Why I quit my job as a high level manager

Published December 18, 2014   Posted in How to Think

I admit it – I spent the majority of my early working life looking for the next big promotion.  Everybody wants to be the boss, and I drove into work each and every day with a big smile on my face, making a conscious effort to say the right things around the right people, to better position myself for an increase in responsibility.

Stressed BusinessmanI loved talking to my manager about the accomplishments that I was able to achieve and the people that I mentored along the way (mentorship shows leadership, ya know).  I would throw little “I rock”-isms off the cuff into seemingly innocent convos.  It was a never-ending drive to make myself out to be the perfect candidate for the next promotion or big bonus.  No conversation at work, in my mind, didn’t include some form of politics.  Young and naive, this is how I defined success at work.

One day, I finally got the opportunity to lead a small group of technical developers.  My work responsibilities increased and they threw a couple extra bucks into my paycheck.  “Cool!”, I thought.  I was finally somebody’s boss.  I was the one who they wanted to impress.  I was the one who had to be impressed.  One step closer to the next promotion, and the next, and the next.

A couple years down the road, and several million insincere smiles along the way, I got an opportunity of a lifetime.  At the ripe old age of 32, I had the chance to lead an entire information technology department.  Developers, database administrators and system engineers, all under my control.  Wow!

Here I was, a software developer turned Director of Information Technology in one day.  I went from writing code and giving status reports to my managers to being the guy that directed the daily activities of the staff.  I wanted my responsibilities to increase.  And boy, did they ever increase.

I was the decision-maker and had the final say on anything Information Technology related.  I got to prioritize work for my staff.  I got to shift responsibilities around so the work that my department put out was more along the lines of what I wanted.  I was offered a nice raise and got several bonuses.

But, I also got to answer for the mistakes of my staff.  When anything went wrong from an IT perspective, I was on the hook to figure it out and get it fixed.  I had to make my staff work nights and weekends when emergencies happened.

I also got to put on fancy clothes and pitch a plan in front of the board of trustees to upgrade our aging information technology infrastructure.  I worked weekends putting the plan into place, crunching numbers, developing slides, rehearsing the speech.  Nearly every waking moment was consumed, in some way, with my duties at the office.

After all, I was the boss.  My hard work finally paid off.  All those “I rock” moments, all that face time in front of the right people, all that “Sure, I’ll come in on Saturday” with a big, fat smile on my face bullshit.  All those extra hours.  It all worked, and now I was the boss.

I should have been happy.  This is what I’ve always wanted.  This is what I worked towards for the last 10 years of my working life.

Was this true happiness?

The truth is I was not very happy with my situation.  The money was good.  The job itself was fine.  But, I did not like what being the Director was doing to my career.  It was setting me up for many years of long hours, responsibility and stress.  I thought that is what I wanted.  I thought I had finally succeeded.

Not many people want a demotion, and at 32, I was already the Director.  What’s next?  Something bigger and better, of course.  Maybe a Senior Director?  Vice President?  Even longer hours, more stress, more crap to deal with.

In my desire for more power, money and influence, I inadvertently positioned myself in the direct line of fire.  Managers are easily downsizable.  When the shit hits the fan, who gets canned?  Usually, managers.  They get hit from both sides of an organization.  Managers are pressured from above for increased efficiency and receive backlash from below as they carefully navigate the treacherous waters of staff productivity vs. employee morale.

Maybe actually doing the work is a lot more satisfying than managing it.

Sitting in my corner office one day, I finally realized something downright shocking.  I spent 10 years working my ass off to get promoted.  I put in long hours and tried my best to impress the right people along the way.  And in the end, all it got me were even longer hours, more people to impress, a lot more responsibility and generally a more stressful life.

Nothing really changed except the people that I reported to, and they were more demanding, critical and bottom-line oriented.

Holy shit.  What in the hell did I do to myself?

I fell straight into the phenomenon that keeps so many Americans working for the majority of their lives in stress and without an easy way out.  Being the boss does not mean that life suddenly becomes better.  It does not mean you magically become more important than your next door neighbor or fundamentally transform into a different person.  Truthfully, nothing changes but the amount of “stuff” that you have to deal with.

You might get paid more, but who cares?  An aggressive savings schedule can easily make up for any additional salary made through a more stressful job.  A challenging job role?  Maybe, but I find setting myself up to retire by 40 36 to be equally challenging, and the reward for accomplishing that challenge is light years better.

