Can I quit my job?
October 4, 2012 6:07 PM   Subscribe

Should I quit my job? Much more inside.

20+ years in US federal government job. Pays well, is no fun. Been the same grade since 1996, been on dozens of interviews, can't get promoted. Pay freeze plus being out of step increases means I haven't had a raise in three years and may never get another. I'm going backwards and have been for a while.

I have some fatal flaw, I am somewhat out of step with my co-workers. My wife and I are DINKs, everyone else there is mostly married with kids.

It's pretty conservative, the ideal employee is a Catholic elementary school Catholic high school grad who wears a shirt and tie or skirt and blouse to work every day. I like polo shirts and khakis. They talk about their kid's soccer games and real estate taxes, I yawn.

I've basically had four jobs in the 20+ years. I think I'm seen as a plugger, but's it kind of hard to tell. I had a pretty high-vis job from 2000 to 2007 which I really thought would be my stepping stone but nothing happened. The project wound down and I moved on.

I fail every 'be happy at work test.' I don't have a best friend there, no mentor, I mostly stick to myself. I think I'm seen as 'he knows what he's doing but is kind of a pain is the ass/tends to run his mouth' but I can't really be sure.

We have plenty of money. Our house is almost paid off. My mom is close to death and I'll get a few dollars when she goes, my MIL is the same and we'll get a condo worth $150K there.

I don't have some dream career or volunteer gig in mind. I'd like to scale way back, buy a one b/r condo in a seashore community and just walk on the beach.

My only concern is health care, though we are both in excellent health. I'm around 50, my wife is a little older. If I worked I'd like to buy and sell antiques, be a handyman, or mess around with cars.

We could scale way back, sell one car, use less, consume less, travel some and enjoy life a little.

I'd love to just get up from my desk one day and never go back, but I'm a little nervous. I'm sure I'm not cut out for cubicle life and 20+ years of it has left me fried. I'm not the person I used to be. Can I do this?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Depending on the definition of "plenty of money" yes or no.
posted by rr at 6:14 PM on October 4, 2012

You're around 50. Do you have a retirement package available to you at a certain age?
posted by erst at 6:15 PM on October 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

You've been in the same level/grade for 16 years. You're not happy. You need to quit. But it doesn't sound like you'll have the kind of reputation that will immediately catapult you into another job, and it's always easier (for everyone) to get a job when they have a job.

Start applying to other jobs, right now. When you get interviews, go. When you get a new job, QUIT. Get out. Make it happen. Make it happen smart.
posted by Kololo at 6:16 PM on October 4, 2012

How long until, or do you get a pension or other retirement benefit? Will health benefits be a part of it? Can you stick around, just doing the bare minimum until then?
posted by kellyblah at 6:18 PM on October 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you can financially afford to do it, just do it.
posted by heyjude at 6:19 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for the internet's permission, then you have it.

We can't really answer this question for you though; how much money you need to live and how much money you have is something you need to decide for yourself.
posted by Lutoslawski at 6:47 PM on October 4, 2012

Yes, when does decent pension/health benefits kick in? 27 years? 30 years?

I'd stick it out until then. Then again, I talk about real estate taxes.

But seriously, you will hopefully live another 30-40 years. If all you have to do is work a few more to guarantee pension and decent benefits, you should do that.

I would continue to apply for internal promotions.

In your spare time, start working on that hobby of yours (buying and selling antiques, handyman, etc.).
posted by murfed13 at 6:49 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm guessing you have 6 more years approximately till full FERS retirement? I would keep up the high TSP contributions, apply for other jobs within the Federal system (not every agency is as conservative as yours), and try to stick it out till you hit retirement age (I'm assuming about 56 for you?). Keep in mind that my agency has had at least 3 buyouts and an early out in recent years. It is possible you could also get offered an early out at your agency as well and go out a little early.

Also, start positioning yourself for retirement in other ways. If you like working on cars start doing that on your own, or start antiquing and see what's out there. When you get that money from your family use it to buy a small second home or condo at the beach or in the country. I've got co-workers who work a compressed 4 day work week schedule and spend the other 3 days a week at their cabin in the country. Life is not just work, and it does not have to be an either/or thing. You don't have to quit to change your life or work dynamic. Is telecommuting even one day a week an option at your agency?

Also, point of interest, at 50 my husband and myself were pretty healthy also. At 55/56, we've had some stuff happen that has made us extremely grateful for the health coverage we have.
posted by gudrun at 6:50 PM on October 4, 2012 [9 favorites]

If you have the money and a realistic plan to fund the next 40 years of your life then why not. But do you? Personally, I wouldn't be comfortable making plans based on your respective mothers being "close to death" - they could live for a while! Do you have any skills that lend themselves to some sort of consulting to close the gap? Does your wife plan to work for a while? Is their a sabbatical/career break program available to you that would allow you to take 6 months off and test early retirement with a safety net?

