A Hobson’s choice: getting FIREd

Thomas Hobson
Thomas Hobson

I don’t know about you but sometimes I like it when decisions are made for me, or when there’s only one choice: a Hobson’s choice. It prevents over-analysis and regret. It means change versus never-ending pondering.

I’ve worked in an office for longer than I can remember, with the last six years spent working for a large multinational company in a Marketing department. In my current (and soon-to-be previous) role I’ve mostly done (very close) to nothing. I’ve argued in previous posts that anyone with an office job is most likely producing nothing of value and while that’s certainly been true for me, in parallel, I have been doing nothing. My only weekly tasks have been a 121 with my boss and a group team call where I (and everyone else) pretend we’re “swamped” with work.

I’ve been planning my escape from office life drudgery (in spreadsheets) for a while now. Pre-pandemic I’d regularly have discussions with equally disgruntled work colleagues about the unbearable nature of our pointless existence — I was on the cusp of quitting. Then Covid struck and ever since then, I (and many others) have never properly gone back to the office which has meant working (I use the term loosely) even less than before.

Over that period I’ve learnt it’s hard to quit when you’re being paid to do very little. Don’t get me wrong it’s boring and ultimately you’re not free, however, with no office commute, no stress and no more sitting in meeting rooms or having to pretend you’re busy while sitting at a desk — it’s tolerable.

Though tolerable, there’s a side effect which is getting stuck in a trap of thinking; I’ll just work x more months, or I’ll wait until I get that bonus payment and then I’ll quit (yes, for some peculiar reason I was still being paid a bonus despite my lack of effort).

“The hardest but most important financial skill is getting the goalpost to stop moving”

The Psychology of Money — Morgan Housel

Stopping your financial goalposts from moving is the most important skill according to Morgan Housel in his book The Psychology of Money. Although I’ve had firsthand experience of my goalposts moving, it’s useful to receive confirmation that it’s a common problem. I know two people who are older and (significantly) wealthier than me — they frequently talk about retiring but never seem to do so. One retired for about 3 months, and then started work again to “earn just a bit more”, the other is just about to start another consultancy gig “for a few months”. Needless to say, like many other people — they are saving up to become the richest person in the cemetery.

In part, this is because there’s never enough money one can have. But as importantly (and maybe more so) it’s easy to become bored without work — even if you don’t like the work you’re doing. This reminds me of that well-known psychological experiment that demonstrated people would rather be electrically shocked than left alone with their thoughts. Just swap out “be electrically shocked” with “work a job they hate”.

Quiet Quitting

The phrase quiet quitting emerged as a trend on social media in 2022 which means working the bare minimum; so no extra hours, no enthusiasm, and doing just enough to keep the lights on while collecting a salary. Needless to say, it’s probably not a new phenomenon — my hunch is that it was office work that created “quiet quitters”. I don’t see how you could have done it before the Industrial Revolution. Maybe some farm workers tried to “quiet quit” but I doubt their ruse would have lasted long.

My ruse on the other hand has been going on for several years and in that time I’ve somehow been receiving a full bonus with my boss commenting on my last appraisal form: “Keep up the hard work”. This is more anecdotal evidence supporting the absurdity of the work I and millions of other office workers do. It got to the point where I was starting to think my slacking was putting me at risk of a promotion. That is until recently.

My promotion concerns were put to bed when “working” remotely from the Caribbean, or what I call Holidaying From Work (HFW). It was announced to me on a Zoom call that my employment was coming to an end. It wasn’t a shock, in fact, more of a relief. Finally, it happened. It’s a Hobson’s choice: the only choice is to leave the job I hate and start living differently. It means living with less and being more resourceful. Something I look forward to as I believe that abundance is the enemy of appreciation. It means putting an end to endlessly saving to try and gain more and more security, and giving priority to living life more.

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8 thoughts on “A Hobson’s choice: getting FIREd

  1. I’m not sure whether to offer commiserations or congratulations, hope it all goes well in the end 😉

    Mind you, you now have time to read David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs on a deckchair on the beach 😉

  2. Commiserations?

    One challenge you will now likely face is leading an existence almost identical to that of your previous paid pretend employment, but without the salary.

    Which in turn takes away the excuses/justifications we all hide behind.

    That can be character building.

    In time, and with no small irony, you will probably miss your former job when you look back on it. Particularly if you eventually return to the workforce, and find yourself in a role without comparable levels of autonomy/freedom/control of your time.

    Then you’ll realise the bullshit job was really a golden opportunity, rather than an anchor holding you back.

    Of course your mileage may vary, so give it a few months until the honeymoon wears off, then take a moment to reflect. You’re on a well-trodden path amongst FIREseekers not yet at their magic number.

    Happy travels for wherever your journey next takes you!

      1. Good luck! Will what you were doing when you were supposed to be working be part of your plans or will you find different hobbies?

        1. Thank you 🙂 A fairly big part of my plan is to improve my surfing (while travelling). I bought a surf board last year and still haven’t used it! I’m always open to new experiences though, so won’t just be surfing — currently trying to improve my open water swimming, and considering a SUP board 🙂

  3. Hey Richard, congratulations (i guess) on losing the job. I’m struck by how insightful all the posts on this blog are. I can relate to almost everything, except, in my case my job is everything you’ve stated but still requires a lot of efforts from my side.

    About 8 years ago I somehow got forced into a project manager role that I hated but had to accept to ensure my survival in the company I worked for at the time. Fast forward 8 years and now I’ve been stuck in a string of project management roles, as no employer will even consider me in any other capacity given my past experience.

    I would honestly settle for a job that’s dull and boring as an upgrade from my current role any day of the week. My current role is not just dull and boring but also comes with ample amounts of stress and anxiety thrown in for good measure.

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