Recently, I won a blogging award.
(No, not that blogging award).
As part of the award process, I got to submit photographs of myself so the designers could create a Bobblehead. I had a nice discussion with J Money about how I was ready to share my face with the world/blogging community. He gave me the great idea that if I was ever going to reveal my identity, this would be a fun time to do it.
So, if you’re a long time reader of the blog, buckle yourself up for some truth bombs about who I am. If not, this would be a great time to subscribe to the blog.
Table of contents
- Why did I start blogging anonymously?
- What’s changed since I started blogging?
- So who is Gov Worker anyway?
- What other people want to know about Gov Worker
- Military Dollar and Stephanie want to know where I work and what science I do.
- Financial Mechanic wants to know if my friends would be surprised if they found out I wrote a finance blog.
- The Landshark wanted to know how this will affect my career.
- Financial Pilgrimage and Dillon of Dollar Revolution wanted to know why I decided to become non-anonymous.
- What other people want to know about Gov Worker
- Summary- I’ll still always be “Gov Worker” in my heart
Why did I start blogging anonymously?
Before I started writing a finance blog, I read finance blogs. (Does anyone start a blog without having read blogs first)? The blogs I read, like Mr. Money Mustache, The Frugalwoods, and The Mad Fientist were all “anonymous” blogs. (Maybe less anonymous after they became famous). And it’s not just the mega-blogs that are anonymous. I’ve loved blogging alongside people with cool blogging identities such as “Military Dollar“, “The Fioneers“, “The Financial Mechanic“, and even “Mr. Burrito Bowl” (not to mention bloggers like Darcy and Penny who use a nom de plume)
I didn’t start blogging with a 5 year plan, a goal, or any idea what I was doing. I just knew that the personal finance blogs I read weren’t answering important finance questions for federal employees. Instead, with no idea what I was doing, I put my own website into the world and tried to follow the blueprint that these other finance bloggers created.
Money is a taboo topic
If there is anything Americans don’t like talking about, it’s money. As a society, we spend so much time trying to convey to everyone that we have a lot of money with our lifestyle, but we never discuss how much we have in our 401(k)s.
In the beginning, blogging anonymously allowed me to talk freely about our finances without having to worry about anybody from my “real life” finding out that we have salted away a lot of our earnings for whatever life has in store for us.
The internet is a scary place
After blogging about financial security for several years, I’m less concerned about people knowing that we are savers. I’d welcome a conversation with a friend or colleague about saving money. I believe we should normalize conversations about money. However, the internet is a scary place. Putting more information out into the world about yourself makes you more vulnerable. Although, as Financial Mechanic points out, even if you think you’re blogging anonymously, someone could probably already track you down.
Unfortunately, as a government employee, much of my personal information is already published online. Want to know how much money I’ve made in each of the past 10 years? There’s a website for that.
Furthermore, federal employee data is a target for spies and they’ve hacked our system several times. As a peace offering OPM extends my identity theft protection for a few more years every time it happens. Seriously though, if you don’t want your personal information stolen by nation states, don’t work for the federal government.
In spite of all of that, I try to follow best practices for protecting myself online. I follow all of The Financial Mechanic’s tips about protecting your financial information. I also had a text conversation with Seonwoo about keeping myself safe after revealing my identity. Honestly, this is my biggest fear about opening up more about myself on the blog.
What’s changed since I started blogging?
The Financial Mechanic really changed my mind about blogging anonymously. I loved her post about why she decided to reveal her identity. If I had to summarize her argument, it would be that nobody really cares that much about you (and it’s a good thing)! But, since this is my own blog, I thought I should expand upon the reasons why I’ve decided to become non-anon.
Nobody really cares
The most beautiful part of Financial Mechanic’s article was where she eloquently spoke about how people don’t really care about us. While we may feel self-conscious and agonize about which details to share on our blog, most of my thousands of visitors a month don’t really care who I am.
About 80% of my readers land on a page and then bounce out to somewhere else on the internet. Those readers that don’t bounce typically exit my site after reading 2-3 pages. (If you’re a blogger, take a look at your bounce rate and time-on-page statistics and ask yourself how many people are *actually* care about you). My email subscribers may know more about me, but only a fraction of them click through to any single article.
Finally, I’m not really that worried about someone from my real life finding my blog. First of all, I think that would be an extremely low probability event. Secondly, if someone I knew did find my blog, they likely found it because they had questions about federal employee benefits. I started this blog because I wanted to help federal employees. I would be happy to help them explore early retirement from the federal government. The worst case scenario is that a “frenemy” finds my blog and they like me even less. But honestly, I’m not going to let my life be dictated by someone outside of the arena.
My job is constitutionally protected
The Supreme Court has ruled that federal employment is “property” and cannot be taken away without due process. As a federal supervisor, I need to take annual training about disciplining and firing federal employees. In short, federal employees can only be fired for misconduct or performance. Since I have always followed ethics rules and treated my blog as a second job, blogging in and of itself affects neither performance or misconduct.
So while many FIRE bloggers do not reveal their identities because they are afraid of their employers finding out, I don’t need to worry about this. In fact, the longer I have blogged, the more coworkers I have informed about the blog. (There have been several changes in my management/public affairs staff and I always notify them about the blog). Most people I have told either do not care or become subscribers because they’re interested in maximizing their federal benefits.
