Work isn’t the purpose of life – but the fat cats just don’t get it

A fat cat: I figure the monopoly man with a cigar is a pretty good way to represent the stereotypical business fat cat. The old partner I'm talking abuot doesn't look exactly like this but it'll have to do.

A fat cat: I figure the monopoly man with a cigar is a pretty good way to represent the stereotypical business fat cat. The old partner I’m talking about doesn’t look exactly like this but it’ll have to do.

I recently had a chat with one of our retiring partners at work, and he was asking me what I wanted to achieve as a relatively new partner in the business (I’m 15 months into the role). This was a tricky question from him, as I have found it is best to stay out of his way in the lead up to retirement – if I put one foot out of line (with his view, which isn’t always easy to predict) he will just make my life hard!

What do I actually want out of my career from here onwards?

I thought about his question and wanted to tell the truth, but it would just be too much for him to take. You see, my real answer is that I just want to ensure that I am successful (which pretty much means that I meet reasonable targets for revenue generation and other metrics and don’t have any one complaining about me) and then retire in seven years at age 40. I’m not interested in climbing to the top of the partner tree (e.g. being the partner leading the business or on the group of partners that lead along with the partner in charge). I knew that the bit about retiring in seven years would cause him to flip his lid so I decided to leave that part out and told him everything else instead.

Even though this was the sanitised version, it still confused him somewhat, perhaps because I have been so driven for all of my career up to partner and he was therefore probably hoping that I would say that I wanted to progress further. For me it was always about making partner, and since I’ve achieved that now I’m not ramping up efforts to an extreme level to try to overtake the other existing partners.

I think he was also confused because this particular partner has worked so hard that he has hardly seen his family his entire career, and even with just a few months to go, he still stays in the office until 7pm most nights after arriving at about 7:30am. You see, for him, working hard is a virtue, almost like a badge of honour that you wear. In his mind, the hard work defines you, and this is where our values part ways entirely.

Hard work is not the purpose of life


“Hear ye, hear ye: Work hard like dogs or you’re going to hell!”

Ermine at Simple Living in Suffolk often talks about the “Protestant Work Ethic”, which is a concept that essentially says that working hard is a way of achieving salvation (whatever that means) and the path to a holier life. It therefore follows that hard work is good for the soul, and if you extend this too far, then there is no limit to the benefits that hard work can bring.

Now Ermine himself often rants against this concept, and rightly so in my opinion, because it casts everyone that doesn’t work (or choose to work even harder) in a negative light. In Australia we have the term “dole bludgers”, which is what people on welfare (or “the dole”) are often referred to as. Anyone that doesn’t work (by choice), is therefore referred to as a dole bludger (people don’t usually even check if you are actually receiving the dole, they just assume), a burden on society and therefore something to be reviled rather than revered.

If you were to subscribe to the whole protestant work ethic thing then you would have a lot of trouble reconciling with the idea that it is possible (and acceptable) to retire early, and this is a big contributing factor to why most people don’t even consider the idea. Instead, they choose to work hard until they are 65 (or later), and because they can feel like they are achieving salvation through this hard work, they then don’t need to worry about anything else that they do that might not be viewed in a positive way in the eyes of a higher power.

While the particular partner I am referring to isn’t particularly religious at all, he clearly subscribes to the Protestant Work Ethic view, and wears his hard work like a badge of honour and an example that others should follow. And even though our workplace is changing (to a point where people realise that 70 hour work weeks are not a good way to live), his response is to keep working just as hard in the hope that he can almost shame others into chasing the same things that he has.

As frustrating as it is to see this from him, and as much as he rants about it now that he is nearly at the end, it has made me realise that he and the other fat cats “just don’t get it”.

For him, work is the purpose of life, and if you’re not working hard, and not really busy, then you aren’t living life the way that you were supposed to.

Smartphones and the “always on” email system

"Did you know that instead of using a regular phone, you can use a "smart phone" to get all of your "e-mails" at any time?

Mr Burns (a true fat cat if ever there was one): “Smithers, did you know that instead of using a regular telephone, you can use a “smart phone” to get all of your “e-mails” at any time? Excellent”.

