Work-Life-Balance, Stage Two: Learn to Accept your Job

What can you learn from this guy?! Stoicism and to always have a grin - even in difficult circumstances! :-)

What can you learn from this guy?!
Stoicism and to always have a grin – even in difficult circumstances! 🙂

A job that you like, that is challenging, not too stressful and also rewarding, is a great thing.

If you have one – congratulations! Enjoy it, be thankful and rest assured that you have an excellent chance to be happy in your life. You don’t have to read this post, move on to other areas of your life and look how you can make them as satisfying as your job.

Unfortunately, probably the majority of the people today does not have that kind of job but is missing the one or the other ingredient at the workplace.

In fact, today’s work life is more and more characterised by increased work-density, hectic management, short-sighted decisions and more than all: constant change. Positive feedback, real humanity and appreciation of the employee is, at least in Germany, a rare thing.

All of this is proven to promote stress, burn-out and a feeling of meaningless in the job. In my opinion the resulting unhappiness in the workplace is the primary driver for so many people to think about early retirement and downshifting. An understandable starting point, but not a good motivation for the long run.

In fact – I freely admit it – unsatisfaction was one (but only one among others!) driver for Woodpecker’s downshifting journey as well. Hence, in a way I even owe my downshifting journey to some bad experience in my early work-life! Thus, irony of history: a warm thank you to two nasty and slave driving bosses that I encountered right in the first years of my work-life: I guess you did not intend so, but well done, you early on opened my eyes to a different and much better way than a career! 🙂

Anyway, I now, after a few more years down the way, understand it is not wise to continue being unsatisfied in the job.

Because one of the (important!) secrets of happiness is that you have to start it here and now, and not attach it to a future precondition like working less hours in the future.
In fact this is one of the things why I don’t belief in early retirement. Because it means a future precondition for happiness, it means postponing being happy to a much later point in time. And once you start to postpone, you will postpone again and again and always find new preconditions to be met before being happy. All experts in the field will confirm: Planned future happiness is not going to work. The way is to decide for happiness here and now.

OK, so where does that leave you, assuming you are currently more or less unsatisfied with your job, but understand that just clinging to the hope of a future early retirement is way to little to get happy?

Again, it leaves you with the middle way:

1) Install downshifting measures now.
Take a sabbatical asap to think about things and develop your extra-work-life, convert your over-time into holidays, leave earlier, go to part-time, disengage from office politics and from career-plotting in favour of concentrating on your actual job (that will save a lot of time in most companies), in general shift your focus from money/job/career/consuming/status to private life/community/simple pleasures/experiencing/diversity.
Some of this measures will cost you money or career opportunities, but combined with a bit of exercise in frugality, no problem.

2) Actually, do not disengage from your job per se. On the contrary: Muster more passion for your job.
I don’t say it for your employers sake, but for your own sake as passion will lead to more satisfaction at work. The optimal combination as I understand now is: Downshifting that leads to a rich and divers private life PLUS being able to enjoy your job, leading to a good time at work as well.

3) How can you do that? Enjoying your job, while your environment spins faster and faster, or your boss is not quite supportive, or the company is doing bad commercially?
Well, is some cases of course there is no way than leaving, but in most cases you are in a grey zone, where some things are bad and some are quite ok. Try to see the whole package. Do not think about the future of your department, company or position (that’s all speculation and you cannot change it anyway), keep away from the office gossip. Learn to just wait and see without speculating. Accept the price you have to pay for downshifting.
Try to get more independent emotionally from your job. E.g. the company is not valuing your work our you as a person? Would be nice if they do (and would increase productivity) but if not, as a downshifter you should have a whole set of sources of appreciation, so why rely to get it from your company/boss? Continue to do a good job anyway. Be friendly and sympathetic to everyone and build as many personal ties as possible. Understand that many of your fellow workers are stressed too or entangled very deeply into the treadmill. Never be missionary but accept when others see the job differently or even honestly love it. Do never rate any colleague on his/her benefit for your career. Listen to others. Less often insist that you are right.

Understand that all of this will make your job much more fun and all this things are in your hand, no matter what your company or your bosses are doing.

 

In a nutshell:

In the end, your job will very likely continue to play a major role in your life. The option of just dropping it might sound compelling, but rest assured that other troubles would follow if you did so – it is the nature of life itself that always something is missing 🙂 .
Thus the better way to me seems to learn to accept your job as it is.
I guess this holds for many aspects of life…to be continued…

Cheers,

Woodpecker

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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

Exchange Freedom for Money?

