The Point Of No Return
There’s a popular story where a Commander having landed ashore in enemy territory, turns to his men and orders them to “Burn the boats”. Confused, the men ask the Commander: “Burn the boats?” “Yes,” he replies, “Burn the boats.” Creating a point of no return, with no option to retreat, there is no “play it safe” strategy, the message is clear: conquer or be killed, there is no going home. Burn the boats.
I have detailed my work experience history with Dolphin Marketing and Siren Security. Newly graduated, employed, and ~$25,000 in debt for a piece of paper, my career prospects were slim pickings and the countdown was on until my first student loan payment. When I started working at Siren Security, it wasn’t because it was “my passion” or my “dream job” it was because after two years at Dolphin Marketing my salary was unchanged despite bringing in substantial business. Siren Security was a $5,000 raise ($32,000/yr) with potential for overtime and much better medical insurance. It was a no-brainer.
During my first week of training, Siren Security still gave out physical paychecks. When my Trainer received his check, he hastily opened it, looked at the amount and said: “This is the only thing which keeps me going, it’s the only reason I’m here.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the company. I remembered at a career fair, a speaker said something which I would never forget: “You want to work for a company which has a good culture. A place where employees want to go to work.” Culture. My Trainer’s comment signaled this was not a good culture, but I had student loans to pay and bills don’t care about culture, so I ignored the comment.
Fast forward a couple years and 1,300+ hours of overtime later, I had paid off my loans and was wondering how much longer I would stay at Siren Security. I was exhausted from all the overtime and commuting to work. All I did was work, sleep, turn around and go back to work. I had missed weddings, birthdays, and certain other events to repay my loans. I had no idea what day of the week it was because I had worked twenty-two consecutive days, mostly 16 hour shifts. I was in the breakroom fading in and out between reality and dream world when I struck up a conversation with my coworker Kevin*. Kevin worked in a different department and had a reputation as a “company basher” who wasn’t always in the best of moods. I found this surprising as he had been with the company for twenty plus years. After exchanging pleasantries, unprompted, he went straight into it:
“This Company stole my youth man, they stole my youth. I have been loyal for over twenty years and I’m still in the same position I started in.”
Naturally I tried to keep things positive and find solutions:
I suggested he enroll in school/get a certification since he worked the graveyard shift.
Nah, I’m too old for school. (He was in his late 40s)
In his role with the company, over 75% of his time was downtime, so I suggested an online course he can take at his convenience. I even positioned it as, think of Siren Security paying you to learn.
I’m not into technology.
I suggested he apply for another role within the company.
They won’t promote me.
No matter the solution he found a possible problem. I saw why people took him as negative but I sensed more of a “what-could-have-been?” attitude. He didn’t like today so he had no aspirations for tomorrow.
8 Year Rule
Career-wise, I use what I call “the 8 year rule”. If you’re employed at a company for 8 years or more and you’re not happy, it’s on you. Why 8 years? It’s more than enough for one to change course. One can develop new skills, find a different career path, even go back to school part time and get another degree. A common refrain I hear from people is “it’ll take a long time.” To that I would direct one to a scene from The Count of Monte Cristo. The main character Edmond Dantes is wrongfully imprisoned for life. Six years into his sentence, there is an eruption in his cell and another prisoner appears, Abbe Faria. Faria has been imprisoned for 11 years and was digging his way out the prison, but upon seeing Dantes he realized he was digging in the wrong direction. He attempts to recruit Dantes in his prison break and Dantes ask when he can expect his freedom, Faria replies:
“With two of us digging, we can cover twice the ground. It’ll only take us, oh… 8 years to reach the outer wall.
Ohh… and does something else demand your time? Some pressing appointment, perhaps?”
Translation: The time will pass and if you start today you’ll see results one day sooner than if you start tomorrow.
One more year… Five years later
After I finished repaying my loans early one fall, I coasted till the end of that year. Off of cloud nine, I decided to establish an emergency fund. I wasn’t as overzealous to build the e-fund as I was to knock out my debt so it took me 6-8 months to complete. During this time I thought about where I wanted my career to go. I had no direction and was set on leaving Siren Security but then an opportunity presented itself. I was offered an Account Management-type position making more than my current base ($46,000 vs $32,000), regular 9am-5pm hours (vs 4pm-12am + overtime). Without overtime this was certainly a step back but I did like the normal hours and I was ready for a different role. My focus was to continue to save, look for a career and hopefully be gone within a year.
Except, I became complacent.
Five years later, we flash forward to today. My salary raises are barely keeping up with inflation or the rising medical care costs, and I don’t feel myself growing in this position anymore. Furthermore the idea of becoming the old, bitter worker reminiscing on missed opportunity and lost youth is not appealing.
So I scheduled a meeting with my boss and submitted my resignation.
My turn to burn the boats.