30 April 2013

Is it all worth it?

I took a friend to Heathrow this morning. It meant a drive through Kent and round the southern part of the M25.

The timing of my friend’s flight meant that we caught the tail end of the morning rush hour seeing all these people driving to work and to meetings got me thinking. Is it worth it? We passed a junction which had a queue of traffic about two miles long. We saw a near miss between two cars, other people were pulling in front of each other where there wasn’t a safe space. All this at 50+ mph. It’s a risky business going to work!

It used to be me too. In my last job I spent 2 hours a day in the car covering 50 miles there and 50 more back. There were road accidents on a regular basis. Once I was in one of my own.

This entry is not about road accidents and risk. I am more interested in the personal sacrifices people are prepared to make for their jobs. Also why people don’t divert some or all of the energy they put into building a career into finding an alternative? Can it be true that commuting, meetings and long, probably often, dull and stressful hours building a career is what many people really desire in life? What is it that hooks us in? I know that some make a lot of money so that they can buy a lot of things. Others spend their career hoping that the ends will meet and that there’s enough for the holiday they deserve. Perhaps it is that when we start on this path it doesn’t seem so bad. After all isn’t it just what all that education was for? Then as time goes on people are looking for the next promotion or pay rise when things will get a bit better. So much time is invested and so many ‘rewards’ are purchased (car, house, another house designer this and that) that after a while the risk of stopping working is just too great as there is so much to loose. But really is there so much to loose? Is it worth it for all that stress and all that commuting and sacrifices made? Never seeing the kids or the other half. Loosing the person that you once were to make a better life. Isn’t a better life one where you have more time for family? Even if that means a bit less money, it would certainly mean there is less need for more money and I would like you to think that a life could be really improved by a different kind of working and having just enough money for your needs while having as much free time as you want.

I made one other observation on my trip this morning. I stopped at a motorway service station to answer the call of nature. These days you can’t get to the conveniences without walking past as many of their tempting offerings as they can manage to tempt you with. On the way in I saw several people actually working in the service station cafe area on their laptops. Using Blackberrys and phoning people up. There were a lot of very large paper cups full of weak coffee and frothy milk. Nasty suits and a general impression of hopelessness. Perhaps it’s the financial climate.

On the way out I saw the pièce de résistance: a man eating what vaguely passed as a full English breakfast out of a takeaway polystyrene tray with a plastic knife and fork on a table that was barely wiped clean. It was the worst parody of a full English breakfast that I have seen. Surely mankind was made for greater than this?

Now, I don’t want you thinking that when I was talking about finding an inspiring place to work on a previous post I meant a place like this. When I wrote about finding a cafe I meant café!


28 April 2013

Make do and mend

Did I say that I have a lazy tendency? If you read Friday’s entry you will know the answer. But if you are too lazy to look I will tell you. Yes, I am a tad lazy.

But based on the information that I might be lazy the idea behind this blog entry might surprise you. Here, then, is the kernel of thought that I want to dress up with some waffle today:

In my opinion it is easier, where possible, to fix things rather than buy a replacement.

How so? Well, let’s think about the process for each scenario.
1. Fix it. Get out tools and have a look at the thing that’s not working. See if it’s fixable and fix it. Don’t know how? Google it. Need spares? Order any spares you need online.
2. Buy another. Spend ages looking for a replacement. Doing the research you put into buying the one that’s now not working. Going out to the shops talking to salesmen, finding the best deal and then arranging to have the old one taken away and waiting for a new one to be delivered. Or chucking the old one away and fetching the new item. Before all that, and more crucially you have to get up early and go to work to earn the money you’ll need to buy a replacement.

So, do you see? It’s easier to make do and mend than throw away and replace. Also there’s a satisfaction gained from fixing it.

Let’s also not forget the waste generated by replacing a thing.

So, here’s my contribution: I mended my watch today. It was so easy that it’s ridiculous to think that I might have got rid of it. My watch stopped working a few weeks back. I like this watch, so I want to keep it. I’ve never tried mending one before.

