Run towards the light, not away from the darkness

Warning – Brexit content, and I was/am a remainer. It the topic bores you, switch off and do something more constructive with your time now 😉

The Ermine sits in his eyrie, and surveys the increasing twisted wreckage of the British political landscape before him, and wonders, how did it really all come to this?

It took me too long to realise a philosophical fact about life. In general, run towards what you do want, rather than away from what you don’t want. Imagine sitting by a candle – if you want to run away from the darkness you have no end of directions to go, whereas if you are in the darkness and want to run towards the light, the aim is easy, as every night moth knows.

You gain simplicity in running towards a goal, and pay in decision making if you try and execute the ‘anywhere but here’ command. You get in your car and drive towards where you want to go, you don’t drive away from your home town.

There are exceptions, of course. If you were in the town of Paradise recently, get the hell out of here was a good move. That’s the sort of problem that is urgent and important. Some things that are important aren’t urgent, however.

There’s an argument that being in the EU or not is something that is important to many. But it wasn’t urgent. What was urgent was for Cameron to save his ass, so he couched his question is simplistic terms, and it looks like we get to live with the consequences of asking the question in such a stupid way without asking what sort of independent existence outside the EU matters to you, Sir? What does success look like?

There are several answers to that question, though the main axes, which aren’t particularly interdependent, seem to be

  • greater national self-determination over trade policy and legislation
  • control of immigration

In not asking the question ‘what do we want to happen here?’ Cameron turned something that was important but not urgent into something that is both. Well done you, Dave. Clearly a public school education doesn’t imbue an understanding of philosophy even if it does teach you to lead, sort of, until the going gets touch, in which case you run away from the SNAFU you have created because it falls into the ‘too hard’ bucket.

True character will out – it fell into the ‘too hard’ camp and he was off like a whippet

Two years later and we still don’t know what success looks like. Put two Brexiters in a room and you get five different answers, none of which are compatible with each other. That is the tragedy of chasing the negative. Well done us.

What’s wrong in the world gets a lot more attention than what’s right

That’s the problem with a lot of decision-making. Too much of it is running away from what is wrong, rather than towards what is right. I admire a lot of the younger FIRE-folk for getting this right – freedom to use their time for their own goals is what they want, FIRE is a means to an end. They are living Stephen Covey’s second rule – Begin With the End in Mind. Where do you want to go?

I didn’t do that. I wanted to be free of work. I had some terrific luck which saved me from the consequences of violating Covey’s second rule and executing the ‘anywhere but here’ command, though I was at least guided by instinct towards  freedom rather than, say, not working for The Firm but stacking shelves in Tesco.

Why is working getting more crap?

I am reading a dog-eared copy of Britain on the Couch, which from the cultural references must’ve been written in the late 1990s. The Ermine was just over halfway through his working life, and Oliver James observed that the heady mix of higher and more individualistic aspirations, combined with a greater exposure to comparing ourselves with others, as portrayed in the media was screwing us up at a faster rate than increasing material wealth seems to be making us happier. It was the increasing gamification of the workplace that started to make me sick of it, irrational spurious requirements to justify your existence every quarter, the knowledge it was a zero-sum game etc.

The writing was already on the wall halfway through my career. Nick asked me this, and it was an interesting question

I’m curious Ermine, what do you see as the purpose of work? Purely an exchange? Looking back on a full career, do you see it all as BS or enjoyable at the time (until things started changing and going south.)
I think I actually enjoy the challenge work provides, I will always keep my toe dipped for that reason and the various protection mechanisms it offers (until this goes south anyway.) What gets me very badly is time pressure, work (too many things to juggle), side work, sorting the house, general life. For me I feel striking a balance could make things much more enjoyable…or as I get closer I’ll discover I’m wrong and have an existential crisis.

I had a good run. 25 years of no real trouble, two years of hell and then three tough years of saving hard to get out. There were several things running against me. Some of it was simple globalisation – the west does not need to staff its research and development facilities with expensive Westerners when they can outsource the job. Some of it was the sorts of things that Oliver James wrote about, the increasing surveillance and the gamification of the workplace. Reading articles like this about gamification taken to extremes gives me the creeps. Oliver James called that trend out twenty years ago…

I’m not even particularly sensitive to that sort of incentivisation – I don’t really do badges. I was a member of a professional confederation and happened to storm the theoretical part of one of their training courses, so they were chasing me to get hold of me to award the certificate and get the gong, and were clearly puzzled at how hard work it was to get hold of an Ermine 😉 Similarly for a club where I sorted out their online presence several years ago and was given an award. I have to tell myself that many see this as a big deal, because I don’t want to charge around upsetting people who worked hard to get the gong for me, but I don’t really feel it inside. I am an introvert, and more internally referenced. The sort of challenges and goal-setting that clearly reward others leaves me cold.

