Author Topic: How ambitious should I be with my career?  (Read 3921 times)

Millennialworkerbee

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How ambitious should I be with my career?
« on: October 04, 2017, 09:31:17 AM »
Hi all, love reading all the different perspectives on this forum and I'd love some thoughts from some like-minded, more "seasoned" Mustachians ;)

A little bit about me: I'm in my mid 20s, happily married with  one young son and hopefully a few more to come! I work at a big financial services company in IT Project Management. Comparatively speaking, we do great for our age and make around 130k a year combined; everything we'd need to live a very comfortable life while also having a pretty high savings rate. I see lots of promotions down the line for me if I stick in this path.

Problem is, I really dislike my job. I'm very bored (lots of slow times) and project management in general just isn't my thing. Most days I'm ok with "coasting" at work, collecting a good salary, and content with the fact that I'll never be a big shot as far as work goes. Other days, I feel like I should "chase my dream" and go back to school for a real interest of mine (data analytics) and put lots more effort into my career.

Ultimately, I think our #1 goal is a level of FI that could allow us to both work part time (maybe save for retirement completely & then just work to cover living expenses? TBD on those details)

I'm looking for other Type A "high potential" folks who have decided to coast rather than put lots of effort at work (and risk burning out). I'm hoping there are others out there that struggle with this??

ysette9

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2017, 09:38:25 AM »
I am curious how much your perspective on career and FIRE changed, or not, after your kid came. That was a fairly shifting event for us two high achievers.

Millennialworkerbee

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2017, 09:47:43 AM »
That's a good question. I don't think my perspective has really changed much- I've always enjoyed a mental challenge (which is why I wanted to go back to work after my son was born) but I've also always been interested in FI. My husbands view has dramatically changed (in a good way, we are now very closely aligned in our long term goals and he is becoming much more frugal woohoo!)

catccc

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2017, 09:54:11 AM »
I think I might have a perspective worth considering?  I'm 38 now.  Early in my career I was viewed as having a ton of potential.  I was being asked to do work beyond my years of experience, getting promoted ahead of those who had seniority over me; my superiors pretty much thought I was a superstar.  But it only took a few years of that for me to realize that while I liked my job, I didn't want work to be my main purpose in life.  So even before kids, I was working towards FIRE in some ways, even though I didn't know that is what it was called.  Adding kids (now 6 and 8) to my life has only fueled that fire.

I still enjoy my work, but I am decidedly coasting until FI, which is possibly attainable in the next couple years, before I am 40.

I look at what my boss is doing and what my boss's boss is doing, and I'm very glad I'm in coasting mode. My career goals right now center around getting my job done while maintaining balance and freedom.  It's working well for me.  Best of luck with whatever you decide!

Cwadda

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2017, 10:04:10 AM »
PTF!

birdiegirl

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #5 on: October 04, 2017, 10:23:43 AM »
I've been coasting for the last couple years and it worked well for quite awhile.  The problem I've discovered after 3 years in my current role (6 years in my dept)  is that now I'm getting bored, which is starting to cause my performance to suffer.  My work is becoming very routine, not necessarily the same work everyday, but I'm always dealing with the same the kind of issues/problems. 

It's fine to not be super ambitious and chasing promotions but my advice would be to make sure you are in a situation where you are still challenged and won't become stagnant.   

wordnerd

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #6 on: October 04, 2017, 10:28:36 AM »
I'm a few years ahead of you (30 now) and wish I could go back and be less ambitious. That ambition really only resulted in my work-life being a lot more stressful for the past couple of years (since I got back from maternity leave) with compensation to make up for it.  I'm now about to FIRE (May, fingers crossed) and am trying to coast, though it doesn't come naturally to me. I think you have it right. Enjoy your life; don't go for the promotions.

Laura33

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #7 on: October 04, 2017, 11:15:29 AM »
I've been coasting for the last couple years and it worked well for quite awhile.  The problem I've discovered after 3 years in my current role (6 years in my dept)  is that now I'm getting bored, which is starting to cause my performance to suffer.  My work is becoming very routine, not necessarily the same work everyday, but I'm always dealing with the same the kind of issues/problems. 

It's fine to not be super ambitious and chasing promotions but my advice would be to make sure you are in a situation where you are still challenged and won't become stagnant.

This.  There is a difference between "not super ambitious" and "stagnating"; your job is to find the happy place between the two. 

