I read my first copy of Richard Bolles’ seminal job-hunting tome What Color is your Parachute in the late 1990s. The big cheeses at The Firm had decided to move away from research, and out of electronics towards development and software. I was wondering if I should stay with my first love, which was electronics design, or stay with the Firm.1
Parachute is a great resource and a good read. At the heart its message is as old as the Delphic Oracle itself – know thyself. Around that message, however, is a good periphery of tactics and perspective. There is only one problem. Parachute is a weapon of contemplative reflection. You can’t use it under fire, IMO, and when do most people turn their attention to looking for a job?
When they either need a job right now, or are fearful of losing the one they have already.
Here in the West we have a lineage of puritanical belief systems that still leave their mark, and all forms of Christianity teach that suffering brings us closer to God.
Niall Ferguson made the case a few years ago that this Protestant work ethic is the reason that the West is cock of the rock, his crystal ball didn’t show that the fire was burning out rapidly. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Read widely – library ebooks don’t have late fees
The Ermine reads widely, particularly as the library lets you borrow ebooks for free, and a little munging with Calibre gets that onto a Kindle which makes it easier to read in the park, or a particularly favourite little beauty spot near me with a swing seat and a glorious view. So when I saw a copy of WCIYP 2018 I thought I might take a look at what’s changed over 20 years
Billed as a practical manual for job-hunters and career-changers, it is an interesting read. It has been nearly thirty years since I last applied for a job in the open market2, and getting on for eight since I applied for an internal job, so much has changed. The first part of the book is about the conventional approach, and why this doesn’t work. This is the method the DWP push the unemployed into – registering with Monster jobs and scattercasting CVs3. I’ve only actually ever once had a CV work, and this was at the very beginning of my career, and even that was responding to a newspaper small ad which invited applications with a CV.
One of the advantages of being an employee is that The Man usually air-conditions your cubicle. Well, for knowledge workers, anyway, rather than, say, brickies or landscape gardeners. And the heat is on in England at the moment.
Way back when, in the 2003 heatwave DxGF and I bought a standalone air conditioner and we thrashed that unit, but it used a horrific 3kW to sort of chill one room. It seems to take far more energy to cool something down through a certain temperature difference than it does to heat it up by the same difference, I guess these things are dreadfully inefficient, particularly standalone units that try and pump out the waste heat carried in air as opposed to dual systems with an inside and outside unit with the waste heat carried in a circulating liquid. So you get a 3kW heater in the room to add to the load. Not only that, you have to open the window a crack to get the exhaust hose out.
We were grateful for that in 2003, but it made an unconscionable noise and power was cheaper in those days.[ref]Americans will be tapping their heads, and go just get damn split system aircon, but I wonder how you have any hearing left. When I arrived in LA after a long flight and got to the motel the room aircon unit was on, and I thought I can’t hack this racket, so I turned it off. You don’t do that in LA in July – not getting any sleep was preferable to being fried 😉 Airconditioners I’ve come across in Europe are usually made by Japanese firms like Mitsubishi and are much quieter, but that thing was an all-American GE unit and made a terrible noise. Elsewhere in the city aircon seemed unwholesomely rowdy until you got to a Fortune 500 company offices or a bank. I guess people just get used to the noise.[/ref]
So it needs some lateral thinking. I need a large body of water, and the North Sea will do. Time to park myself down by the waterside and chill out to the waves –
and the peaceful sound[ref]the intermittent rumbling is sadly the wind, I only had a handheld rig as I wasn’t expecting to do any recording.[/ref]. There was a pleasant breeze off the sea – it was almost too cold.
I did look around and wonder why the other punters weren’t at work – some were retirees but half seemed to be families. I can’t really moan that the beach was teeming like Benidorm.
So the ermine air conditioning isn’t really that portable. But it does have some extra features, like the fine ruins of Greyfriars Friary
and it seemed rude not to celebrate the moment with some fine dining
Londoners travelling up the A12 for a weekend break may want to note the Friday Street farm shop, which is a few hundred yards detour off the A12 on the London-bound side. The strawberries and cream set me back £3.23 which I thought was a good deal for quality in both items, and they have a good range of foodie delectables. I paid roughly twice that in fuel. There are some that may carp that you can’t spend £10 for gratuitous decadence every day, but I have done my time of ultra-frugality now. No nightingales to be heard in Dunwich forest, where I’ve heard them in previous years, it’s probably too late in the season now
Dunwich is noted for mostly having disappeared into the sea. In 1250 it was a rich port town of 4000 souls. Since then the sea has gnawed away about 1.5km of the coastline, so most of the old town has fallen into the sea. It is now a village of about 100 people.
The sound of the sea is not far from Jacob Forster’s grave. It’s coming for him after two centuries of undisturbed repose…
Mr Money Mustache will no doubt consider seeking air conditioning an act of pusillanimous weakness, but the trouble is that no part of Britain is very far from the sea, and in a maritime climate it always really wants to rain. Even on a hot day with blue sky – the inherent desire to rain results in high humidity. So things like swamp coolers work fine at the lower latitudes of LA, but are a waste of space and money here.
So I am leveraging the fact that I own my own time, and summer is a good time to live like a king, reasonably cheaply. Strawberries and cream by the seaside is pretty good 😉
Incidental rant: why doesn’t Britain have proper cadastral records?
I came across this notice walking from the car park to the Friary:
Every other European country has a definitive land register of who owns what. But not in Britain. Because all the land was seized in 1066, what the King didn’t keep for the Crown was handed out to the aristocracy, which hoards it and passes it down the generations, much of the land in the UK is not on the Land Registry, so you get situations like this.
In any French village you can ask to look at the cadastral records at the Mairie to know who holds a piece of land. Isn’t it about time that we sorted ourselves out and demanded of the aristocracy and anyone else that it bloody well registers every single claim to every piece of land it asserts that it owns, and if no claim is made after 10 years then tough shit, it belongs to us all? After all, if it isn’t registered then Lord Warburton-Smythe can simply make sure everyone looks the other way when his sprog Jimmy Warburton-Smythe-Pollock take over that part of the family estate when he pegs it because no bugger knows about that acreage, because it isn’t on the records. Decent cadastral records would help catch sneaky buggers avoiding inheritance tax and would be a prerequisite to introducing a land value tax. It smacks of dire incompetence not being able to find out who owns what of a scarce and finite resource, and one every other civilised country has solved. But since the lack of transparency serves the aristocracy perfectly well, they won’t let anything be done about out it, the piss taking bastards.
