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.
Now I have never missed work, ever since I handed in the tools of an office-worker’s trade way back in June 2012. There is, however, a general psychological principle
Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves
Carl Jung, MDR
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.
Hermann Hesse , Demian
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?
It is a subset of asking
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
- and interesting
- 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 don’t want to carry a smartphone all the time
- 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.
Andy at liberate.life is a new kid on the PF block. Although it doesn’t apply to me, he challenges the principle that financial independence is an indivisible unit. His site is well worth a look if you are in this position
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.