Are you sacrificing happiness and long-term wealth for short term gains?

Flickr photo via Jason Hargrove

How’s that great salary working out for you? If you work at Microsoft, Google or Amazon it’s clear that you can’t get a better salary in the market, and you tell yourself you are doing the right thing.

Maybe you don’t work at any of those three, but you are doing consulting work charging $125 or $150 per hour or even more and living the dream. Maybe you are happy and doing exactly what you want. Maybe you’re saving for retirement, looking forward to the day you are 55-years-old and have enough to retire.

You can stop reading here if you’re in that group.

But maybe you’re not happy. Maybe you’ re looking for more? Maybe you don’t feel your career is going in the direction you want it to go. Or maybe it did, and it’s not what you expected. Maybe you don’t feel you are making a difference in the world, and now you are stuck.

You can’t just walk away from $160,000 per year, plus bonus plus and all of that stock waiting to vest.

Seattle entrepreneur Marcello Calbucci. (Randy Stewart Photo)

Unfortunately, most of the people that I talk to about leaving their well-paying jobs over optimize their short term gains. “Thirty percent less than I’m making today? That’s absurd! Leaving all the unvested stock? No way!”

When I was growing up, work was a progressive line.

You started by earning a little as an intern. Then, you earned a lot more at your first full-time job. From there, you either received raises or switched jobs to make an even higher salary. Only when you reached a breaking point of unhappiness or frustration would you start to accept a trade-off between salary and doing something fun and meaningful.

Things are quite different now.

Committing to the same company for 10 or 15 years is almost suicidal — maybe suicidal for your career, maybe not, but certainly suicidal for your soul. This is particularly true for folks in the technology industry who were taught that change is the only constant. Once we can’t change anymore, we become unhappy.

The reality, at least for the competent folks, is that you can always get a high-paying job at one of the big companies.

Even during the toughest recession of our lifetime, the top tech companies had tens of thousands of open positions. Better than that, you are more likely to make a higher salary by leaving a company and coming back two years later (because you had to be recruited back) than by staying there for the same period of time.

These companies know that. No wonder the first stock offer for you to join the company is much higher than future offers. They bet on people’s career inertia.

Besides the potential financial gains of getting out and coming back, there is a more important aspect, in my opinion, of getting a new job, career or opportunity and that’s learning new ways of doing things, new methodologies, new work styles, new technologies, new work environments, etc.

It’s much harder to know how to improve your city if you only lived in the same place your entire life. Once you lived in multiple places, you start to form a much better understanding: what’s important, what’s not, what could be improved, what you like and what you don’t like.

Remember how much you learned in that first year at your new job? You learned slightly less the second year and progressively you started to learn less and less and feeling more comfortable getting things done with less effort.

The flip side of that coin is that you are not learning as much in a world that’s changing at faster pace than ever. Basically, staying at the same company for 10 to 15 years is a very, very risky bet, riskier than switching jobs.

New opportunities will not fall into your lap while you sit comfortably at your high-paying job. You have to cross the bridge and see there are plenty of great opportunities waiting for you.

Whether you join another big company, a medium-size company or a startup, switching jobs every three to five years will be a lot more fulfilling and give you the lessons to be a much wiser and happier person, and likely generate a lot more long term wealth and opportunities.

If you feel you have more to offer this world, what are you waiting for? Enough of telling people “someday.” Make “someday” happen today!

Marcelo Calbucci is the Co-founder & CTO of EveryMove, a new Seattle startup inspiring and rewarding people for their healthy lifestyle choices, and the founder of Seattle 2.0. He worked at Microsoft for 7-years before making the leap into startups. You can follow him on Twitter @calbucci or on his blog.

  • http://twitter.com/RedRussak ‘Red’ Russak

    Incredible advice and from what I can remember from my days as a recruiter, the 3-5 years at a company was a sweet spot. 10+ years and not c-level was a potential red-flag. On the other hand, I have friends at “big name companies” who are happy and it’s hard to say “you need to leave b/c you’re limiting yourself”. They’re happy. Not sure I want to put a damper on their happiness. 

    • http://blog.calbucci.com/ Marcelo Calbucci

      Yes, I know a lot of people who are very happy at their job at Microsoft and the culture, lifestyle and work matches their personality. So I would never tell them to leave.

  • Beth Kelley

    I just left one of the big companies for a job with less pay but higher overall long-term happiness, so thanks! :)

  • Joe the Coder

    Bravo and boo!

    I agree that a high paid and cushy but inherently mediocre job sucks the life out of you but hopping to a similar gig is not really going to change things.  I highly recommend finding something that you love.  Something that you can feel proud of.  Something that maintains your dignity.  Take a risk.  If it fails, so what?  You can always go back to the old job.   After years at high paid jobs, I’m doing something that I get paid nothing for.  And, frankly, I feel 100X better about my contributions.  And so what if I’m leaving money on the table…

  • http://www.greenabode.co.uk/ Green Abode

    Great article. I left a well paid job to work on something that I want to do long term. Yeah it sucks not having much money but I only used to waste it on stuff that I didn’t really need or want.