The lovely city of Freiburg im Breisgau. A worthy short trip from Munich two weeks ago, and only 30 EUR return by the new "Deutsche Bahn Bus".

The lovely city of Freiburg im Breisgau. A worthy short trip from Munich two weeks ago, and only 30 EUR return by the new “Deutsche Bahn Bus”.

Hi Guys, it’s been quite a time since the last post, but what can I say:

Spring hit Germany very early this year and with this is coming the wonderful season of outdoor activities, travels, short trips and general idling in the sun. And this is what Woodpecker & family are quite busy with these days.

Today I’d like to share a few more thoughts on the work world, a topic where you can never spend too much thinking on how to (down)optimize this unfortunate time-consuming necessity.

Because besides enjoying the sun I was somewhat busy with an issue at my workplace:

A potential move within my company

… a move to an even more bright spot from a monetary and “power” point of view, but of likely negative effect on freedom and work load.

The thing is that the new position would increase salary quite substantial (+12% or so and a better outlook for future growth) and it would come along with one of these stupidly important titles in the company and thus more “prestige” and “power”. But it would most likely mean that I’d have to sacrifice my holy days in home office, have much fewer relaxed coffee breaks with colleagues, work under a quite work-focused and demanding boss and have a slightly increased commuting time. And it would be a much more challenging job than today, meaning that any 80/20 effort scheme would not work anymore but quite likely frequent stressful times would be part of the package.

As often I seem to think in quite different ways about these things than most of my co-workers or other rat-racy people, most of whom would lick their fingers for this “opportunity to get ahead” or to gain that “warm feeling of power”.

But getting ahead where to? To having the most lengthy title on your business card at the end of the career?

And what warm glow of power? For some reason the fun of having power is a feeling that my cerebral system is missing entirely. I know all sorts of warm glow, but they come from having a good authentic and relaxed time with friends, see a foreign city, collect new impressions and experiences, wrestle with my kids on the sofa on a rainy evening, sailing through a thunderstorm at the edge of your abilities to steer a sailing vessel.

But getting warm feelings because you are able to command others?

Sorry, but this always struck me as quite pathetic and to be honest as a very pitiable way of having a good time.

So no, power drops out as a motivator for Woodpecker.

And same holds for prestige.
If people want to talk to me and spend time with me I enjoy this as every other human does. But the reason should be that this very people like me, find talking to me or spending time with me interesting, and not because they fear me or somehow are attracted by my potential prestige, title, money or whatever.

Good, that’s done then, so we are left with the last motivator:

More Money

Yes, the warm glow of more money pouring in is more understandable to me. Or, to be more precise, the warm glow of the things, experience and freedoms I can buy with this money. Because getting warm feelings from the money per se is as poor as the power thing. Money itself is only numbers in your bank account, not more. Nothing against enjoying these numbers, but if your life is reduced to feeling proud or happy more or less only about the size of this number, then you certainly life a failed life. And many, many people with money do exactly that. They are called Scrooge or niggard.
Not my goal obviously.But buying more freedom, working even less, yes, this are worthy goals.

So, slowly we come closer to the solution:

Sacrifice freedom for more money?

Hm, after the bullets above you might have figured out where this is leading.

Should I sacrifice a fairly large degree of freedom I have in order to earn more money which I primarily are planning to spent to buy myself more freedom?

Sounds like a stupid trade, doesn’t it?

And in my case, indeed it is.
Because +12% is nice but not a world of more money. This 12% can be tucked away for saving, yes, and earn interest, yes, but it is not likely to make a tremendous change in Woodpeckers wealth position, while the costs of freedom outlined above are substantial plus they are difficult to predict. Could be that in the end the new position is less stressful than anticipated, but could also be (and my inofficial research indicates this) that the potential new boss would give me a really hard-working time (something that is priority one to be avoided! 😉 )for a mere 12% more of solatium.

So chances are that I will decide to not go for this position and leave it to someone else eager for career.
And probably I will just wait until fate washes a better chance to my shores – more money without giving up freedom… 😉

All my life experience so far shows that typically all sorts of great chances simply appear sooner or later if you only wait and stay open and prepared. As a undestroyable optimist I do not see any reason why this should not be the case in future again.

OK, this was my special situation.

What is my general advise?

