Changes

by Mr. Cheap

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Still don’t know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets

After much soul-searching (and spending half of every other day fixating on how much I didn’t want to be there) I quit my new job on Monday. To be fair to them, they were an amazing group of friendly, smart people.

Every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet

My reason for quitting is somewhat hard to explain to non-technical people, but basically they had a very complex system they wanted me to work on, and I wasn’t able to get the other members of the technical team to provide me with information about how it worked. The other people there have been working on the system for years, and I think they didn’t realize (and I wasn’t able to convince them) that one sentence responses to questions aren’t enough to get people up-to-speed. I tried talking to the group and making adjustments, but it just seemed to stir up bad feelings (and didn’t get me any further to getting up-to-speed). In all fairness, this is probably a cop-out. I could have just started digging through the code-base and traced what they’ve done over the last 5 years and figure out how the system works from the ground up, but I suspected they’d get impatient with me going through this exercise (it would have taken months) and I wasn’t too happy to dive into that when there’s someone sitting next to me who could give me the information I needed but wouldn’t. Plus their system was built on custom hardware, which isn’t my forté (damn, damn serial communication!), so I was struggling even with this approach.

So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that test

I’ve hit the point where, given that it didn’t work out at what was in almost all respects a great company, that I’m really not cut out for 9-5 life. After a string of bad experiences, at some point I have to admit that the common element is me. People are amazed at how little cash I live off of, and it’s really not due to much beyond that I find standard employment far, far more painful than most, and therefore have had to figure out a way to get by on less. Paul Graham perhaps put it best, when talking about the transition from school to work, that “You’ve gone from guest to servant.” I don’t care how modest the house is, but I need to be master of it.

Ch-ch-changes
Just gonna have to be a different man

Given that I’ve failed at being an entrepreneur and repeatedly failed at being a good little worker (pity poor, poor Mr. Cheap! ;-) ), I’ve decided that I’m going to focus on moving for the rest of the month (I’ve found a new place, and I’m going to start trying to get rid of “stuff” before the move). Starting in November I’m planning to decide on areas that I’m interested in applying to for a PhD, then spend the time between getting the applications in and the start of the program on figuring out what makes me happy (I want to become more of a Tigger and less of an Eeyore), what I want to do with the rest of my life, and maybe the occasional short-term contract just to prevent me from going TOO deeply into debt (I figure I can probably last about 6 months before I have to get into my line of credit). My hope is that I may be able to find happiness as a researcher, academic or teacher (and failing that I’ll be a bum on the street hanging out in front of Mike’s house trying to scam grilled salmon and beer off of him ;-) ).

Ch-ch-changes
Don’t want to be a richer man

PhD programs provide a stipend for students to live off of (at least in Canada most do). It’s reasonably generous (around $24K), which is more than enough for me to live off of (and pay back whatever debts I accumulate).

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

I’ll apologize if any of my posts over the next few months get overly bitter or introspective (Mike, please pull anything too poisonous before it goes live – you’re too late for this one ;-) ). Obviously the “retire in 3 years” plan is off the rails and my cost of living is going to swing from a surplus to a deficit almost immediately.

With respect to the poet Bowie as popularized in the classic film “Shrek 2″.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Four Pillars

And I thought you were going to announce some radical change to your asset allocation! :)

Congrats on the moves – as I said in my email it’s not your fault that they wouldn’t help you. The other factor is that you have the financial resources to not really “need” a job so you had the option to leave. Most people stay at their jobs because they don’t have any other choice.

Mike

2 plonkee

Its better to make money doing what you enjoy rather than suffering and then retiring. I’m sure everything will turn out ok.

3 January

Hah Cheap! so sad to read about your resignation. I mean why are peers or colleagues always bent on hiding one information or the other when working as a group. beats my imagination every time. The organization I work for here is much worse, we have a looming crisis where a lot of our staffs are thinking of resigning and moving on with their lives.
Currently, I’m thinking of resigning by next year April once I receive my performance bonus to pursue other personal interests. I’m tired of working in an organization where the criteria for performance and promotion is based on how sexy you look, dress and the tons of designer outfits you’re able to acquire and dazzle your peers with. I mean it’s getting ridiculous. So, I emphatize with you and say that it’s better to be in a job where you’re acknowledged for your contributions and where you’re also happy doing what you’re passionate about. It’s really important. I wish you all the best in your new venture.

4 Mr. Cheap

Mike: I’ve been a bit more open about quiting my job this time then I have been when I’ve done this in the past, and that seems to be a lot of people’s reaction, that I’m lucky (and unusual) that its even an option not to work for a while.

