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jonathanconway

When to take time off

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Hi everyone. I want to ask for any career and life advice you might want to offer.

For the past 10 years or so I have been working as a software developer for various companies. During this time, I have generally focussed on maximising income and minimising expenses, in order to save as much money as possible.

My ultimate goal is to have enough money that I can quit full-time work, live very cheaply and minimally, and spend my time on creative projects that don't necessarily pay off in monetary terms, but would be hugely enjoyable and give me a lot of life satisfaction. Essentially, projects that I can die feeling happy and proud about.

These projects include musical work (I want to compose a symphony), technological experimentation (involving software, sensors, smartphones, decentralised systems, etc) and social design experiments (designing various kinds of structured communities, organisations, etc and finding ways to try them out).

I don't necessarily dislike my current job as a software developer. I enjoy the creative/problem-solving challenges, the people are nice and easy to get on with, the pay is excellent, and there's a sense of progress and forward movement as new technologies and frameworks keep being born. (Reactive programming is fascinating!) At the same time, it can be frustrating having all my creative energy confined to a relatively narrow set of concerns that benefit my clients, in exchange for a fee.

The tricky thing is - when do I jump off the conveyor belt of full-time regular work?

On the one hand, I only have a finite amount of time left to live. I assume I'll live until 70-80, so that's about another 50 years, which I suppose is a fair amount of time. But still.

On the other hand, I'm blessed to have such an awesome job and career in software development, and I don't want to totally lose that. I also don't want to risk running out of money for some unforeseen reason, and then be forced to go back into work after a long break, and perhaps not be ready for it.

Have any of you faced similar decision-points in life? Do you have any words of advice?

Many thanks in advance!

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Two thoughts occur:

1. This is a matter for you and a financial planner, who could tell you, e.g. how much to save in order to have a certain amount in a certain number of years, assuming plausible portfolio growth for, or what your expenses are likely to be assuming a plausible inflation rate. Those aren't the only questions a planner could answer.

2. If you have a good career going and your employers or clients value you, you might cut back to part-time and use the hours gained to work on your other projects. Another possibility is to spin down to a more routine and undemanding job, part-time or full, to have time and energy for your other projects.

Let us know how this turns out.

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You asked for advice, here is mine:

You're not in the right career. If you were doing something you truly loved and were passionate about, you'd not be thinking about when to quit. You need to find work that significantly challenges you, work which matters to your life on a fundamental level.

The goals you have for "after" all seem to involve a degree of creativity, discovery and experimentation. It also sounds like you desire the autonomy to pursue your own interests. I'm deducing you're in your early 30's. It is possible by the time you get to "after", your ability to enjoy your interests will have been blunted. So start on it now.

Let us know.

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18 hours ago, jonathanconway said:

The tricky thing is - when do I jump off the conveyor belt of full-time regular work?

I do it every few years. Take a year or two sabbatical now and then. Saving enough money for permanent retirement is a very long-term prospect.

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Why can't you do both? Software can't be taking up all of your time. Why not do other things after you're finished with the regular job? Why not keep your full time job, and do the other interests part time, at least for now?

You may find out you're not really all that interested in writing symphonies with the majority of your time. You may find out a solid stream of income is worth more to you than you'd thought. Setting company goals is someone's full time job somewhere, and you might discover you don't really like having that responsibility, even while still appreciating the goals/purpose being set.

You'll wind up discovering loads of facets to your other interests you didn't even know existed, along with how you like those facets, and the interests will inevitably become different things to you entirely than how you think about them now - maybe better, maybe worse. Fidgeting with those interests part time can show you those facets without you needing to devote time (and possible heartache) to worrying about a livelihood.

In my opinion, a life "plunge" is only good when you have some realistic idea of a good outcome, whatever that means to you. But, that's from a guy who has never done a plunge and never intends to. I like the try-before-you-buy method. But definitely try. What's the point of living if you don't do the living? If you think a plunge is for you, do it. There's truth to "if it don't kill you..."

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On 1/28/2018 at 12:49 AM, jonathanconway said:

The tricky thing is - when do I jump off the conveyor belt of full-time regular work?

Any time you feel like it. Tell your boss about this, see what he thinks about reducing your work hours (and letting you work from home on some days).

You don't have to be working full time to earn a living as a developer. You can do it 20 hours a week...without even driving into work most of the time.

Edited by Nicky

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