    It’s definitely the best career decision I made and if you’re lucky enough to have experience you can always go back.

    I don’t believe that life is all about work experiences either. I’ve spent three years travelling. Between the last job and starting a business…I spent 6.5 months in India. Highly recommend it.

    Good luck all.

  • http://twitter.com/toddhooper Todd Hooper

    Nice post Marcelo. Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven!

  • http://twitter.com/paolojr Paolo Mottola

    Brilliant. Comes down to whether you value your time in terms of money (a value that often fluctuates outside your control) or personal satisfaction. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but most of the happiest people I know work toward a passion, not a salary potential. And to the point of moving around frequently, that obviously expands your network, creating more relationships that can boost your professional aspirations as well as personal ones.

  • Fer Ayer

    Good job…

  • Gone2Fly86

    After many years of working on my own and earning respectable personal success, I joined Microsoft hoping to have a greater impact–and it was a mistake.  I found HR policies from the Dark Ages (some are really bad), silo’ed internal organizations, and a stifling NIH attitude.  It was a big disappointment in every way.

    If you have passion for your work, you’ll see more success, recognition, and rewards at a smaller company.

  • David Lee

    Life offers many variables over which one can optimize. You’ve
    chosen a few in this article. I’ve chosen to work at Microsoft for the long
    term. I optimize for a controlled work experience to give me more time with
    family and non-work pursuits. Nobody has “I wish I burned more all-nighters at
    a startup rather than spending time with my children” on their tombstone.
    My
    job also gives me the opportunity to impact several orders of magnitude more
    people on the planet than 99.9% of startups.
    I’ve also moved from team to team
    at Microsoft, each with a different culture and vision.
    Staying current with
    technologies is a personal decision that’s orthogonal to job hopping.

    • http://blog.calbucci.com/ Marcelo Calbucci

      Good for you David. If you are happy. Stay there.

      The one thing I would correct is that “impact several orders of magnitude more people on the planet than 99.9% of startups” is quite incorrect because your personal impact is likely to be insignificant. In other words, if you quit or if you are fired tomorrow, those 99.9% of people will still be impacted the exactly same way, with or without you.

      At a Startup, the company might be impacting just 1% of the population, but each individual contributor has a much bigger impact in the success of the company, so in fact, you made a difference on this world at a startup, while at a big company is quite unlikely your presence moved the needle.

      • Guest

        Congratulations to Marcelo on moving the needle for Seattle’s most successful startups! I think I speak for all of us when I say that “the 1%” are what we all need to be thinking of in our work.

  • Mike Arcuri

    Nice post Marcello. I hope it speaks to people who are doing well in their careers, but want to leave a more personal and unique mark on the world than “promotion X” or “title Y.”  Way back at the second Ignite Seattle, I gave a presentation called “Leaving the Empire,” and one of my key points was that people who actually want to leave well respected jobs usually find precious little support, from their peers, their families, etc.  There’s a very prevalent mindset that if you’re making good money at a big name company, then you’ve already made it – so why would you risk throwing that away?

    One more thought: the mental and risk adjustment hurdle in going from big cool company employee to startup employee is similar to the hurdle in going from startup employee to startup founder.  That second topic might make a great article in it’s own right.

  • Guest

    Congratulations Marcelo! I’m glad that you have found happiness and I thank you for the guidance that may yet help us all be satisfied with the impact we make upon the world.

  • http://twitter.com/medinism Manuel Medina

    Great post Marcelo.  We ran an poll on HN a couple of weeks ago asking something along the lines of what is preventing people from starting companies, and 30% of the answers were financial reasons, the other 40% was lack of cofounder or a good idea. So if those 2 issues could be addressed, jumping ship would be a lot easier (full disclosure, I work for GroupTalent who helps you with the first one)  

  • http://www.ydeveloper.com/kaushalam-ecommerce.html eCommerce

    There is no wonder today to change a job less than year, people are now comparing themselves to others that what they are getting one place if they switched over then what they will get..it’s not about the money but all things that relate to the jobs like environment, infrastructure, facilities etc.

  • elmas

    So, where can someone, working at one of these big name companies, who might be interested in working at a startup, meet and network in order to learn what is out there, maybe find a good fit?

    • Joe the Coder

      To start with, figure out what you like doing.  it can be highly specific or completely vague.  Make sure that it’s not just what you are good at but something that makes you think and stretch your boundaries.  I don’t recommend just finding a start up to join.  It’s a huge time commitment – find what drives you first. 

      Then, find people with similar interests.  Find out where they post or hang out.  Go to trade shows on your own nickle if you have to.  Geekwire is a good source of who’s doing what.  Watch the high tech news sites constantly.  You may discover people of similar interest right in your current company.  Find companies and people working in that area.  Become an expert on the current trends/research/thinking.  The way will probably be clear from there.

  • http://twitter.com/lunarmobiscuit Michael ‘Luni’ Libes

    Nice post Marcelo.

