I have been a rising star in every job I have ever held. Through 3 different fields over 15 years, my career has moved ever upwards. But I sometimes wonder, at what point will my career trajectory change? When will I begin to be viewed as too old to be the rising star? When will my career begin to decline?
Most People Expect Their Professional Decline Too Late
Credit where it is due, this post was inspired by a recent article in the Atlantic. In essence, the topic was that most people believe they will remain at the pinnacle of their profession for longer than they actually will. At a certain point, everyone faces their professional decline. At some point our age, while bringing experience, loses out to the hunger and energy of youth.
I Have Halted My Professional Ascent, But Not Yet Started My Decline
It is a hard pill to swallow that you will someday no longer be that rising star. I wrote recently about not pursuing the next rung up on the executive ladder. I have grown weary of taking on more responsibility with each new job. Currently I enjoy work-life balance and moving further up the ranks would lose me that benefit. But choosing to stay in my current position is different from a career decline.
As I hinted in that post I have a lot of room for additional pay increases. I am also sitting in a role at the absolute pinnacle of an individual contributor field. Many challenges will present themselves in this position. I am in essence sitting at the base of the final ascent to a peak. Currently, that is my last planned peak, but that may not be true. I have yet to begin a career descent or even begin to think about one.
I Likely Will Be The Last To Know When My Career Decline Begins
But that is really the point of the article. Your career descent will likely start before you know it. While I doubt it will happen to me in the next year or 2, it is inevitable. Likely when it happens I will be the last to know. I’ll almost certainly be the last to accept it.
What Happens When Your Career Declines?
What happens when your career begins to decline you might ask? Well, the obvious is you don’t get offers for better jobs. I am no longer looking for the next job so that’s less of an issue.
More of a concern is pay raises stop coming as frequently. It’s easy after 15 years of continuous pay raises to assume they will continue forever. Most engineers, scientists and other white collar workers receive continuous raises throughout the beginning part of their career. But at some point, your pay will peak with respect to inflation, eventually perhaps even declining.
A Declining Career Is the Reason To Live Below Your Means
We talk a lot in the personal finance world about living below your means. If there is ever a good reason to do so, the decline of your career is it. The average person spends money based on future expected pay increases. These are the people that ultimately have issues when the raises suddenly stop coming. That endpoint is inevitable. It’s a lot easier to adjust to a pay decrease if you don’t have to reduce your lifestyle as a result.
Job Security Later in Your Career, Or Lack Thereof
The concerns don’t end with pay plateaus or declines. The reality is the older you get the more expensive you become versus your experience. Experience is important and employers pay for it. But at some point an extra year of experience does not provide enough marginal benefit. Someone who has been an expert in their field for ten years is probably not far from the capability of someone who has done a job for 20 years. They might even surpass the capability of the senior individual if decline has set in. Yet almost certainly the 20-year seniority individual will be paid more.
Your Seniority Pay As a Liability
That dollar per experience eventually becomes a liability. Employers are not supposed to lay off based on age. But you better believe they lay off based on employee pay versus output. There are whole industries where after about 50 your days are considered numbered. Tech is often cited as one of these industries.
Even If Your Company Doesn’t Target Older Employees, What Happens With a Company Change?
Thankfully I don’t work in an industry or for a company that lets older people out to pasture often. But I also recognize should my position ever become untenable at my current company things are not all roses. The older I get the harder it will be to find another position at a different company of similar pay. Either I will be viewed as too expensive or overqualified. The simple reality is the older you get the fewer job options you have and the more at risk your current position is.
Career Decline Is The Best Reason To Pursue Financial Independence
Which really supports the other important topic we so often harp on, Financial Independence. I have been very open over the years that I do not want to retire until 55. If I were of a different mind I might even want to work until 65.
In reality, not all individuals get to decide when their career is done. Health, your employer, or any number of other things can decide for you. I might not even make it to 55. Financial Independence is a safety valve in case your plans don’t work out. If you have it when the axe falls you can walk away. When you don’t you are left scrambling for whatever table scraps are still available to you.
Always Good To Have Options In Case of Career Decline
Although the future is still unwritten I feel pretty safe to say that I have yet to hit peak career pay. But if I am wrong, it is good to know I have options.
Have you thought about your inevitable career decline? Have you put in place any contingencies?