Are we Really Living in a Society Driven by Fear? …and What to Do Against It

People increasingly feel uneasy because they think all decisions have to be made perfectly correct to avoid ending on the "looser road"

People increasingly feel uneasy because they think all decisions have to be made perfectly correct to avoid ending on the “looser road” (link to clip see below)

Seen a great little film today on the media site of German Television (ARD).

It is about us being a “society of fear”. The clip is about German society, but certainly describes the feeling in many if not most modern societies.

Key theses are:

  1. The whole society today is basically driven by fear
  2. Everybody is obsessed by status and even more by the fear of loosing his/her current status
  3. People feel the constant urge to compete and want to be “fit
  4. People have the feeling they always have to choose and always have to be chosen
  5. Thus people become “radar persons”, always sensing for feedback from the outside (waiting for the “I like” of others) instead of trusting in their own intuition or inner guiding.
  6. People have the feeling that all relationships are alway cancel-able. Thus security dwindles
  7. We are more and more becoming a society of lone warriors
  8. All of this leads to a diffuse unease. But people see no real alternative, thus carry on.

A very accurate assessment of the situation in my opinion.

Link here (German only).

Having said that the question is out what can you do against this unease that probably most of us will feel from time to time.

Obviously I don’t have the answer (yet 😉 ).

But a few of Woodpeckers mantras is certainly helpful to address most of the points above:

  • Improve and nurse your social contacts.
  • Hook up to groups, societies, or (if you feel like) to political parties, NGOs etc. And I mean offline, not online. Online communities are worth close to nothing if the shit hits the fan.
  • Always prioritize friends and families above work, duty, competition etc.
  • Understand that all this “a crisis is coming” talk is bullshit (see this post). We all have food, housing, warmth and clothes in full abundance and almost certainly will still have all of this for lifetime.
  • Be open and welcoming to all sorts of people. Use tit-for-tat in case the other misbehaves, but always start out friendly and trusting and be ready to forgive.
  • Never burn bridges.
  • Try to revive old contacts, even if they were buried for decades.
  • Understand that people will use this kind of fear to intimidate you and make you do what they want (to work cheap, to obey, to be “flexible” etc.). Resist and you will see that you have more negotiation power than others try to tell you.
  • Do a good job in your employment, but don’t play the work-drone. Once others notices you do everything, they will shovel everything on you. Not good.
  • Do sports, out-door activity, travelling to concentrate mind and body.
  • Spend more time offline and without news / internet. Definitly no blackberry outside office-hours!
  • Try to turn off all communication devices after e.g. 8 p.m. Learn to be by yourself or with the people who accompany you this very moment.

Any more suggestions by readers?!

Please comment, all ideas are welcome.

Cheers,

Woodpecker

A Rant agains the Modern Flexible and Mobile Employee Idea

...and it's lovely food. Here: Weisswurst Breakfast.

Still in love with the city of my choice, and it’s fantastic food. Here: Weisswurst Breakfast

A well-established concept of the modern work life is the “flexible employee”, always changing city and job.

The idea the apologists of “life is all about work” are pushing is that the modern employee has always to be “mobile“, “flexible“, always willing to leave his place of living or his company and go where ever a job pops up or the employer wants him to go.

It is said that this is
(a) necessary in today’s globalized world (probably to stay “competitive” or whatever crap)
and
(b) it is for the best of the employee, as he will get so enriched by all this experiences that this is a far better life than sticking to his back-yard home town or dusted old employer/department

I think this is all a load of crap.

Munich - you may live long and prosper!

Munich – you may live long and prosper!

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing against leaving your hometown and switching the place you life and your employer a few times. Woodpecker did the same in the past when he was younger and did not regret it.

But there is one caveat:
You have to know when enough is enough.
The benefits of seeing something new are indeed great when you are young, at a time you do not have yet any roots anyway. But then, when you get a bit older, you have to be careful not to miss the opportunity to settle down and build up the benefits of not being mobile both regarding place to live and employer.

You have to be careful not to become one of the countless sad rootless roamers of the modern economy who get more and more restless and disoriented because they are not able to quit their wandering.

