#10 Downshifting, lesson 2: At the top it’s often boring, lonely and cumbersome

Impression from a relaxed road-trip at the black sea coast / Turkey
Hardly possible for a stressed top-manager

Practical example for down-shifting:

Didn’t everybody tell you, you ought to make it to the top by any means if you can? That the top is where you have power, where you are free, where you have control and the like?

Forget it, that’s complete bullshit.

The truth is:

On the way to realizing the last bit of your entire maximum potential, you will have a lot of trouble, as you will have no reserves at the end. You will be stuck in political games or annoying clients you never have imagined, you will have bad sleep and no free time left as all your resources have to go into your career. You will lose valuable social ties, your health will decline and you might even find out that you cannot enjoy things anymore, which you used to like before.

This is the old 80/20 rule: 80 percent of the work can be done with 20% of your effort; the last 20% of the work require 80% of the effort.

So whoever tells you that you must always give 100%, let him do so if he wants but don’t follow his advice, because typically the additional returns aren’t worth the trouble.

Better downshift:

Find out the max level you could reach in your job (that will be determined by your education, your cleverness, your skills, but also by your social status, maybe your looks, your connections and so on). Do this in a realistic way, don’t cheat yourself and don’t count on luck, “justice” or some other act of god.

Now take that maximum potential and subtract one level from it. This (or less) is what you should aim for. E.g. if you really think you could become a senior executive if you give 100%, you should better target being a lower grade executive and in return spend only let’s say 50% of your effort.

If you think you could be number 2 in your area of business, you should target being number 3 or 4 and save a lot of effort because the last mile is always the hardest.

This holds true for private matters as well. If you could squeeze in visiting 6 cities on your holiday trip, try to do only 3 or 4.

That way you will reach your goals relatively comfortably as you always have back-up resources at hand and your skills and nerves will not be stretched too much.

And you might very often find that with only 20% effort you can reach 80% of your maximum potential. No joke!




#9 Downshifting, lesson 1: Life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon

Why not do it like the lady in the back once in a while and let others row if they wish...?

It’s time to come to the topic of downshifting which plays an important role in any strategy to get happy!

What is meant by downshifting?
Well, basically what it says:

For a moment step back and see your life and your potential as a car. OK, now everybody is imagining himself a fancy racing-car with shiny bumpers (whereas some of us might be more like a trucks or a middle-class commuter car, or a heavy-duty family station wagon…but that’s all right).

So, imagine the car running at the top of its maximum speed for all the time, years and years. This might be fast and funny, and it might seem adventurous at first: Life rushes by, things are moving, money comes in, careers are made.

But now time goes by, hours, days, weeks, months pass all at max speed. What happens? First, our car will eat away gasoline like crazy. Then it starts to wear off. Eventually the concentration of the driver will diminish. When traffic gets thicker it really gets dangerous, and the likelihood of a severe accident is suddenly a real threat! One moment of distraction, and our car might come off course, sliding heavily or even crush into something unexpected.

And that’s what’s happening to an ever full-power life as well. After the first thrill, you will lose concentration. You will burn up your energy, your body will start to wear of, your health will be affected and when times get tough you might lack additional resources and things might get really dangerous for you.

So consider well your speed!

I don’t say you have to creep along like a snail on the highways of life, letting everybody overtake you right and left. But again, the middle way seems intelligent:
Shift down to a moderate gear in general. Do put in a race every now and then if you feel like some thrill, but don’t run on high speed all the time!
This way you will not burn our quickly, you will easily catch up with the hectic fellows a bit later, you will be able to concentrate and stay on track for a much longer time.

Some people will say you are selfish, but thats wrong. It’s them who are selfish. Because they will be the ones with the burn-outs, the heart-attacks and the need for extensive care within 10 or 20 years time, when you will still be independent and happily kickin’!

This is important.

Because life is not a sprint – It’s a marathon.


#8 Blogging Language: Bad English rules the world

Those days with all the financial crisis stuff and what not, it might be a rare confession, but I admit:

I am one of those these days rare “European”- feeling guys on this continent. Well, hopefully we are not too few after all…because, hey, despite all troubles, this continent is a great one and it is going to stay around for quite some while – so why not stay friends after all?

Anyway, actually the viewing angle of this blog will often be from a German or European point of view. Reason is that I am living here and most of my personal experience originates in Germany or Europe. At the same time there seems to be a lack of blogging activity and general media coverage of the art-of-living- and downshiftig- topic , at least in Germany and to my knowledge also in most other countries here in Europe (always happy to hear about other activity, though!), whereas many of the blogs I see in that direction are coming from the US.

However I decided to write in (bad) English, because as you know the language spoken most in the world is bad English and I deliberately want to keep the discussion open for those of you who are non-German readers and learn about the input you might have.