Be afraid, people, be very afraid. Saga[ref]I am very happy to say Saga haven’t yet detected from my spending patterns and personal data held by advertisers that the Ermine has crossed the 50 turns around the sun mark despite me being closer to 60 than 50, I have never received junk mail from them[/ref] tells us the over 50s are big spenders. It’s the beyond retirement that I’m intrigued by, have these profligate silver surfers found a way of borrowing from their own cold dead hands? I’m sure the intergenerational foundation would have something to say about that, but Saga?
I’m sorry, but by the time you’ve gotten over 50. you shouldn’t be in the business of borrowing for frippery, For sure, you shouldn’t be paying down your mortgage if there are better things you can be doing with your money, like socking it into a pension or investing it. But if you want a new kitchen, and need to buy that sucker on the never-never, then you need to take a long hard look at yourself. Now there is a case to say YOLO, but only if you can be sure that you can outrun your debts. The advantage a young person has in going YOLO and living beyond their means is they have human capital in spades – their future self gets to work longer or harder to redeem their overspending. The finished at fifty, not so much.
For a fifty-something to play the YOLO game effectively, you need to be able to know the year you die. Now you can determine that, but it’s all going a bit Logan’s Run
So many new cars, Saga surfers, so few holidays, WTF?
Saga say these over 50s buy three new cars in the decade 50-60 and yet only seven foreign holidays, which strikes me as odd, what’s with the materialism grizzled citizens of Saga-land? Mind you, Saga are one of the few banks to advance a loan based on income both from a pension and from savings and investments. The trouble is the usurous 7.9% APR. I’ve groused before on how an retiree is a loans pariah, even when the aim of the loan is to use tax allowances, indeed a 7.9% APR would be tolerable to get a 20% uplift. But not if you have to be a homeowner and it’s secured on the house. Although taking up a use it or lose it tax allowance is a reasonable sort of thing to borrow money for, it becomes non-reasonable if you open yourself up to the risk of losing your house or becoming a forced seller.
Paying nearly 8% for a new kitchen or car before you have saved for it is just foolish in my view. and by the time you are into your sixth decade you really ought to have learned better. Unless you have a good reason to believe your future self will be richer than your present self, just don’t do it.
The 50s is a very tough decade for the FI crew to get right
This decade is tough for many reasons. You can’t get hold of your pension savings until your are 55 and rising, so a whole chunk of your savings may be sterilised, the old silo problem again. You are fast running out of human capital – it very much depends on the field you have been working in, but openings at the sort of salary you were on if you can consider early retirement may be rare. Your financial risk exposure to redundancy is high, and you have less time to catch up if it does happen to you. You may be at a peak of child-related spending unless you had your children very early in life. One of the notable features of the early retirees from The Firm before 55 was that they were mostly the child-free, and being out of the university expenses meat grinder was probably a big part of that.
Retiring before 55 runs against the general way people do retirement, and it’s a more critical decision because just as you cut the power you have the longest glide path to sustain. It’s a hard balance to get right. Looking back, it is clear that I underspent in the early years following retirement in 2012. Compounding the error I earned a few lousy bits of money in a few one-off hit and run jobs and then picked up a steady income from some technical stuff and bookkeeping until last month. I never recognised these amounts as any useful amount of money, because they were typically less than 10% of what I had been earning when I was working, and I didn’t trust them, so they formed no part of my budgeting. But they seemed to make a surprisingly large contribution to the slowing of the fall in my networth, which was aided by the stock market being tremendously kind to me across the years 2009 to now, until I could make it with just my DB pension because I could defer it long enough.
Much as I was a purist in that the aim of retirement was to bust The Man right out of my life, I discovered that it was freedom from the rules and the bullshit that I wanted, only later did I find it was also the freedom to do other things, which is why it is time to get work right out of my life again as my pension savings come on stream. No SHMD The Returned for me 😉 I am no longer self-employed as of this month, now that I have collected my second and last year of Class II NI contributions purchased at the spiffing price of £150 p.a. When I was on PAYE I was paying over £5k p.a. and the cheeky barstewards made those years count less for being contracted out. It’s not necessarily the last money I will ever earn, but I will favour no-commitment one-off hit and run jobs in future.
I don’t know what the personal circumstances of all these profligate Saga spenders are. This extract doesn’t convince me they are that well off –
Lenders have been short sighted by turning down people by looking only at earned income which is one of the reasons we launched Saga Personal Loans, to give more people access to credit they can afford in order to live the way they want to.
Perhaps Saga haven’t targeted me because I am simply too poor, not because I have cleverly dodged their tracking mechanisms. But if their fifty somethings are borrowing money to do up their houses and buy three new cars in 10 years, then these guys aren’t that rich either, and they certainly aren’t living within their means. I spy trouble ahead for these indebted consumers as their human capital rapidly dwindles. The ermine may look poor to Saga, I’ve never bought a new car in my entire life, never mind three after retiring. But I am rich in a way that these silver borrowers aren’t. When I buy consumer goods on credit cards I pay them down in full each month as the statements fall due. Saga’s big spenders are rich in cars and kitchens, I am rich in self-determination. Each to their own.
I’ve never come across the concept of serious leisure before, but a bit of Internet ratholing brought me to the Serious Leisure Concept, which takes a look at how people spend their spare time, should they be lucky enough to have such a thing in their lives. The site is heavy on sociological speak, but they break down leisure time occupations into
the sort of instant gratification, hedonistic and gormless thing that gives leisure a bad name – watching reality TV etc. It’s a bit wider than that
[Casual Leisure] is fundamentally hedonic […] Among its types are: play (including dabbling), relaxation (e.g., sitting, napping, strolling), passive entertainment (e.g., TV, books, recorded music), active entertainment (e.g., games of chance, party games), sociable conversation, and sensory stimulation (e.g., sex, eating, drinking). Casual volunteering is also a type of casual leisure as is “pleasurable aerobic activity,” or casual leisure requiring effort sufficient to cause marked increase in respiration and heart rate (Stebbins, 2004a). Casual leisure is considerably less substantial, and offers no career of the sort just described for serious leisure. In broad, colloquial language casual leisure, hedonic as it is, could serve as the scientific term for doing what comes naturally. Yet, despite the seemingly trivial nature of most casual leisure, I argue elsewhere that it is nonetheless important in personal and social life. (my emphasis)
Well, yeah. You need the yin to balance the yang in life, and going without shooting the breeze and eating is taking austerity too far.
