Are we a product of our environment?

I've discussed nature versus nurture before, but last time I was talking about surrounding yourself with like minded people. How being around people that inspire you help bring those attributes out in yourself.


Esao Andrews - The Hiker
The Hiker by Esao Andrews
But what about being surrounded by shit you don't like? Take work for example, most people spend the majority of their lives doing shit that they don't really want to because they need income. Then at the end of the day they go home and complain about it. Most people wouldn't go to their jobs if they had the choice, but since they don't own all of their time they have to trade it for money so they can keep a roof over their head.

Does this environment make us who we are? Even if we don't care about it?


People react to different situations in different ways. If we have particularly difficult jobs that are generally thankless roles (let's say tech support for example, people only call when something has gone wrong) it's an environment that can be somewhat harsh at times to say the least. Some people react to difficult days by having a drink, planning vacations, and maybe some other people will go buy some fancy gadgets to remind themselves why they work.

But then there are people that question the idea of getting up every day to do something that you would never do if you had the choice. These people choose the idea of financial independence over anything else. They decide to buy all of their own time by saving their money so they don't have to do what someone else says anymore. They fast forward their savings to a point that they can be free from this rat race.

Did my environment make me this way before I started working?


In college I studied computer science. I'm not exactly sure why I choose it.... Okay, I lied, I choose it because I wanted to have a robot army. But once I took artificial intelligence and robotics I decided that I had made a mistake, and that none of my classes transferred to anything else... Anyways, I stuck with it because I didn't know what else I wanted to do, and I knew computers would at least make me money. But in all of my classes a common theme was to not re-invent the wheel. Re-use bits of working code and repurpose them for other things, or basically find the simplest solution (hopefully the most elegant simple solution).

So when I was in school did I just interpret the problem was work and that the solution was early retirement? Was this something I was taught all along? Maybe this is why so many early retirement bloggers are in the computer industry?

Let me rewind even earlier


Before I even had my first job at a grocery store I knew I wasn't a big fan of work. Perhaps it was seeing my dad work his ass off and miss my birthday one year when I was pretty young made me realize how much work got in the way of other important things.... Like life. Maybe it was seeing him work so hard that he actually gave himself a heart attack from stress (he's okay by the way). I saw how much work did not make him happy and I didn't want that, maybe my environments have been telling me my whole life that work is not what I really want to do.... I don't know.

Some people have a cozier work environment so they don't feel the need to escape it as quickly as others. I think that many other people just think it's a normal 35 year phase of life so they don't question it. But for some of us - our environment helps us focus on this goal sooner or more aggressively than others.

16 comments:

  1. I totally get what you are saying. I think work is something that many of us find challenging. Personally, I like my job about half the time. Other times, I just want to run for the hills. Having a plan to retire helps me understand that life exists at the end of work. And, it's a life worth working to achieve. However, there are days where I question whether I will make it. Your recent post regarding a job promotion that was given to someone else replayed itself for me last week. I definitely wanted to walk away, but I can't. The good thing is I enjoy most of the people I work with, and I understand this is just one work week out of many. Things will get better. At least, I continue to mentally condition myself to think so. Thanks for the article!

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    1. Sorry to hear that you had to go through the same issue that I did about being passed over for a job promotion. But as you said, you enjoy your coworkers with is a huge thing. I think my coworkers are the only thing that really keep me sane at work sometimes.

      And there's nothing wrong with mentally conditioning yourself to think positively! Even if you just trick yourself into being happier, you are still happier in the end so who cares!

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  2. I posted this week that that Simple Cheap Dad loves his job and our status quo would be him working to his normal early retirement age. We're not sure he'll make it (and he won't need to if we keep living within our means). But he does love his job now and he wants to go into work each day to learn and experiment (he's doing some programming now after an arts degree, so for him it's actually exciting). Last year he didn't have as good of a fit and he was much more susceptible to early retirement talks, or quitting talks with me picking up the slack. How you feel at work makes a big difference.

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    1. CheapMom,

      Enjoy it while you can! That's the best thing about new jobs, it's usually new and you are excited about it (not that your husbands job is new) but if you actually enjoy doing something that you are paid for then that's a great situation to be in.

      -Zee

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  3. Hi Zee,

    It is telling that if you look at a lot of the people seeking FI they are engineers, software engineers or work in finance. Is it because they make enough money in a comfortable job or because the jobs have long periods of stress or dryness?

    Working to retirement age is ingrained in people. I raised the topic with a friend about early retirement. Postulating that we earn enough money that by saving a good chunk we could retire years early. The response was that they would prefer a comfortable retirement rather than one eating cold beans. Fair enough, but saving 5% is probably going to leave them eating cold beans after working for 40 years. Haha. Good luck to them I guess.

    Mr Z

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    1. Mr. Zombie,

      I don't really know why it seems to appear that way. It could also be that people in software are more technically inclined to start a blog perhaps? I'm not sure. For me I know that my individual contribution is not important in the grand scheme of things. In the past I wrote complex code that would crunch numbers and automate reports...... not exactly life changing. Now I work for a company that makes software for clinical trials. It sounds important but honestly if I wasn't there they could find another body to put in my spot and it wouldn't make much difference. I think the futility of my work makes me not care and want to seek something that is important in other ways perhaps.... Maybe traveling and having experiences that change me, or perhaps impact someone else's life in some way. That seems more meaningful to me.

      It's also surprising that people thing that in order to reach early financial independence you have to starve yourself or give up everything else in life.... When in reality you just have to make judgment calls and say, you know what, maybe I'll just drink the crappy coffee they supply at work instead of spending $5 at starbucks or maybe I don't really need that new car or bigger house with an office and an in-law unit.

