The never ending corporate ladder game


When I graduated from university and started my engineering career about 10 years ago, I was very eager to learn. I was eager to learn new tasks, take on new responsibilities, and learn new knowledge. I was like a sponge, trying to absorb everything that came my way. I was also very eager to learn about the company's corporate structure - who were the senior executives, who were the VP's and who were the directors. I would take every possible opportunity to be in the same meetings as these people and try to talk to them.

I was quick to realize that the corporate game was very repetitive - the weekly reports, the monthly reviews, the quarterly reviews, the semi-annual reviews, and the yearly reviews. It was important to write sound reports to demonstrate your values. It was important to provide highlights and lowlights in the reports/reviews because things shouldn't be always bad, and things shouldn't be always good. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Since most managers had to submit their weekly reports by mid-day Friday, that forced the peons to complete their reports by Thursday or earlier. The directors and VP's would then take managers' reports and compile them into summarized reports to present to the senior executives.

These weekly reports from directors and VP's would come out on weekends.

In high tech, it seemed that people worked all the time. There was no such thing as downtime.

Thus, the never ending perpetual report machine was created!

A few months into my job, I was told that I had to go to a test lab in California to complete some tests one Wednesday morning. Because I had commitments for that specific weekend, I told my managers that I must be back by Friday afternoon. It was agreed. So I booked a $3,500 plane ticket from Vancouver to California. While the tests didn't complete, my commitments were higher on my priority list. As per the agreement between my managers, I flew back to Vancouver the Friday afternoon. When I landed, I saw that someone had left a voice mail.

"Hello Tawcan, sorry to say this but we booked you for another flight down to California Saturday morning. You need to cancel your commitments. Please come in the office so we can talk."

I was told that faithful Friday afternoon that short notice travels would be an expectation for working in high tech. My managers told me that they've missed some important commitments in their lives because of work.

That was not the last time I had to go on a work trip on short notice...

I quickly realized that I didn't want to play the corporate game.

Yes making lots of money is great and all. But how much is enough?

What is better? Earning $70,000 a year working 30 hours a week, no over time, or earning $300,000 a year working more than 100 hours a week, and expect to pick up your phone whenever it rings?

Where do you draw the line?

Do I want to move up the corporate ladder only to expect to work longer?

Do I want to spend even less time with my family and friends?

Do I want to be expected to check my emails and answer phone calls while on vacation?

Do I want to become a manager and be responsible for teaching my employees how to play the corporate game?

I've come to the realization that job title and money are not everything. If I'm enjoying my work and I'm getting compensated fairly, life is good.

But life could be even better if I have the freedom and options to decide what I want to do. This is where financial independence comes in.

I learned there are other ways than working until 65 or older. I learned that quitting work early and pursuit my dreams is indeed possible. Because people have done it.

It's called passive income! Receiving money for doing absolutely nothing? Sounds great to me!

So given the question of...

Climbing the corporate ladder and getting paid boatloads of money or being financially independent and having more freedom and options in life?

I'd take the latter choice any given day.

Would you?



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  • Reply
    March 16, 2016 at 10:41 am

    I hear you, Tawcan. When do you say 'Enough!'? It becomes a slippery slope and next thing you realize - your whole life has passed you by. Financial independence gives us the freedom we want to achieve. Happy to share this path you, buddy.


    • Reply
      March 16, 2016 at 1:29 pm

      Totally R2R! Enough has a total different definition for someone from North America than someone from a developing country. Life is too short to chase after money all the time.

  • Reply
    March 16, 2016 at 11:34 am

    I'm taking the FI route. The corporate ladder game wasn't for me. I didn't want more responsibilities even with more pay. I'm a terrible supervisor and I know it. I think every engineers should know there are other options out there.
    It's good to keep working if you like it, but going up the ladder isn't for everyone. I know quite a few engineers that left and gone on to do other things. You don't have to stick with the same career if it's not a good fit anymore.

    • Reply
      March 16, 2016 at 1:30 pm

      Hi Joe,

      Very interesting coming from a former engineer, especially considering I've personally been working with ppl from your former company. Some people are better at playing the corporate game but you got to ask yourself, is it really worth it?

  • Reply
    [email protected]
    March 16, 2016 at 11:52 am

    I with you on this and since I work in government, working long hours and weekends are generally not on the table. However, the pay isn't the greatest, the benefits outweigh the salary imho. I know many people who do play that corporate game and it's tough, especially when you have a family. They work long hours, weekends, and major holidays. Working full time, I feel like I don't get to see my toddler enough...if I had to work long hours, weekends, would just not be worth it.