FWIW, if you are mid-20s and already bored and convinced that your current role isn't suited for you, then you are already on the "stagnating" side of the equation, and your dissatisfaction will only get worse.  If you were maybe a year or two out, it might be worthwhile to see it through, but this early in your journey?  Oh, hell no.  Why make yourself miserable 40-50 hrs/week, in the hope that in 10-15 years you'll have time for happiness again?  This is the time in your career to take a chance on something different, before you're locked in and feel like you don't have a choice because now it's "just" X more years to RE.*

But that doesn't mean you have to go to the other extreme and chase every available promotion and work 80 hrs/week, either.  Focus on what feels right to you, for right now.  I don't know anything about your particular field, but the area you are interested in sounds like it has the ability to come with a reasonable salary.  So why not make a plan to go to school now (taking advantage of your downtime at work to study), and then look for a different job that is sufficiently challenging and yet doesn't require an all-consuming commitment?  Heck, if your job offers tuition reimbursement, you might even be able to get them to pay for it! 

And if that new job/field doesn't work out, then try something else.  There are many, many opportunities out there for people who are smart and willing to work hard -- even if they're not willing to do it 80 hrs/week.  You get what you settle for.

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Nick_Miller

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #8 on: October 04, 2017, 11:36:48 AM »
I wouldn't quite say that I am "coasting" but once you focus on the thought "people aren't meant to spend 50 hours a week in an office typing on a computer and making phone calls," it's hard to unring that bell. At least it has been for me. I'm really questioning the whole idea of defining ourselves by our work, but it's pretty ingrained in Americans, especially middle-aged men.

I just try to push through. I'm too old to devote $ and time into a new education.

At least you're younger. If your current path is going to be miserable for years, I'd find something else to do.


ysette9

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #9 on: October 04, 2017, 12:17:59 PM »
Early on in my career I had a conversation with myself where I had to choose between actively pursuing career development or taking a more relaxed track and instead focus on having fun in my personal life. In school I had always been go-go-go out of fear of not being good enough, competition, internal drive, Iím not sure what. I ended up deciding to stick with that achievement mode in my career as well, partially so I was not bored. I figured to myself I could always choose to dial it back if it wasnít working for me.

I got a lot of satisfaction out of the roles I had and was able to make good progress with promotions and fun opportunities. Once my kiddo came a combo of extremes sleep deprivation and love of my family made my career satisfaction seem paler in comparison. It is not that I donít e joy my work, it just doesnít hold the same relative attraction as it did pre-kid.

Iím in a bit of a funk right now with my career. I am on maternity leave and type this on my phone with a baby snoozing on my chest. And yet I also pursued the open job postings and emailed my boss about a stretch opportunity earlier this morning. My personal balance I have achieved is this: i want to stay interested. This means I end up switching roles every two years or so to learn something new. I also am unwilling to work extra hours or sacrifice my personal life for work. So, I end up gravitating to whatever is a good fit and hopefully having some fun in the process. At this point I have built up the reputation and experience to be choosy, and we have enough of a net worth for me to not be as stressed about having a job, any job, just to pay the bills. I want to keep  my job because we are not FIRE, but that confidence in my own abilities and out financial position allows me to wait for the right thing.

Iíd advise you to not settle for being bored, but I donít think that means you have to throw everything away and go back to school. Can you start first by looking for a new and adjacent role? Try that on for size, repeat if necessary. Take on more of an attitude of entitlement, if that isnít too charged of a word, and look for something that fits your interests and personal life. If you are willing to throw it all away and change careers entirely, you can afford to apply to some stretch or wild positions just to see what happens. Also, I think our generation values the work/life balance more and is more willing to demand that work doesnít spill over into family time. Do us all a favor and stand up for those boundaries because it makes it better for everyone else. If we all insist on a 40-hour workweek then employers will have to comply at some point.

Bicycle_B

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #10 on: October 04, 2017, 12:28:43 PM »
Not a Type A here, but have worked with many, and friendships with some... 20+ years workplace experience.  I have seen very smart talented people earn and thrive in part time high profile roles, so it's possible.  It just isn't automatic or common, so use your ability and your time to look for and work toward such roles.