It had sat in a drawer for a few weeks, silently nagging me to do something I finally took it with me on a trip to town and visited a jeweller’s shop and asked them to quote me for a service: £90.00 plus. Or about double the value of the watch!

Now most would give up at this point and get another. But not I. Instead I popped the back off and took a look. The small wheel that oscillates wasn’t moving, so I shook the watch and it started again before stopping a few moments later. I thought about this and decided that I couldn’t do much unless, perhaps, there was a bit of dust in the mechanism. I got my camera blower out and set to work squirting air into the watch which promptly came back to life! I had to go back to the jeweller’s to get the back put on again. How much did that cost? Nothing, gratis, zero, free!

Splendid. Oh, and the watch is still working.

26 April 2013

Laziness is a great motivator

A nice way to spend the day
I talk to a lot of people about what I'm doing. I make my living selling products online, I work about 4 hours a day for 5 days a week. I am a fairly lazy person, which gives me a lot of motivation to find ways of avoiding work. In fact, you could say that I work hard at avoiding work! I am seen, though, as a person in the do category. This is because I found a way of leaving my job and making a living (although modest) independently. My ambition is not to make a lot of money, instead I view free time as more valuable than money and luxuries. If I make a lot of money doing what I do, then great. But I count excess earnings as a byproduct not the goal.

Many people I talk to are very interested in what I do. Most simply don’t believe it could work for them. A number of others will object that it is too much work. Until I point out that I work for 4 hours a day and that they do 7 to 8 hours. They have to go to work and I stay at home or, if I want to, I go out.

I think it mainly comes down to two factors. The first is what do you want? The second is how averse to risk are you?

There is no denying that there is some risk involved in running your own business, but I believe that if you do your groundwork and research properly you can reduce your exposure. I also believe that no job is secure, especially in the current climate. So I would say that you can’t actually rely on your job. I would suggest that in fact you can only really rely upon yourself for your future. Which brings us to the first factor.

So, what do you want? If you truly desire a career and are working your way up the ladder to your goal then nothing that I say will change your mind. That’s OK with me. Ask yourself, though, if when you arrive at your goal it will actually be what you want. Perhaps talk to people who are there already and see if the amount of effort and time they put in is worth it. Still happy to carry on? Great, enjoy it. If you change your mind there’s always another way.

If you are like me though (and I don’t just mean lazy) you will have a different agenda. A job and a career is just not a satisfactory life choice. There must be another way. That has gnawed at me pretty much from my first job right up to the last one I had. I don’t feel that I am cut out to be an employee. Also I am not a workaholic, or in fact keen on hard work at all. So I spent a lot of time thinking about a way out that would give me control over my time and would let me earn as much money as I need while not overdoing it on the hard work front.

So, what do you want? A career or enough to live on and free time? Either option is valid. But for me there can only be one choice.

Below is a link to a book that helped me on my journey.

25 April 2013

Find inspiration when ‘freedom thinking’

The sea near where I live.
In yesterday’s blog I talked about some of the dos and don’ts when it comes to expressing ideas. Today I would like, if I may, to offer some basic practical tips for when you need to nurture your ideas in their early stages.

First you need to get your idea. That’s a whole other story, but some of the following might help with generating an idea too. What do I mean by idea? In the context of this blog it is something which will help you to generate an independent income so that you can leave your job. 

So, let’s assume that you already have an idea of sorts, and that if you have read yesterday’s missive you haven’t told anyone about it yet. Here are some things that I did when thinking my way out of my old job. I’m going to try a few scenarios on you and hopefully one will be a possibility. 

Scenario one: work – ‘the lunch break’

This is probably the most difficult as work tends to take everything you have to offer. But start by taking regular lunch breaks. Get out of the office/place of work for an hour. Stop eating a sandwich at your desk. In fact, stop that at once, immediately, cease and desist from this awful habit (rant over).