I’ve already had a big ask
If you are one of the (dozen?) people who has read all of my blog posts, you would know that my dream “early retirement” scenario is to only work part time. I have a cool job (see next section). And I feel that I really do make a difference in the world. Many FIRE people I know leave full time employment so they can do meaningful work whether or not it is paid. In many ways I’ve already found my unicorn job, but don’t want to spend the rest of my life spending 7:30-16:00 at a (standing) desk?
I’ve known that I’ve wanted to work part time for a while. I also knew (intellectually) that we are well past the “Coast FI” milestone. My wife and I could spend every penny we earn for the rest of our lives and still have enough money to pay for 2-3x our annual expenses in retirement. In fact, we’ve almost reached a basic financial independence milestone of 25x our current annual expenses. There’s no financial reason I couldn’t transition to part time.
Although I’ve known that I could work part time for a while, I was afraid to ask (for many reasons). I recently took a class on Overcoming Scarcity Mindset by my blogging friends Jessica of the Fioneers and Mel of Modest Millionaires. They helped me overcome many of the limiting beliefs I had about asking to work part time. As a result, I did ask to go part time.
While my management still has not made a final decision, I feel it’s a win-win situation. Either I get to work part time or I will know that part time is never an option for me and can start designing a life I want without part time work.
So who is Gov Worker anyway?
Note- this section contains my affiliation which is included as just one of many biographical details about myself. Views below are my own and do not represent the views of the US Forest Service or the Federal Government.
Now that we’ve covered all of the “why’s” I should probably get around to the blogger reveal.
Here are some facts about me I haven’t shared before:
- My name is Sam.
- I have a PhD in Materials Science and lead a team of researchers that studies the fire performance of wood buildings and also all of the bad things that happen to wood when it gets wet (mold, rot, corrosion, discoloration, etc).
- As part of my job I’ve published over 100 peer reviewed articles and spent time doing collaborative research at labs throughout the world. My research has led to changes in the building code that resulted in more fire safe sustainable wood buildings. I once got to burn a 2 story wood building that produced over 22 MW of heat and cracked the control room windows at the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms laboratory. I love what I do and feel I am making a difference in this world. Even my less-impactful science is fun and unique.
- I won a PECASE award, which is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on outstanding scientists and engineers in the early stages of their independent research careers. As part of the award, I got to go to the White House and meet the President.
What other people want to know about Gov Worker
I put out a notice on Twitter to find out what people wanted to know in my blogger reveal post. Here are some questions and answers.
Military Dollar and Stephanie want to know where I work and what science I do.
I’ve covered a lot of science in my short bio already, but to answer the rest of the question, I work at the Forest Products Laboratory. The Forest Products Laboratory has probably touched your life in some way (although you may have never heard of it). Throughout its history the laboratory has invented or improved products you see every day like railroad ties that don’t rot, corrugated cardboard, plywood, OSB, LVL, wood-plastic composite decks and many more.
This is a great question. I think it depends how you define friend. I am friends with a lot of my coworkers and it’s no surprise that I know an encyclopedic amount about federal benefits. They probably wouldn’t be surprised. Nor would my close friends from college/grad school that I keep in contact with.
Outside of this inner circle, we’re friendly with our kids’ friends’ parents and neighbors. I think most of them would be shocked. We live in a wealthy and white neighborhood and I find that I can’t relate to a lot of money conversations.
The Landshark wanted to know how this will affect my career.
This is another great question. As I’ve stated above, it won’t affect my job tenure. But having a job and having a career can mean different things.
Unlike the Landshark who works in the private sector and makes more money than I could ever dream of making, public pay is determined by the General Schedule (check out Darcy’s awesome guest post about public vs. private sector pay). There are 15 “grades” for different levels of job difficulties. You also earn “steps” for length of service.
Since public pay is public knowledge, you can probably figure my salary out without too much sleuthing. Needless to say, there’s really not much left for me to fight for within the General Schedule.
So I don’t see this affecting my career in a tangible way. However, even if it did, I’m at the point in my FIRE journey where I’m less interested in career milestones and more interested in life milestones.
I’ve written before about how this blog has grown. To quote Steven Pressfield, I’ve decided to turn pro blogging (mentally if not financially).
At a certain point, doors get opened for you if you sign your name to your work. I doubt HarperCollins would have published The Frugalwoods as a book unless Liz signed her name to it. The Financial Mechanic was able to earn her own byline at CNBC after revealing her identity.
This past year, I’ve been interviewed by big name news outlets such as the Washington Post, Bankrate, The Ascent, and The Ladders. These outlets all asked for my name and I was happy to give it to them for their interview.
Signing my name to the blog is also a way to push myself to be accountable to publish epic content.
While I don’t have a pending book deal or byline at a major financial outlet, I feel like I have a lot more to gain by sharing my identity.
Summary- I’ll still always be “Gov Worker” in my heart
Even though I’m less anonymous, I have no plans on dropping the Gov Worker moniker. I’ve really grown to love writing as Gov Worker. The more I write for this blog, the more Gov Worker becomes his own persona outside of myself. That’s been super helpful for overcoming writer’s block. I also feel like writing as Gov Worker is a small part of my identity now and I don’t want to give that up.
So- that was an (especially long) blogger reveal post. I hope you enjoyed it. If so, please smash that subscribe button.