But for those folks not so happy writing in English: German posts are warmly welcome as well, so go ahead! If I really concentrate I can also read a bit of French and Spanish, but don’t expect too much langue skills from me there 😉

Have a nice day,

#7 Bury your Blackberry! Separate Job and Spare-Time

This could be so relaxing…

A nice day at the beach.

Waves are splashing, the sky is blue, a nice breeze is cooling the summer heat. You are sitting in an arm chair, listening to some good music on your mp3-player, reading a magazine or a good book.

Then suddenly you are interrupted by a humming sound coming from your beach-bag!It is your Blackberry, and while you try to keep on reading you think by yourself it could be very very important and it might be absolutely necessary that you react IMMEDIATELY, because if you don’t, your employer will go bust the other day, or even worse the economy of your country will instantly fall apart.

So you try to resist for a moment, you try to re-concentrate on the surf and the sun, but your relaxation is gone and 10 seconds later you grab the Blackberry and hectically open your post-box.
But it was only a colleague, sending a mail @all to ask if anyone wants to join for lunch.

Ah, Relax again….

…but 10 minutes later, same humming, same game.

This time it’s your boss, apologizing only very briefly for contacting you in your well earned holidays, but it is VERY important.

…Relaxation gone.

You spend the rest of the day sending eMails, trying to remember if you messed up something and trying to calm down your girlfriend or wife who complains about you working in holidays.

Your employer might say YES:

This is a helpful and so-modern device, and you as a flexible, dynamic, so-modern young employee should use it to your own benefit, you stay updated and you don’t miss out.

I say its bullshit:

This is a modern type of ball and chain or shackle (Fussfessel), binding you to your work even in your well deserve some spare time. It’s dragging you like Sauron’s Ring the ring-wraths in their sleepless death.
It forces you to never sleep and never rest without a spark of duty lingering still in your head. It ties you to the machine and keeps you in the middle of the rat-race with the most simple trick: Pretending it’s for your own best. And pretending it underpins your Status and your Importance.

I tell you:

Get rid of this shackle and let others feel important!

Ban it!

If you are an employee most likely you are not important. But tell you what? It’s great not to be important! Accept it and benefit from that fact! Because that means you can enjoy the sun and the company will not go bust, the world will not end if you cannot be reached by your employer. Forget about your employer when you are in holidays and look for somthing or somebody you are really important for.

I am resisting a Blackberry since I was first offered one 6 years ago by my then-boss. And you know what? It’s great! When I am travelling for my company I can concentrate on my task, I don’t get distracted and annoyed by stuff happening at home. If I am in a meeting I listen, and if everybody else gets bored and starts typing on their blackberries, I still could join in and pull out my private cell-phone and play a game (which really is the same thing in the end).

I don’t feel important, but I don’t feel stressed either.

And when I am in holiday! Ahhhh…I enjoy the sun and the sound of the waves…!

Have fun,

#6 More money? Important or unnecessary?

Well, some spare money is not that bad, 'cause it can bring you here. But how much do you really need? (near Nafplion, Greece)

In the last post, we discussed the mistakes many people make around the role of money in their lives.

Let’s start with mistake 1:

It is not money one must maximize in life, but happiness.

Money sure is one good means to acquire happiness, by allowing consumption, travel, free time etc. But generating money also costs happiness by getting stressed, having no time for friends and family, fearing of losing it etc.
So we have to look at the whole bundle: How much money can I easily generate without sacrificing too much happiness?!
How can I create happiness without any costs at all?
How do I balance creation of happiness and creation of money?
What really does make me happy?

Then there is mistake 2:

Ever more money is not making you ever more happy.

This is not some esoteric coming from my mind and I sure would not decline a lottery win (though I would be careful whom to tell) but it is scientifically proven, by a relatively new and very thrilling branch of economics, called economics of happiness. These guys go back to the roots of mistake 1 and ask:

What does make people happy?

You can google it and later I will add some further reading, but here is in essence what they say about happiness and income:

  • Income matters to a certain degree. If you have a very low income, improving your income improves happiness.
  • From a certain level on income does not matter anymore. More income will then boost your happiness for a short time only (ca. 3 months), then your happiness level returns to where it was before.
    If you ever notices that a pay-raise gave you a kick for a short time only and after some time you thought:”Well that was nice, but now a bit more again would be adequate” – then you are already about the threshold. In economic terms then your situation is: Your long-term additional happiness from additional money is zero.
  • Same holds for consumption, the kick from consumption is only short. While a new car is really great in the first months (yeah, I know, I bought a fairly new one last year!), the joy of riding it declines steadily until ½ a year later your daily commuting is as annoying as before. (…Was the same for me unfortunately.) But then, the money is gone, so spend it carefully!
  • Your relative income matters more than your absolute income.
    This means if you live in a medium neighborhood you will feel more happy with your income than if you move to a posh area with the same income.
    In other words: We always compare ourselves to others. So be careful whom you spend time with. Don’t wish to quickly to enter the hip “sex and the city”-society, as you might feel quite miserable there.
  • Changes in income are what you recognize more than it’s actual level.
    This it similar to what I wrote before. It sounds contra-intuitive, but in terms of happiness its much better to start on a low level, and slowly but constantly move up, instead of being born rich or to win the jackpot that catapults you among the rich.