Obviously it is not to decline any opportunity that shows up, but the following:

  • Strip the benefit of the new opportunity from all valueless benefits, which are: Power, pride, prestige etc.
  • Remaining benefits are: More money, shorter hours to work, more freedom, a nice and relaxed boss (very important! maybe the most important of all), a nicer office, less stress, more satisfying work, shorter commuting, nicer colleagues, better lunch meals etc.
  • Check honestly for all disadvantages, which are basically the opposites of the items listed under the bullet above.
  • Do a lot of informal research to find out about all these “soft” factors. Use your informal network of co-workers that you hopefully have to find out the “truth” about the position in question.
  • Actively test readiness of the potential boss for your needs. E.g. I openly (but diplomatically) raised the home-office question and got a quite clear (negative) answer. Better for both sides to know before than later what they are up to.
  • Deduct for uncertainty. In case you can not get accurate information, assume a more negative scenario.
  • At the beginning of your career you will most likely be able to improve on many of the items above. So change a lot while you are young, eager and flexible.
  • The longer you are in a current position (especially if the boss is nice) the more difficult it will be to improve. You will already have a satisfying salary, you will have found your niches and made it comfortable, you will have a set of informal rules and tacit agreements with co-workers and bosses at hand that avoid stress and conflict. Thus later in the career, a step only makes sense if it offers a lot.
  • If in doubt, decline, stay open and prepared and wait. Your day will come.

And, most importantly if in doubt of sacrificing freedom:

  • Check for opportunity costs!

As with spending the question freedom vs. money boils down to the concept of opportunity cost, i.e. “what else could I do with the time / freedom I have to sacrifice for the job?”

It might be different if you have no family, less hobbies and inclination towards outdoor activities, but in the Woodpecker case the opportunity costs are simply huge.
I have just too many ideas how to spend my time outside of work in a very satisfying way, and the Woodpecker family not only needs a lot of vacations, days off, parental leaves etc to do so, but also a very relaxed working week to get household things done Monday to Friday evenings, such that the weekends are completely free from Friday early afternoon on.
Social life at Woodpecker’s is booming, the network of downshifting and outdoor focussed people is ever-growing and requests / ideas for frugal weekends and weekday evening activities are piling up higher than ever before! 🙂

So, sorry, dear employer, but no way that I am sitting in the office until 6 o’clock each day or on Fridays after 3!

Cheers,

Woodpecker

ps. There was a second project related to the work place that I chased the last weeks but this post is too long already. More of this later.

Is there a price to pay for Downshifting / Early Retirement?

Can you have it both: A nice excursion on a week-day plus a (employed) career? Even if you are the most efficient of workers, sadly the answer seems to be No. (pic: Kloster Andechs, close to Munich)

Can you have it both: A nice excursion on a week-day plus a (employed) career? Even if you are the most efficient of workers, sadly the answer seems to be No. (pic: Kloster Andechs, close to Munich)

After a stretch of outstanding good weather over Germany, today it is raining cats and dogs, so Woodpecker took the time to think a bit about our business world:

The actual question is:

Combining a family- and/or freetime-focused live with career, in other words, having both, is that possible?

My honest observation unfortunately so far is: No.

Obviously I don’t expect a “bonus” for the family/downshifting person in the company, i.e. if a person produces less output because he prefers to spend time with the family, it is “fair”, that he/she will earn less in absolute terms (This holds for the company salary. Whether the state decides to put something on top to reward the contribution to society by e.g. having kids is a different story).

The actual question for me is: Is there a MALUS attached to the family guy / the downshifter?

E.g. are his career chances reduced in an overly way, i.e. will he/she be more likely to be excluded from certain career levels that provide an even higher relative salary (i.e. salary per actual hour worked)?

For Germany, after making my own observations for some years and collecting the experience of many others, both men and women, the answer sadly is:

Yes, the average German company IS discouraging people from having a family or – if they have one – caring for it. Same holds true for downshifting with or without kids.

The average German company does only promote real work-life-balance on the shiny external self-advertisment flyers.

In reality – quite contrary on what the companies might say – you still in 2014 have to make a decision as soon as a kid is there (the same holds without kids, and if you simply want to shift focus away from the job a bit):

Is it your family, or is it your company you are in love with?

Are you in with the pack or are you out?

This is still hard to accept for Woodpecker, as you should think todays society is quite a step further. In the end, especially in western economies, we are living in an abundance of wealth and over-production. The economy is so efficient that actually we all could work 30% less and still be quite well off I guess. We as a society could (and should) afford to work much less, to become less focussed on money and consumption, to put away some of the daily stress that is caused by the shortness of the ultimate important resource: Time.

It seems so bloody obvious to me, that it is hard to understand why the hell this is not happening.