You are less productive in your job and less able to find your final escape from it if you allow it to totally absorb you during the standard 9 to 5 hours and beyond. You need a break. Read this article from my least favourite daily. It shows that you could end up doing 16 extra days a year for free just by halving your lunch breaks. That is not fair.

Once you have established a pattern of taking a lunch break find somewhere to go. This could be a park bench or at the very least a cafe. Sometimes it’s good to have a few places, depending on the nature of what you’re doing. Park bench for calm thought with a notebook, cafe for internet access allowing you to do some research. My ideal is a place that has an interesting view and a comfy chair but not all work places are located near inspiring locations for a spot of thinking. In this case you will just have to do your best.

Scenario two: after work – ‘the pub’
Sometimes you don’t need to get straight home after work. Sometimes it’s good to go with some friends for a pint. But for the ‘freedom thinker’ a trip to the pub after work needs to be solo. Buy a pint and sit in a corner where you can look across the pub. Get your notebook or laptop out and collate your thoughts. Write some notes on what you think about. Do some research into your idea and let it grow. Do a bit of day dreaming. Then after a slow pint go home and see your kids.

Scenario three: weekend – ‘the beach’
It’s the weekend, so don’t go shopping. Go somewhere nice instead. I like to go to the sea (I live by the sea). Find a peaceful spot, this might be in a cafe or a cliff top, or better, both. Otherwise go to the countryside or a historic town. Then – as above get yourself to a spot where you can think things out for a bit.

These are just a few ideas for locations where you can think about stuff in an environment other than home or office. I found that it helped me to formulate some plans, make some phone calls and do some research.

Now that we’ve found our places for thinking we can get down to working out how we can gain our freedom.

24 April 2013

Only listen to people who support you – at first

I'm more Francophile than ‘Yankophile’. I like France and the French culture. But there are many things to recommend our friends in the good old US of A. Here’s one for starters: I like the way that they get behind ideas. In the UK the tendency is to find fault in an idea. To point out how it might fail, whereas in America they are more inclined to be enthusiastic about new ideas. I’m generalising of course, but I need to in order to make my point here.
What an idea needs is support, especially early on, otherwise it will die.
Don’t listen to naysayers.
Do test your ideas and exercise due caution.
Do be careful who you talk to. In fact it might be better not to tell anyone at first.

An idea is a fragile thing when it first appears in your mind. It needs feeding and growing before it can survive outside of your head. Now, let’s be clear about one thing here, you do need to have decent ideas in the first place. A bad idea is always a bad idea, but often a good idea can die before it has a chance to grow to fruition. This is what I am talking about. How can you tell the difference? Tricky. You won’t know until it is tested, but don’t test it straight away. Think it through for yourself. Then test it.
Start testing it by talking to someone. Who? This brings us back to the start.
Don’t talk to people who have a negative slant on everything.
Don’t talk to people who never do anything about their own ideas.
Don’t put your idea where it can get stolen.
Do talk to people who have made something from their own ideas.
Do talk to people that you trust.

If all else fails, find an American to talk to. They are generally enthusiastic about ideas. One word of caution when talking to Americans though, and it is that they can be just as enthusiastic about a bad idea as a good one!

If all you have is a French person to talk to you might just get one of those superb shrugs that they seem to be able to use to express so much without a single syllable being uttered. This is good because I don’t speak much French! Bad, though, because it doesn’t, if I’m honest, help my idea to grow.