I think we all get this side of things. The other two categories were interesting additions to the taxonomy:
is the systematic pursuit of an amateur, hobbyist, or volunteer core activity that is highly substantial, interesting, and fulfilling and where, in the typical case, participants find a career in acquiring and expressing a combination of its special skills, knowledge, and experience
They then break down amateur, hobbyist and volunteer down further, but the essence of this type of thing is that it isn’t an immediate and known win like getting a coffee, you must put something of yourself into it to get something out of it. I found this sort of thing more rewarding after retiring, for the simple reason that you have more time to hone the art. I screwed up a little in being shorter of money in the first few years of retiring than I am now – don’t pay off your mortgage early if you want to flatten your income profile 😉 But I would go as far as to say getting into serious leisure will improve your experience of retirement no end. I’m not comfortable with their use of the term career, but perhaps that’s because I have BTDT, unlike Jim I have absolutely no desire to climb another greasy pole. Like him, I did not leave the rat-race as an elective move towards the positive goal of FI, although perhaps I had the advantage of having a three-year run-out period. That nobbled any fond nostalgia for the hell on earth that the modern management practices have turned the professional workplace into for my INTJ type. Either way, I hope they don’t mean career in a work sense, but it is of course true that there is an arc of progression from noob to wizard-guru as you hone the art and craft of your serious leisure pursuit.
I think I want to do more of this. And perhaps less idle surfing, though I do love coming across new ideas and poking a curious ermine snout into the vagaries of this world. I recently got back into video editing and shooting, partly for a short job with some travel coming up, and I was amazed at the improved performance and the way editing and compositing, even 3D compositing is done routinely. I whiled away most of today learning what has happened in this field since I used Premiere around 2007. Is that serious leisure or idle mucking about? Dunno.
is a short-term, moderately complicated, either one-shot or occasional, though infrequent, creative undertaking carried out in free time. Such leisure involves considerable planning, effort, and sometimes skill or knowledge, but for all that is not of the serious variety nor intended to develop into such. Nor is it casual leisure. The adjective “occasional” describes widely spaced undertakings for such regular occasions as arts festivals, sports events, religious holidays, individual birthdays, or national holidays while “creative” stresses that the undertaking results in something new or different, showing imagination, skill, or knowledge. Although most projects would appear to be continuously pursued until completed, it is conceivable that some might be interrupted for several weeks, months, even years
I was unable to work out if I do any of this. I do pursue some projects over time, but I can’t see how “continuously pursued until completed fits in”. That starts to get to sound suspiciously like work 😉 One needs a good few leisure projects, and cut between them. That sort of dissipation wouldn’t be tolerated at work!
I was surprised that so many listed travel in their project-based leisure, I’d have put it in casual. But they did the course so they know better, or maybe their travel isn’t like mine. We also have serious sample bias here because all the respondents are undergraduates, they have yet to join the treadmill of the rat-race and they probably don’t have children.
I got on to the serious leisure site after reading about the demise of the weekend, which is much more the typical narrative that you hear, basically it’s ‘Leisure – what’s that? We work all the hours given us and on the weekend we drive the kids here there and everywhere in between doing the laundry etc etc”. I recognise two of the themes from her piece. The first theme was the much greater freedom I had as a child that seems to be the case for children now, and also the opportunities to fill my own time without structured events. Having children was something people did and fitted into their lives when Katrina Onstad and I were children[ref]I would hazard a guess she was a child less long ago than I, perhaps Canadian kids kept their freedom to roam longer than Brits[/ref], it seems to be much more all-encompassing now.
The other theme was the way people don’t seem to have hobbies any more.
Hobbies are declining, but a hobby is exactly the kind of activity that adds value to the weekend. Stamp collectors and basement inventors may not be cool, but they know the benefits of becoming fully immersed in an activity and losing track of time – that rejuvenating “flow” state
The students were anomalous in that they did have hobbies. When I was growing up in what by modern standards would be a poor area, many of the adult working neighbours had hobbies, they were often creative but low-cost. Many of the guys actually made furniture[ref]Look at this Popular Mechanics from the 1970s for how common making furniture this was – I wouldn’t have a hope in hell of making something accurately enough out of wood to be fit for being in the house[/ref] using hand tools, others made models, and some of the women made clothes[ref]this was the 1960s and 1970s, remember[/ref], presumably both clothes and furniture were much dearer in real terms than they are now. I’d say there’s more consumption and casual leisure now compared to the other types that there used to be.
We’ve imbued work with the job of giving us meaning, and it seems to rob us of our leisure time in so many ways
I recognised another pathology mentioned in Katrina Onstad’s weekend article –
A friend used to make beautiful earrings occasionally. Almost ritualistically, she would buy the beads, and carefully craft the small, coloured jewels in a quiet workspace. Then came Etsy. Now she makes beautiful earrings and sells them, ships them and manages this business along with a full-time job and a family. What was leisure became labour. The side hustle is a weekend thief, but in a time of stagnant incomes, many must choose income over time.
I’ve seen that too. I made some ultrasonic microphones because I wanted to differentiate bat sounds and ended up selling some of these because people wanted to do the same. It was okay, but I was working at the time, so it was a weekend time thief. More recently I had been doing the accounts for a small operation and recently finished that – the time commitment was low, but the relief on finishing up is worth far more than the income. It’s unpleasant enough doing my own tax return, life is too short to see more of the taxman’s tiresome demands on behalf of others.
Somewhere in the back of my mind there must be an old tape still playing out from childhood or early adulthood that income = security, and worse than that, only income from selling my time = security. Perhaps when I finally draw my works pension in a couple of years I will chill from that. Intellectually I can see that I will run out my SIPP in a couple of years, this year it paid me with whisker of the HRT threshold, but I don’t really regard that sort of saved money as an income. There is learning to be had here. I’m not averse to doing the odd hit-and-run job, the microphones were that sort of thing, but I need to avoid regular commitments – the sort of thing Katrina’s Etsy friend ended up with. There is a lot of recommendation to turn a hobby into your job, and yet some good reasons not to.