    I can’t imagine how people go to work every day at a job they don’t love.  But at the same time, I’ve repeatedly seen the difficulty of one’s own inertia getting in the way from moving on to something new, and even more commonly, the risk avoidance inherent in the majority of the working populace.

    You have that rare, risk-agnostic, optimistic gift we call entrepreneurship.

    Very few share that gift, and few would even take the risk to join a brand-new startup with an unknown future and unknown path to success, even if it were 3x more fun than working at Microsoft.

    I toast all who join us in our crazy quest for an enjoyable, fulfilling daily life at work.

  • http://twitter.com/cellartracker Eric LeVine

    “Committing to the same company for 10 or 15 years is almost suicidal —
    maybe suicidal for your career, maybe not, but certainly suicidal for
    your soul. This is particularly true for folks in the technology
    industry who were taught that change is the only constant. Once we can’t
    change anymore, we become unhappy.”

    As a 13 year Microsoft veteran who has now been doing the startup thing for 7 years, honestly, I find the above statement borderline pathetic and certainly insulting. Just because YOU have a short attention span, please don’t assume that ALL technology people need to move on to something every 12-18 months.

    Cheers.

    • http://blog.calbucci.com/ Marcelo Calbucci

      Eric, nowhere I say for people to move on to something new every 12-18 months. That would be the opposite of side of the spectrum of staying on the same job for 15 years. And I’m not sure why you have to attack me assuming I have a short attention span to make a counter argument. 

      I worked at NEC for 4 years, then Microsoft for 7 years and then I did my first startup for 4.5 years. If that’s your definition of short attention span, than we’ll have to agree to disagree on definitions.But more importantly, I used the word “maybe” a dozens of times on this post to make it extra clear this is not for everyone, so I didn’t assume “ALL” anywhere in there. Again, you extrapolated statements and opinions to make them into generalizations I have not used. 

      By the way, congrats on your startup success. You are a role model for many.

      • http://twitter.com/cellartracker Eric LeVine

        Thanks for the response and the kind words.

        Sorry if I overstated my case, but you obviously touched a nerve. I just see so much “short attention span theater” around, so I lashed out at you a bit inappropriately.

        Cheers!

      • http://twitter.com/cellartracker Eric LeVine

        Thanks for the response and the kind words.

        Sorry if I overstated my case, but you obviously touched a nerve. I just see so much “short attention span theater” around, so I lashed out at you a bit inappropriately.

        Cheers!

        • http://blog.calbucci.com/ Marcelo Calbucci

          Yes, I agree and I tweeted exactly about that about a month ago:

          https://twitter.com/#!/calbucci/status/115829759933550592

        • http://blog.calbucci.com/ Marcelo Calbucci

          Yes, I agree and I tweeted exactly about that about a month ago:

          https://twitter.com/#!/calbucci/status/115829759933550592

          • Guest

            Very nice and classy response to a non-apologetic “apology.”

          • Guest

            Very nice and classy response to a non-apologetic “apology.”

          • http://twitter.com/cellartracker Eric LeVine

            Hey there “Guest” who can’t even take the time to post with your real name. I’m sorry if my apology wasn’t apologetic enough to please you.

            As I said, my initial post was inappropriate. I am sorry that I was a jerk to Marcelo. He is in fact clearly a classy and passionate guy. I can claim the latter as well but clearly not the former 100% of the time.

            And I am sorry that you prefer to post anonymous pot-shots…

          • http://twitter.com/cellartracker Eric LeVine

            Hey there “Guest” who can’t even take the time to post with your real name. I’m sorry if my apology wasn’t apologetic enough to please you.

            As I said, my initial post was inappropriate. I am sorry that I was a jerk to Marcelo. He is in fact clearly a classy and passionate guy. I can claim the latter as well but clearly not the former 100% of the time.

            And I am sorry that you prefer to post anonymous pot-shots…

  • Mschwage

    I once believed as you do.  As a matter of fact, I had 7 years of experience at a major University and a graduating senior admonished me regarding my career inertia (as he imagined it)… “My god!  You can’t stay anywhere for more than 2-3 years!  Are you kidding me?”  he told me.  Fast forward another 15 years in my career to Citigroup, one of those large “soul-sucking” companies.  While I lived in the fast lane, groping for the next bump in wages/expertise/what-have-you, there was another breed of human out there.  They were quietly- and happily- working along in their positions and marking their 10, 15, 20 year anniversaries.  Then, retiring at 55 with a load of cash in the bank from their stock options and investments (BTW, I’m not talking about sales staff- more like the mailroom guy).  Granted, many of those with equity in Citi ended up very very sad.  But others with a broad portfolio were less affected.  So I no longer believe as you do.  And I haven’t even begun to talk about all the various opportunities available in different areas of the company, the ability to hop around and try different things.  Big companies offer big complex problems with many ways to get things done, and many needs.

  • Amol Kelkar

    Great advise, Marcelo.. I think one needs to be a little bit crazy to leave a cushy job and walk away from those unvested options.

    I did that a few years back to work for no salary at my first startup, and the breadth of business and technology experience I have gotten since then is way more valuable than the lost $$.