    • Reply
      March 16, 2016 at 1:31 pm

      Hi Andrew,

      Can't say I have experience with government jobs. From what I heard, it's definitely different than the corporate world. Not seeing your family enough is definitely a trade-off I wouldn't take.

  • Reply
    Fervent Finance
    March 16, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    I recently just had to settle an internal debate. Do I stay at my job where I have a lot of flexibility, like the people I work with, and get paid a decent salary or go after a job in the same exact line of work but for double the pay, more stress, more hours, etc. Now the new job would get me to FI probably twice as fast. But would I enjoy the journey to get there? Probably very unlikely. I'm glad I've decided on flexibility over money. Last night on a whim I booked a flight for tomorrow morning. Did I have to run it by anyone at work? Nope. Will anyone care? Nope. This to me is more valuable than the money.

    • Reply
      March 16, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      Great points Fervent Finance. It all comes down to enjoying what you do and getting compensated fairly. Flexibility and enjoyment go a long way on the overall quality of your job. If you hate your job, other areas of your life will get affected, I can guarantee that. You might be getting great money but you are not enjoying your life.

      Very awesome that you booked a flight on a whim, hope it's to somewhere cool. /:)

  • Reply
    Dividend Hustler
    March 16, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    One life to live Tawcan. Have a good time on this journey and just try to build as much PASSIVE income as possible. Life's in our hands after that. Cheers bud and congrats.

    • Reply
      March 17, 2016 at 9:39 am

      Hi Dividend Hustler,


  • Reply
    March 16, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    It all comes down to balance for me:
    work-life balance: can I still spend time with the family and friends, and have some me time to blog and do hobbies while at the same time do a good job. As I am in accumulation phase, it is the job that donates the investing money. Without his, I can not reach the FIRE goal. I could side hustle, but I would need a lot of side hustles...

    In the current job, I am like FF: I like the job and colleagues as well as the balance. I could go somewhere else, earn more and retire sooner... but not being there for the kids and family would be awful. not having a lot of freedom work would be hell.

    • Reply
      March 17, 2016 at 9:40 am

      Hi ambertreeleaves,

      It definitely comes down to work-life balance but I suppose this balance is different per different people. Sounds like your current job offers a lot of balance. Great stuff. 🙂

  • Reply
    March 16, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    Hey Tawcan,

    Firstly, your point about meetings, great point. So many businesses spend so much time measuring things, making reports etc, that people spend so much of their time reporting and not DOING or CREATING, seems like such a waste of manpower. Why are these reports then worth so much, isn't it the work itself that is the most important? Anyway..

    It's a constant battle between money and time. Most people seem to get so wrapped up earning & working huge amounts of hours now, forgetting that they're living their life right now. Their happiness matters right now, not just when they retire.

    I'm not yet at that career point/age where I'm earning the max I could be, or working as long as I might, but I don't plan on doing that either. Out of those 2 options you said, I would take the $70,000 option (that would be a large pay rise 🙂 ), as it gives everything you could need.

    I hope that by starting investing early, making a blog etc, I can find financial dependence the way I want to.

    • Reply
      March 17, 2016 at 9:43 am

      Hi Dividendsdownunder,

      Too many KPI's and reports, but I suppose that' just how businesses use to measure efficiency. It comes down to finding the right balance and knowing what's enough for you. I think all of us are working hard becoming financial independent so we can do what we wish in life.

  • Reply
    March 16, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    I just sent through something similar. Take a job at $20/hr that would require me to work more, but remotely? Or stay in my cushy $70k IT job where I don't really do anything but I'm location dependent? I decided to stay where I am for now until I get a bit bigger cushion under my belt.

    • Reply
      March 17, 2016 at 9:44 am

      Hi Gwen,

      It all depends what you want and what works for you right now in life. Who knows, maybe you'll take the $20/hr location independent job next year. 🙂

  • Reply
    March 16, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    Mr. and I go out yesterday after a tennis session, and he has to check his phone for emails and text messages. He has a smart phone and I don't. haha! I don't have a cellphone plan with data, I asked people not to call my cellphone because I have to pay for the minutes. 😛 No phone, no callin' me!