I am struck that you are both bored, and dreaming of part time work.  Would it be ok if you just worked the 15-20 hours needed to run a successful project, and the rest of the time you were out of the office on a surfboard or something?  Perhaps you should establish yourself as a successful IT project manager consultant who only works in person when needed - get a $100k results-oriented contract and manage the hours as necessary.  Perhaps until then, seek jobs/roles with a high latitude for "working remotely", then work 20 hours as needed and be "telecommuting" the rest of the time?

Alternately, study data analytics during your downtime at work.  Good luck in any case!

Millennialworkerbee

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #11 on: October 04, 2017, 12:46:04 PM »
Thanks for the awesome responses! Y'all are right, there is totally a middle ground and I need to investigate it. I guess it's just human tendency to think in two extremes (at least it is for a mathy person like me).

It's not that I hate project management, I just don't love it. Those that work in corporate America or know motivational speakers can relate, I'm being brainwashed at work that I should find my life's passion in my career. My life's passion is my family! I just know that I also enjoy the mental stimulation of work too, the analytical side of my loves having problems to solve.

mm1970

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #12 on: October 04, 2017, 12:57:00 PM »
Hi all, love reading all the different perspectives on this forum and I'd love some thoughts from some like-minded, more "seasoned" Mustachians ;)

A little bit about me: I'm in my mid 20s, happily married with  one young son and hopefully a few more to come! I work at a big financial services company in IT Project Management. Comparatively speaking, we do great for our age and make around 130k a year combined; everything we'd need to live a very comfortable life while also having a pretty high savings rate. I see lots of promotions down the line for me if I stick in this path.

Problem is, I really dislike my job. I'm very bored (lots of slow times) and project management in general just isn't my thing. Most days I'm ok with "coasting" at work, collecting a good salary, and content with the fact that I'll never be a big shot as far as work goes. Other days, I feel like I should "chase my dream" and go back to school for a real interest of mine (data analytics) and put lots more effort into my career.

Ultimately, I think our #1 goal is a level of FI that could allow us to both work part time (maybe save for retirement completely & then just work to cover living expenses? TBD on those details)

I'm looking for other Type A "high potential" folks who have decided to coast rather than put lots of effort at work (and risk burning out). I'm hoping there are others out there that struggle with this??

So, I've always been a high-achieving type-A person.  The major times in my life where I've coasted?  When my kids were babies/ toddlers.  Those years are exhausting.  And even when the kids are in school, you have phases when you are trucking them to baseball and swimming, and you just don't have the energy to do all that and "climb the ladder".

So, I get it.

But I'm mid 40s not mid 20s.  I also happen to have a job that is half data analytics and analysis (the part I like) and half project management (the part I don't, but appear to be good at.  Or at least, better at than the PhDs in my office).  If *I* were in my mid-20s, I would definitely work towards a more fulfilling career.  My 25-year career has been a series of gradual changes, not big changes (it's how I roll).  It's also how I keep the job interesting.  Sucky boss?  Lateral transfer.  Opportunity for managing?  Take it, but only if it's a "40-45 hr/week" job not a "55 hr/wk" job.

That doesn't mean you have to do it right now.  You can coast for awhile and then make the  switch.  Your career life can be long (if you want it to be).  You can gradually work into that area.  It's what I did.  I just wish I had the energy to take a couple of classes to advance my data analytics skills with programming.

You are also young.  I had my kids late (35 and 42), so I coasted well into my career. I have friends who had their kids earlier.  So they were putting some fire into their careers in their 40s and 50s, instead of when they were younger.

For the record, it happens to both men and women.  My husband has phases where he'd MUCH rather leave early and hang with the kids, too.
« Last Edit: October 04, 2017, 01:02:46 PM by mm1970 »

Jouer

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #13 on: October 04, 2017, 01:21:54 PM »
Focusing here on the back to school question.

If you work in IT (assume you have some coding skills) and have a mathy brain, you shouldn't need to go back to school for data analytics. Grab some public data, learn data visualization through Tableau public (free) and youtube videos. Take a coursica course in statistics, data mining, or machine learning. Learn R or Python using a combination of free courses and online communities. Once you are good enough at it, enter some Kaggle competitions. Blog about your work - that will be your resume.




Rachel_the_Lark

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #14 on: October 04, 2017, 06:11:27 PM »
Focusing here on the back to school question.

If you work in IT (assume you have some coding skills) and have a mathy brain, you shouldn't need to go back to school for data analytics. Grab some public data, learn data visualization through Tableau public (free) and youtube videos. Take a coursica course in statistics, data mining, or machine learning. Learn R or Python using a combination of free courses and online communities. Once you are good enough at it, enter some Kaggle competitions. Blog about your work - that will be your resume.

