The past few weeks I haven’t written as many updates as I’d hoped. Several factors have conspired to keep me from writing, chief among them a strong feeling of careerism, which I’d like to explore.

When someone is described as a “careerist,” it is uniformly an indictment. This is because people who are conscious enough to employ the term use it as a derogatory one, the unspoken assumption: “I’m wise enough to call someone ‘careerist,’ because I’m not a sucker.” For instance, there’s the famous RibbonFarm post on The Gervais Principle.

I think this oversimplifies. Yes, sacrificing everything for your career (including your family), and worshiping the company you work for are bad things. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with deciding to focus on your career if you understand the alternative and are doing so for a well-defined reason, and you have explored your relationship with your employer.

When I say, “understand the alternative,” I mean understanding that nothing compels you to focus on a promotion. You could become more frugal and focus on family. By “well-defined reason,” I mean that you don’t just want to make more money because then you can get a BMW that will make your buddy jealous. Finally, by saying, “you’ve explored your relationship with your employer,” I mean that if you work for a large company, you understand that your career focus is not something the company will necessarily compensate you for. Your company owes you a biweekly paycheck, and you owe it your best effort. Maybe you have some responsibility towards certain co-workers. But you have no justification to be bitter if you are laid off after going ‘above and beyond.’ If your employer is a friend, or you work for a very small company, your relationship will be understandably different.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to earn a lot of money, assuming you aren’t causing people or the environment harm in the process. But there are also other reasons to work.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I enjoy the puzzles where I work. This is entertainment and brain exercise. I don’t enjoy the stress of working, per se, but I do know that I’m walking a fine line of stress that is causing me to grow as a person without breaking down. As I approach retirement I can pull the trigger if the stress ever gets to be too much.

So, as long as I feel that I’m growing as a person, learning, and doing something exciting, and as long as I haven’t started a family, careerism is ok for me.

And I’m definitely growing. I was stuck in the doldrums for a while. In late 2010, I started to explore increased responsibilities. I became more outspoken. I was working on fun projects. Then through the middle and second half of 2011, I was depressed. Projects were less exciting, I felt constrained and at a dead end, and I was under a lot of personal stress. Now starting a few weeks ago I’ve begun to be even more blunt and outspoken, I’m working on really cool things, and I feel that I’ve begun to really be heard as more than a pure coder. I’m also under more professional stress than ever, and although there are bad days I’m still comfortable seeing how I handle it.

So yes, I am a careerist — at the moment. I am focusing on career and personal advancement. And this is necessarily at the expense of some external interests and hobbies. But that’s a trade I’m comfortable with.

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  1. I’m glad you’re enjoying your intentional choice to push your career forward! I’m not there yet, but I have thought about how I will approach these types of decisions post-FI also. I truly enjoy doing things that make money, whether it is software, home remodeling, cab driver, or even music, when done ethically, earning money brings the satisfaction that you have impacted someone else’s life to the point where they will make that trade with you.

    Enjoy the journey! 🙂

  2. I agree with your statement that as long as you consciously think about how you approach your career and the trade-offs you’re making, then prioritizing your career is not inherently bad.

    It sounds like you are in a position I was in about 5 years ago. My job was fun and challenging, I was advancing in position at a very fast rate, and I was working a ton of hours without regret. I still don’t regret any of that. My situation changes when I had kids, yours may or may not change some day, but it sounds like your are aware enough to stay in tough with your priorities.

    I know I’ve used the term careerist before, so allow me to clarify.

    When I’ve used the term careerist in the past, my definition has been slightly different than yours. I had learned the word in the context of someone that was willing to do *anything* for the purpose of advancing in their career in order to obtain money, power, and prestige. This includes things like throwing people under the bus, taking credit for things unfairly, using double-speak, dressing or speaking in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise, lying, cheating, etc. Maybe my definition is such because I came from a company filled with people that did those things, and had to work twice as hard to succeed as an unwilling participant.

    I’m guessing you don’t do those things, so I wouldn’t call you a careerist (by my definition).

  3. m741

     /  February 17, 2012


    I’m focusing on my career for now. I figure, I have to work for 3-4 years, I might as well go all-out. If I had kids, my priorities would change 100%. While I’m not sure if that’s in my future, if it is, I want to be able to devote as much time to them as possible.

    Definitely ‘careerism’ is a word you can use however you want. There’s that undercurrent of it being bad or cut-throat. I do my best to be honorable and decent in business as in everything, but of course I don’t have enough distance to objectively judge my own behavior.


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