23 April 2013

Go to the pub

Been for a pint tonight with a friend. So no time to write a post today. Sorry

22 April 2013

The more you put in

So, how was it for you? Monday that is. Mine was pretty good. I got up when I wanted, did a few hours work, talked to the neighbor took an hour over lunch and then stopped at 4.30.
Why am I telling you this? To make you jealous? Well, perhaps a tiny bit, but I do have a point to make. Otherwise I’d be wasting my time and yours.
Why do we work? Why do most people go to a job to earn their living? That’s two different questions.
The first is easier to answer. We work because it produces an income that we use to maintain our way of life (essentials, bills, mortgage/rent and so on). We swap time and abilities for money.
The second question is a little more difficult. There are a number of reasons why people choose to have a job. Here are a few, but you may think of more: convenience, the security of a regular income, status, camaraderie, work ethic, because that’s what you must do, the career path.
I want to break down what I think a job in essence is. It’s simple really. We swap our time for money. There are perks etc. to help make work easier to swallow but if you didn’t actually need money would you go to the office or place of employment for the perks or would you find something else to do instead? I would do the latter. But I need the money so what now?
A job doesn’t work for me so I needed to find something else. If that’s you then I suggest that you use your energy and intelligence to find an alternative way of generating the money you need so that you don’t have to go to work.
One of the beauties of not having a job is that the work you put in to whatever it is that you do makes a difference to the amount of money you get out, whereas in most jobs you are expected to put in more time than you would like for less money than you think your time is worth.
So to take an old adage:
The more you put in the more you get out. If you work for yourself it’s true.
But when you have a job it would say: the more you put in the same you get out.
I will leave you with this final thought. I don’t want to spend all of my time putting in and getting out, I like to have the luxury of free time, so I will re-write the adage thus: the right amount in, the right amount out.

21 April 2013

Break the cycle

Let’s say that today marks the 2 year anniversary of my resignation. It’s not exactly 2 years but it is within a week either side, so I’m going with today.
Resigning is great. It gives you the control over when you leave work. It is a luxury that you don’t get to indulge very often. The strange thing about working your notice period (well for me at least) is that you do your best work.
I used to be a graphic designer. When I was freelance I produced some decent work and working my notice period was the same. Because I was under notice I had a freedom that I didn’t have before. I could try anything and not care about negative reactions, this, strangely, elicited positive responses. Prior to my resignation all the sparkle and joy had gone out of the job. I was struggling to find any outlet of creativity and was producing work that I thought people wanted but that I didn’t like. Eventually and sadly inevitably this grinds a person down. When I started in the job I had sparkle but due to a number of factors this wore off over the years. It is a cycle that all employees go through and is a reason why people feel the need to move on and employers feel the need for fresh blood. The days of a job for life are gone. Great!
So, what to do? How does a person avoid this cycle? By breaking it, of course. Breaking it is not about changing jobs it is about changing the whole idea of a job or a career. There are a number of reasons why an individual might move jobs. Often it is a promotion – another rung up the ladder of career. Sometimes it is a push or a redundancy and sometimes they are fleeing their job for a greener pasture. None of these will ever provide a lasting cure for the cycle. To really break it one must step out of the cycle. Go and do something else.
That’s what I did 2 years ago and now I can never go back to having a job. Being freelance won’t do it for me either. I visit my old office every once in a while to see old colleagues and friends. On one of these visits I was asked if I get bored not having a job. I paused for a moment and replied in the negative. I thought about this some more later. I remember just how bored I was in my job. I was bored nearly every day towards the end. Desperate for the hours to go so I could go home. Since I left I can honestly and truthfully say that I have not been bored once. Yes, that’s right not once. I plan never to be bored again either.

20 April 2013

Flunk It!

Why do we feel that we have to succeed in everything that we do? Western society is geared to favour the driven and the successful. Coming second is the same as coming last. Well I don’t agree. You can choose to not compete. Or to be involved but not just for the hoped for outcome. This sounds like loser talk I know. But ask any entrepreneur and they will tell you it is better to fail than to do nothing. Some might even say that it is better to fail at first so you have the experience.
If at first you don’t succeed, try something else. Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about success. Who really cares what others think about you? Most people are worrying about what people think of them more than they are thinking about whether or not you’re a success.
Anyhoo how do we measure success? The man with the VW looks at the man with the Porsche who, in turn, looks at the man in a Ferrari and so on. The man with the beat up old Nissan who doesn’t care is better off in many ways. Change the way you think of success and don’t look for the win in everything. Take the stress out of life. Relax, you’ll live longer. And that my friends is probably a greater success!
Fail and be happy.