This was amazing.  I accomplished what I set out to do with my life as a bright, eager young lad straight out of college and became the boss of an entire IT department.  Once there, I realized how brainwashed I had become over the glamorous idea of having authority and “being the boss”.  Is this “success”?

It suddenly came full circle to me.

This was not what life is about.  I was not made to spend my nights and weekends preparing presentations for boards of trustees.  I did not want the lingering stress of running a department on my mind at night.  Weekend phone calls, responding to emergencies, employee reviews, keeping my workforce happy, conflict resolution.  Basically, manager stuff.

And so, 10 months into my stint as a Director, I politely said “thanks, but no thanks”.  I quit my job as “the boss” and found another opportunity that allows me to work from home.  Stress is almost non-existent and the job allows a lot more freedom for me to engage in some of my other projects, like writing.

Celebrate good times, come on!

I am no longer the boss, and quite frankly, I like it that way.  I am not looking for the next promotion or opportunity to show my face in front of senior leadership like I once did.  I do my job, I do it well, and I spend the rest of my time at home enjoying my life with my beautiful wife and two very adorable dogs.

The wonderful feeling of utter indifference towards promotions or bonuses can only be described as, I don’t know, maybe pure euphoria.

My stress level has receded faster than my hair line in my mid 20s.  I am content with where I am.  I love the goal that my wife and I are working every day to achieve.  This is awesome.  I think happy thoughts.  I do things that bring a smile to my face every day from the comfort of my own home.

To me, this is success. 

From now on, my mind remains focused on the ultimate prize: financial independence and eternal happiness.  Promotion or no promotion, bonus or no bonus, it no longer affects me, nor is it the driving force behind my willingness to work hard at what I do.  I work hard because of a solid work ethic.  I want my work to be useful.  I make it useful and my customer recognizes that.

And truthfully, that is all that I can ask.  A happy customer, a happy Steve – at least as far as my work is concerned.  My personal ethics demand it.

Now, I no longer envy senior level leadership positions – as I once had.  I no longer desire for the decision-making power and being the one “in charge” because of the managerial nonsense that accompanies such a position.  It is not worth it to me.  My time is more valuable than that.  My health is more important to me than recognition or status in the workplace.

My goal in life is financial independence, retirement and true happiness.  My job gives me the resources I need to accomplish that goal.  Through my job I succeed in life, but my job is merely the path – the roadway towards the glimmering light at the end of the tunnel.

I hope to see you there.

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Comments

26 responses to “Why I quit my job as a high level manager”

  1. I am being pushed into management right now and am resisting with all my might. I’m really glad I read this as I am more certain than ever now that I am doing the right thing. I am not built to be a manager, but conversely I am not so great at being managed either. End goal is to quit asap and do my own thang… which it kinda sounds like you have done. From what you say you are still currently employed by a company but you get to do it from home, is that correct?
    It would be great to find out a little more on how you scored this current set up, which a lot of people would love to have.

    A few further comments:

    “Maybe actually doing the work is a lot more satisfying than managing it.”

    This is sooooo spot on in my opinion, I like to build things, not tell others how to do it!

    “…wonderful feeling of utter indifference towards promotions or bonuses…”

    Yep, nodding my head again here in agreement. I’ve mentioned a few times in Yearly reviews over the last couple of years that I don’t really care about the money. Get the feeling that they never believed me but hey…

    It is a shame that it took you 10 years to come full circle but you cannot have a revelation if you have not gone through it! Again, I guess I did a similar thing (without quite making it up to the management level) simply by just working working working without really thinking about an end goal (which is possibly worse than what you’ve done anyway!). I think most people fall into those two categories, they work because, well that’s what everyone else does, or they work to gain promotion, and again, as they have a drive to get to the top. Only a very small percentage of people will question these two norms and attempt something different such at retire early or just not play the game at all.

    • Yep, I’m still working, but I get to work on purely technical projects entirely from home, which gives me the freedom to pretty much work when I want. It’s the perfect gig for my lifestyle at the moment. I knew someone who works for my company, so he was my “in” for this current position.

      Networking is so very important in this business. The more people you know, the more opportunities that you’ll get. I’m not a natural “networker”, though – but over the years, I’ve met enough people to open up some of these opportunities.

