My primary goal in life used to be to be career success.
I have worked extremely hard to achieve that goal. There is even an argument to be made that I worked too hard to achieve it.
Because of experiences with sexism, I believed that I needed to work twice as hard and be twice as kind to be seen as a successful leader.
A formative experience happened in my first semester of college. I was one of five women in a 50+ person class. I honestly didn’t notice it at first.
That changed quickly.
When I raised my hand in class, I would usually be ignored by the professor, even if I was the only one with my hand raised.
If he let me ask a question, he’d often answer by saying something like, “If I answered all of your questions, we’d never get anything done.” Often, a male student would ask the same question a few minutes later and he would answer it as if it was a new question.
Other students began to notice. I later learned that this was a common occurrence for women in this professor’s classes. When I finally was encouraged by some upperclassman to submit a complaint, I was terrified that the professor would find out it was me and give me a bad grade in the class.
After I did, I knew that I had to be PERFECT. Every t crossed and every i dotted or else he could use his discretion to give me a bad grade. I am sure that no male student in his class felt this same level of pressure.
I also felt like I had something to prove. I worked twice as hard to prove that I was just as smart as the men in the course.
I’ve also experienced sexism in my career. I not only felt like I needed to work harder to be seen as successful but I’ve also had to adapt my communication and my approach to be “nice” when sharing opinions to not turn people off to them.
A variety of things have influenced my work ethic. I was focused on proving that I’m just as smart and capable as any man while also living up to the expectations of women of being kind and communal. I’ve also felt a responsibility to pave the way to leadership for other women.
For me, this was a considerable burden to bear, took significant mental energy, and prevented me from determining what I wanted out of life.
It’s no surprise that I got to a point where I was burned out, depressed, and downright miserable.
Over the last year, I’ve been on a path of learning and self-discovery which has led me to make some significant life changes, especially in my career.
I’m excited to share that I have recently quit my job, and I have accepted a part-time (3 days/week) HR role with another non-profit organization whose mission I’m very passionate about.
Given that I am also pursuing FI, you may be wondering why I would do this. Why would I willingly take such a substantial pay cut?
Given my experiences of sexism, would part-time work be reinforcing already existing gender norms?
Of course, I asked myself the same questions, and I’d love to share my process of transformation and discovery that led to this decision.
“Leaning In” is Overrated
I used to think that there was only one option in life. That option was to work a full-time job that I hopefully didn’t hate until I am 50-60 years old. When I thought this was the case, I entirely bought into the “Lean In” concept.
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead is a book written by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, on women in the workplace. These were my core takeaways:
- Sometimes, there is an ambition gap, and because of this, women settle for non-leadership roles.
- Women should choose or demand a seat at the table
- Women in leadership roles will be able to pave the way for other women and make work environments more hospitable for women
- Women often need to be much “nicer” and more communal than men when sharing opinions, taking credit for their work, and negotiating for things
- You can’t have it all, so having a supportive spouse who will do 50% of the housework is critical. Consider spending money on convenience (housecleaning, etc.) that will make your life easier, so you can focus on your career.
When I first read this book, it was very inspiring to me, and I do genuinely believe that the book could help a lot of women.
The problem was that I didn’t have a strong enough vision for what I wanted out of life. Because the sexism that I’d experienced colored my worldview, I didn’t realize there were other ways for me to be successful beyond rising in the ranks of my career and helping make it easier for other women to do the same.
There is a huge mental and emotional burden on women seeking leadership roles. My situation was no exception. In a context where I was consistently working 50+ hour weeks, navigating complicated interpersonal situations, and feeling the pressure to carry the torch for other women, I was overworked, burned out, and at my breaking point.
Why I Decided to Work Part-Time
While crises are never pleasant, I have found that adversity can be our greatest teacher. I can now look back on this time with gratitude for the personal growth and transformation that I experienced and embraced.
There is More than One Way to Define Success
I credit the Financial Independence community for opening my eyes to this learning. As I’ve said, I used to think there was only one option in life, and therefore, success for me was defined as upward mobility in my career.
While this might be the right way to define success for some, it is not the only way.
Success will mean different things for different people. It all depends on what you want.
I believe we will only ever feel successful if we are working toward our own vision of success. If we are working toward someone else’s, we will always feel like we are falling short.
I Have Defined what Success Means for My Life
I am no longer living my life according to the expectations of other people. I am going to live my life according to my own definition of success – what I value and want out of life.
My own definition of success is one where I:
- Have time and mental energy to be creative and adventurous (i.e. work on this blog, travel, photography, etc.)