Much of the point of hobbies and leisure interests is that this isn’t work. The fun with the microphone was developing it and looking for bats with it and hearing the differences, it was solving the problems. After making one or two, the novelty palls, and I’m not good at repetitive things, it’s the fun of the chase of design I liked more. I guess the lady with the earrings may have the same thing – making a new one is the buzz, mailing them out and dealing with returns, not so much perhaps.
There’s a more subtle problem. The business world tends to kill creativity in its search for continuous improvement and optimisation, it strips out the places to play. Although it isn’t creativity in the artistic sense, the design part of problem-solving is a form of creativity, if it isn’t up against the clock IMO. As a young research engineer/scientist I covered many more areas than I did as time went on. Part of that was The Firm shifted quite heavily away from research to development and then into IT, specialising and compartmentalising the workforce as it did so. But I think there is a wider trend towards specialisation – the mantra of concentrate on your core competencies and outsource everything else. In the more vertically integrated scientific and technical companies I worked in 30 years ago I got to learn electronics, I got trained to use a lathe, milling and shaping machines and oxyacetylene welding not because this was what I was going to be doing but because they didn’t want their researchers to run the workshop staff ragged with requirements that couldn’t be made. Companies now would probably outsource all that sort of stuff unless their primary function was mechanical engineering.
That may be more efficient, but it’s much less interesting. Pursuing a hobby doesn’t demand hyper-efficiency, because it is just as much about the journey as it is about the destination. There’s reward to be had in the tides of a hobby, in the ebb and flow of the creative process. These meanderings may not be efficient, but they are part of the fun.
Many of us in the financial independence/retire early space want to get financial independence because we want freedom from the Man taking over all our time. However, attaining financial independence takes a long time and it’s a tough slog. Retirement Investing Today has reached the finish line in his early forties after nine years of this. RIT even asks himself is he an outlier, I would say he is. I am less of one, but I went three years with no holidays and working hard and spending as little as possible to get out in my early fifties. What you have to go through to get to being able to retire early isn’t fun before, though it is afterwards 😉
It also concerned me that a lot of the narrative on here isn’t very widely applicable to people starting their working lives now – after all I started work thirty-five years ago. I think Andy has a lot to offer this cohort, because while work has changed, it isn’t all adverse change, and some of his ideas may help play that hand better in the modern world. Andy challenged me in the narrowness of my vision regarding work – his persistence in the face of a curmudgeonly and stuck in it’s-ways Ermine can be seen in this comment thread
Getting to financial independence is about earning and saving, and it pays to get that right, both in terms of earning as much as you can and saving as much of that as you can, but I’d say that more than half the battle is getting control of your headspace, knowing what you are doing and why. The younger Ermine was called out as a spendthrift wastrel and compared to many in the PF scene he was, although he avoided the general category error that is consumer debt which dooms many to a life of wage-slavery.
Andy is offering a different take on this. More choices open up when you separate the requirement for independence from financial independence and retirement
Andy has looked at the financial independence/retire early (FI/RE) scene with fresh eyes, and he observes a lot of independence can be had before financial independence. He is an inspiring example of someone in the FI community who isn’t working in finance[ref]I have nothing against people working in finance in London. But you’re a breed apart because of the pay levels, and the rest of us need hope and inspiration too ;)[/ref] in London, but is getting freedom of self-determination and control of how he spends his days. Andy is in his early thirties and lives with his charming wife and two delightful young children in the beautiful surroundings of Devon near Dartmoor.
In particular, he is of the view that many of us miss the point in focusing on the distant goal of financial independence. You can get a lot of independence and a lot of resilience from The Man by looking at working and earning a living in a wider way.
So I decided to find out more, and visited him down in Devon, on the way to looking at some prehistoric stones on Dartmoor. The rest of this post is an interview with Andy about some of his ideas on life and work.
An Ermine interview with Andy from Liberate.life on how he separates independence from financial independence.
The title of Andy’s site says it all – his aim is to liberate life from the limitations of working for The Man on one side, while at the same time not deferring all gratification until he is as grizzled as an Ermine, because his kids will have become adults by then and he’d have missed them growing up.
Changing your thinking patterns is never easy, and a lot of how we think about money and work was set quite early on. In the interview I ask Andy about his vision of what a good life is, and he talks about how mastery of his destiny is important to him and what he has changed to get closer to that, and his different take on financial independence.
More ideas from Andy on how to liberate your life
Andy’s website liberate.life is both about the how and why, but he offers more targeted way to help you make the changes:
one on one coaching* on how to become more entrepreneurial, and how to test new business ideas so they show whether they are likely to succeed sooner rather than later.
Andy can help you liberate your life with his one-on-one course, if you are open to new ways of thinking, and have the talent and drive to make changes. He is open about the scale of the challenge and the rewards. Andy’s approach is to steadfastly challenge limiting beliefs about work and earning, so you can use your ability to add value to other people to the full. Hell, he has even got the grizzled Ermine to think about doing some kind of paid work, just for the fun of it[ref]Note: I am interested in the research field and it benefits people I care about. I am not The Returned 😉 [/ref]
He’s even more persistent in delivering the message in person. Resistance is futile – the world of work has changed, and agility and lateral thinking in the face of change are what helps get ahead now IMO.
What did I learn from Andy?
I should acknowledge I haven’t done his course, but we did talk for a long time. I’m not his target audience because it is too late for me. I had to solve the financial independence conundrum on my own. And yet it’s clear that both my limited history and the nature of leaving the workforce left large regions of limiting beliefs:
Limiting belief 1: A view that selling is a sleazy occupation and I have never done it and have no place in it
This is as a result of my limited experience- I have only ever worked for four companies, and three out of the four were very big firms. I was far removed from the front line. Selling is an essential part of making any enterprise work, and my concept of sales and marketing was a combination of Arthur Daley, Spanish boiler-room telephone sales scams and used car vendors.
Now if I look back at my career I have sold ideas and strategies to people, but if we ignore that as lost along with the career, I then looked at designs and services I have sold to people outside my main job. And discovered that because I had always conceptualised sales as the spoken word, I had ignored sales I had made through the written word – a few thousand pounds on articles (ignored because I have been reading journalists decrying the death of print for years), and also a few pieces of equipment sold because people had chased me down to buy equipment after I have published technical articles on new opportunities and techniques.
