And that is one of the reasons I never wanted to be part of our pension. I didn’t want to feel obligated to stay at a job to receive my full benefit. In my case I would have to work another 23 years to do so. No thank you. I want more options and because of that I chose to invest heavily in the stock market where I can take my money with me.
- Being Demoted. One of the great things about being in a career you like is that after a few years you can develop a certain expertise that is valued by your company and by others. However, if you decide to leave that position you might have to start over again with another organization. You might have to prove yourself in another environment altogether. For some that is a great challenge. For others, particularly those longer in the tooth, that might be too daunting. As an academic the longer I stay at one position the harder it is for me to move. I would either have to take a demotion, hope I can do a lateral move (extremely difficult), or go into some administrative tasks that I might want not want to do. In other words, there are certain jobs that the longer you go progress in your career your options narrow. They don’t expand, particularly if you want to maintain where you are.
- Being Scared. Think about it this way: If you have been in your career/job for say 15 to 20 years trying to do something new or go to a new place can be daunting. You have too, in some respects, start all over again. Do you want to do that when you have reached a certain level in your position and/or organization? What might motivate you to do so? Also, there is a comfort level in being at the same place for a long time. You know the people, the inner workings of what is going on, etc. Frankly, you can become a little complacent. That can be certainly dangerous and I think downright unethical if you are just trying to mail it in at your job. But being scared at trying something new can be overwhelming for people.
Ways to Unlock Yourself from Your Job/Career
I fully admit that there are occasions that I feel locked in by my career. I am in one of those positions that the higher I go, the more I achieve, it seems the less movement than ever before. So how can you break the shackles?
- Become financially independent. I think one of the primary benefits to being FI is you have a lot more career freedom. Now you might be saying Jason FI is impossible for most of us. I can’t become financially independent, I can barely pay my mortgage. Well, if you have that mindset you will never become FI. Remember, FI is NOT about becoming rich. It is NOT about having millions of dollars in the bank (although for some it might be). Generally, FI is saving enough money that your expenses can be covered by this larger sum of dinero. For example, if you expenses are $2500 a month then that is $30k a year. If you do 25 times those expenses (which is what most recommend) then you need to save 750k. $2500 doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but when you consider how much we probably spend on car payments, eating out, etc, that is probably what a good chunk of Americans need to pay bills, go out to eat once in a while and take a vacation. It might be more, but only you can decide that.
- Changing your mindset. One of the things that I struggle with is changing my mindset to some of these potential future challenges. For example, Mrs. ROB is an only child. We might have to move back to our home state to care for her parents. If that is the case what does that mean for our careers? In those cases I would need to change my mindset. Instead of feeling like I would be demoted I would have to see it as a new adventure and challenge. In some respects I like the idea of starting over again. I remember when I first started my job I was super motivated to do research, be a good teacher, and serve my community so I could get tenure. Over the past few years I haven’t probably been as motivated, particularly research wise. This would light a fire under me again. Motivate me. Sometimes fear can be a great motivator.
- Cut your lifestyle. The longer you are with a job, presumably, the more money you will make. The more money you make it is amazing how lifestyle inflation can creep in. You might go out to eat more, take more vacations, buy things more freely than before. If you do change jobs/positions you might have to cut your lifestyle. You might have to reduce your expenses now to get by and see how it goes. It can be a fun adventure, but you could feel like you are missing out.
- Try It Ahead of Time. One of things that can come with changing careers/jobs would be a loss of compensation and certain benefits. To see if you can/want to make changes you need to do a little planning and see how you can manage with cutting your lifestyle. For example, for six months maybe you make a projection of what you might make with a new opportunity. Depending on this new income you need to adjust your expenses accordingly. Live with this new income for a while and see how it feels. If you don’t like it you could potentially stay with your job, but before you just up and leave your position or change to something else why not make adjustments in your day to day living to get used to the differences in compensation (and typically it would be lower at least initially). At the very least you have a baseline to judge whether or not you can get out of being job locked.
- Move to Another Part of the Country. Now this is a bit more radical and for those of us who live on the coasts (East or West) can seem a bit odd. However, I am also from the Midwest and know that the cost of living can be exponentially cheaper in many of these areas. For example, this article from CNBC shows 12 different metro areas where you can live pretty well on 60k a year. Considering the average median income for Americans is about 55k that isn’t far off. Most of these cities are in the Midwest and/or the South. And guess what people they do have sports, museums, lakes, nice weather, people, restaurants, and the like in these cities. You don’t only find “civilization” in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle or other places. It does exist elsewhere. Moving to reduce your costs might be a way to also to rejuvenate your career because here you can start with fewer funds and give yourself some time to figure out what you want to do. Ultimately, a home is where you hang your hat, at least for me for it is.
- Work to live, not live to work. Most Americans dislike their jobs. Almost 70% of Americans dislike what they currently do. I am one of the few people who loves their jobs. I mean that is why I don’t think want to retire early, even though I might have the means to do so. That said, I don’t want to do this forever. I want to be able to do other things. I romanticize the idea of being able to take my kids (hopefully we have them) to school whenever they want or pick up and travel to different things. I want to work to live, not live to work. And “living” means different things to different people. For some that could be sitting on a beach. I think for most of us, particularly as you get older it is spending time with the people most important to you. Feeling like you were connected to something larger. At least that is it for me. “Living” for me means being able to travel, connect with the people closest to me, being able to do meaningful things with my day (for me that is teaching and research), and helping people. I love doing those things. My day is brighter when I get to do those things. How does that work without being job locked? It could mean that I do that by teaching part-time and having a lot more freedom to do what I want. It could mean that I actually live abroad with Mrs. ROB, our dog, and kids. It could mean moving back to our home state and being with friends and having a less costly lifestyle. I don’t know what it is, but I want the options of doing so. What I have to do is, similar to changing my mindset, having a different understanding of what work is all about. That is a work in progress, but I am working on it.
The Bottom Line: So are you job locked? If so, why and what do you want to do about it? Please contribute in the comments below.