Sometimes work feels like extortion,

and I think in some ways it technically is.

The company I work for is currently going through a lot of changes. They’re basically adding a whole new section of the company to do engineering work that’s new to them but I was exposed to for a couple years before I came to this company. I’m a controls engineer which is a sub area of electrical engineering. I do electrical drawings and program systems to do mechanical work automatically. The company hired two new people, a salesman with an electrical engineering degree and a mechanical engineer to help get this side of the company rolling and had me be the controls engineer of the first project.

Controls engineers are the conductors to the musical symphony that is the modern industrial world, we need to see the big picture and understand pretty much everything about a system. One of the biggest things I was taken back by was my first solo project I headed being on a job site at a major Airport in Chicago, the feeling of respect and trust in your opinion, it’s all on your shoulders to get everything working properly and guys with decades of experience in their field are looking to you for answers. Even simple projects run into issues.

I smelled trouble at the first sight of the time line we were given for the project. Beyond knowing this is a high stress area of work they’re diving into, they left 1 week in the plan to debug mechanical, electrical and programming issues and we were woefully understaffed with for the most part me and our shop guy helping. The thing about controls programming is you can’t really test much until you get everything in place and start trying to run the machine. I’ve seen machines take months to debug and get working right with multiple people and this first machine had 7 different components that all needed to be programmed separately and debugged to work in concert together and only 1 of those components did we really have experience in. I haven’t had much experience in this area, but more than most of my colleagues. I worked with teams of engineers to complete projects many of whom had decades of experience.

Those two people hired to help jump start this side of the business were fucking ghosts for 95% of the project, not even at the office. I got a passive aggressive email when I told coworkers(small engineering company) that time line was never going to happen and I worked sometimes 12 hour days at least 6 days a week for the past month in the attempt to hit this deadline knowing it still wasn’t going to happen.

The Part that Matters:

I haven’t been working very long but I’ve never worked so hard mentally and felt my stress level go so high for so long. At times I was aware I exuded a near usual calm exterior while I felt my anxiety through the roof for days on end. I had a strange string of bad dreams(I never have bad dreams) during the height of the stress. I had not gone grocery shopping in over a month because I had no time, I started eating McDonalds when I just needed food and ate snacks for meals. I bought some junk food, I even bought soda!- I haven’t bought a case of soda in probably 8 years. I felt like I stopped caring about myself. I’m known as the most laid back guy most of my friends know, which appears to be a common control engineer trait.

I’ve had this opinion for a couple years now that as long as you need a paycheck to get by, you’re a slave to needing that paycheck. I felt like my stress levels would have been substantially reduced had I not needed the work at all, but because I need the paycheck I felt almost a fear for my job had I not done everything in my power to at least get the job near completion by the deadline and show I did what I could. All that anxiety, stress, long nights and weekends worked and I’m likely to not see an extra penny for my work due to the great payment system that is: Salary.

I really do love the company I work at and it’s not all bad, but this experience has been a brutal reminder of how I long for the day when I’m no longer a slave to this system. I didn’t write this looking for any sympathy, I wrote this just as another reason.  If you work hard, are stressed out constantly and don’t really care for your job. Maybe you feel like work is sucking the life out of you. Get your financial life together! There are so many more important things in life than being sucked into a black hole of work. When you’re in that mode of work it makes you spend more carelessly, makes you care less about yourself, time flies by so fast in that mode, time you’ll never get back! Nobody on their deathbed wishes they had worked more.

If any of this hard work turns into cash – you better believe it’s going straight to my early retirement fund to buy my time back.



9 comments on “Slave to the System

  • “I’ve had this opinion for a couple years now that as long as you need a paycheck to get by, you’re a slave to needing that paycheck.”

    Absolutely. While I enjoy my job – I travel frequently to interesting places, have excellent job security, have a high level of autonomy, have great benefits, and enjoy what many would consider a substantial salary – I am anxious to move to the next phase [read retirement] of my life.

    As you note, as long as you require labor income, and cannot live your chosen lifestyle on passive and portfolio income, any many ways you are a slave to the system and the vagaries of life.
    James recently posted…When it Comes to Financing Your Retirement, Think Outside the BoxMy Profile

    • I’d like more people to look at it that way, even having a couple months+ of expenses saved up and the freedom to not worry about how you’ll pay the bills this week is extremely therapeutic for relieving stress. I hear coworkers stressing when my work pushes payday a couple days back because of a holiday! I imagine I’d be nearly care free if I didn’t need the money at all. I think I’d do what I can at work, but I wouldn’t stress over it. I like to help people though, so maybe I still would
      Since college I would frequently get pay checks that I’d sit on for months sometimes because I didn’t need the money. I pissed off some employers doing that and didn’t realize at the time how incredibly common it is for people, even small businesses, to be living paycheck to paycheck, including my parents most of their lives walked a tight rope.

    • Thanks, I’m still trying to get the hang of Twitter and facebook you kids are into these days ;). I tried linking your post on Twitter the other day, not a fan of facebook, and don’t think I did it quit right, should’ve mentioned your handle in the post. Then I remembered I could just click your button on your post to share on twitter or retweet your tweet. I’ll get the hang of it someday lol.

  • I think this post highlights a lot of similar experiences I had recently with work. This resonated with me:

    “…this experience has been a brutal reminder of how I long for the day when I’m no longer a slave to this system”
    Chris Smith recently posted…Choosing the Right ToolMy Profile

    • Just the ability right? Maybe we’d still work but to be able to quit knowing we’re already completely financially independent. Someday we’ll make it 🙂

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