- Remain mindfully aware of what brings me happiness and fulfillment
- Do meaningful work that I enjoy, where I am paid fairly, and that helps me reach my financial goals
- Build strong relationships
If you aren’t sure how to define success in your own life at this moment, that’s okay. It’s a process of self-discovery that doesn’t happen overnight, especially if it’s something you haven’t thought about for many years. Realizing how far you are from where you want to be can also be a painful process but worth undertaking.
There are many things that you can do to rediscover your passions and to figure out what you want out of life. I used daily meditation, a practice called morning pages, and an awesome book called the Desire Map. To read more about any of these, check out a recent post I wrote about finding your passions.
Working Toward what I Want is the Ultimate Feminism
I used to think that working twice as hard in my career to be successful was feminism. I now realize that I was mistaken. Like the women before me who were expected to stay home with their children (if they didn’t want to), I was also doing what was expected of me; not what I wanted.
I now realize that working toward what I want is the ultimate feminism. I will choose to do what I want to do, not what is expected of women and not the opposite of what was once expected of women.
I get to choose. For me, being feminist means I am being true to myself and what I want.
I also feel inspired by the opportunity to pave the way for other women to gain financial freedom and the ability to make their own life choices. This doesn’t feel like an overwhelming burden.
Focusing on the Journey is as Important as the Destination
A lot of people say, “I’ll just be happy when…”
We think that when we achieve the next milestone we will be happy. However, once we reach that milestone, we immediately look ahead to the next one forgetting (or not allowing ourselves) to enjoy the journey.
Outcomes are fleeting. We find more fulfillment in the process of working toward a goal as we recognize the small steps we’re are taking toward it. Therefore, I believe that happiness is a vital component of a successful life, not just a byproduct.
By deciding to work part-time, I am choosing to practice what I preach.
Working part-time will help me to design my life now to be in more alignment with my future goals (besides the location independence, of course, which can come later). I will have the opportunity to work in a field I’m interested in, have time for writing and other creative endeavors, and create a level of balance in my life that will create the conditions for health and happiness.
How My Part-Time Job will Impact our Path to FI
Of course, we also ran the numbers.
Surprisingly, this decision won’t slow down our timeline to reach Financial Independence significantly; it just won’t speed it up.
Because we have managed our money responsibly over the past 10 years, we have the financial freedom to be able to make this unconventional decision with little financial ramifications.
Impact on our Savings Rate
While we had planned to increase our savings rate in 2019, this decision would mean that would be unlikely. Depending on how things shake out, it’s possible that we might be able to match our 2018 savings rate of 57%. It is also possible that it might decrease slightly.
As you know, the savings rate has two components: Income and expenses, which I’ll discuss below.
We had initially hoped to increase our household income in 2019, but with a decrease in both my pay rate and hours, it is less likely that we’ll be able to do that. Luckily, Corey will be receiving a sizeable salary increase which will help to cover some of the difference.
While I am starting at 60% (3 days/week), I do have the option of increasing my hours to 75% (30 hours/week). After several months, I will likely do that if I feel like that will still enable me to build the life I want.
We also might begin monetizing our side hustles or begin investing in real estate, which would help to both increase and diversify our income.
While not impossible to increase our income in 2019, it’s very likely that we will end up with similar or slightly lower household income than 2018.
In the latter half of 2018, we’ve already been reasonably judicious about our spending. This change will give us an opportunity to be even more mindful.
First, it gives us an excellent excuse to not spend money (when we don’t want to). If someone invites us out for dinner or to some sort of event (that we don’t want to attend), we could more easily decline or recommend a cheaper option. Because we value our friendships, we do still plan to spend some money on building and maintaining friendships.
We will be able to decrease our transportation expenses because I will now be taking public transit to work rather than driving for 90 minutes round-trip each day. While I will need to buy a subway pass, we will reduce both our gas spending and the wear-and-tear on our one car.
We will continue to focus on optimizing our food spending. In the last six months, we’ve been able to cut our food spending by about $500/month through meal planning, buying in bulk, and eating out less. Because I will have the time to have a more balanced life, I hope that meal planning and making dinner at home will not feel overwhelming.
Because we no longer have any debt (besides our mortgage) and have our housing expenses already optimized, we should be in good shape on the expenses front.
Here’s to this Next Chapter!
I am excited about my next step and appreciate the support that this community has shown me over the last several months.
I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to pursue this part-time job opportunity and experiment with this new lifestyle design.
While this year was one of the most challenging years of my life, I can now look back and be grateful that these experiences have helped me to realize a lot of important things about myself and pushed me to more quickly pursue a different lifestyle design that I might not otherwise have done.
Let’s raise a glass; next year is going to be my best year yet!
What have you learned about what success means to you?