      I gotta run, but I’ll try to expand later through another comment. 🙂

      • Cheers Steve, appreciate that, and will look out for another reply!
        Agree that Networking is important, I personally can’t stand doing it and have therefore left myself a tad short in that department, but I’m doing “ok” nonetheless.

        Enjoy the new year celebrations tonight 🙂

        • Steve Adcock says:

          Hi again! Wow, that took much longer than I had expected (I was vacationing in Sedona, AZ at the time and just got back into town).

          It did take me 10 years to realize that management wasn’t for me, but honestly, there’s no way to truly recognize where you truly fit in life without going through a lot of it yourself. Without being a high level manager for those months, I never would have realized how little I truly want that life. But also, I now have a new-found appreciation for what managers go through. It is certainly true that managers make poor decisions, but they also have so much more to deal with at that level, and it is almost always easier to critique a decision than to make the right one yourself.

          If you value your freedom and stress, then you are wise to resist the push into management. While it might be a new challenge, we all must weigh how important that challenge really is. If it doesn’t make us happy at the end of the day, my view is it’s not worth it, plain and simple.

          Keep your eye on the prize and continue chugging along the path towards financial independence and early retirement. Management or not, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to retire early. It does, however, take motivation and someone who has completely taken control of their life and made it their own.

          Happy 2015!

  2. […] And while they were obviously more experienced than I was at the office, I wasn’t exactly surrounded by “best of their breed” folks.  They were fine at what the did, but so was I, fresh out of college.  My dad always used to say that it’s not that tough to look good, and showing up was half the battle.  And you know what?  It is.  I found that putting in even the slightest bit of additional effort was easily recognizable, which almost effortlessly put me into a position of getting ahead. […]

  3. […] Steve from one of my favorite PF blogs: ThinkSaveRetire. Steve made it to the top levels of IT management before making some radical changes that allows him to live life by his own design – check […]

  4. […] decisions because I know what that experience is preparing me for (like that Director-level job that I quit last year).  That could turn out to be the single best (and most lucrative) opportunity that you may ever […]

  5. […] am just not seeing the good in working for 30 or 40 years for nameless corporations in pursuit of a fancy title, a big salary or influence.  Ever since my wife and I decided to retire early, our pursuits have […]

  6. Paul says:

    Great post, Steve. I stumbled across your site and am interested in reading more.

    Out of curiosity, what type of work do you do? I’m curious what job you can do entirely from home.

    • Steve says:

      Hi Paul,

      I do database-related work for an IT company here in the United States. It’s purely a computer-based job, so as long as I have an internet connection, I’m good to go! 🙂

      • Paul says:

        Interesting. Not to hijack the comments section of this post, but do you like that work? Is it fulfilling? Does a person need a degree in that area to get started in it? I’ve got a bit of a technical background, and am always considering what my next career will be, so I’d love to get your thoughts.

  7. Steve Wonders says:

    Seeing what managers do all day, I wanted no part of that. Unfortunately, my last company had internal policies that required engineers to assume increasing levels of quasi-managerial responsibilities as they moved up pay grades. These were usually not published in external job descriptions, but were clearly codified within internal documents for grade level expectations. Which struck me as overkill for a company that was already management heavy compared to other tech companies I had worked for.

    This could result in so-called “senior” engineers (that were still quite young biologically) with barely 10 years of experience involuntarily transitioning from development to team lead or project-style management as the bulk of their duties. Some quit, since they hadn’t intended to become, for all practical purposes, almost full time managers. Even though they were still titled as engineers.

    Hired from outside as a senior engineer, these expectations soon hurt my performance ratings, as I felt unable (and certainly unwilling) to perform said duties for systems I didn’t yet understand as a new employee, thanks to almost no training, support or mentoring. Eventually, this would lead to my involuntary departure.

    • Steve says:

      It has always amazed me how often technical people get promoted, through no fault of their own, into management positions. In my opinion it is tough to find good engineers these days, and keeping the good ones in place as engineers would seem to make the most sense. But then again, I suppose companies need to rationalize higher and higher salaries with higher and higher levels of responsibility, and eventually management is the only place to move to.

      It’s a wicked cycle.