I’m only a third of the way through the book, but it’s always puzzled me why the Britain of now is so immeasurably richer than the London that I grew up in, and while physical disease is much lower, mental health and general distress with life seems worse. I was fortunate – I was able to buy my way out of it, because much of the trouble seems to be associated with the way we work now. Work seems to take up a lot more headspace now that it used to. My Dad needed to clock on on time but when he clocked off he was absolutely done with work. Looking at people now, work didn’t drift too much into my time off. But I look at the way many people work, and there are always on the job in some way it seems, tethered to their smartphones  – I see these as a tool of oppression in the modern world, not emancipation.

Calling Extrovert FIRE Folk

For the first few years of my FI journey it seemed to be the introverts making most fo the running, I started reading Jacob ERE and many others seemed to lie on the introverted axis. However, all you extroverts in the Fi movement seem to have suddenly found your mojo and are making more of the running, what with meet-ups an the like. So if you’re the life and soul of the party but you find talking about saving makes people’s eyes glaze over then here’s a couple of events you can find some like minds.

There’s apparently a Financial Independence UK Facebook Group (wonder what Oliver James would have had to say about Facebook 😉 ) who are getting together on Nov 24th in Surrey a little way off the A3.

Then there’s a Financial Independence London facebook group who are meeting up on the 5th December, I guess you search FB for Financial Independence London

I’m not sure I fit in anywhere to this outgoing part of the FIRE community, but what the hell, each to their own; knock yourselves out, guys.

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26 thoughts on “Run towards the light, not away from the darkness”

  1. Well its all the rage now! Yet another Grauniad article:

    https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/nov/20/can-anyone-retire-in-their-30s-meet-the-people-who-say-yes

    Its all getting a bit slick and commercial now for my liking, with the new wave of Blogs and the life-coaches moving in to monetize things.

    I feel like I’ve fallen off the end of the conveyor to a certain extent. Bit bored of it all.

    Having managed the FI bit about 5 years ago, I never really could convince myself of the RE bit.

    FIs definitely no panacea, but its a good distraction if you don’t fancy getting to the root and developing a proper philosophy, something to keep you occupied as it were until you have to grasp the nettle proper.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed, Rhino. The snake oil salespeople will be moving in fast now. Expect a rash of FIRE books in the next year or so as the same old lifestyle gurus somehow manage to spin what they are doing into a big advance.

      I called a somewhat frugal FI in 2016, and celebrated by dropping a day a week of work and taking a more fun and worthwhile job. Combined with more experimentation in new activities etc, I’m happy enough with that for now.

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      1. Thats just the ticket greencat – Its not super-complicated, a) be good and b) find something fun to do.

        If FI dovetails into those two fundamentals then all power to you, if not, then don’t sweat it.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I have a suspicion that the RE part of FI/RE is the one that demands greatest introspection, wisdom and general Delphic Oracle ‘Know Thyself’ chops. And with all due respect to the younger set, who do seem to have most issue with this needing to work for meaning malarkey, I am still personally of the opinion that if you need ‘work’ as a source of meaning in your life than you are still on an external locus of control. And the most amazing thing is the absolutely breathtaking lack of awareness of that in the good folk who make this Calvinist generalisation. Let’s take this deathless statement, that got on my tits as soon as I read it:

      “We’re not meant to sit around and drink Mai Tais all day,” Merz says. “Humans have an intrinsic need to work. We need to feel like a valued member of society, and that’s not going to stop because you have an arbitrary number in the bank.”

      No, no and an thousand times NO. Of course a specific human at a specific time in their life may have that intrinsic need to work. But the situation is dynamic – the human changes, the work changes. I spent a lot of time on here spitting bricks about not needing to work, now as it happens I did earlier on this year. Not because I needed the money, but it was something I could do, it dug someone out of the shit, it was an interesting job and I got to use a corner of my garage as an electronics lab and use 30 years of experience for more than fixing the Chinese crap electronics that I really ought to know not to buy. I didn’t have to do the job, it’s not really going to change my lifestyle. I might do something similar again, OTOH I might not. When you feel you have to work to have meaning, or indeed you feel you have to not work to have meaning, then you are beholden to the mental concept of ‘work’ and how people big it up to make themselves feel better about having to do it, which tends to be a feature of young adulthood and on unless they are born into aristocracy.

