After more than twenty years in the corporate work force, I’ve collected a healthy share of war stories and water cooler anecdotes. Honestly, it didn’t take much convincing for me to hop on the early retirement bandwagon back in 2014. When you see what a company can do to its employees, you justifiably go into survival mode. This post recounts some of the crazier stuff to go down in Cube Land, and some tips for walking away on your own terms.
It’s pretty nuts just how cutthroat-political the corporate scene is. Lately I’ve been in a situation where a VP from the same division wants to cut out project managers from projects. I manage a team of project managers.
Meetings that go sideways
Just this past week, we held an all-day confab with this particular VP, to sort out some budget and timeline issues. An all day “meeting of the minds” is a common thing for larger technology projects with “high visibility” (a euphemism for being on every executive’s shit list.) Sadly, my team got thrown under the bus.
As a delivery team trying to push software out the door with good quality, it makes sense to have some pressure to perform. But the smelly part is when your partners on the business side avoid taking any accountability for their share of the problem. Does this sound familiar?
The role of project manager is one of the more challenging roles in a large organization. You are on the hook to deliver, even though you’re not the one producing the end product. It takes a huge amount of awareness, discipline, and people skills to be effective. Many of us in the field can relate to the following…
Five Stages of Project Manager Grief
- Denial: “I will have the best business partners and my executives will support me when I need it. We’ll tackle any obstacle TOGETHER. This project will be the one where I truly make my mark, and get that well-deserved promotion.”
- Anger: “I can’t understand why Bobby won’t deliver those requirements on time. We have a project plan to hit and my boss is breathing down my neck after last week’s status report. I need a cigarette.”
- Bargaining: “What if I took a week off just before the release. Would that be seen as a lack of commitment? Boy, the Bahamas sure sounds better than a weekend of testing calls and executive escalations.”
- Depression: “I’m done. I can’t take it anymore. I’ll show up when I feel like it. The stress is too much. I can’t believe we have to go back and ask for more funding. It’ll be the inquisition all over again. Pass the Xanax.”
- Acceptance: “Another day, another project. I just hope Bobby isn’t on this one. If my math is right, I have another 36 or so projects to deliver before I can retire.”
Bad Ass Cubical Abandonment
At a prior corporation years ago, I worked with a group of commodity traders. As the on-site, on-demand IT guy, there was lots to observe. Just out of college, my gig here was sort of like Jimmy Fallon’s IT Guy impression from his SNL days.
I got to know everyone I helped and it was (more or less) a pretty decent place to work. If nothing else, I was helping people do their jobs in a hands-on way.
An interesting thing about being a young worker bee in a large company is that you tend to socialize a lot more with your worker bee peers. I got to hang out with some really fun peeps outside of the office.
One of the traders I got to know (we’ll call him Jesse) became my guitar mentor. He was a musician through and through and played in a band at local bars. You could tell he wasn’t where he wanted to be with his 9-5 gig.
We’ve got a missing trader
One random day I remember helping Jesse out with his computer. Everyone was still on Windows 3.1 running on 486 processors. If that mean’s anything at all to you. Basically it meant job security for me. Anyhow, he seemed in a good mood and I helped him get a program up and running and was on my way.
I must have had five or six drive-bys in Jesse’s desk pool throughout the rest of the day. I’d look over to wave, or share a little banter, but each time I looked over, I saw an empty chair, with the screen up, but no sign of Jesse. On my last stop close to 5PM – same thing. No Jesse.
Turns out the guy just up and walked out. Did not EVER return. Damn. I think the only personal effects he grabbed before leaving were his cigarettes and lighter. I was like, “He just walked out like THAT!?!” Balls.
Reality around every corner
Come to find out, Jesse left one company to end up in the same trader gig at a competitor across town. Here I thought he would take his guitar to Nepal and find some blissful desk-free life in search of his own personal Nirvana. Nevertheless, I will never forget being a witness to a real life corporate prison escape.
After many years, I’ve kept in touch with Jesse. He kept playing his guitar and even had a pretty good band that played less divey bars for a spell. He’s still with the same company, but shared something with me at a happy hour recently. He’s planning to retire early.
Sink or swim, or better yet, get the *bleep* out of the water
Leaving a corporate job on your own terms is a key part of any early retirement plan. You shouldn’t have to just up and walk out like Jesse did. Even if that is pretty bad-ass. For me, I think the main thing is to go out with class, on top of my game.
- Know that other’s rely on you to help them survive an often stressful environment (managers, I’m talking to you.) Do what you can to ensure your people are left in good hands, if you can at all influence that.
- Make sure your boss isn’t caught off guard with a two-week notice. It takes longer than two weeks to replace someone. Especially in this tightening job market. Give them at least four weeks.
- Deliver with no less integrity and quality than you’d otherwise give. Don’t slack off. Fight that temptation.
- Be humble. Yeah, you did your homework and read up on early retirement, saved a lot, blah blah blah. Your co-workers might want to know how you did it, but approach the topic with humility. They’re going to be stuck there a while longer.
- Stay sharp. If you jumped prematurely, or something happens out of the blue, you might need to rejoin the workforce. Don’t give away all your suits and ties just yet. Stay connected on LinkedIn and keep passively networking. No safety margin is secure these days.
If anything, I hope this post inspires you to imagine how your last day in the office will unfold. And if that in turn inspires you to start down an early retirement path, then go for it. There’s a big and diverse community of us here to guide you on the journey.