Totally agree here....and even if you don't currently code, you can narrow the scope a bit....learn one of the big ones like Python and then expand into the analytical buzzwords.

Gone_Hiking

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #15 on: October 04, 2017, 10:49:50 PM »
Being ambitious and getting a promotion after promotion looks like a great career path.  And yes, more money comes in the more one earns the more one can save.  Others here already addressed the level of effort that is sometimes required: working extra hours, sacrificing family and one's own time.  Another thing to consider is this:  people who rise to top usually don't stay there for long.  High earners in a given profession are at higher risk of being laid off or fired. Bouncing back can be more challenging for them because they aren't always willing to take a lower-level position and higher-level positions are rarer than lower-level ones.

In your situation, seems to me that going for promotions might not cure your boredom. You have mentioned that project management is not your thing.  If that's the case, expanding your technical skills will give you the higher salary without going for the people leadership thing, and you would be able to prevent being bored by always learning something new while you become more valuable without becoming more prone to a potential job loss.

Playing with Fire UK

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #16 on: October 05, 2017, 01:47:25 AM »
I think I might have a perspective worth considering?  I'm 38 now.  Early in my career I was viewed as having a ton of potential.  I was being asked to do work beyond my years of experience, getting promoted ahead of those who had seniority over me; my superiors pretty much thought I was a superstar.  But it only took a few years of that for me to realize that while I liked my job, I didn't want work to be my main purpose in life.  

Apart from the kids, this could have been me. I've also gone through a number of phases where my managers have made work actively unpleasant. I've worked on designing my work so that it is interesting for me right now and for the next five years, rather than setting me up for promotion in 10 (when I hope not to be around).

I've felt a weird gender pressure that I found hard to articulate for a long time. As if, because I had the ability to be an MD in my 40's, I had an obligation to the sisterhood to do it, even if it wasn't what I actually wanted. I've now rephrased that, in that I'm grateful to all the amazing people who made it possible for me to be able to choose to climb the career ladder, or decide not to. I've chosen not too.

Linea_Norway

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #17 on: October 05, 2017, 03:06:48 AM »
It's not that I hate project management, I just don't love it. Those that work in corporate America or know motivational speakers can relate, I'm being brainwashed at work that I should find my life's passion in my career. My life's passion is my family! I just know that I also enjoy the mental stimulation of work too, the analytical side of my loves having problems to solve.

I think many people do work that is not their passion. Many work to live and not the other way around. And we strive to have work that is inspirational enough to keep doing and that pays alright. But passion is a big word. We have passion for the things we do in our spare time.

EconDiva

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #18 on: October 05, 2017, 09:17:34 AM »
I think I might have a perspective worth considering?  I'm 38 now.  Early in my career I was viewed as having a ton of potential.  I was being asked to do work beyond my years of experience, getting promoted ahead of those who had seniority over me; my superiors pretty much thought I was a superstar.  But it only took a few years of that for me to realize that while I liked my job, I didn't want work to be my main purpose in life.  So even before kids, I was working towards FIRE in some ways, even though I didn't know that is what it was called.  Adding kids (now 6 and 8) to my life has only fueled that fire.

I still enjoy my work, but I am decidedly coasting until FI, which is possibly attainable in the next couple years, before I am 40.

I look at what my boss is doing and what my boss's boss is doing, and I'm very glad I'm in coasting mode. My career goals right now center around getting my job done while maintaining balance and freedom.  It's working well for me.  Best of luck with whatever you decide!

This is so me. 

And OP, I also have a thread about this same issue:
https://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/ask-a-mustachian/what-if-you-don't-want-to-climb-the-ladder/

Maenad

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #19 on: October 05, 2017, 09:58:20 AM »
DH and I went through this same philosophical conundrum when we got out of college (both engineering degrees, tail end of Gen X). What we saw was that the big money came from going into management, but then your hours skyrocketed, and neither one of us was into that. So, we decided to work hard while we were at work, but keep it at 40-45 hours a week, barring actual emergencies. And if the emergencies were more like the normal state of affairs, find a new job where that isn't the case.

We got a lot of flak about not being ambitious when we were young. A lot of negative talk about how our careers would be limited if we only worked 40 hours a week, etc. It all sounded kind of fake and peer-pressure-y. We figured that if it hampered our careers, we'd adjust as needed.