In particular, because outside work I generally influenced through the written and not the spoken word I missed that I had already been selling through widening influence in the way of writing technical articles, even if I did make my customers chase me down and articulate their requirements as a request. I am clearly of the Ralph Waldo Emerson mousetrap school of thought here 😉 If I wanted to take this further I would carry on in that line, using influence by contributing original articles to special-interest organisations and getting sales from that. I had missed seeing all of this because selling is done verbally in my beliefs. It is theoretically possible that using social media I could expand this, although I don’t have to. I use Google to publicise my articles[ref]this blog is an exception, I don’t really know how people find this, though I am glad you do, and I tip my hat to fellow bloggers who I believe are the main route[/ref], and by choosing to specialise in niche areas it works for me. I don’t SEO or all that malarkey – write decent stuff about technology I am interested in and choose small pools. Decent writing matters. I’m never going to win the Booker prize, I am wordy and not always focused. But in these small pools I am competing with engineers, not with Shakespeare, JK Rowling or even Dan Brown. ’nuff said.
Limiting belief 2: Quite serious blind spots regarding working and earning
These came around because of the way I reached FI, running away from something rather than towards it. You shouldn’t do that generally in life, and I was saved from the boredom that afflicts many who retire to get away by the return of an inquiring mind. That exit left marks from the experience that work hurt a lot at a particular time of weakness, and this was generalised. In fact it was the absence of control that hurt, if I had been in a position to turn round to the boss who tried to shaft me and say
“Quite frankly, if that’s how you feel then you can f**k right off and stick your performance management where the sun doesn’t shine, if you want to do things in such a stupid way then be my guest and find some other sucker to cover for your failure to look ahead”
I probably would have felt fine and dandy about the whole thing. Obviously I would then still be working, arguably wasting precious time of my life to earn money I didn’t need so it’s perhaps best that it happened that way.
So I ended up with the feeling that the whole principle of selling some of my human capital for money ends up as pain, as opposed to the specific example at that specific time did. I inferred the general from the particular, and you shouldn’t really do that from one data point, it’s bad epistemology.
I am sure there are other limiting beliefs, but I’ll vouch for Andy’s tenacity in hauling those out.
So there you go, particularly for younger cohorts for whom the journey to FI looks very long and hard. As the man says – Sick of the daily grind but can’t wait for FI? Take a look.
*Disclosure – Andy contributes to the Ermine’s beer fund for signups through here, but this won’t cost you any extra. I never promote something I don’t see real value in, I scrapped Google Ads from Simple Living In Suffolk years ago when they flashed offers of Wonga et al to unsuspecting readers. Having met him, Andy seems to play a pretty straight bat, judge for yourself.
Before they are financially independent, most people work to earn the money to buy the stuff they need and want, it’s how 21st century capitalism is meant to work at the moment. It gives rise to the term ‘work’ – something that you have to do otherwise bad shit happens, like you end up with all your stuff thrown out on the pavement.
Because it’s something you have to do for many years, many of us get Stockholm syndrome with work. Inveterate story-tellers that humans are, we tell ourselves that work is innately a Good thing and lends meaning to our lives. Let’s take a fine example of this from someone who I’m generally in agreement with, other than in this aspect of life:
But I believe almost everyone will benefit from having an ongoing economic relationship with society while they can – even if only for a day or two a week.
I’m the poster child for disputing this paradigm. I consider it a limiting belief, and have taken pot-shots at the Calvinist work ethic every so often on here. The beauty of financial independence, however, is that you get to have the choice of whether to work or not. Over at SHMD, Jim has decided that he missed work, so he went and got himself a job, even though he doesn’t need the money.
I would generalise that to everything that irritates us… I don’t think it’s particularly personal in this case. If Monevator and Jim and 99% of the rest of the FI world want to work till they drop, good luck to them. It’s just the concept that work is an inherent good that gets my goat. As a society, we are going to have very serious trouble and mental distress with this meme if the robots and globalisation really do take half our professional jobs in the coming years, unless we have a social revolution that probably involves bending some of the axioms currently underpinning society. Hopefully one of them will be work = meaning 😉
I realize today that nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads to himself.
In order to live intentionally, therefore, I need to separate the beliefs coloured by past experience from my current experience, and my temperament had the past experiences not happened. Otherwise I will live in an imaginary prison, boundaries that once had value but have no more.
What does the word Work mean to me
It means a lack of freedom, it means grind, it means being trapped. It means earning money, it means selling my time for money, it means restrictions on my time. It means doing stupid shit like justifying my existence, it means filling in time sheets that have no bearing on reality, paperwork just because. Because humans are devils with their recency bias, this litany of woe is because the most recent experience was largely negative. But for 27 years out of my 30 it also meant the opportunity to travel, to do good interesting stuff and to build capital across my working life as I slowly exchanged human capital for financial and social capital. If I were to allocate the experience of my years evenly, then only 10% were bad, maybe 12% if I add in the six months I was unemployed between graduating into Thatcher’s first recession in the 1980s and starting work.
So it’s easy to see the limiting belief. Work = pain, and I need get as far away from that as possible. Even in 2009 I intellectually knew that was an extreme view, but one that because of where I was in my working life I could get away with. The power of the intensity of feeling galvanised me to clobber wasteful spend and save and take the necessary risks with extreme prejudice, and reach FI 8 years early.
What I did not realise was that simplification also distorts
and it is the distortion that clouds much of my thinking when it comes to the topic of making money
I think the word ‘work’ has picked up some unnecessary bad connotations […], especially as we’ve transitioned out of the years when ‘the recipe’ (grammar school -> degree -> job for 40 years -> pay your dues -> final salary pension scheme) still worked.
I was that grammar school guy, son of a maintenance fitter, who went to university, got a degree, then worked only four real jobs[ref]excluding casual crap before leaving university – kitchen portering, repairing radios and TVs and odd-jobbing[/ref], have a final salary pension scheme. It worked for me. I was able to retire early because I saved roughly half the notional capital behind my FSP, but having the FSP effectively gives me a massive bond-like holding, which means my risk tolerance with stock market investments is insane, because the FSP will keep the wolf from my door.