Some of the benefits of not being mobile are:

  1. Social dividends
    I repeat myself, but it cannot be said often enough that building up real social ties do take a lot of time. A person you meet 5 times for a beer might feel like a friend for the moment, but probably he is not really a friend. So many people I see in fact to not know what a real friend is anymore. Because a real friendship will take years and years to develop and grow. It takes time and them some more time to get firm and stable.
    Thus the downshifter shall (a) care to have enough free-time to spend with friends, (b) select friends who have time as well and (c) stay around a certain area after a certain age to enroot things further.
  2. Benefits of the first mover
    When staying in a given place or company for a long time, you sooner or later will have the right connections, the local knowledge and the benefit of long optimization that will give you good deals in many aspects: Much better and cheaper living (you had the time to optimize, know the market and the good areas), less stress in private live and in your job (you know how to avoid it, you know the people in your company and how to play the politics game there without too much effort), good value choices (you know the value places, the great spots, when to be there, which road and time to use etc.)
  3. Benefits of the incumbent
    After having waited for some time you will finally have access to scarce resources, like places at the cheap state childcare, a good house for a small rent, joining clubs or interested groups difficult to find, having the great and relaxed position in your company, avoiding the ugly work which you can shovel over to the eager new-comers etc.
  4. Invulnerability
    This is your home-turf. You know this area in town or this company since ages. You know the rules, you know the important people., you found your niche. After that much time they have accepted you and/or they don’t want to have you as an enemy because you know too much.
    This makes life so much easier compared to the ever-changing and moving vagabond. Even your boss will not be able to hurt you after a certain time. Great and important for any downshifter or free-spirited person! (Needless to say that your employer might not be so happy about this and will urge for constant change. Resist!)
  5. Feeling of belonging
    Oh no, Woodpecker again with his old-school and outdated 20th century style antic values.
    But seriously, those values are not out-dated. They never were. Only some crazy maniac “efficiency and growth rules it all”-freaks are telling you they are. This morons are wrong! A feeling of belonging is great. And it for sure is something a lot of people are lacking today. Most of them without knowing.
    So, create a feeling of belonging to your city of choice, your country, your continent, your flock of friends and family, and also to your company and industry.
    All of them may have flaws, but that’s where you still belong to anyway. Accept their flaws and yours will be accepted, too.
  6. Reduction of choices
    What? Woodpecker is telling me to voluntarily reduce my so beloved choice-space?! Yes. I do. Because a problem of today’s modern life is not that we have too little choices but too much! Every psychologist can tell you that this is creating stress. The fear of missing out. The fear of not picking “the best” (whatever that might be). The fear of making a choice at all.
    So make that decisions at some time: This is the place I stay. This is the company I belong to. This is my family. You might curse your decision from time to time, but overall you will be better off with this more simplified life.
  7. Slowing down
    Yes, it is great and thrilling to see new things. And you should continue to do so. But it is also important to be able to slow down a bit. And you can do that better if you are not changing city, employer and partner every year.
    Keep your curiosity and keep having your thrills, but you can do that as well by travelling, or moving within your city of choice, or to the countryside close-by and then back to downtown a few years later etc. No need to live in New York today, Bombay next year and Tokyo the year after, only to experience new things.
  8. Avoid Unhappiness from Restless Wandering
    Many studies show that – contrary to what most affected people say when you ask them – expats and people working abroad rate significantly below locals in happiness and life satisfaction. The interesting thing is that the most happy persons are often the ones that sticked in their town for a very long time, and ideally are getting old together with the friends and people from their youth.
  9. Avoid getting exploited
    See (4). You know the rules after some time, you now the potential dangers and benefits. You will not get tricked easily after some time in a job or city.
  10. The deep drill
    To know something really, to get to the deeper layers, you need time and muse. I have seen so many people who spent a year here and a year there for their jobs, but learned nothing about the culture and the specifics of their host countries. Because they only stayed in an artificial expat-bubble and did not have time or will to look closer. Wasted time then.
tracht

This guys appear more happy to me than the average modern flexible and globalized consultant guy.

So what would I recommend?