    I don't think making $70K or $300K is a problem, the problem is people have smart phones and they can't turn it off and think that the expectation is responding or working 80-100hours/week. The work contract didn't say that (in fact it's illegal to mandate people to work more than 40hrs/week without getting paid overtime or extra time). They CHOOSE to be enslave by their work. 😛

    I manage 7 units including the one that I'm living at, and I don't have a smartphone, but I usually check my email when I get home or at work, I figure my sleep time or play time is my time, and the contract says I have 24 hours to response (I usually respond within a few hours), compare to a big company that tenant can only leave a message and don't respond back after a couple of days.

    • Reply
      March 17, 2016 at 9:45 am

      Hi Vivianne,

      I need to be better not checking my phone, very good reminder. In high tech there's no such thing as overtime, you need to work to get things done. 🙂

  • Reply
    Thias @It Pays Dividends
    March 17, 2016 at 4:01 am

    I have seen glimpses of what is expected to climb the latter and I think the FI route is more my path. The sad thing is that these jobs will only continue to be more demanding because so many high earners won't push back because they need the paycheck to survive so they can't risk losing it. That is the power of saving - it doesn't lock you into any situation. You have options.

    • Reply
      March 17, 2016 at 9:46 am

      Hi Thias,

      Great points, you do have options. Corporate ladder certainly isn't for everyone.

  • Reply
    Mr. SSC
    March 17, 2016 at 8:22 am

    I like not having to be connected full time at my current job. We have desktops - yes desktops, and we all just turned in our phones to help with cost reductions. If you want, you could install the software to check work email on your personal device, but after the installation wiped my personal phone, I didn't try again. 🙂
    I repeatedly say, "I don't want to go management track. Thank-you!" I like what I do, the people I work with, and the level of responsibility and commitments I have. I still get to do technical work and any upward movement puts me into doing more paperwork and that sort of thing and no more technical work which I get a lot of satisfaction out of. Being this close to FI, if they offered a mgmt position, and a good pay raise with it, I'd say sure, that sounds great! Because then our 2 year timeframe would get moved up that much quicker, and I'd see a light at the end of the tunnel knowing I'm not doomed on this path forever.

    Not having time or freedom as much as we'd like is what set us down this FI or for us Lifestyle Change path to begin with. We don't mind working, as long as our lifestyle can get freed up and not be a harried dual income, struggling to balance it all sort of mess it is now.

    • Reply
      March 17, 2016 at 9:57 am

      Hi Mr. SSC,

      That's interesting your work still uses desktop. We're all on laptops and I have a work phone. I try to not check work emails too often after work but dealing with people all over the globe, it's challenging not to do.

      That's cool that you like what you do. Going up the management track would probably mean getting away from the technical work. Since you're close to FI, you have a good point about taking on a higher pay, management job, only if that means you can move FI closer and you have a set time to quit. Last time you want is to get stuck in the management role and can't get out of it.

  • Reply
    March 17, 2016 at 8:37 am

    Early in my career, I would have and did choose the higher paying job that came with more stress and longer hours. I have done rather well as a CPA, but at what cost? I am now to the point in my life where I am nearing 40 and would much rather be home with the family and have my job work around my schedule. This has meant that I had to take a pay cut, but am now working 4 days per week with Fridays off. This has been a great change for myself and my family and allows us to do so much more on our new weekends. Now I am trying to find ways to get more passive income coming in so I these 4 day weeks turn into 1 or 2 day weeks. Slowly, but surely we will get there...

    • Reply
      March 17, 2016 at 9:58 am

      Hi EJ,

      I think I'm with you. When I was single and young I didn't mind working long hours and getting paid higher. But now I have a family, family comes first. That's probably why you see a lot of young people working in these demanding high tech jobs. That's great you're working 4 days per week now. Not working at all because you've reached FI would be even better. 🙂

  • Reply
    Matt @ The Resume Gap
    March 17, 2016 at 10:05 am

    Love this post, Tawcan. I totally relate to your awful work experience. I once was told (not asked) on a Friday afternoon that I was being placed on a consulting engagement for just the weekend and would need to fly out Saturday morning. No matter that I had family literally en route to visit me for the weekend. I told them I was taking PTO immediately, pissed off several people, and never regretted the decision once.

    • Reply
      March 18, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      Hi Matt,

      That's crazy that you were told to work and forget about your family commitment. Good call on taking PTO immediately.