      -Zee

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  4. I am not a big fan of work. That is why I work so hard now, so I do not have to later. Most people do not like work, hence the name work. If it was fun, they would call it fun...

    No one has ever won the lottery and then went looking for work.

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    1. NoNonsense Landlord,

      I think I've written almost that exact same sentence before. If it wasn't work, it would be called something else.

      I'm working pretty hard now, but I'm not trying to kill myself either. I've worked at horrible startups where I worked out of an apartment, slept in the office and pulled all nighters to get things done. The days of doing things that extreme are over for me, I need some balance, but I'm still not trying to ease off of the gas pedal while I'm at it.

      -Zee

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  5. I think a lot of this is ingrained in us. Graduate high school, go to college, get a job, buy a house, potentially marry, have kids, buy a bigger house, retire at 65. I love reading stories of people that challenge this and quit working and travel when they hit 30. But the sad part is then reading the comments to their stories online. Most times, the comments are filled with hate. I guess it's because they are simply jealous? They are working a job they hate and don't see a way out.

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    1. Jon,

      Yeah, SOOO much of the things in life are just thought of as normal. No one thinks to question the things that they are brought up with. Does it matter if I have dessert before dinner if I eat it all anyways? :)

      I also love the stories of the people that reach financial independence so early. Usually by the time they are quitting their job you can tell they have had a significant change in mindset about not really needing to put up with a lot of the daily grind that they have been doing their whole life up to that point. I hope to reach that day at some point, hopefully the stock market is kind to us!

      -Zee

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  6. Zee, I see from your recent posts how unhappy you really are at your current job. I ask, why don't you look for something else, something in a completely different field even. You are not living paycheque to paycheque, maybe the universe is telling you to take that leap. Of course your goal is not to work at all but might as well try and find something better until then.

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    1. I'm not sure who you are but thank you for this comment, and for obviously reading some of my other posts. I actually had a fair amount to say in response so I just wrote an entire post about why I stay at my current job and why I don't think a career change is right for me now. Perhaps in the future it will be one day but for now I'm going to stick with what I'm doing.

      http://www.work-to-not-work.com/2015/03/the-path-of-least-resistance.html

      Thanks again for reading and suggesting and alternative that might make me happier! Perhaps someday I will take that leap.

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  7. Interesting post, Zee, thanks for sharing.

    At the moment, I'm quite happy with my work and with the company I work for. I have some great friends at work (with whom I socialise regularly), my work is mostly interesting and challenging, occasionally stressful, but that's to be expected.

    People may wonder why I'm saving for FI/early retirement?

    It's because I know that at some point, I may not be so happy with work and I want to plan for it. The happy medium I have now is not going to last, friends and colleagues will leave, business processes will change or I could be made redundant.

    The fact that I'm quite happy does mean that I'm not being extreme with my savings or living frugally. I'm sure if I was unhappy, I would be sacrificing a lot more to bring my goal to FI round a lot quicker.

    All the best to you Zee, as the guy above pointed out, it sounds like you are not happy with your work - I'd best check out your latest post about the path of least resistance!

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    1. Weenie,

      Even if you love your work there's nothing like having a back up plan just in case. I liked my job before, it wasn't all that bad comparatively to previous jobs, but things can change quickly. Sometimes it's politics at work, other times it might be friends moving on to something different and then the office just isn't quite the same anymore. Then there's always the possibility that your company might just have to let people go for some reason and then what do you do.

      But things for me might be changing dramatically soon, I'm waiting on some decisions to be made official at work, and I'm sure after that I will be writing about it more.

      -Zee

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  8. Of course we are a product of our environment! Whether it is work, friends, family, or even the way we engage with the world through the internet, books, and other forms of entertainment and media, what and who we surround ourselves with will impact us greatly. This is why I have worked on weeding out people in my life who do not serve my wellbeing, stopped watching the news and most TV years ago, and focused my attention on making a career for myself that I love. So now I work for myself, give greatly to those who lift support me in positive ways, and I really do love my job. On a side note though, working for yourself also means saving for retirement looks a lot different. I just sat down and figured out what I would need to live semi-comfortably if I retired at 65 and it looks like I need to put away no less than 1 million in order to do this. I would love to see an article on saving for retirement when you own your own business.

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    1. Rags2Riches,

      I guess for me I didn't realize that I was a product of my environment from back when I was 10-12 years old... Or at least I didn't really think that my outlook on work from that age would generally not change over a few decades, that's what I think is the most surprising to me. I just wonder if other people change in this way later in life.

      Actually, I'm sure that happens. I've known people to have a major health issue later in life and immediately they recognize what is really important to them and make changes. Usually working more is not on the top of that list, it's quite frequently "working less" becomes the goal.

      The first thing I would say about working for yourself and saving for retirement is to be serious about it and really make it a priority. I'm not saying save 50% of your income or anything extreme like that (though it doesn't hurt!) But don't have "savers block". Start saving no matter what, even if you don't know what to do with the money.

      Open an IRA or Roth IRA and contribute the maximum to it that you can each year. If you don't know what to invest in then get a very broad index fund with a low management fee. In general the stock market always goes up. Once you get beyond maxing out that account for the year then begin to worry about where to put more money. Since I've never worked for myself I don't know the answers to that but I know there are retirement accounts that you can setup for yourself since you are your own business. I'm sure our friend google will have the answers to that.

      But he most important thing is to be serious about doing it. If you keep thinking, I'll start that later, then you'll lose the most important thing to saving lots of money - Time. Time is by far the most important part of investing money.

      -Zee

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