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Room to Maneuver: Managing your Lifestyle to Find Job Satisfaction

Years ago, when I was in the Navy, my ship participated in an exercise off the coast of Okinawa with several other US and Japanese ships. The exercise was put on hold when a typhoon came rolling up through the exercise area. They separated all the ships to keep us from banging into each other, and the people running the exercise put us all in our own 3-mile x 3-mile box. Which meant that every 30 minutes or so, we had to turn around. This momentarily put the ship broadside to the heavy seas, made things rock and roll considerably. We had the entire ocean to ourselves, but our room to maneuver was an imaginary box we needed to stay in. It was a long and miserable night.

It looked kinda like this:

(DISCLAIMER: The following does not constitute professional financial advice. We are not financial advisers. There, that should keep the lawyers happy.)

When it comes to job hunting, having as much “room to maneuver” as possible in your search will give you the greatest odds of finding a rewarding and satisfying job. Many times, candidates will put themselves in the smallest box they can, because of choices they have made in their lifestyle. Here are two examples:

Candidate #1: The High-Potential

A woman early in her career was part of a leadership development program with a large multi-national corporation. She was recruited heavily out of college and was getting paid at the top end of the range for her peer group. After a few years, she left the company to move closer to her boyfriend – before finding a new job. Soon after, she and the boyfriend broke up. She was living in an expensive apartment without roommates and was driving a leased German luxury car. She also had student loans she was paying off. Her monthly expenses were sizable – which correlated to out-sized salary requirements. Most of the best companies in town to work for did not need to offer a premium to work there – they had ample flow of candidates wanting to work for them. She ended up working for a company with a horrible reputation for “eating their young” that paid her what she needed to support her lifestyle. She lasted less than a year.

Candidate #2: The Remote Salesman

A sales guy had spent the bulk of his career in a specialized industry. His company was the only one in town that served their niche market. He had risen through the ranks to lead a good-sized sales organization. His compensation approached seven figures every year. Tired of the sales grind, he convinced his company to let him move into a sales training role and kept most of his compensation package. He concurrently moved to the dream house up in the mountains where he could work remotely. His company quickly did the math that his new role was costing more than they were getting in return and he was let go a year later. He did not want to sell the dream house, relocate, or travel, but needed every penny of his previous compensation to afford his lifestyle – so his only option was taking a job with a competitor seven states away and commuting during the week. He’d call me weekly to complain about the travel.

Both candidates, while at different points in their careers, made the same mistake of letting their lifestyle dictate their job choices.

We all want to be fairly rewarded for our work, skills, education, and experience. (See our blog post on calculating your total compensation.) Having flexibility in what job you can afford to take and still pay your bills, means that you can focus your job on what is most important for you – like location, type of work, or work-life balance.

Here are two examples of candidates that have done it right:

Candidate 3: The entrepreneur

This candidate was in a dual-income, no kids scenario. He and his wife saved every penny they could, and by age 30 had paid off all their student loans and even their mortgage. He was able to quit his job and start his own business – which has been successful.

Candidate 4: The Executive

This candidate was an executive at a publicly-traded company with the bulk of annual income tied up in stock options – golden handcuffs. She and her husband were both highly-compensated, yet still lived on one salary, investing the rest. When her company tried to force a relocation on her to a place she never wanted to live, she was able to decline. She walked away from several hundred thousand dollars in unvested options without batting an eye. Like Houdini slipping off the handcuffs. She opened her own pizza joint and is having the time of her life.

A large compensation package does not necessarily correlate to high job satisfaction. There are plenty of great jobs that are fun and rewarding…they might not pay as much. The better you manage your personal finances, the more you can increase your chances of landing a job that you enjoy.

We hope you are having fair winds and following seas in your career. Either way, we’d like to hear from you!

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