There is much more to learn from the economics of happiness, e.g. how does TV influence your happiness? How does education or children, or free time or being married?

But let’s stop for the moment, as I really need some idling now… 😉
Come to than in a later post…


#5 The meaning of life

The first one to tell me the title of the book this picture referres to gets a free guest post 😉

Woao, this is a hell of a title for a small post, isn’t it? Maybe a bit too big shoes to walk in? Maybe, but however, I just had no other idea to introduce what I am trying to write:

What the hell are the important things in life?

Well, lets start out with a bit of economic theory.

Background: I turned to economics some years ago to learn better how to live a good life. I learned a lot there, and certainly improved massively in handling my money and better understand economic affairs (happy to share this if anyone requests), but no, they could not help me with the way to live your life.

What does economic theory say?

The part of economic theory that’s dealing with the individual is called Microeconomics, in contrast to Macroeconomics. Classical (more that 100 year old) Microeconomics measure everything you do in so called “utility” (=well being or “Nutzen” in German), meaning the “utility” you derive from certain actions or consumption. Basic utility  theory comprises things like decreasing marginal utility (e.g. the first burger gives you a lot of utility if you are hungry, the second a bit less, and the 5th probably no more additional utility at all…well, probably – I don’t know your eating habits though…).

This is a fairly vague concept but it makes a lot of sense and is worth studying.

Problem is that it’s difficult to measure utility. But as economic mainstream since the 90s is very eager to measure everything, very often utility is set equal to money.

This is the first mistake:

Many people (and politicians and consultants and managers) think that maximizing money equals having a good life.
This is incorrect. Correct would be:

Happiness is key…

…and the amount of happy (or contentment (=”Zufriedenheit”), as always happy seems unrealistic) time that you spend in your life. No matter where the happiness or contentment comes from, be it consumption, hanging out, listening to good music, having sex, travelling or just starring at a wall…whatever you like.

The second mistake is that most people, and surprisingly many economists as well, forget about the above mentioned law of decreasing marginal utility.

Thus they incorrectly assume that a lot more money will give them a much better life.

Correct would be:

Money is not bad, but it comes with a cost. Thus is depends if more money (and the associated costs) is better or not.

Let’s discuss this in post #6.

#4 The right balance

The right balance

Ever read about the hard-core early-retirees in the internet?!

Wow, these are tough guys, saving every cent twice and reduce their financial needs to a bare minimum.
I admit, it’s great fun reading their stories, and there is lots to be learned about a different angel how to look at the world and their way to financial freedom, so you should pop in and visit them at one of the links in my link-list.
But personally and being a starter in the world of downshifting, I’m not there yet, it’s just too…hm, extreme for me.
It’s certainly very efficient and maybe also rewarding to entirely give up cars, holidays, your job and almost anything that costs money to downshift to a level of bare minimum spending (sometimes this extreme form of downshiftig is called simple living). But man, I don’t know what you think, but I still enjoy having diner out once in a while, spend money in a cinema or pub; and above all my family enjoys travelling far and long- certainly not the most inexpensive hobby ;-).

On the other side there are these hectic guys who work their asses off, who can’t look anyone in the eyes for more than two seconds, who are making a steep career (or trying to), get their first depression or heart-attack at age 40 and save money for (hopefully) being independent later.

I think this is a poor choice either. Why?

Because this is what happens:

  • Work can easily get work for its own’s sake. The more you work and stress yourself, the more you forget how really to live and what for you are doing all of this shit.
  • You are sacrificing time, health and social ties to family and friends in what maybe some of the best years of your life!
  • You adapt to the higher levels of income and wealth that you are generating and that you see around you in the “higher ranks” of the company/society. Thus you will not be able to appreciate this any more.
  • Your returns are uncertain. Might well be that inflation, tax, bad investments or health troubles will take away the joy of spending your money later.

I am convinced:

It is better to live here and today!

I'm not a Buddhist, but this Buddha
sure was a clever guy I'd say...

So here is something that we might learn from the Buddhists:

The best way is the middle way!

I think this holds true for many aspects of life when looking for independence, freedom & happiness.

It’s not necessary to work like hell to finance your happiness and financial freedom.
And its not necessary to cut down to the bare self-sustaining minimum in one big step. Maybe later, but first steps should be realistic.

Enjoy your day and see you at post #5.