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Why taking a $25k promotion was the worst thing for us

Eric head in hands

By Eric Koelma | Dare List Dad

We finally decided to take the leap, run our own businesses and travel the world in September 2016. Truth-be-told, this should have happened 14 months earlier, but for a $25k promotion I was offered, accepted, and then in many ways regretted. Taking that promotion was helpful for cashflow, sure, but in many ways it was the 'promotion' that kept us grounded. Literally.

I don't believe any experience is wasted. I learned some extremely valuable lessons thanks to that promotion, but on the whole, we could have realised our dream a lot earlier. Instead, I ended up growing more resentful of a position that had me working long hours, with a long commute and never seeing my family. Some life, huh...

Tim Kreider's description in 'Lazy, a manifesto' sums it up perfectly: "busyness is a complaint disguised as a boast".

The position put me deeper into a self-perpetuating environment

I'm not saying it's all bad. It just wasn't helpful for our mission to pack up everything, leave the corporate life behind and live a life that was a dream for our family, not someone else's ideology.

In the cubicle jungle, people considered me successful - they could just "ask digital marketing guru". I was great at the job. Almost over-qualified, technically, at times.

I was in demand. The social reinforcement of being 'needed' was pleasant. And the false humility of being a 'guru' gave the opportunity to politely dismiss the "I don't know how you do it all" comments. It was sub-consciously addictive.

Add another etch to the old ego board.

I felt ahead of the curve.

I was needed. And good at the job. Life was busy. And yet... 

I was utterly miserable

The $25k promotion brought great pay, but...

That brings a greater 'responsibility' (otherwise known as time commitment). It was sold to me as this kind of opportunity to gain a "more in-depth understanding of the business". But that is just jargon for 'more meetings with more people more often'.

Great pay also brings a sense of loyalty the expectation to stay back that extra 20 minutes and miss seeing your son tonight.

The $25k promotion meant a reliable, sturdy paycheck, but...

What I've come to realise is that reliance on a 'steady' paycheck is actually really risky.

"Having a safe and secure job is a smart move" is a rhetoric that's been drilled into me my whole life. I don't blame anyone, it's just the reality. This was especially reinforced at school where I studied business, and the only approach encouraged was doing a business degree and getting a safe job where you can work your way up through the ranks of a big corporate machine.

As you grow comfortable with the amount hitting your bank account every month, you get to the point that you raise your cost of living expenses in the expectation that the funds are coming in. Sounds fairly normal right?

So what then happens if you rock up at work tomorrow and they say "sorry, you're being made redundant"? You have no control over whether that happens. That's a dangerous way to live in my opinion.

The $25k promotion helped me learn more about that business, but...

There was less time for our side-hustle projects to escape the 9-5 lifestyle.

This was probably the biggest effect of the promotion. It put more dollars in the bank, sure. But it got us further away from our goal of long-term, slow travel. It totally sapped my time and pushed out our timelines to getting digital assets created, I think by 12 months.

It stopped us from doing client websites and really had an affect on my ability to work late into the night and find my flow because I was so exhausted from long weeks including 20 hours of commuting.

The $25k promotion gave better disposable income, but...

With greater pay came greater expenditure. Call it self-imposed, or that we 'lacked discipline'. Whatever. 

But when there's more cash in the bank there's a level of complacency that creeps in over time, as rules can be relaxed because "we're doing alright at the moment". We are generally pretty tight with all expenditure anyway, but as soon as I was promoted into a new position, it was like moving into a new social bracket.

Even just down to feeling unequal with the clothes I wore. They had served me well in my previous role. But I was now more important. I needed to look the part, right?

I caught myself considering whether to upgrade a few things. More comforts showed up at home. Treats snuck into shopping. We ate out a little more. 

In a world dominated by the positivist representation of life portrayed on social media, and rampant emotionally driven laser-targeted marketing, the pressures to keep up with the Joneses has moved from peeking over the fence to see what the neighbours bought, to seeing updates from 500 people you know showing all the happiness inducing products they now own.

Sidenote: When we decided to pack up everything and sell our stuff, we went through an eye-opening experience. All the cheap, decorative items we had accumulated for $15 here and $20, were now subject to haggling for $2. It was challenging and freeing!

The $25k promotion meant I went up a rung on the corporate ladder, but...

It was not my dream. It wasn't even close to a goal of mine. In fact, my goal was exactly the opposite. I have no interest whatsoever in corporate ladders. I'd rather make a business selling ladders to the corporate folk - the ones who spend their precious hours of the weekend fixing that house they don't get to appreciate often enough.

Owning a house meant I really did have almost no time left. I often spent at least a few hours in the garden each weekend (out of obligation - lawns, edges etc). If anything needed fixing, then that was a day (50%) of the weekend gone.

In the end it took coming home from work in tears (one too many times) and desperately realising we needed to change this, NOW. The promotion had kept us comfortably afloat. It had been a source of great comfort, but for me its tentacles of paralysis and 'time sappery' had caused equally, if not more, pain for us as a family.

And that's when we took the leap. If you want to take the leap too, but aren't sure how to escape the treadmill, here are 7 steps to get you on your way.

Eric Koelma

Eric is husband to Grace and Dad to Leo, exploring the world and doing everything he can to align the travel itinerary with world sporting events (hello Tour de France!). He's all logical precision and epic decision-making. Eric's also a rare kind of super-human who works best between 9pm and 2am, and still manages to get up early and chase that wilful toddler, WITHOUT coffee (he hates the stuff!)

Kelly George

This is all so true Eric! A reliable job, a secure house, and a social safety net are fantastic things to have – until they’re not. They can become a gilded cage. And the more you earn the more you spend!

We’ve also found that location independence can be very freeing – until it’s not.

We struggle to find the balance. It’s why we ricochet between full-time travel and being settled in a new place. We’re still trying to work out how we can have the minimal stability we enjoy, while having the freedom to get up and go whenever we like. It wouldn’t be a problem if we didn’t like farming and rural life so much, it’s easy to find a house sitter but less easy to find one who is knowledgeable enough to look after stock. And we never like going back to the same place anyway.

Conundrums! Let me know if you meet anyone who solves it for me 🙂

    Eric

    Yeah, I hear ya Kelly! I always say “the more comfortable we got, the less comfortable we got with being comfortable”.

    I don’t know what the long-term solution is in terms of housing vs travel for us, but the main lesson learned here is to not accept the default path. I think so often we can get caught in this feeling of life ‘happening to us’, instead of realising that we were the reason for it happening (like accepting the promotion above). When we take responsibility and recover control of the situation, only then can we make a change for the better (whatever that looks like at the time).

    I think your semi-nomadic lifestyle is awesome! It’s the essence of slow-travel. There’s really no reason to be settled in one place forever, especially in a digital age. And I think it’s a good thing to be transient. It means you can give to people and appreciate the current (knowing that there’s not 20 years of future strings attached), and then say have a good life. It also (for me) starts with recognising a ‘problem’ label we’re assigning and questioning that.

    Perhaps your ‘ricocheting’ between the two is your strength? Perhaps not returning is a good thing?

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