I WAS AGE 31 when I started my job as a department manager at a small college in Portland, Oregon. Back then, it wasn’t unusual for people to mistake me for one of the students.
Now I’m 53 and people assume I’m the mother of one of the students. I’ve been working at the college for more than 22 years, which means I’ve been there longer than most of the current students have been alive.
Spending decades at the same job certainly isn’t the norm. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that individuals born between 1957 and 1964 have held, on average, 12.3 jobs between the ages of 18 and 52. I seem to be bucking the trend. My current job is just the third fulltime position I’ve held since graduating college. My hope is it will also be my last job before retiring. In reflecting on what’s kept me on one career path for so long, I realize my motivation has changed over the years.
In my 30s, receiving a paycheck was my primary incentive for working. Buying a home, owning a new car and having nice furniture were at the top of my priority list. I happily spent every penny I earned and paid little attention to the various benefits offered by my employer.
In my 40s, my life took a jarring shift. I went from being a married homeowner to a divorced renter. I was suddenly less concerned about maintaining my current lifestyle and more anxious about planning for the future. I started contributing a high percentage of my salary to a 403(b) plan. I moved the money in my employer-funded retirement plan from a highly conservative, guaranteed return account to an aggressive growth index fund. I opened a pretax flexible spending account to help cover any out-of-pocket health care expenses. I became acutely aware of the workplace benefits available to me and took advantage of as many as I could.
Now, in my 50s, my priorities have changed again. These days, it’s often the intangible benefits of my job I appreciate the most. I enjoy having a shorter-than-average workweek. I relish the fact I don’t have to work weekends or put in mandatory overtime. I enjoy how comfortable I feel in my job. After 22 years, there’s a certain familiarity with both my coworkers and campus operations that allows me to operate in a mostly stress-free state.
There are, of course, other reasons for me to stay put at this point. In less than two years, I’ll be eligible for valuable early retiree health benefits. And while I still enjoy the paycheck I receive every two weeks, I’ve found that, over time, the money I earn means less to me than having the time to pursue the activities I enjoy.
Kristine Hayes is a departmental manager at a small, liberal arts college. Her previous articles include Easy Street, Decisions, Decisions and Day by Day. Kristine enjoys competitive pistol shooting and hanging out with her husband and their dogs.