Why we as a society are still slaving away day by day as if our lifes would depend on it?
Because, surprise, they don’t: The time you need working for given basic needs like food, clothing, housing etc. have decreased dramatically since the past, so we could still all thrive AND work less. Much less.
Then, everybody is calling out that work-life is changing, the business world is getting more flexible etc.

In fact it is not.
(Or I am just in the wrong company. Let me know if you know a place where this is different!)

I mean, yes, you can make some choices a bit more easy today and do paternal leave or part-time, but as soon as you practically start doing so, you will see that companies very often do not give away this voluntarily, but allow very often exactly what they are forced to by law anyway.

And they do it very reluctantly.

Let’s say you start to downshift, put a bit more priority on your non-office life, do parental leaves, home office and the like, but still do an excellent and dedicated job with very good results in your work time and thus would still like to get rewarded for that, at least a bit.

In reality (women probably knew this all along) you will face very often bosses who will not take you fully serious anymore. Bosses who – despite they officially say otherwise – do not look on your efficiency (which might be even higher than that of your rat racing co-workers) but on the time you are available, the number of eMails sent at the weekends or after 7 p.m.
A rather ancient and non-economic way to look at things, but still very, very, very common, at least in Germany to my observation (as said, let me know there are places more shiny, I will apply the other day!).

And don’t get me wrong:
There are positions where availability is important, and I have no problem when always-available people have an advantage at these jobs. But there are jobs where this is not the case (and these are many), where in fact all that counts is that some output is produced until a given deadline. In this jobs it just should not matter if you are there until 5 or until 8, if you type enough superfluous mails on weekends or not. It should matter if the job is done, and nothing else.

For some reasons this is not the case. At least in many cases I observed.

OK, but enough of the ranting.

The world is like it is, in the end it is of no personal worth to complain about things you can’t change.

So what do you do with that fact when planning to put your life above your job and considering downshifting in any form?

Basically you can go two reasonable ways:

1) Drill into your career. Collect the fruits later.

Run heavily in the tread-mill, invest a lot of your time into the job. Play the perfect company soldier. Be always on, go to every evening drinking session with your boring bosses. But still live a frugal life and save a lot. Your earnings will increase quickly and as you still life frugally, your savings will skyrocket. Invest wisely, and financial independence (FI) will come to you rather sooner than later.

Having said that, “sooner” might not mean too soon.

I’d say FI (if you start out with nothing) is unlikely before mid 40s even without family/kids and at very good investment skills, or as “late” as mid 50s, if you are not too much into investing and have to rely on average returns plus you have a family to support (I know there are these hard core early retirement plans, but no, I think most of them are not realistic for normal earners or people that don’t want to live on the most minimal standards).

So one day you will make it, but until then you have to tread quite a bit.

The reward then is early retirement, probably a sweet thing where you still can enjoy decades of healthy life afterwards.

But here comes the risks:

  • If you do this consequently, you’d better do it alone. E.g. a family and kids are very costly, and VERY time-consuming things. Both will get into your way if your sole goal is FI as early as possible.
  • As you naturally will get focussed on your finances, thus this is what might happen: You postpone getting a family further and further, knowing the slowdown this will cause to your career / savings stream. And then finally, sorry, nature decides now it is too late, and you might end up missing the great fun and shelter of having a family (OK, family is not only fun, but still a lot. Anyway if you want family and want to go for early retirement at the same time, be careful!).
  • If you still have a family while pursuing FI as quick as possible, you will not have a lot of time for them. You will outsource family care and still concentrate on the job (this is the post war patriarchal model. Even women can go for it today by making use of todays large – but costly – childcare industry. However strange thing to have a family and then never see them in Woodpeckers view)…
  • …thus you might miss out a lot of opportunities to have fun with your family when you can have it best: When your kids are still young, admire you truly 😉 and want to be with you.
  • Even worse, concentrating on their careers, not few people even miss out finding a partner, simply because they spend too much time at work or are getting a bit boring because they have nothing to talk about besides their job. And finding a partner later gets more difficult. Especially for women, but also for men (especially if they life frugally and don’t want to invest in huge presents 😉 ). Or, as a friend of Woodpecker recently said: At some point of time, extremely career focused people lose their competence in initiating and running non-business social contacts. Very wise observation.
  • Sorry for talking about it (never mention “death” or “sickness” in today’s world?), but there is a chance you will not make it to FI: You might die, get ill, injured, or in a less drastic scenario, a market crash or financial turmoil wipes out all your savings. Not nice to think about this, but as in finance, any honest calculation has to discount future returns for this kind of risks.

