One of the most important pieces of advice I could dole out on this site is this:
Don’t ever take a job just for the money
I was a little surprised to discover that despite having told almost every conceivable work related story I know on this blog, somehow my “Golden Handcuffs” story apparently hadn’t made the cut. That ends today.
It was approximately 1997, I was 29 years old, and I was working for a 40+ person firm doing decent work but nothing particularly inspiring. My salary at the time was around $28,000 a year – not great but not terrible either compared to my other architect buddies. I drove by an office building one day and thought it looked really nice so like any other respectable architect, I went back at night and crept around the outside looking in the windows. Turns out it was an architect’s office and I thought to myself, “looks pretty good, they must be good architects!”
They weren’t but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
This was at a time early in my career (I was working at my second architectural job) and I was bored at my current job so I thought I would quit my job and come work for this apparently awesome architectural firm (I will refer to them as “cool building firm”). The economy was going great in 1997 and finding a job was not particularly difficult. Despite my obvious talents, the only requirement needed to find a job was “breathing”. So I sent in my resume, had an interview, and 2 weeks later (after my night-time creeping around) I was now an employee at “cool building firm.” I did do a little research on what they did and it seemed slightly interesting … but when they offered me a raise of 36% over my old salary I said yes on the spot.
I spent 4 months at “cool building firm” and it’s 4 months of my life I will never get back. I rarely talk about it and it has never EVER graced my resume. As far as anyone knows, I was in lock-up for those 4 months … it certainly felt like that at the time. There were 3 partners in the Dallas office and from what I pieced together, they all received their salaries based on the profit that each job they sold earned. It was an “eat what you kill” sort of arrangement and the partner frequently competed against one another to get the same project. At the same time, if a partner didn’t need you to work on a project, you sat around doing nothing until they did. They didn’t want you to drain any of their profits with your needless hourly rate siphoning off profit margin simply because you didn’t have anything to do. I found this mentality frustrating and spent an unreasonable amount of time reading books that I had brought in from home to occupy my time.
The beginning of the end happened when one of the partners asked me to design a prototype and 3D model of a new project type … “and don’t spend more than 40 hours on it.” So that’s what I did … and 40 hours later, I didn’t have anything to do. So I went to the other partners asking for work and I was told that they didn’t have anything for me.
Bob: “Well, what should I do?”
Partner: “Read a book, I don’t care. I’ll let you know when I need something from you.”
Well, I was sick of reading books so I went back to my prototype and continued to develop it … until the partner who told me not to spend more than 40 hours on it saw me spending more than 40 hours on it. So she called me out – loudly – in front of the entire office to come into her office immediately! And by office, I mean 3-sided space on the other side of the wall … it was pretty much wide open for all to hear what was going on. She chewed me out for a few minutes – maybe more than a few minutes, I don’t know … I stopped listening. When she was done, it went a little like this:
Partner: “Well? What do you have to say for yourself??”
Bob: “I quit”
Partner: [shocked looked on face] “What?”
Bob: “I quit. I am not going to work here. You have my two weeks notice as of this moment.”
Partner: “You’ve only been here for a few months … you certainly haven’t given it much time.”
Bob: “I see how this place is run … what is here for me? Partner? I don’t want your job so why would I want to stay and keep my job?”
So I turned, walked out of the partners office, and went back to my desk … with every set of eyeballs in the place boring into me. The guy I sat next to whispered over the partition “they’ll be over here in less than 5 minutes telling you to pack your things and leave.”
Five minutes came and went. The end of the day came and went. They never did ask me to leave but they didn’t ask me to do any work either. So I sat there for two weeks reading my books, basically doing nothing. At one point, one of the other partners came over and asked if I would model an airplane he was currently building as a hobby. I politely told him “No, but if you have some work for me, I will gladly do it.” He didn’t, so I went back to reading my book.
When I left, the new job I had accepted paid me $32,500 – $5,500 less than what I was making at “cool building” firm … but $4,500 more than I was making just 4 months earlier. I learned a lesson at that time of my life that has stuck with me for the last 16 years … two lessons actually.
1. Never take a job just for the money. In the end, your paycheck will be your paycheck and you’ll be left doing a job that makes you miserable.
2. Reward loyalty. I had a hard time processing the fact that every time I changed jobs I always received a pretty nice pay raise … it didn’t take long to realize that changing jobs equaled more money. The people who stayed behind and did the work didn’t see the same increases in their salary as those that left and that’s simply not right. If I’m the boss and you are an employee worth keeping around, I am going to pay you what it would cost me to replace you. I just wish more bosses thought this way.
I hope that I haven’t bored you with this story, I happen to think it’s a good one with an extremely valuable lesson in it. If you are lucky enough to learn this lesson without actually having to personally experience it, good for you.