  • Reply
    March 17, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    Great post! It's easy to get caught in the workaholic culture out there, especially in IT.

    I've got a set of skills that would fetch a pretty penny in industry, but having done that early in my career and getting burned out, I made the move to working IT in a higher-ed environment.

    Now, work is 37.5 hours a week, no overtime ever, 5 weeks vacation, great benefits, and I'm even getting an additional degree, tuition free! Sure, I could make probably twice what I do if I went to the private sector, but I make more than enough to retire decades ahead of most people, and get to enjoy my life while I'm at it!

    • Reply
      March 18, 2016 at 2:15 pm

      It's interesting that quite a few ppl in high tech get burned out eventually in their career. It's awesome that you're working 37.5 hours a week with no overtime. Flexibility is good that's or sure.

  • Reply
    March 18, 2016 at 4:37 am


    I am a fellow engineer as well, and I can agree with pretty much everything you said above! I however, have chosen a slightly different route, I work in remote locations for long periods of time... but my idea while similar to yours is to do this for a time and then settle in to a much less demanding job after I have set myself up with some capital!

    Good to hear your investing is going well!


    • Reply
      March 18, 2016 at 2:20 pm

      Hi InvestingEngineer,

      Very cool that you've chosen a slightly different route and work in remote locations. That'd certainly allow you to save quite a bit of money. Although working in remote locations can be pretty tough.

  • Reply
    March 18, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    I'd make the same choice. Freedom and time with family is more precious than money.
    BTW, I see you are heavily invested in dividend paying stocks. Have you tried P2P lending? I thought P2P lending would be a great passive income form because all the interests are considered income which enables you to get a much higher withdrawal rate every year while being less volatile.

    • Reply
      March 20, 2016 at 5:23 pm

      Hi Charlie,

      Looked into P2P lending but it's not that straight forward here in Canada.

  • Reply
    Dividend Reaper
    March 18, 2016 at 6:58 pm

    If you have to choose, you have to choose. However, if you can have your cake and eat it too, why not?! I'm currently working at my 9-5 as most would call it and I enjoy the rat race. That's not to say however that I will enjoy it forever. This is where you are right in asking, do you really want to do this forever?! The answer of course becomes the ultimate answer that everyone comes to, no. As much as the rat race may give its silent cries of adventure and challenge, life has to have a better end goal and sometimes that goal should be reached sooner rather than later. I'll see you on the other side when I finally retire myself (hopefully on a fat dividend paying portfolio!).

    -Dividend Reaper

    • Reply
      March 20, 2016 at 5:24 pm

      Hi Dividend Reaper,

      That's what I'm doing right now. I enjoy my work and getting compensated fairly. All I have to say is I don't have any intension to climb the corporate ladder.

  • Reply
    Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank
    March 18, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    Nice Tawcan. Financial independence is what I am aiming for this year. Hope everything comes in my favor. I am deeply inspired by your post Taw. I just want to say thank you so much because I thought earning this huge amount of money was almost impossible, but you just made it possible. 😀

    • Reply
      March 20, 2016 at 5:24 pm

      Thanks Jayson.

  • Reply
    March 19, 2016 at 9:27 pm

    I totally get you. At my last job, I made the mistake of adding work email to my phone and it was incredible the amount of anxiety it caused me. It was becoming harder and harder for me to turn work off. I want to learn. I want to be dependable. I want to succeed. But after seeing my parents work in hardcore retail, whether it was my mom's business or my dad being a manager, I never want to have that lack of balance. Once five hits (or I clock out), I want to be done for the day and move on to whatever commitments I have, whether they're to myself, my family, or my friends. It's just healthier.

    • Reply
      March 20, 2016 at 5:24 pm

      Hi Katie,

      I should totally avoid checking work emails after work hours. 🙂

  • Reply
    Elle @ New Graduate Finance
    March 19, 2016 at 11:00 pm

    I find this scary...mostly because of how accurate it is.

    I have just started my first real job in Corporate America, but I can already see how this repetition sounds.

    Also, my current position is a super high-turnover position where you are expected to work the hardest doing the least satisfying work and making the least amount of money. It isn't so sexy.

    But when I look at the people above me, all I see is the continuous reporting, the continuous looking at those above them, on and on and on.

    It never ends...

    • Reply
      March 20, 2016 at 5:25 pm

      Hi Elle,

      It's a good reminder to find balance in our lives.

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