I mean most of us are not "happy" at work; if it's not actively stressing you out or taking 80 hours a week, just causing you to yawn at stories about soccer games perhaps you could put in a couple more years, save like a lunatic, and make some changes to your life after 5pm.
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:53 PM on October 4, 2012

It sounds like the main obstacle to living the way you want is the lack of health insurance. Have you considered moving to some other country where health care is more accessible/affordable?
posted by mareli at 6:56 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would stick it out for your pension / retirement benefits. The other thing to consider is whether you're in a field where you could do consulting after you formally retire? My grandfather was consulting (on a very occasional basis) for 20 years after he retired.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:22 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are around 50 in a government job then retirement is pretty much around the corner. This is pretty much the corniest advice ever from someone with really fluctuating feelings about their (pronoun) own job choice but honestly...not too many people now have anything in common with me, my 'work friends' (who were actually really good friends but we no longer live in the same places) moved on awhile ago, but really, it depends on what YOU bring to it. Kids vs no kids isn't a big barrier to being 'work friends'. You just have to be in a good mood (fake it, a bit), be friendly, and suddenly you notice a different response. You can't talk about kids..but you can talk about lunch. Does that sound depressing? The thing is, is that you probably do have quite a bit in common with your coworkers (and really, I am from a different world, country, age group, religious background, lifestyle etc. than my current coworkers) but you still will have things in common. If you want to. Which means asking questions, being interested, and having the most pleasant day possible while making the most out of your out of work hours. It sounds depressing but I'm not sure if it is or isn't. The economy is tricky, don't jump ship until you have a new job or enough money to really keep yourself afloat if there isn't a new job on the horizon.
posted by bquarters at 7:29 PM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

There are a lot of interesting opportunities within the Federal Gov't that are outside the norm. Look for overseas assignments or assignments in Hawaii or Alaska. Some of them might only be 6 months to a year. Since you are a life-time civil servant, you get some priority over the other applicants. You might just end up doing your same job, but you can do it from some place different, with new people and still work up to your retirement number with the Feds.
posted by chiefthe at 5:33 AM on October 5, 2012

You absolutely can quit your job, and it sounds like you have better resources than most to do so. Having said that, I agree with what appears to be the consensus above that it's easier to get a job when you already have one, and that if you are close to full retirement benefits it might be worthwhile to suck it up and wait for those.

I also think you should consider whether you are depressed. I get the feeling from your question that you might be. (NOTE: I am not a doctor and this is not a diagnosis, just a random person on the internet's feeling.) It's certainly possible -- I'd guess likely, actually -- that your job is contributing to your depression if you have it. But you might want to talk with someone about whether you are indeed depressed and if so, what are some ways you can manage that. You might find that with some therapy or other methods you are better able to enjoy life, current job notwithstanding, or to envision a path out or through what you are currently dealing with.

It's just a thought. Good luck.
posted by gauche at 6:24 AM on October 5, 2012

If you were anywhere but the federal government, I'd say boogie. But you have the best job in America.

You're not pining for another job, jobs are all pretty much the same. You're pining for early retirement. I'm pining to win the lottery, or get a job in federal government.

If you can stick it out until you can execute on early retirement at your job, do it. You'll be so much better off than doing any other thing.

Here's what it's like making a change at our age (I'll be 50 in December):

Work is different as you mature. When we were young and single, we'd all be buds and go to happy hour and hang out, our work friends were our regular friends.

Now we all go home to our families at night. We socialize with our friend friends. We're pleasant to the people at work, but we're not involved with them.

You get to a point where you can do your job in 75 minutes per day and the rest of the time you're on MetaFilter.

You're comfortable, but bored.

Work may not be fulfiling. But it's better than not having any work. You're not treated badly, your boss isn't a dick, it's just not fulfilling.

So find things outside of work that you like to do. Unfortunately only 2% of the world can afford to quit their day jobs. The rest of us just keep on slogging.

You'll thank me when you make more money in retirement than you do working. Social Security AND a pension! Sweet!

(Oh, do check and see if you're eligible for Social Security, I believe you need 10 quarters.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:47 AM on October 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

I agree that you should really think about sticking around for the good retirement. You've put in the bulk of the time. Think about it like a workday or a workweek: sometimes, Friday sucks. Sometimes it is no fun to hang around all the way until 5pm.

Don't think about not getting raises as not moving forward. Your rate of pay might not be going up, but every week, you are getting another $1000 (or whatever).

And yeah, there are lots of different jobs to get in the fedgov. Instead of focusing on your agency, widen your search out to other agencies. Take night classes and get a masters of public service and get some kind of admin position. Etc. Think about looking at unusual positions like spokesperson for an agency chief.

Work is different as you mature. When we were young and single, we'd all be buds and go to happy hour and hang out, our work friends were our regular friends.

Quoting for truth.
posted by gjc at 7:02 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

What would happen if your wife lost her job tomorrow?

What would happen if you were in a car crash, and required lots of rehab and special medical equipment?

What if your mom doesn't die immediately and has to pay for expensive nursing home support?

If you honestly think you can quit your job with little impact to your finances, start living on your wife's salary. Put your entire salary into retirement savings. Do this for the next few years: if it turns out not to be a good idea, no worries! You're still working! And have retirement coming! Bonus: lots more money stashed away for when you're *really* not working.

Finally: in terms of feeling so stagnant at work, it seems like something is wrong with this picture. I'd meet with a career coach, or someone much more senior in your area. Ask them to look at your qualifications, resume, files, etc., and see what you can do differently. Do a few mock interviews to see what comes up. Work on other qualifications (new software?) that would help you move ahead.

Also, get an hour of hard exercise before you go into work. Practice a bit of mindful meditation. Or some other way of coming to grips with your situation. It might help you feel more motivated and capable, and less bitter and resentful.

Just because the you feel urgent need that "something has to change" - doesn't mean it has to be your job. It could be you!

Best of luck.
posted by barnone at 11:12 AM on October 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Can you find a part-time, or lower paying, job that you would enjoy, that would at least keep you paying into SS-- in case it is still functioning when you are 65? You lose a lot of (projected) money if you stop altogether. Several people I know have taken big buyouts-- or buyouts that seemed big until they really sat down and figured out how much money they needed. They've gone back to work in bookstores or libraries or as part-time teachers. Although, even as I type this I'm thinking how much easier it was just a few years ago to get a fun, flexible job that maybe even has benefits. Everyone wants to do something like that now, and there are a lot fewer of those jobs.
posted by BibiRose at 1:21 PM on October 5, 2012

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