      Maybe it is part of that Carl Jung quote of what is true in the morning of life, in the afternoon is a lie, but I am going to be part of the awkward squad here. Solving the FI part of the problem is at the stamp-collecting rather the physics end of the conundrum, solving the RE part of the equation is a philosophical end. One about why you are here, what do you want, whom do you serve? I am not sure that one has reached the halfway point between the received wisdom of childhood to the self-awareness of adulthood until you can own the philosophy too.

      Perhaps it’s the attachment to work that gets up my snout. Zen IDGAF is the aim, IMO 😉 There are things that are important in the world, love, beauty, art, nature among them. Work ain’t one of them, to me. Like money,work is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m 100% with you on this, Ermine. I became FI at 55 – positively ancient compared to many in the FIRE movement, and I did so the same way you did. No extremes, just sensible economies and patient saving and investing, leaving the passage of time to do the heavy lifting.

        I chose to stay working (from home, and very part-time) for a few years after FI but did so because the sweet deal I was offered made it too financially tempting not to, and gave me a chance to dip my toe in the water and sort of ‘play at’ being retired.

        I’ve been fully retired for nearly 2 years now. Do I miss work? Short answer – not even slightly. In my experience, living well takes up all your time and then some.

        Taking care of health (exercise, fresh air, preparing and enjoying good meals), taking care of home and garden, taking care of relationships (seeing and helping friends and family, socialising and celebrating birthdays, Christmas etc) fill up my days and then some!

        And that’s before I even think about other stuff like going out to see films, concerts or exhibitions.

        Not working has been a total liberation for me. As someone who is very slightly (though not significantly) on the introverted side, I find that having the time to enjoy things in the moment and
        being able to take my time over things has been a real gift.

        Would I have felt the same if I’d become FI at 45 rather than 55? I kind of suspect I would…

        Jane

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      2. I do think that as monkeys we are not meant to sit around and drink Mai Tais all day (at least not every day) but it really doesn’t take “work” to validate your existence and intelligence, nor does it need other people’s validation of your “value to society”. As someone with a (frugal) FI I travel quite widely and I find that doing that both demands and rewards my intelligence and flexibility. I don’t need work to do that and I don’t need to turn this enthusiasm into work by blogging about it or by designing such trips for other people. We don’t need work, folks, that’s why it’s called work. That’s why they had to pay me to do it (and why they’d have to pay me a heckuva lot to get me to do any more of it).

        Liked by 1 person

    3. the new wave of Blogs and the life-coaches moving in to monetize things

      What the heck is up with that? The principles really aren’t that hard, people. It should run them a decent copy of David Copperfield, look out for the wisdom of Wilkins Micawber as précised by Monevator and a quick blast of Lars Kroijer and off they go. If they really want to know why then a copy of Your Money or Your Life is a good enough bluffer’s guide to living on one’s own terms, not the Man’s. Job done as far as the map is concerned, though I do acknowledge that the territory is tough.

      I didn’t save 50% of my income through my working life as the life coaches say, no way. The #1 thing I got right and the big, big win for most people is don’t spend more than you earn, and above all, never do that on wasting assets or experiences. Get that right, and your future self will have the optionality to sort its shit out. You don’t need a life coach to tell you that. You need a calculator and a clue.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. @Mike I actually met Andy and thought he was straight up, and he was/is still doing something else as his main gig. I do think his strategy is a valuable alternative to FI/RE in that you can gain much freedom/control/optionality over your life by intelligently getting a decent stash behind you (to forestall the up to one year sort of job outage) and also reducing your exposure to a single income stream by having more than one client. He is still doing this, but it appears the principles demand a high level of entrepreneurship that requires you be an outlier in that regard.

        That’s a shame, because it is an alternative to FI/RE that is available to many more people than the typical high rolling finance/IT squad, because it demands a much lower savings rate. But you get to work longer, no retire at 40.