After moving out from at home take your time to look around. Travel a lot, ask a lot of people, visit different models of life, swap town and employer a few times if you want.
But swap consciously and with open eyes, not because your employer sais: “You now go to xyz” or because next door you can earn 10% more.
Analyze what you like about those places and companies and what you don’t like and then think about it: In which town and with which employer can you max out what you want and need? Where can you feel at home and where can you belong to?

Then make a choice and stay with it.
If circumstances really make it necessary you can always switch again. But don’t do it because someone tells you “it is good for your career” or something.
No problem with extended travelling or a few months abroad. But have a firm and stable home base for you and your family. This is important.

You might ask now: “What makes Woodpecker so sure about this?”

Because in one of my few bright moments I notices this truth already 17 years ago and after giving it some thoughts happily acted as stated above.
So neither the wonderful town of Munich, not my great employer and job, nor the excellent social ties and the contacts to old and very old friends and an accident. They are choices. Choices I do not regret in the slightest. On contrary, the more time passes I am more and more happy I made them.

Cheers,

Woodpecker

The Middle-Way – Reloaded

Woodpecker on summit of Heimgarten next to Walchensee. A great winter hike last week-end. For me, a good means to connect to my real self. Price: Aching muscles today ;-)

Woodpecker on summit of Heimgarten next to Walchensee. A great winter hike with a good friend last week-end. For me, also a way to connect to my real self. Price: Aching muscles today 😉

I am convinced that life is very much about finding the middle-way.

I think for some time Woodpecker was carried away a bit by the early retirement idea and focussed too much on money. Making money, investing and saving more. And then more.

In principle the beginning of this thought is fine (spend less for useless consumption and then invest), but there is a big danger here:

Without noticing you replace the work – consume – treadmill with another treadmill: The money-saving and -accumulating treadmill.
Funnily enough, the better your investments work, the more money you are accumulating, the more you get dragged into this mill. Money works like a drug, and you have to be damn carefull not to lose control over and become a slave of it.

Money has to be your horse and not your rider.

The same holds for your job and early retirement. Looking to retire earlier than the average chap is fine, but there is a danger as well:

That you postpone your happiness to an uncertain future day. That you start slaving away in the hope of better times then. And therefore you are not much different from the normal chap again, only your horizon is different.

Working 50hrs a week and 50 weeks a year is crap for sure, but if you go for the right dose and attitude, a job can also be fun and even fulfilling to a certain extend.

So let’s find a compromise between the frugal-extreme-early-retiree and the stupid work-consumption-slave.

Let’s come back to the middle-way!

The middle way should be somewhat like this:

Job

  • Accept your job and your employer for what they are. In the end you are not forced to work there, so don’t complain if things at work are not always what you like them to be.
  • If the job really is horrible at the moment, take a long time-out (like I did in summer). This will help you to think things through and make a decision. In my case the decision was to return to the very same job but to change some things there. Which I did and am now much more happy at work, while still working for the same boss and in the same environment.
  • Things can be changed. Every good coach will tell you that many people are unhappy with their job, but most can get happy at the same employer, by either changing the department, having another boss or just adopt another attitude. Often it is not necessary to change the employee. Nor does retirement necessarily bring happiness.
  • Remember you have full power over some things: How you perceive things, how you interpret them, how you react and how you treat others.
  • You have no power (or very little) over: How other perceive things, how others react, how others interpret things.
  • You have partial power over: How people treat you. Because this is a function of (a) how you treat them and (b) how you behave.
  • Spend a lot of time on net-working. Your network and your ties will make you invulnerable over time. Career-Builders do exactly the same. They spend only (personal estimate of Woodpecker Consultants Limited) 30% of their time on work and 70% on networking.  A somehow similar ratio should apply to you. But with a different goal: To have fun with others while at work and to feel save and secure when being away again for a long time.
  • Don’t care too much about the daily tides of office politics. This day people say this and tomorrow something else. Be friendly to people and don’t take rumours too serious. Most of them are pure speculation as people are bored by their job.
  • Do not forget to laugh and enjoy life, especially when at work. Most people will value some good moods even in stressful times.
  • No blackberry, no email checking and no phone calls out of office or during holidays. Many interested groups will try to convince you otherwise, but separating job and spare time is important for health and happiness.