Liberate.life is the counterfactual to my experience – younger and more dynamic, but electronics engineering is the field the younger Ermine worked in. And yet he is yin to my yang – he can sell, and freelances, and as I read this it looks like the antithesis of everything I know about work. It’s like looking in the mirror and seeing half the image right way up and half of the reflection upside down. I’m damned if I know which half is off but I suspect it’s mine 😉
So it was time to investigate the subject of work and money deeper. For a long time the obvious issue, that I associate work with pain, simplified things too much
I associate specialisation with success with work
For 25 years I was working in a big company, and in a big company hierarchy. Big companies tend to narrow people down into specialisms in engineering, because they have enough people that they can do that. I pursued some technical interests after leaving work, and have some of this on a blog, when I read it back it is a whole load of random bits and pieces on all sorts of subjects as I flit from one are of interest to another. Mine is worse on that front than your typical engineer’s blog, they at least tend to have a reasonable common thread for a few posts. As someone who is financially independent I can afford to pursue my whims, but if I were looking for staff and I saw that sort of character, I would think Jack of all trades and master of none, and file the CV in the round filing cabinet on the floor.
I haven’t even stayed with electronics and software, a few weeks ago I offered to fix a generator on a no fix no fee basis. I was pretty sure that Google was going to be my friend, the world is full of Honda GX small single cylinder 4-stroke petrol engines and Google is full of people who are describing faults and getting hints on how to fix them. The fault was the engine would run for about 20 seconds and the die. Google told me this was likely a blocked breather vent in the fuel cap, which I confirmed by unscrewing the fuel cap as the engine was about to conk out. Whereupon it ran fine[ref]Obviously you shouldn’t run an engine with the fuel cap open because petrol vapour is inflammable and invisible so don’t try this at home.[/ref] 😉
TFS identified this sort of mentality as a ‘scanner’ but twenty-five years of working in big companies has taught me to identify it as ‘dilettante’. Apparently it is more tolerated in today’s world of work, a kinder term for that sort is multipotentialite. It is more tuned to today’s world in some ways, because better communications means provided you can search well, you can gain the benefits of other people’s experiences by covering masses of ground. You just couldn’t do that before the Web, you couldn’t find enough different people to talk to, and it would have taken ages anyway. Multiple tabs were made for that sort of approach to finding stuff out – cover masses of ground, fast.
So I have uncovered some unhelpful associations, and indeed at some level I despise that generalist tendency because for 25 years that wasn’t how to have success at work. It is possible I played against type for a quarter of a century because I prized security and stability and did not know how to manage money over more than a monthly basis. I always needed an answer to the Micawber question, and a regular income made that possible. I struggled with that while running several years from savings, in hindsight I didn’t spend enough. The generalist tendency occasionally caused me grief at work and probably slowed my rise up the greasy pole, on the other hand even in a big company you need people who can cross domains. It tended to work well in good times but be awkward in bad times.
But since I have the drains up I may as well keep on digging at these unvoiced assumptions…
I associate a steady stream with income – I am virtually blind to feeling uneven income is income
I can’t really relate to income that comes in unevenly in dribs and drabs, because for 30 years income arrived in roughly the same amount each month, apart from overtime (in the early days) and bonuses (in the last couple of decades). It’s still a little bit of a mystery to me how a string of lousy £50 here, £100 there dividends in my ISA adds up to a good few thousands of pounds of income when rolled up over the year. I was able to jump over the uneven lumps ≠ income in the ISA because there are so many of these minor transactions I can think of this statistically. Many people work really hard to make their dividend income spread evenly across the year, this sort of happened naturally for me, although slightly peaking in Q1 and Q3. You can have 20 companies working for you in a HYP, but I would defy anybody to work 20 part-time jobs or even have 20 streams of income, that sort of diversification is hard to have with many income streams.
At a gut level I don’t really consider the sort of hit and run one-off jobs like the generator as income. For sure, Quicken adds them up for me so I can declare this, as long as I keep my pension + earnings below the personal allowance I am chilled. Last year I was able to toss a lot more than the usual £3600 in my SIPP because these things added up to a fair bit more than that. But it doesn’t feel like income, because it is unreliable and lumpy.
I associate earning money with work
and worse than that, I associate earning money with selling my time for money. So these one-off jobs don’t feel like work which is good, but they don’t feel like earning money either, which is bad. I don’t trust them, so I just bung the result into SIPP and live off the steady income from the SIPP, because I can’t budget with variable lumpy amounts. By a curious twist of fate a retiree older than 55 can put all their earnings into a SIPP in one year and get it bumped up by 20% to extract the next year, provided they don’t draw more than the personal allowance. I’ve only got another few years worth of that before my main pension shoves me well into the normal tax bracket, but I may as well enjoy the windfall while it’s there.
And yet together with the income from the ISA these odd jobs will start to add up to about the national minimum wage. It was not so long ago that I was chuffed that the dividend income from the ISA matched what I would have got from jumping through the hoops to get JSA (£71p.w so ~ 3700 p.a.) and yet the rate of increase of the ISA income per year is creeping up[ref]in fairness that was written nearly six years ago when the best you could put into an ISA was about 10k p.a. Some of the win in getting to three times that was the fact Osborne turbocharged this to time and a half, the time honoured magic of Saving Hard at work rather than any particulalry sharp investing chops[/ref]. I don’t draw an income from the ISA because I don’t need to – I want to pump that up as much as I can before I enter the regular BR tax bracket in a few years, since it is tax-free income.
I have lived in a big-company bubble for 25 years and it has limited my vision
I owe liberate.life some beers for widening my search. Because the similarities of the engineering skillset (naturally separated by 25 years or so due to the age difference) and yet pretty much everything else looking like a counterfactual, he’s shown me a set of limiting beliefs I was unaware of. More surprisingly to me, they aren’t particularly due to the trauma of the nutty performance management usage and abusage I took in 2009. That does exist, and has it’s own consequences. The idea of following Jim SHMD’s path and selling my time to an employer to draw a salary brings me out in hives. I’m not gonna go there, and I don’t need to.
But unassociated with that, my concept of making money was massively narrowed by my experience of working life, the unchallenged assumptions of that grammar school kid who followed the default track. Now that I am grizzled of fur and sufficiently past the finish line that I have options all the way up to and including doing nothing, I can zoom out and ask myself the question – is there a better way?