        > payment

        I am comfortable with the level of disclosure on that article 😉

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  2. I first visited London on a May weekend in 1981. While I was blown away by the history of the place, parts of it seemed pretty grim to me at the time. Things had been spruced up quite a bit when we went back in the mid-90s, and it was still vibrant during our last visit in 2013.
    Don’t know what Brexit will obtain, but I am not anxious to see 1981 again. I have a trip to Rome scheduled next April, and I’m steering clear of Heathrow. Pity.

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    1. I’m a 100% with you there. Going via Heathrow in April sounds like a really bad idea. You might get some really great deals later in the year, should GBP become < 1 CAD !

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  3. While I agree with a lot of that I think that people make a choice (in part) about how much space work takes up in their lives. My philosophy, such as it is, is that I owe work my physical and mental energy when I am on the clock but I never owe it my emotional energy. For me the space gets filled when I forget that and get emotional, usually angry or frustrated, with work.

    Even on the actual time, let’s not forget that for most of history in the West people worked much longer hours in the fields or mines or factories or in homes. More relevantly in the days before smartphones workers would often socialise with their colleagues after work in pubs, bars, working mens clubs etc (and of course that still happens now). The encroachment of work into personal time has always happened.

    I also (controversially) don’t think that work is getting more crap overall (and I think you’re talking about professional/office jobs rather than minimum wage jobs where the ‘gig economy’ may well have made things worse). I think that computers have taken a lot of dull repetitive grind out of work so what is left is relatively more interesting. When I see new grads starting at work they remind me of how exciting is was to get my first job, how you learn so much so quickly, how you tend to get promoted faster in the early part of your career (as you aren’t waiting to fill dead mans’ shoes). I’m also struck by the lack of loyalty to a firm whether they have a very healthy attitude of saying that if one company doesn’t work for them they’ll go elsewhere. What I also observe is that when people get to the latter part of their career (as I have) they can just get a bit bored with work as there is little that they haven’t seen before and so it just becomes a case of posting it in. That can lead to the perception of crap work.

    Finally, in light of that would it be rude to point out that this post might just fall into the category of “What’s wrong in the world gets a lot more attention than what’s right”…? *runs, ducks and hides*

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    1. > What’s wrong
      It’s a fair cop, I am bound by the usual principles of a good story – if it bleeds it leads 😉 It’s not a bad principle for diagnosis, as a way of setting direction I have issues with it, even though I got away with it in my pursuit of RE. I was lucky and am appreciative of the good fortune- running away from what you don’t want doesn’t always get you where you do want.

      Re professional jobs, clearly in my experience I was comparing the early professional jobs as seen by my younger self; current ones viewed by my hard-bitten older self so perhaps I have observer bias, but I do think that the increasing competitiveness is making these tougher. Internships were unknown when I started work, now they seem rife if a quarter of graduates have to do them. There was also a wider range of opportunities, whereas globalisation has concentrated the win towards the top end of ability. When I started work there were many industrial research labs, and I was of sufficient ability to have something to offer them. The equivalent now are places like Google, I’m not bright enough to work for Google. For people of outstanding talent the opportunities are probably much greater now, but if you’re not three sigma or more I’d say they are poorer.

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  4. The ‘fetishisation of work’ culture is simply a result of people unused to thinking for themselves, swallowing whole the brainwashing of the establishment. In these kleptocractic times, the extent of state capture (and therefore erosion of democracy) means employers can buy politicians via ‘lobbying’, or mass-media outlets to contact the masses directly. The average punter wakes up every day to a wall of noise from the subliminal messages of the ‘your value is what you do for your work’ and ‘if you don’t work as hard as possible you are lazy and not a good person’, persuasion.

    Granted it’s a subtler ‘nudge ‘ than shepherds gently pushing their flocks along a road to the nearest abattoir, but as effective nonetheless.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The distribution of work rewards used to be more egalitarian, before the director class started to skim off huge quantities of dosh. Then there was the era of ‘paternalistic’ companies. In my home town, working for big industrial employers (Lucas, Prestige, Michelin) used to be like belonging to a club, with associated social events and parties. Now, not even close, if the factories exist at all.

    Further up the employment chain, no loyalty or recognition for work done, and no free coffee/tea (!). Only on resigning was I asked, ‘What will it take to keep you?’ I ended up on 3 days a week, and an increased salary. (Should have read JLCollins years ago!) Now I’m winding down, slow FIRE, like many posting on here.