Time

  • Your most valuable and scarce resource. Appreciate it.
  • Continue to max out free time. Go for some home office to reduce commuting, take days off instead of extra pay, leave early, take sabbaticals.
  • Some people really enjoy working even more than free time. But most people would prefer working rather less than more. Do not try to cheat yourself about this.
  • Anyway, you will spend enough time at the job. Downshifting will cost you some career, but that’s worth it.
  • No need to force early retirement in my opinion. A job can provide also nice things if done the middle-way, especially the company of friendly colleagues and common endeavors can be great fun.
  • Spend a lot of time with friends, family but also alone. Learn to enjoy time on your own and with little diversion. As this is the moments you are closest to yourself.

Money

  • Of course abstain from needless consumerism. All still applies regarding efficient spending and harden yourself against the temptations of money spending in the hope of that making you happy.
  • But remember also, that some of the great things in life do cost money. It is not true that all great things are for free. Travelling, sailing, mountain sport, going out and having a beer with friend every now and then in Woodpeckers case, can all be done at higher or at lower costs, but all of this requires some money.
  • Be prepared to spend it for those things and activities you really like. Do not stay away from those things you love only to save harder for the future early retirement. Life is here and now.

Friends & Family

  • The more, the better. Always work on expanding your social network. We humans are heard animals. Without contact and appreciation, we are nothing.
  • A colleague from London – why are they all so money-focussed there? – once kept on pushing me that in the end everything is always and only about money.  “Everything has a price”. I asked him in return if he would be happy to be sitting on the moon. With all the money and all goods and leisure he could imagine, but completely on his own. For some minutes that kept him silent…until he washed this disturbing thought away… 🙂
  • Conflicts are part of life. You cannot avoid a clash sometimes if you want to walk upright. If you always avoid conflict, you will cripple your own interests or the interests of others and your relationships will become complicated. Thus conflicts have the benefit that positions are made clear.
  • However, never burn a bridge. Always be ready to forgive and to revive lost contacts. Woodpecker himself just has revived two great friendships from his youth time that lay buried over 15 years. And now is alive and kicking on a very satisfying level.
  • Always prioritize friends and family over work. When someone really needs help, you are there, no matter what you boss is saying.
  • Try to make some of your colleagues your friends. But avoid that all your friends are colleagues. You might want to separate your private and your work life from time to time, thus you need the two worlds.
  • Be never stingy to your friends. Don’t bother them to much with your savings and frugal living ideas. Explain what you think but do not evangelize.
  • Remember that investing into human relationships bears the greatest dividend of everything.
  • For the younger readers: Treat relationships you made early in life with special care. They gain in value over the years. At Woodpeckers age, friends from 25 years ago are already valuable beyond belief…and I guess this process will continue.

Bodily and Mental Health

  • Do regular sports. Sport greatly enhances your self-confidence, makes you relaxed, more attractive and thus increases quality a lot.
  • If possible walk or ride the bike to work. Studies show that while commuting in the car makes people the more unhappy the longer the ride, the opposite is true if they commute by bike or walk.
  • Spend much time out-doors and non sitting.
  • Spend time in an environment that brings you into contact with your “tribal” energy or even has a “mythical” effect on you. The energy that lies below pure functioning but at the core of your being. For Woodpecker that is the mountains or the open sea. A good hike or sailing day leaves me highly satisfied mentally and physically and effectively clears the head of spinning thoughts. It connects me with what and who I am.
    Find out what works for you and establish the connection regularly.
  • Important and often neglected:
    Even if you are not into religion, spend a few thoughts every now and then on the great questions of life. Death, life, consciousness, meaning, ethics, the origin of life and space, etc. These are parts of our lives and will get you away from the trivial world of materialism towards the great miracle and the amazing wonder of life.
  • Keep always in mind that life is not endless and that on the one side you are an insignificant particle living on another insignificant particle. And on the other side you are a wonder, a miracle and a being much more sophisticated and fascinating than all the galaxies in the universe. And so are your fellow humans.
  • Understand that all is connected. That we all are parts in the chain that leads from blur prehistoric times into a blur infinite future. You carry the light of humanity for this second only to hand it over soon. Preserve it well and understand that you are part of this stream.

Wow, that was a long post.

Well, so be it.

Cheers and enjoy this day,

Woodpecker