  8. This one strikes such a chord with me. Same deal as you — we both worked our asses off for years to get promoted, and we’ve both gotten what we think of as our last promotions, to senior vice president. And it comes with everything you said — more pressure, more accountability, more travel, more stress. We’ve made some choices, namely moving to a mountain town, that limit our other job options, so we are sufficiently golden handcuffed to want to stick it out for two more years. Not that we wouldn’t LOVE to get demoted — we jokingly talk about it all the time. (Jokingly only because we know it’s impossible at our companies.) But at this point the finish line is close enough that we feel like we can handle the pressure a little longer. Can’t imagine wanting to do this forever, though! People who keep climbing and keep climbing… we’re just not sure what they’re looking for.

    • Steve says:

      I’m looking forward to your post-retirement blog entry about just how soul-sucking your positions are. I’m curious what your responsibilities look like and what your organization is demanding of you. Do you guys have to conduct performance evaluations too? Give PowerPoint presentations in front of higher level muckety-mucks?

      It seems like what you hate the most is all the travel. If I were traveling on a weekly basis, I sure would too. Air travel is the absolute worst in my opinion.

  9. […] I don’t want to be the guy who gets called over the weekend because something broke, because I’ve already been that guy.  I don’t want to be “the only one” who can get something done before a major […]

  10. […] I eventually became the manager of nearly all of them, and shit quickly got real – and I got lost! […]

  11. carel says:

    Nicely written and I know the stressy feeling and the people to impress too much… keep on writing!

  12. […] one point in my career, I was the boss too. I hired and fired. Even those with whom I had a positive relationship, business is business. […]

  13. Jacq says:

    I had some moments of sheer frustration at my last job of how to ever get to management. Many of these people were 10-15 years older than me and on my path at the time, no one was close to letting me near managing. I wasn’t going to be a senior manager, much less director or VP of anything in 10 years.
    In an odd twist I had the opportunity to manage a small project, which I enjoyed, until a senior director got skittish and went to the site president claiming doom gloom and pandimonium, causing the project to come to an abrupt halt.
    Then came the temp experiment. My boss hired him, with no input and then was too busy to manage him, and I was given the task. Between training and finding tasks for him to do, my productivity dropped which was a negative in my review with my boss. Then I went on a vacation, left the temp with enough work, to include time for others to use his time as support. I actually listed specific things per day for the week,. He did everything early in the week and asked others what to do the rest of the week, which was according to my boss also my failing. The temp wasn’t self motivated & as not his actual manager, I had no leverage to motivate . Crummy situation all around.
    I am very glad to be in a new job at a different company. The experience gave me a different perspective on management and if ‘FI -RE’ is my goal, in 10-15 years I won’t be working – so being a VP, or that as a goal is a moot point. 🙂 Whew!

    • Steve says:

      It definitely sounds like you were stuck in the “middle management” rut, where you don’t really have all that much true authority in either direction, and you keep getting dumped on both from above and below. That definitely is a tough situation to be in, no doubt.

      Glad that you found a better working relationship, now, with your current company! 🙂

  14. […] I got the opportunity to direct an entire IT department, as I’ve written about before. Management: It’s not for everybody, especially for those who actually get pushed into it, […]

  15. […] on. I experienced a very similar phenomenon shortly before I quit my corporate ladder climbing. The politics are more severe. The hours are longer and the stress is more taxing on your […]

  16. Michael says:

    Steve-

    This all sounds nice, and there are definitely pointers worth implementing in my life, but can I ask in what part of the U.S. you live? Location can have a lot to do with the amount of money one can invest. Additionally, how much family money is involved in you and your wife’s early semi-retirement? I’ve come across many people who come from a background of wealth and don’t delineate that as part of their blog posts. Lastly, do you own your home? Rent?

    These questions/comments are not meant to be disrespectful in any form, but I feel that your responses may help me to determine how applicable your situation is to mine.

    I appreciate your time,

    Michael

    • Steve says:

      Hi Michael,

      Currently, I live in the southwest United States (Tucson, AZ). But, I’ve also lived and worked in Virginia and Tennessee. Very little family money involved, though I believe my wife had a small inheritance many years ago. I’m not even sure how much of this money is left, but I can assure you that this money isn’t an integral part of our retirement…though every dollar helps! While my dad did fairly well in business, I certainly didn’t come from a wealthy family. If I had, I’d probably be retired *NOW*. 🙂

      We own our Airstream that we live in full-time. I’ve rented and owned traditional homes in the past. I’d never, ever own another sticks and bricks home again.

      Hope this helps!

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