    I think life is better (gadgets, more disposable income – thanks, China!), employment not so much. New graduates with us are starting quite old (mid to late 20s), with expectations of living that are quite high, compared to mine 30 years ago.

    Certainly the maths of FI are quite simple to grasp but it isn’t easy to do if your character isn’t already aligned that way.

    Thanks for all the philosophy!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great Article.

    I have had a professional job for major companies for the last 13 years and my identity is tightly bound up into that – it’s impossible to escape from work and thinking about it when you are “free “.
    I can’t be alone – maybe it’s growing older but I find it much harder to have the same lust learning about new things – books need opinions travel psychology etc…
    Now I just devote my brain and soul to the company 😀

    That’s a bit of an exaggeration but I think that careerism is very real and some of us suffer from it.
    Working in a games industry would make me go insane!!!!!
    I work in sales but it’s very technical area abd the buying process is long and order values large £1m+. I’m maybe lucky as there are worse companies that I know of. Modern life is rubbish!

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  7. An ermine would be very welcome at the Facebook group meet-ups, and, I think, very comfortable. We have quite a few ‘introverts’ there, but the good-natured and interesting conversation sees us through. Still sometimes have a hangover though.

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  8. I think the reason mental illness is growing exponentially – in seeming contradiction to the comfort people live in, [nominally on paper at least] is down to the increasing precariousness of their lives in the contemporary world. This applies to all aspects of life, not just work & so although Maslow’s base needs are taken care of, security is not, nor are bonds to others …..people crave the former as a hard-wired survival urge and the latter is a strong predictor of having a reason to live. (seeing any point to your existence)

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  9. My friends from childhood seem to have a lot of their headspace dominated by work but to me it seems a cultural and class thing. They are highly educated and appear to me to get their sense of worth and self importance from the status they gain from their careers. I will be drinking and chatting with them at 10pm after dinner amd they will be doing work on their laptops or dealing with work email while on holiday. They see this as a badge of pride while it makes my skin crawl. I value freedom over being needed by an organisation. Work has never been of any interest to me whatsoever. It is purely money to me so that I can do the things that do intetest me. I bailed out of my last graduate level job years ago as I got into trouble for refusing to work for free late at night. I now work in a well paid blue collar job where my job’s claim on my headspace finishes the moment I clock off. I sell a chunk of my life for the money I need. I forget about my job on my time off. However I have a lot of interesting things to do and places to go in my free time. Many people do not seem to and they need work to fill a void.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The ability to clock off does seem to have been lost. What I recall about the working class neghbourhood i grew up in was that people did work tough jobs, and sometimes significant overtime, but when they were not at the factory they had things like hobbies and stuff they did that wasn’t work-related. They had hinterland.

      Nowadays people don’t seem to have hobbies and pastimes so much – they are either like your friends, busy working into their downtime, and when they aren’t doing that they are ferrying their kids here, there and everywhere.

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      1. Yes………ferrying kids! My friends and I were much more independent as our parents were not afraid (complacent?) We walked, cycled or used public transport to get to school or wherever and played on the street as kids. This was in London in the 70s and 80s not some safe rural idyll. However we did have our fair share of dramas and incidents but I don’t regret it at all. So much more freedom. My friends children on the other hand today are treated like small kids even as teenagers because their parents are scared about their safety. The other day I pointed out to my friends 15 year old son that at his age I remember his father running down the platform of a Belgian railway station with a pint of Stella in each hand as the guard blew his whistle for the train to depart. He by contrast is monitored by his parents through his mobile phone everywhere in real time.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I also walked to school, in 1970s London, crossing the A20 dual carriageway here without incident for six school years. Having said that, when I visited my parents a few years back I got off the bus and crossed this road at the same point, and either my older self is more of a wuss or the traffic has got faster, because it was tougher than I recall.

        Kids wrangled the townscape much more under their own steam then. I remember going out with a pal on the South Downs I think, near Maidstone, and we return on a different route. End up scrabbling down a chalk embankment, then to be met by the M20 motorway. Even as teenagers we thought this was going to be a tough one to cross. You have to wait till you can see nothing in the distance, and even then run like hell to get to the central reservation – the speed at which oncoming cars arrive out of nowhere still sticks in my mind to this day. Scrambling over the crash barriers was also a bit of a squawk, and then we got to do it all over again. Didn’t breathe a word of the escapade, but we got away with it.

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