A recent manifestation of his viewpoint was his obsession with the “always connected” smartphone. Now never mind that my technology skills would be about 50 years ahead of his, but when he found out that I didn’t have my mobile phone connected to my work emails when I went on holidays last year he hit the roof. For him, this was sacrilegious, even though he has only had emails on his own smartphone for the last few years anyway!

Up until this point I had personally resisted this idea because when I am on annual leave I find that I am more relaxed and refreshed if I haven’t had to deal with work at all in that time frame. And it’s usually only 1-2 weeks, so it’s not like the world is going to end, or that none of the staff can assist my clients in the interim period. But he pushed and pushed and eventually I gave in, simply because it wasn’t worth the effort of arguing with him. He didn’t seem to see the point that his clients had survived for the bulk of his career without it, or that I actually know 100x more than him about all technology concepts, and all he could see was that I was somehow shirking my responsibilities.

He doesn’t even know why he is working any more

The final piece that is most annoying about this particular partner is that he continues to work so hard, but has no understanding of why he is even doing it any more. He doesn’t live an extreme consumption lifestyle (he’s certainly not frugal, but he’s not extreme either), but his net worth would be measured in 8 figures (that’s over $10m for those of you that don’t know what I mean).

In my view, he has continued to work ridiculously hard, and for no apparent reason. He hasn’t even taught his kids about how to handle money, and they don’t even have any idea of how much money he has! It really does make you wonder what the point of all of that sacrifice was.

Given all of the above, I can only come to the conclusion that he and all of the other old school fat cats just don’t get what life’s all about. Work isn’t a reason to exist, so if you can work hard and then get out to live a fuller life then I think that you’d be mad not to do it.

Have you had a run in with an older “fat cat” that doesn’t know what the point of life is? And how did you handle them?


4 thoughts on “Work isn’t the purpose of life – but the fat cats just don’t get it

  1. Excellent post IA. In my career, I’ve encountered firm partners who were workaholics and didn’t have a life outside of the office. More power to those people if that’s what they really want out of life! But I don’t see my own life going the same way. I always wonder why those people who are always in the office think they are really providing for their family. Financially – sure, but physically and emotionally – not really. They might not have an active role in their kids lives or spend enough time with their spouses (sad how your firm partner hasn’t bothered to teach his own kids about money). Are they running from something? Does their home life suck so bad they hide from their family? Whatever the case may be, I don’t feel sorry for them one bit. I don’t like when their mentality falls on the employees to do the same. People can call us millennials what they want, but the truth is we do like to work hard at things that are important to us. In regards to how to handle these people, I prefer to just nod and agree with them most of the time. No one will come out a winner in one of those arguments.

    • I agree Jeff, his home life can’t have been amazing since he would have never been there! His wife made a brief speech at a small farewell function for him recently and she practically said as much, so I would say that she just about raised their three kids without him.

      I only found out recently that he hasn’t taught his kids about money, and it hasn’t dawned on him that it may well be too late. They are old enough that they have already formed their (probably bad) money habits, so they will probably just end up blowing the family fortune anyway. So what will all of that hard work have been for?! Nothing!

  2. Why is he on you all the time? Are you his protege?

    There are certain personality types (e.g. ENTJ) that love working and thrive on being full throttle. My ex bosses (soon to be clients!) are like this too but are much younger and don’t expect everyone to be like them personality wise. Which makes it more pleasant to be with them for several hours a day, as a non-wannabe workaholic.

    • I may give the impression that he’s always on my back, but he’s pretty much on everyone’s back actually! It’s almost like he feels he needs to tell everyone what he thinks towards the end.
      He is certainly a personality that thrives on being on full throttle all of the time, and while that has worked well for him (just look at his bank account!), it’s not something that the rest of us see as conducive to living a meaningful life. He obviously disagrees, which is probably part of the problem!
      I’m not really his protege, although I was probably one of his favourites as I was coming up through the ranks.

      Your ex bosses sound like they would be better to work with – it’s fine if someone wants to work really hard, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should have to work as hard as them!

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