Our weekly status calls were on Thursdays.
“Maybe this one will be better,” I’d think, hopefully.
They never were.
Despite this hint of optimism, reality meant that Wednesday nights would be filled with panic and anxiety for the day ahead.
Every person on our team was on edge heading into those calls. We’d be required to provide status updates, also known as repeating every phone call and email from the prior week. I’m exaggerating a bit, but that’s what it felt like.
We were in the weeds doing the work, and our customer provided the oversight. During almost every meeting, someone would get called out for something petty, completely embarrassed, or berated.
I was a young manager trying to do damage control to protect my team from this borderline verbally abusive type of situation. All I can say is that I tried. In many ways, I failed, and that stress was sometimes overwhelming.
We had a group of dedicated, intelligent, and hard-working people who our primary customers were micromanaging. This wasn’t a customer we could walk away from without losing our jobs, so we had to find a way to push through it.
Finding an Alternative Situation
Thankfully, this situation only lasted for a short period. For me, at least. I transferred to a different department after a year in the role. A few years later, almost no one is left in that area. Most have moved on to other positions within the organization, though some left or were let go.
When I accepted a position in a different department, it felt like I was leaving my team behind. And I was. At the same time, my mental health was struggling. I wasn’t sleeping, would carry the stress of the workday home, and overall wasn’t happy. That situation would either end with me quitting or getting fired, so I needed to get out.
Overall, the organization I work for is fantastic. It’s one of the few that genuinely seems to act in the best interest of its employees. Even in this excellent environment, it took only one bad customer to make it a miserable situation.
Regardless of the situation, the worst part was that I felt trapped. It was a feeling I didn’t enjoy. Sticking out a tough situation would be okay for a while, but there’s only so much a person can take before considering other options.
Why We Started Chasing Financial Independence
I wrote about our moment of clarity in a bank lobby in 2011. Already deep in debt, we were taking out a home equity loan to fix two leaking bathrooms. That was the moment we realized that we needed to change our behavior. Shortly after that realization, we began our journey to dig out of debt.
Like many, we were introduced to the benefits of debt freedom by Dave Ramsey. Dave does an incredible job of helping people get rid of debt and build an emergency fund. However, his advice after getting out of debt and building savings leaves much to be desired.
My rough year on the job and our progress digging out of debt came to a head around the same time. By 2015, we were debt-free besides our mortgage (partially because we refinanced our remaining student loans into the mortgage) and had built a six-month emergency fund. Despite this progress, I still felt trapped because we had a nearly six-figure mortgage.
That’s when we started chasing financial independence. You could even call it the Dave Ramsey plan 2.0. The financial independence community seemingly takes over where Dave’s advice leaves off, or if I’m being more honest, where his advice gets bad (don’t get me started on “12% returns”). However, we decided that paying down the mortgage came first before ratcheting up the investments.
Does Chasing Financial Independence Make You a Better Employee?
I’ll be the first to admit that not having a strong financial foundation made me a bad employee. I was more worried about keeping my job than doing what was in the best interest of my team. Even though I tried to push back and stand up for my people, there was only so far I was willing to push before backing down.
A recent discussion on Twitter asked if pursuing financial independence makes someone a better or worse employee. I’m sure there’s a point near the end of the financial independence journey where employees may begin to check out. However, for me, there’s no doubt the pursuit of financial independence has made me a better employee.
Becoming debt-free, including the mortgage, has removed a huge weight from my shoulders. It allows me to lead with little fear. I have also improved at setting boundaries between work and personal life (less checking email at night). This all leads to less stress, which has made me a much better employee of my organization overall.
I still go into the office and work hard every day. I genuinely try to do what’s best for my organization. However, there’s a lot of assurance that we’ve built the financial backing that would allow me to drop a miserable job situation if I’m ever caught in a similar problem with a difficult customer, lousy boss, or reorganization. I’m not a quitter, but I’ll never again let a job impact my family life and mental health like the one from several years ago.
We are still a long way from financial independence. Much of our net worth is tied to retirement accounts and home equity. However, the next several years of our lives will be spent investing in real estate or index funds. Chasing financial independence is not an all-or-nothing situation. The closer you move along the spectrum, the more freedom the chase provides. We’re in a much different place today than in 2011 or 2015, even though we now have two small children to support.
A small part of me wishes I could do 2015 all over again. With more experience as a manager and stronger financial backing, there are a few things I’d do differently.
Mark is the founder of Financial Pilgrimage, a blog dedicated to helping young families pay down debt and live financially free. Mark has a Bachelor’s degree in financial management and a Master’s degree in economics and finance. He is a husband of one and father of two and calls St. Louis, MO, home. He also loves playing in old man baseball leagues, working out, and being anywhere near the water. Mark has been featured in Yahoo! Finance, NerdWallet, and the Plutus Awards Showcase.