Perhaps I should turn the telescope round and ask myself what do I want out of earning money. I have identified a project where I could use a bit more money. It doesn’t directly change my own lifestyle, so my greatest fear of earning more through selling my skills doesn’t apply – that fear is that I would earn money, inflate my lifestyle with Consumer Crap™, get locked into it and lose the delightful freedom of FI. I am happy with what I will have, my lifestyle will inflate somewhat anyway as my income increases once my main pension starts. I don’t need to earn more money to raise my lifestyle. Although once I believed that I screwed up discharging my mortgage early which meant I took an income suckout for the last four years, now I am on the other side I’m not so sure that I regret taking the suckout over the convalescence period. but that’s easy to say from the other side of the mountain. I got a significant ‘pay rise’ this when my DC pension started in June and will get a massive ‘pay rise’ when my non-deferred pension starts in a few years. Breaking the link between making money and my own lifestyle gives me detachment which can distance me from the suffering normally associated with ‘work’. It is one aspect of the freedom to that financial independence is about, once you have spent the time integrating the freedom from.
So what do I want from off-piste opportunities to make money?
a subset for the simple reason that I have command of my time, being FI. I will do other things that fulfil me, this does not need to replace my use of time, but it needs to add, or at the very least not take away.
I want to earn through doing something that is congenial
has some originality or novelty
creative in some way[ref]it doesn’t have to be engineering – for the past few years I have been makingsome money from photography and from sound recording. But trends in the wider economy are running away from those sorts of things[/ref]
with decent people who aren’t dickheads in general[ref]Everybody s a dickhead sometimes, it’s part of the human condition, and that’s OK. Persistent dickheadery is what I want to avoid[/ref].
that helps people or causes that I know or care about personally
that is specifically something I bring to the party from skills, temperament or talent if any
I want to spend less than a day a week on this, but I favour that being in all-or-nothing chunks with long gaps in between. Part of this is that I am limited by the tax system, I don’t want to work for the government 20-40% of my time. I have done my share of that over the last 30 years.
I don’t what to sell my time for money. Obviously doing something creative takes time, but I don’t want it in the form of billable hours, more billable results
I don’t want to ever see performance management. An engineer’s work speaks for itself, should that be the field I use
I don’t want regular or ongoing time commitments. Hit and run jobs are what I want, get in, do, then get out
I am happy with no fix no fee and no guarantee of regular work – but if you aren’t there regularly for me there’s no guarantee I will be there for you 😉 and yes, that is sort of at odds with 9
I prefer to sell Mind, not Stuff. Stuff gives warehousing and cashflow problems, and regulation is a bitch. It’s not hard and fast though.
I do not want to be derivative or routine. I don’t want to be a replaceable work unit. No chuntering out ebooks or matched betting which seem common fave side hustles in the PF scene. I am rich enough not to have to do this, and old enough to know my time is limited.
no franchising, if I am not original enough to make a decent return then I will just walk away
and if I do do this, I want to earn a lot more than the minimum wage for the time I do spend on it. Unless it really is so much fun that I don’t mind, but I’m not building that assumption in from the off. I am not volunteering. I don’t do that, particularly the sort of staffing job. I have done one-off data analysis and design stuff for the RSPB, but not under the usual volunteer x hours a week, it was task-oriented.
Unfortunately the logical conclusion is freelancing or contracting. I have no experience of that at all, zero track record, no domain knowledge, I am an introvert and can’t sell. So I have never done this in a big way although I did have a multimedia/web design company on the side in the early days of the WWW mid 90s to early 2000s. But selling was my weak point and when the major customer changed technology I folded the company. I read this and think ‘bloody hell, I can’t do any of that’.
Not only that, but it appears that small companies are where the most likely chances of success are. I have worked for a small company, a 10-15 man band, but it was at the very beginning of my career 34 years ago. Small companies are like the past – they are a foreign country; they do things differently there.
I had some bizarre engineering experiences in small firms, two stick in my mind. In my first company, the design engineer swore blind that a virtual earth amplifier had a high input impedance. Now at 22 I didn’t know a lot, particularly when to keep schtum and STFU, and I had been testing these blasted things which used to want to take off and oscillate more often than not. That’s bad in an optical sensor. But I did know that a virtual earth was a low impedance input. So when there was much head scratching in a meeting as to why we have more duds than good ‘uns I go and pipe up “but a virtual earth is a low impedance – the clue is in the name”. I was dead right, and the clue is indeed in the name, but there was a deathly silence and the assembled multitude digested the unwelcome fact that the lead designer had goofed, as pointed out by the rawest recruit. Seemed a good idea to move on from there after a year…
The second was when I was the lead engineer on a project at The Firm, and we had contracted some clever fellows in the Cambridge Fens. These guys had minds like planets, and I had told them the average TV sound in expected typical audio levels of 0.7Vrms. For some reason they decided they only needed a peak to peak level of 1V, sadly convention has it that the peak to peak amplitude in this case is 0.7×(2×√2) or nearly 2V. The passage of time had gentled the Ermine’s needle-sharp teeth and I had learned that it pays to nudge people to coming to the conclusion that perhaps a mistake had crept in somewhere. But I confess I had to look it up in a textbook after a meeting where one of these guys a lot brighter than me was declaiming that the signal was entirely correctly 1V, he really believed that. They were awesome at digital stuff, could pull their set-top box code apart and have it have it changed in a few hours. In a bigger company somebody else would have been in charge of all that fuzzy analogue stuff and this challenge to basic engineering fundamentals wouldn’t have happened, particularly in front of the customer 😉 Small companies have much more of a heady mix of absolute brilliance and the occasional absence of fundamentals, in my limited experience of them.
For many reasons I would be a fish out of water trying to apply what’s left of my skills in this different world. I have no knowledge of the terrain, and I don’t know if my passport is good for the country. To my advantage I don’t have to succeed, though of course that may work against me too, perhaps I will not have sufficient fire. It’s not looking good, but I have one key advantage. I am not desperate – I am financially independent. Even at the moment the amount in my current account slowly creeps up month on month and I need to toss it into the Nationwide every so often to win 5%. As a result my risk profile is very different from normal, I can screw up a few times and let it go.
There are other odd wrinkles, take this perfectly reasonable recommendation
I can see that might work when each piece of work is won anew, ie there is no history, it’s obvious to play to your strengths. But in my career I achieved many wins by fighting down weaknesses – it is this which turned an introverted young Ermine into someone who could speak in public and lead international teams. Even in the specific realm of personal finance I had to fight down the common get rich quick belief that trading is the way to make money with stocks, and come to understand that the noisiness of the information, the abnormally high likelihood of infrequent outliers and the high frictional costs mean that often the less you do[ref]inaction on its own is not enough although Robert Kirby’s The Coffee Can Portfolio made a good case it was, inaction is necessary but not sufficient IMO[/ref] the better your long-term performance.
