The Sweet Spot by Ken Cutler

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AUTHOR: Nuke Ken on 7/05/2024

Note: This is the third in my Forum series of previously written pieces that I never submitted to the editor for consideration. 

AN INTERNET ARTICLE I printed out over 15 years ago set the work-life balance standard for me. The article has been relegated to the dust bin of cyber space so I can’t link to it or even identify who wrote it. The author discusses a friend who “seems to have found the ultimate sweet spot in his career.”

The friend made a comfortable living working less than 40 hours a week. He was highly respected at work and had a great boss. He had lots of autonomy and didn’t have any employees to supervise. Could he have made a lot more money? Absolutely. He knew he could land his boss’s job at another company and score a huge increase in salary. But that new job would require supervising people, travel, longer hours, and accountability to higher powers who might not be as accommodating as his current boss. He wasn’t interested.

The article makes the point that people with more income generally have more responsible jobs. The additional money comes with strings attached: extra hours, the stress of hiring and firing people, more complex problems to deal with. Given tradeoffs such as these, increasing one’s income often does not have as much of an effect on happiness as might be expected.

While working full-time, the career sweet spot to which I aspired looked similar to that achieved by the author’s friend. Although I was assessed to have some management potential, I didn’t have the desire or especially the stamina to take that career path. Engineering managers at an operating nuclear power plant are subject to many stresses, frequent long days and inconvenient off-hour demands. In general, they have considerably less control of their schedules than individual contributors.

I was fortunate in that most of the dozen or so bosses I had over my career were very good. I couldn’t always hit the career sweet spot when supporting refueling outages or leading large projects that took on a life of their own. Still, outside of refueling outage season, I was almost always available to watch my son’s soccer games, help with schoolwork and eat dinner with the family.

Although I’m still employed part-time, work no longer takes up the bulk of my day. Job burnout is not a risk. What does the sweet spot look like in retirement? Since everyone is wired differently, individual sweet spots vary considerably. My retirement sweet spot involves a mixture of things:

-Cultivating quality connections with family and friends

-Working on spiritual disciplines and participating in church life

-Maintaining physical well-being

-Keeping mentally sharp

-Taking a balanced approach to leisure activities

-Having a sense of purpose and accomplishment

What does your sweet spot look like?  Have you been successful at achieving it to some degree?




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