20 years later, we're both in principal-level engineer positions. We've advanced a little farther than optimal, since the largest number of jobs in our profession is one level down, but we also have years of living expenses saved, so taking a longer time to find a job isn't a concern.

You can find your own middle ground, and while there are eventually points of no return in your career, they take a while to show up. You can be a little ambitious, then stop and assess if you want to move on or remain. And have FU money ready, so your employer can't bully you into taking on more than you want.

Schaefer Light

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #20 on: October 05, 2017, 10:40:24 AM »
FWIW, if you are mid-20s and already bored and convinced that your current role isn't suited for you, then you are already on the "stagnating" side of the equation, and your dissatisfaction will only get worse.  If you were maybe a year or two out, it might be worthwhile to see it through, but this early in your journey?  Oh, hell no.  Why make yourself miserable 40-50 hrs/week, in the hope that in 10-15 years you'll have time for happiness again?  This is the time in your career to take a chance on something different, before you're locked in and feel like you don't have a choice because now it's "just" X more years to RE.*

This is excellent advice.  When I was younger, I knew deep down that I wasn't on a career track that I was likely to enjoy.  I justified it because of the pay.  Now I'm in a position where I feel stuck because I make a high salary and can see myself retiring in about 7 years if I stay on this track.  It's not a fun place to be if you're absolutely miserable for the 40-50 hours a week you're at work.  The worst part is that it will likely impact your personal life, too.  I managed to keep one from impacting the other for a long time, but it eventually caught up to me. 

Now I'm finally determined to do something about it.  Even if it does delay my retirement.

Gondolin

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #21 on: October 05, 2017, 10:47:37 AM »
Ptf.

Oh and sorry Schaefer! I didn't mean to hijack your other thread with my quarter life crisis rant.

Schaefer Light

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #22 on: October 05, 2017, 10:51:27 AM »
Oh and sorry Schaefer! I didn't mean to hijack your other thread with my quarter life crisis rant.

No problem.  I didn't mind.  Your concerns were in the same ballpark as mine.

skekses

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #23 on: October 05, 2017, 11:56:16 AM »
I would encourage you to look at job postings in the profession of your interest and see what qualifications businesses want in a candidate. If you can find a way to obtain those qualifications without having to return to school (see Jouer's suggestions), then you can prepare for your switch while still remaining employed and eventually interview from a position of strength. Having project management experience can only help you.

Laura33

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #24 on: October 05, 2017, 12:52:40 PM »
FWIW, if you are mid-20s and already bored and convinced that your current role isn't suited for you, then you are already on the "stagnating" side of the equation, and your dissatisfaction will only get worse.  If you were maybe a year or two out, it might be worthwhile to see it through, but this early in your journey?  Oh, hell no.  Why make yourself miserable 40-50 hrs/week, in the hope that in 10-15 years you'll have time for happiness again?  This is the time in your career to take a chance on something different, before you're locked in and feel like you don't have a choice because now it's "just" X more years to RE.*

This is excellent advice.  When I was younger, I knew deep down that I wasn't on a career track that I was likely to enjoy.  I justified it because of the pay.  Now I'm in a position where I feel stuck because I make a high salary and can see myself retiring in about 7 years if I stay on this track.  It's not a fun place to be if you're absolutely miserable for the 40-50 hours a week you're at work.  The worst part is that it will likely impact your personal life, too.  I managed to keep one from impacting the other for a long time, but it eventually caught up to me. 

Now I'm finally determined to do something about it.  Even if it does delay my retirement.

Yep.  FWIW, I am just about where you are, except I liked my career for many years, and I'm currently trying to assess whether my recent dissatisfaction is the job or poorly-treated depression.  But the kicker is that making a change at this point would extend my 7-yr FIRE date, because no one else is going to pay me near what I currently make.  So I have to decide if I am so unhappy that I am willing to take a risk on something else, knowing that making the leap is going to commit me to 12-13 more years of work whether I like it or not.  I wish I had known I was going to feel this way a lot earlier, so I could have done things differently before everything felt locked in.  I can't even imagine feeling like this for an entire career -- it's just not worth it.

snapperdude

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Re: How ambitious should I be with my career?
« Reply #25 on: October 05, 2017, 06:03:54 PM »

It is not that I donít e joy my work, ...




Jeez, you IT people and your jargon.