When Should a Middle-Aged Family Man Quit His Job?

The other day I was venting to a colleague about the stagnant swamp I call my career.

Despite having a decent job with decent pay, I am slowly getting destroyed by inane politics and busy-work that ignores my capacity and capability.

“So quit”, says my single, childless, mortgage-less, 30 year old friend.

When I was 30 I would have said the same thing. In fact, I left many jobs early in my career for the sake of advancement.

Today, however, I am more averse to risk. I am 44 years old with a wife, 3 kids and a mortgage. If I screw up I have to answer to a whole lotta people, possibly as we wait in line at the soup kitchen.

At this point of my life, walking away from job security – and the accompanying severence package if I were laid off – is a big risk. At my level of seniority, pay and experience, my severance would be significant.

If I quit and moved to a different company, there is a chance that it wouldn’t work out, sending me back into the job market, resume in hand. Except with nearly zero tenure at the new firm I would receive approximately zero severance.

At my current job level it could take 2 years to find something similar. In comparison, a 30 year old a couple levels down from me could pick up a decent job in 6 months if they tried. It is a simple supply and demand equation. Plus, with fewer responsibilities and a longer career ahead of them, younger job seekers can afford to take a pay cut to start over.

Essentially, for people in my situation there is a huge potential downside risk to leaving a secure job for uncharted waters.

So when will it make sense for me to quit? When the risk of starting somewhere new is paired with substantial incremental financial compensation and job satisfaction.

Are You Wasting Your Life?

As you get to middle age the way you see time changes. When you’re young your life is like an open plain that goes forever. You’ve got plenty of time and don’t mind wasting some of it. 

Once you get past 40, you realize that you’re somewhere near the half-way mark. You may have even passed it. Suddenly every second becomes precious. This feeling only intensifies as you continue to age. 

So how do you know if you’re wasting those precious seconds? That’s a complicated question to answer, but I’ll give you a simple step by step way to make sure you’re not.

Step 1: Make 2 lists – one for things (activities, people, things, etc.) you like and one for things you dislike. Twenty of each should be all you need.

Step 2: Do at least one of the things you like every day. If there’s something you like of particular importance (perhaps because it generates income or keeps you healthy) try to do it every day. 

Bonus Step: Ensure you aren’t doing more than one thing you dislike every day. 

There – now you’re no longer wasting your life. Ridiculously simple. But guaranteed to work.

Is Your Scarcity Mindset is Holding You Back?

Forgive me for oversimplifying, but generally, there are two types of people: those with an abundance mindset and those with a scarcity mindset.

I have a scarcity mindset and I believe it has held me back.

Growing up, I was the child of divorce living with my mother who was constantly on the edge of poverty through no fault of her own. She worried about money and I internalized her thoughts, even though I didn’t necessarily understand them. Life was OK and for the most part I had a decent childhood, but the underlying uncertainty never left. At times it culminated into acute anxiety over the highly improbable.

My concerns about the ground being removed from beneath me may have been unreasonable, as I’m sure the other half of my family (which is well-to-do) wouldn’t have let me live on the streets. However, the worry was palpable and shaped my view of the world.

As a child, I envied how other families (including other parts of my own family)  lived. They had cars, had lots of interesting food in the fridge, traveled, went out, sent their kids to camp. When I was young I wished I had these things. However, as I reached my mid-teen years I rejected anything that was an unnecessary expense. It was my idea to cancel the cable and newspaper subscriptions. I cut my own hair. I never asked for money because I knew it had a bigger purpose than my frivolous needs. I had little immediate control over what money came in, but I sure as hell would tighten my grip on what went out, in fear of the day when the bottom drops out. This is the scarcity mindset.

As I look back, I can still feel the ball of anxiety in my gut. That has never left me.

Poverty was something from which to escape. Although I had my share of f@ckups, when it mattered I worked hard and studied hard to overcompensate for my predicament. Some might say this made me successful. It’s true that I have had a good career and income because of my drive for financial security. My financial security is probably now in the top proportion of Canadians, so by that measure I am a success. However, my scarcity mindset has been an inescapable hurdle.

My scarcity mindset has kept me from pursuing potential opportunities because it forced me to prioritize the preservation of security. I’ve stayed in toxic jobs, shied away from new challenges and kept to myself because I didn’t want to give up job security or lose credibility. I’ve consistently undersold my capabilities, likely giving up potential salary as a result. I have hoarding tendencies and hate wasting money, so I rarely buy stuff. I haven’t taken a proper vacation in years, because I’m always sure the money could be put to better use.

While this behaviour has helped build me a decent nest egg, it has hindered my personal growth. I see 20-something, overconfident, entitled know-it-alls rocket to positions of seniority. They’re great at playing the corporate game because they have no fear. Many of these folks haven’t spent a day of their lives worrying about money or having a roof over their head. Even as they breeze through young adulthood, they still know that they can rely on the ‘bank of mom/dad’ to bail them out. They feel like they’re owed a better job, fatter salary and thousand-dollar handbags, because they have an abundance mindset. They don’t worry about losing their job (and financial security) because they ‘know’ there’s another one (perhaps a better one) waiting around the corner. It’s moral hazard at the personal level, yet these are the types of personalities that rise to the top.

At this point in my life, I’m not sure how much I can change or if I even should. I think there is a whole class of people out there like me who value financial security (and ultimately financial freedom) over prestige and power.

The world eventually sees the balance sheet of our lives, exposing the hidden truths of individuals with the scarcity vs. abundance mindset. By that point, however, the winners have already been decided. Still, I can’t help but think that there’s an optimal balance between both mindsets.

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