For me, despite the great advantage of being FI earlier on, this were always to many “cons”.
So there is option 2.

2) Start doing your career, maximize income, and then downshift from a certain point on.

You start out very diligent like everyone else. You play the game and pocket a few promotions. But you steer your career differently: You are not aiming at the “very top” but try to develop into a direction where you will find a relatively save haven when you start to downshift. That means you try to move into a position where availability is relatively unimportant, where you are e.g. in an expert position that makes you more invulnerable, and possibly work in a company that is large enough to allow for downshifting and working more flexible and less.

However, there are challenges and risks as well:

  • FI is postponed. Until time x, you will more or less move in line with others (maybe a bit slower already, as your nature will probably call for a fair amount of idle time already). But from time x on, you unfortunately will fall behind in most cases (only in career terms of course), as discussed in the beginning of the post. At least in Germany, this is likely to happen, better face it now.
  • Thus, the longer you wait with starting downshifting, the more you move to option (1), the earlier you start the more you will postpone FI.
  • The question now is, what time x is optimal?
  • This is a very individual question. Woodpecker started downshifting when the first boy was there (age 35 that was). I think this was a good point of time. I am barely “loosing” 5-8 years of career making as in our company most careers are made until early 40s anyway. I started having abundant time when there was something really good to invest in: The family founding.
    There was and is a good return, as kids provide ample fun especially if you have time and years fly by once kids are there. And: Downshifters are quite a rare group still in Munich/Germany and most 30s aged people without family work like hell. So the family business adds the benefit of providing a peer group around you to do things with in all your new spare-time. Chances of getting bored are thus low.
  • Plus: While it will not benefit your career at all, at least shifting down is much more accepted when you have kids. For what it’s worth, colleagues and even bosses normally understand your desire to spend time with your family more than just to idle out.
  • There is a price I paid and continue to pay career-wise I guess, and it is sometimes painful seeing people passing by that produce next to nothing for the company but get ahead mainly because they life for the job 24/7 and play the availability game to a perfect extend.
    But then, sitting here at the wood oven with my two funny boys and looking forward to a good season of early knocking-off times, late evening workday baking tours and extended weekend trips, I think I can live with that.

Cheers,

Woodpecker

A Hooray to Idling and Loafing!

For us downshifters, this is the good guy: Epicurus of Samos.

For us downshifters, this is the good guy: Epicurus of Samos…

Today’s world for some reason raised working to a kind of religion.

It seems that without being stressed, without having a “challenging” job, without being busy all day, the modern man or woman is nothing.

At the job, admitting that one has little to do, has a relaxed position or that today coffee-drinking was the predominant task, is close to admitting having leprosy or syphilis.
Someone who is not busy (or does not constantly pretend to be busy) or who is admitting he does the job only for the money is quickly labeled as an outcast. “There must be something wrong with this guy – isn’t he having fun working and being busy?”

Even in their free-time, people do everything to constantly stay busy. Free time activities are squeezed into every single free minute, the idea of productivity and time=money thus even rules our spare time.

Here is a little experiment:

Try out and tell your colleagues on monday on the obligatory “what did you do at the weekend?”-question: “I did nothing but hang out idling“. Do this three weeks in a row and you WILL get some strange looks. 😉

Or ask to reduce to working part-time and try as an argument to your boss: “I’d like to idle and hang out each friday”. For some strange reason this will work less good than saying “I need time for my family, my side business or for preparing for my Mount Everest hike”.

Why is this fixation on work and busyness so predominant in modern times?

I mean after all, today’s world is amazingly productive, so much work is done by machines, wealth is enormous in western societies and beyond everything that people 50 or 100 or 500 years ago would ever have dared to dream of.

So why the hell are we not able to relax a bit?! To let go and accept the status quo for what it is: Great!

This might seem like old-fashioned thinking in today’s world, as the idea of “productivity” and “performance” is so deeply entrenched in most people that they never in their life question this idea.
But I really think there is a kind of religious motive here.

Let’s go back in history a bit. Back to the first society that consciously and systematically thought about what it means to live a good life:

Ancient Greeks

In ancient Greece, the perception of work was clear. It was considered an unfortunate and unwelcome element of life. Something one has to do to get his/her food. But apart from that, work was considered as something that distracts you from developing yourself, enjoying life and having “muse” (Tell someone that this weekend you plan to have some “muse“. They will send you to the doctor!). Consequently the Ancient Greek developed a rich philosophy of happiness, among others my favorite author of that time: Epicurus.