So there are many hurdles and mindset-shifts before I could turn freelancing for small companies into something workable. And surprisingly, none of them are particularly associated with the issues that finished my big company career. Why consider this route? Because the one thing I know I don’t want to do again is a regular job. I don’t have the time, there are all sorts of bad associations, and it’s not what I want to do with my life. Because that was the only way I knew of making money, I accepted I was never going to make money from my human capital again.
People have occasionally challenged that assumption. But it took time for the noise and hum from the crash-landing of my career to die down, and for me to see an opportunity that wouldn’t lock me into a consumption lifestyle, so that I could see the remaining limiting beliefs. Whether it will amount to aught is unknown at the moment.
Andy’s liberate.life is a different take on financial independence, with less emphasis on the financial and more on the independence
In the personal finance sphere our weapon of choice is of course personal finance, it is the Law of the Instrument. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. It’s written in the term financial independence, hell, what other sort is there? Well, given the assumption we are talking about living in a First world consumer economy in the 21st century, that is.
We are aiming to save enough money to not have to work. RIT is the poster child for doing this relatively young, but his journey to FI was a pretty harsh ride. I’ve never earned anywhere near the amount of money I guess RIT earns, but I’ve never taken that sort of punishing schedule for years on end either. In my case, because I was naturally closer to the end of my working life, I could get away with focusing on the financial route to independence. You can become more independent, in terms of choice on how you spend your time, without becoming financially independent. The model I and most people follow, working for a company to get nearly all your income, is one of the least independent ways to get the financial capital you need to live life in a Western consumer economy.
You made it! You’re financially comfortable. Your car is new enough to not break down all the time. You live in a nice house. If you have kids, they’re well dressed. People hold you in high regard and by society’s standards, you are a success.
So why the hell does your life feel like such a grind? At one point, you were young and full of optimism but now you just follow the routine, day in, day out. You don’t have any passion for what you do any more. You do it because you have to. You’ve got bills to pay. You can’t see a way out of this before the sweet release of retirement at 60-something… and then you’ll be too old and worn out to live out the dreams you’ve always had anyway.
Now since I am not a million years off 60 I would dispute
and then you’ll be too old and worn out to live out the dreams you’ve always had anyway.
Bollocks to that, mate, remember that statistically happiness is U-shaped across the life cycle in many Western societies, so some of this is part of the human condition. But that proviso aside, he’s offering a freebie course in how to get FI[ref]for the sake of full disclosure I have done neither[/ref], and if you want to pick his brains specifically 1:1 interactivity is there if you pay him for his time.
In many ways getting to FI is a matter of asking the right questions as much as finding the right answers. The right questions can lift limiting beliefs into the light of conciousness. You don’t have to fight limiting beliefs if you don’t want to or need to. I’m not going to bother fighting the belief that working for an employer has become a soul-destroying issue of gamesmanship and playing the game with meaningless metrics that strip out the joy of solving problems sometimes otherwise known as work, because I don’t need to. It’s probably not universally true, even for me now.
But now I have found a potential application for deploying the residual vestiges of human capital I may still have which won’t lock me into lifestyle inflation and consumer crap, it is worth challenging some of the limiting beliefs about making money other than just using my financial capital. And without a doubt, Andy helped me ask some of those questions, and I have found that the default answers were often wrong, inconsistent and incomplete.
So if you feel you have made it but want a way out go read some of his work, if only to ask yourself some awkward questions. You may not like the answers but they can serve you well.
After all, they sort of do the same kind of thing, act in the same sort of space and need to merge IMO. Before 2009 I had been a member of English Heritage for a while, largely to get into Stonehenge for free[ref]free once I’d gone about three times in a year ISTR[/ref]. It was a good staging post on the way down to the West Country, and usually picked up enough visits to make it worthwhile. It’s been a while since I was part of this, but now I have returned to the land of those with a regular income, I need to go out and put some of that to work.
I want to see more of Britain, and take my time
One of the remarkable things about Britain is that a lot of the place is like a history theme park, and that it has all sorts of bizarre things scattered around the landscape. Take this oddball triangular building. It challenges you a bit being inside, we are so accustomed to rectangularity in rooms that it’s quite disorienting.
The aristocracy of this country was eccentric that way, and fortunately the reforming post-war governments dispossessed enough of these folk of their undeserved wealth gifted them by that varmint William the Conk that we have the opportunity to see some of them.The general principle was since so many people got slaughtered in service to King and Country in the World Wars it was considered a bit rough to have the toff dynasties lording it over the proles like they used to.
There’s no need to get the violins out for the aristocracy – the landed gentry still own about half the rural land this sceptred isle, because the crafty devils struck a deal with the reforming post-war governments. Of course, Mr Attlee, they said, you wouldn’t like to break up family farms now, would you, after all we have just survived a war and had to dig for victory? So give us an exception on agricultural land for inheritance tax. Which still stands, but of course our landed gentry can’t be arsed to drive their own little Fordson tractors or get their hands dirty. They take public money in the form of subsidies to the tune of about £245 for every British household to reduce the costs of carrying their unearned capital stored in agricultural land, get huge contracting firms to farm the land, and flood it with chemicals, poison our birds while they of course keep the ancestral wealth in their dynasty free of IHT, because it’s agriculture, innit? To add insult to injury for the great unwashed, Gerald Grosvenor, who owned £9bn of ancestral wealth when he carked it recently, moaned that it didn’t make him happy. Well, Gerald, you know what you should have done then, you miserable git. Spread some of the love around, then maybe your kids don’t get to moan the same when they’re 64 😉 Seriously, you couldn’t make it up.
In the UK there are two heritage organisations, the National Trust and English Heritage (and the Historic Wales and Historic Scotland equivalents to EH). The overlap is notable – for instance EH run Stonehenge and the National Trust own the site, and Avebury it seems the National Trust run the site, even if they did upset Bill Bryson. Cynical me wonders how he managed to shell out £31 before seeing a stone, and whether his role as an English Heritage commissioner had something to do with his discombobulation. I’ve had the same dilemma as Bill whether to take a fleecing from the National Trust or observe from the sidelines but if he really did manage to miss one of these great big things
while he was so busy chasing comestibles then I think he needs a visit to the optician. Personally, I don’t expect to pay anything even for parking when I go to Avebury, but I guess I have more experience of the site than Bryson had 😉