Plonkee: Thanks for your words of encouragement! :-)

January: I was recently thinking I hadn’t seen any comments from you in a while, I’m glad you’re still around! I hear how unhappy most people are at their jobs and it makes me feel bad, since most people seem to be able to tolerate it. I sometimes get down on myself that I don’t seem to be able to…

5 Mike-TWA

Frankly, I think the choice is brave and admirable. I’ve been a little in the “why can’t I seem to just suck it up” mindset myself as of late with regards to the day job.

On an encouraging note, I have a good friend that left a very high paying job to go the PhD route. He’s just on the other side of that choice now, with a new job as a university professor. Never been happier.

Last note, I’ll give you a $1(USD) if you can design a post around Ziggy Stardust :)

6 Mr. Cheap

TWA – thanks! Its good to hear there are people who shift into academics and are happy with the change.

7 the Wealthy Canadian

Congratulations and good luck. It takes courage to make that kind of move.

8 growthinvalue

To me it just sounds like you haven’t found the right fit. You’re a fairly introspective sort of cat, and in my experience, people with the ability to think outside the box and process abstract thought are in demand. It’s a skill that people who have it don’t cout as a skill until they meet people who don’t.

At any rate, you’re right to pursue whatever makes you happy in the short term.

You may not be a 9-t0-5 kinda guy as you say, but that’s not to say there isn’t a job out there that’s the perfect complement.

9 Christine

Congratulations on a brave move! Life is too short to be stuck for too long in something that is wrong for you.

The PHD path is very intellectually satisfying, albeit a very long one. The friends who have gone that route truly enjoy what they are doing. Compared to other professions though, I don’t think post-docs and profs are well compensated for their education and contributions to society, but you can’t have it all…

10 Mr. Cheap

WC: Thanks for your encouragement!

GIV: You may be right… I feel like a heel taking jobs then leaving 1 month into it though. Not sure what the right approach would be for trying to determine a good fit BEFORE I accept a position.

Christine: That’s good to hear! My money needs are quite modest, so I’m willing to give up on compensation if I can find work that I enjoy.

11 WoolyWoman

Wow Mr Cheap, good for you! It is funny, reading your post sounded like me a few years ago (ok minus the computer geek speak, well, mostly anyway) :) I quit a 8-6 job to go back to do my PhD- not because I hated the work as much as I hated working for someone else on their time schedule. I believed a PhD would help open doors to being more independent. Especially in my field- if a person cannot obtain professional status (which I can’t because I don’t have the appropriate undergraduate degree in forestry), then a PhD gives you more credibility (whether this is true or not!!). Congratulations on your decision, I am sure it is going to be a good path for you.

My tuition was free here in BC- so you might want to find out if any universities which you are interested in offer free tuition to PhD students. And being Mr Cheap, you are right, you are probably going to be able to live off the stipends just fine :) Keep us posted on the progress!

12 Mr. Cheap

WW: I don’t think I’ve read anything that you’ve regretted doing your PhD, so hopefully that I’m on the right track!

13 Riscario Insider

The way you interspersed Bowie is terrific. I didn’t really know the lyrics. So I first thought you were becoming a poet and then a plagiarist :)

Here posters support you quitting. In The Dip, Seth Godin notes that many quit when the going gets tough (just before success) and stick when they’re in a dead end. A post is here

Being cheap gives you more options. Good luck with your PhD. I hope you won’t start using harder and harder words. When do we start calling you Dr. Cheap?

14 Mr. Cheap

Riscario: I’ve heard the same thing, that often things look their darkest right before success (and people often quit *right* before they’ve got it made).

With employment I’m pretty sure its more often a dead end then the “tough slong before success”.

I’m definitely going to track down and read “the dip”, thanks for letting me know about it!

15 centsprout

I find standard employment far, far more painful than most, and therefore have had to figure out a way to get by on less

I can totally relate! I wish you all the best in your new path, I’m sure you’ll do great!

16 Andrew

Hey Four Pillars,

Congrats on the move, I recently made a similar one, going from a steady, challenging engineering job to graduate studies, in my case it’s a masters. I can say that it was right choice for me.

I have time to learn more about my field and although my networth took a bit of dip in my first year due to a car loan, once that was paid off, the funding for graduate studies is enough to get by on.

Once I finish this masters I’m looking forward to ever more challenging, fulfilling and better paying work.

Remember, it’s not a sprint, but a marathon.

Cheers,

AC

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