It is funny enough, but I think from then on – and this was 2.300 years ago (!) – the overall societies’ focus on having a good live never again reached that level. It was replaced by something else: To have a productive and successful life. Whereas successful now is defined by “achieving something“, which in turn is set equal to accumulate wealth, possession, status, victories of some sort or power.

If you define success by “having a good life” – enjoy your days, avoid stress and avoid any harm and bad feelings, get free from desire, enjoy time with friends and simple pleasures – this is how Epicurus defined it – you are likely to be labeled as somehow strange, lazy, unwilling or unable. In the best case people will just think you are odd, but in all cases  they will not think you lead a successful life (while you do exactly that).

However, this “ancient” values is exactly what you should focus on.

Protestant work ethics

...and this is the bad guy: John Calvin.

…and this is the bad guy: John Calvin.

A huge caesura was the Lutheran work ethics, and later on the even more drastic Calvinist / Protestant ethic from 16th century on. It was at this point of time that salvation by god was no more taken as anything granted but as something you have to earn. And you have to earn this by being productive and hard-working (Protestant work ethic). It was at this time that the unpleasant formulas “time equals money”, “wasting time is a sin” and “work is an end in itself” came into the world and in fact the philosophy of capitalism was born.

Thus even today, as religion is gone for so many, this strange conditioning still stays in the subconsciousness of people and the society: Salvation comes as a consequence of hard work. And, probably even more so as other ideas of “salvation” are becoming scarce with religion being in retreat.

OK, let’s be fair and admit that calvinism also fostered the excellent idea of democracy and distribution of power. And capitalism and hard work brought huge progress to the world. It made possible all the developments, progress and all the wealth that we are able to enjoy today. Good, thanks for all that. Anyway, let’s be honest guys:

It is a good time to harvest now!

In a western society progress was so huge, wealth is so abundant, that from now on it is really not important to increase consumption and production any more. To the contrary it becomes unhealthy from this point on. Environment is harmed enough, resources are become scarce, other societies in the world have more need for growth than we do and people here get victims of the accelerated change and crazy, senseless growth.

So after centuries of restless growth, it is more than time to take it easy and relax a bit for a change.

And YOU should start doing so today! Especially if you are having an ok or even good job in a western society. Yes, it will mean some pain, because damn, you have to break out of the mass and you have to think about something else to replace the worship of busyness. And this process of thinking is not easy. But before you back away, ask yourself the question:

Do you really want to except that all the meaning of your life is working as efficient as you can, be as productive as possible, earn as much money as possible, climb as many career steps as possible, collect status and power and then be done with it after – don’t know – 30 years, ready to decline slowly and then retire? Do you want that to be your life?

If the answer is YES, fine, go back to work NOW. Nothing wrong with it if this makes you really happy.

If the answer is NO however, then, dear friend, there is no way around thinking what you actually want to do with your life. And very likely this will mean efficiency, work and busyness stepping back. Giving up some career and some professional “achievements” for something else. If you have no idea what to do else yet, start with some heavy loafing and idling (in other words train to have some “muse“) and see what comes to your mind.

And you can easily shift down as an employee in most modern workplaces. Of course you still should honor your work contract, but fortunately there are a million strategies on how to make everyone happy and still don’t have too much stress at work 🙂 .

Not that I want to encourage anyone to grind less of course, but if you would like a bit of help to optimize your job towards more efficiency and less stress (an altruistic goal, isn’t it? As stress is bad for health and thus for society…), an interesting book for a start is said to be:

Die Faultier Strategie

(“the strategy of the sloths”, German only. Let us know about similar books in English or German!)

Cheers,

Woodpecker

People telling they’d miss their job? What a bullshit.

Midwinter fire at lake Schliersee. Entrance 0 EUR. Now what is better - being here or in the office?

Midwinter fire at lake Schliersee. Entrance 0 EUR. Now what is better – being here or in the office?

The recent weeks was a busy time at work. There was plenty to do, “challenges” to be met, hurdles to be overcome and victories to win. In fact it was a state that many people would call “having fun at work”.

And, even for a skeptical person (especially when it comes to employed work) as Woodpecker is, I admit there were quite many days in a row where I looked forward getting to the office in the morning.

This is great and it should be like that.

However, one should not confuse “having fun at work” with “having a really good time”.

Some people might come up to you and tell you outright they’d love their work. They’d never share your downshifting or early retirement ideas, because, hey, without a job, something would be missing in life, wouldn’t it?

I say: No, nothing would be missing. Continue reading