Nothing Quite Like Work Travel to Reignite Dreams of FIRE

Last week I had to attend probably the most pointless work meeting of this year to date. I had seen probably 80% of the slide decks presented at a virtual conference with a similar topic the week prior. Delivered by the same non-charismatic presenters, interrupted by the same people asking tangential, barely relevant questions at every opportunity, what I got out of the first day’s 8 hours of presentations could have been condensed into a three sentence email.

What I was sitting through wasn’t just any old pointless work conference though. I had to travel across the country and attend this one in person. An entire week of my man-hours was delegated to this — 9 hours of travel each way, sandwiching a 3 day conference — all because my boss thought it was “a good opportunity to network in person.” I had already met about half of the attendees at prior in-person events, and a good amount of the remainder I recognized from their photo or webcam appearance in previous virtual meetings. In a world with a dozen pretty decent online meetings platforms, this just felt so wasteful for a simple handshake.

Sure, I got paid for it. But I also had to give up four evenings at home, where there’s much more effective ways to be productive or entertain myself than in a hotel room, and where there’s people I’d rather be spending my time with than the vast majority of my current coworkers. I’ve long been discontented with every engineering job I had held to date feeling uninteresting, non-engaging, and ultimately completely inconsequential to anything important to myself or out in the wider world. I’m truly just doing it for the money and as a means to an end in pursuing FIRE, but also because I haven’t yet conceived of a way to make ends meet if I were to quit and dedicate all of my time towards something I’m actually passionate about.

You know one thing I am passionate about? Efficiency. So I couldn’t help but sit in that meeting and think of all the waste that was generated by myself and everyone else attending. 5,700 miles on an airplane round-trip. $1400 paid out by my employer for all related travel expenses. Around one ton of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere, which would have otherwise taken about two months for my lifestyle to produce. A forty hour work week during which I created nothing of real value to anybody yet was paid a little over $2,000 in gross salary.

When I first learned about FIRE in college over a decade ago I was obsessed with the concept, devouring any material I could find on the topic. And as I began my career and started receiving actual income, there was a couple of years there where I was incessantly crunching numbers to figure out where to optimize. Constantly calculating and re-projecting.

I mellowed out with that a bit as I settled into my career. I was doing pretty well at saving and as a lowly (non-software) engineer it wasn’t like my income was going to head into the stratosphere at any point if I stuck with my day job. Eventually, you’ve done most of the optimizing that you can, and your early retirement date just becomes something you have to put your head down and grind towards.

On the positive side, these worthless multi-day conferences provide the absolute best times for personal reflection. I always alternate through a range of thoughts and emotions in these scenarios. Utter amazement that I’m actually being paid to sit here. Scheming if there’s any way that I could reach financial independence more quickly. Fantasies of quitting on the spot and just figuring my life out — surely by applying myself I could create more value than whatever the hell is happening here.

Practicality and rationality has won out every time to date, thus far. Trying to create something from nothing is far more difficult than scaling up a side venture that’s already profitable. Unless I find a way to build something like that, I’m stuck in the rat race for another decade until I hit financial independence.

The travel has been stacking up in my job, on average one trip per month in 2022 so far. All of them except one could have been done just as well virtually. The amount of travel also wasn’t disclosed to me when I took this job 7 months ago.

Not to mention that if the past two years have proven anything, it’s that many meetings and conferences did not need to occur in person, and that the work still gets done just as well from home using video chat. The only way that white collar workers will keep these quality of life gains is to refuse to cede them back to employers.

So yesterday I interviewed for a new job. And before I even agreed to the interview, I verified that travel would be 2–3 times per year at most, and that I would get to work from home for most of the week. Engineers are in demand in my field right now, and if my boss won’t work with me to reduce travel after voicing my concerns twice, well then I’ll just find a new gig that fits my desired lifestyle.

I also realized that I really need to up my game with side ventures to increase my chances of breaking out of the corporate rat race sooner than expected. This blog is slowly gaining traffic, but thus far has cost me more money to host than it has made. That’s okay though, I’ll keep doing it for the love of the craft, and to further the FIRE community, even if this project never returns a dime. But I think it’s also worth brainstorming some other ideas for side projects and then giving them a fair shake.

2 Replies to “Nothing Quite Like Work Travel to Reignite Dreams of FIRE”

  1. Happy to read that you’ll likely be leaving this job for a new one in the near future. I think that’s for the best. I know it may sound cliché, but I’d highly recommend trying to find a job that you love doing. Figure out what doesn’t feel like work or what your dream job looks like and job hop until you find it.

    I know it may feel like a tireless pursuit, but it’s so worth it. I used to feel the same way about work and count down the days to early retirement – until I realized that it wasn’t worth the unhappiness. Since we work in a demanding field (I’m a software engineer), we can afford to be picky with who we work for. Find a great company with great people who work on interesting projects – and I promise it’ll feel like you’ve already retired!

    1. As a government employee I am definitely jaded in terms of not expecting to find a job that I love! My goal is to find one that is at least tolerable, and preserves as much of my time and energy to focus on the things that I find rewarding outside of work. Good point on the people, that’s definitely an underrated aspect. Coworkers in my last two jobs were great and I made some long-term friends even after leaving those roles. This job is definitely lacking in that aspect so it’s a double whammy with that and the travel.

      As I’ve written in the past, I am not super concerned with advancement at this point in my career and being a decade out from FIRE. So looking like a “job hopper” to some people if I have to bounce around a few times to find somewhere I can stick out for the long-term isn’t much of a concern. I am also poking at private industry opportunities to see if there’s maybe something I would find more enjoyable or rewarding on the other side of the fence, that is if they’ll even give me the time of day!

      It would really be nice to build something on the side that at least just covers my (low) expenses, and then downshift into doing that part-time while I let my portfolio coast over the finish line.

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