Downshifters! Avoid to get a Rich but Boringly Selfish Person!

Ammersee 096_bearbeitet-1

Sunset over lake Ammersee, near Munich, while having a beer with a friend.

The “Rich Guys Trap”

Collecting money, securing your material well-being and planning Financial Independence are important building blocks for any downshifter around. Financial Freedom is a great asset to have.

But we must not forget that the ultimate goal is not downshifting or FI per se, but leading a happy and fulfilled life and develop ourselves to the fullest extend possible.

In other words:
Climb up Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs up to the top and it is very likely that you can truly say yes, when asked if you are a happy person and have a fulfilled life – no matter if you are FI or have a job, are young or old, have a huge villa or a small flat, have kids or not.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

And as we have learned, in Maslows pyramid only the first two steps are dealing with “material” needs.

The three advanced steps are about your mental/spiritual/psychological (call it whatever you like) development.

I think this is important to remember:

All the financial thinking, all your investments, all the blogs about frugal living, or financial independence can only help you to climb two out of five steps. These two are of course very important, as they set the base for the following steps. Also, downshifting and a maximum of independence and freedom are in most cases very helpful to have sufficient time and “muse” available for working on the subsequent steps.

But the true story and the real greatness of being a human being starts only beyond materialism!
It is the upper three steps where we distinguish ourselves from an animal!

Thus if you get stuck in the financial thinking, in the accumulation race, in pushing your financial independence further and further beyond real need, then you creat you own new rat-race, and in fact you more are not much more than an intelligent animal. In that case all your striving becomes simple boring greed, camouflaged as “I want to be independent”.

I think it is important to ponder on this, as the danger to end up in this greed trap seems very real to me when I look around.

After years and years thinking about material things (during climbing the lower steps), it is not easy to recognize once you actually got where you wanted to get, and to subsequently let go and turn to other goals. Instead, most people who get wealthy get gridlocked in fear of loosing their wealth, many lose sight of the needs of others, many simply got so used to judge everything in monetary terms that they lost the ability to see things in the world otherwise than in economic terms. This is why there is a strong measurable correlation between richness and selfish behaviour (Article here).

Some however escaped that trap.
So there are encouraging positive examples out there. But honestly, they are rare. Sad, but not surprising, as the highest parts of Maslows pyramid are certainly thinly populated, and climbing them needs character, humbleness, inner strength and social values – money is by no means sufficient, or even more: The abilities needed to climb the top are very different from those needed to make money (we come to that later).

But if you look, you can identify the positive examples easily:
They will not talk about themselves or about their needs anymore (because they realize their own needs are fulfilled anyway), but they talk about the needs of others and how they can contribute to make the world a better place.
E.g. Bill Gates would come to my mind. Not the so much praised Steve Jobs, who seemed to circulate around himself only in my perception. But I am no expert in studying wealthy guys’ biographies, because in my view you cannot learn much from them. You are neither Bill Gated nor Steve Jobs, and you should not pretend to be them. You are simply yourself.

So what are the ingredients you need to hover yourself beyond the material steps?

I think this can easily be answered, as since the dawn of men the most intelligent people of the human race pondered this question and, driven by their inner need to help the human success story, they luckily shared a lot, spoke about it, wrote it down.

Thus you can go through the great works of philosophy and religion worldwide, and you will find a striking set of common values. As they repeat themselves so often I tend to declare them as:

The Critical Values of a Good Life.

In this post I will start by looking at one of those:

1) Compassion and Giving

What is compassion? Why should you give in this cruel, though and competitive world?

I read something very clever about this that I’d like to share:

“You should always act in a way that is not led by enforcing your rights, but so that our all common life on this planet is made as pleasant as possible”.

You see the different focus?

In contrast to economic thinking, the focus is not on maximizing your own wellbeing (e.g. by enforcing your rights) but on maximizing the common wellbeing. A very noble thing, as everybody will benefit: The others obviously as you give in, and yourself because this will lift you in a way that is actually difficult to understand for a more science and rational driven  person like Woodpecker 🙂 . But you know what I am speaking about, and if not, try out.

What is the downside of this?

There is a chance that you get exploited from time to time by other, more selfish, persons.

Persons that mis-use your “softness(as this behaviour is called among economic thinking people) against you. In fact, this happens from time to time. Interestingly that happens less often over time, because no-one said you have to let others exploit you permanently. So what you do when you recognize somebody is playing the selfish game, is reducing contact. And you increase contact to other non-selfish persons.
And there are plenty of non-selfish persons around! (If you don’t see any, you should check if you shied them away by playing selfish too often yourself!)

That way, something magical will happen:

The circle of non-selfish and helpful people around you will grow (you will attract them and be attracted yourself), and your life will get richer, deeper, more and more harmonic and with fewer and fewer fights. You draw increasingly self-esteem from this selfless interactions, and you will get more and more immune against the “hit” to your self-esteem when you are “losing” in a “battle” (thats what they think life is) with selfish persons.
This is what I call the social dividend and your social capital. You invest time and gentleness into others and you will get back manifold in the long run.

What if I cannot avoid the selfish guys?

Good point, as sometimes it is not possible to go out of their way. E.g. in the job you cannot always choose whom to work with. (sidenote: This seems to be the true reason of many looking for FI. To simply get rid of a job they hate)

For that annoying cases, I’d come back to economics at last, in that case game-theory:
Play “tit-for-tat”.
Always start the nice way, but if the other person does responds in a selfish/negative way, then you will switch to selfish behaviour too, to avoid getting exploited permanently. However, you should be always open to forgive and switch back to cooperation if you see the other person came to his/her senses. But don’t be too naive either. If somebody mistreated you two or three times, it is unlikely that he/she will ever become a true friend.

Anyway, let’s be frank:

To some extend, your more “soft” attitude will be exploited from time to time.

This is the price you pay.

But after thinking a bit about it, I came to the conclusion that a bit of getting exploited is still much better than becoming a hard and selfish person, mistrusting every move of others.

The rewards you gain by building up an environment of caring and helpful people around you, plus your own personal growth is much greater than what you lose by sometimes being pulled over the table. Especially if you learn not to take this personal.

Any thoughts from your side? Let us know!

Cheers,

Woodpecker

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Stressed? Not you, I hope!

Hope you have some time left to read this post - it might pay out...!

Hope you have some time left to read this post – it might pay out…!

Why are some fellows so relaxed and seem to have all the time in the world, while others – in similar circumstances – are always busy, stressed and seemingly close to burn-out?

Well, some of that is personality, some might be unchangeable external factors, but on the other side I belief you have quite some control over how stressed you are.

Here’s some ideas on how to increase available time and decrease stress:

1) Limit commuting time

Probably one of the most important bullets, and probably the biggest time consumer in modern times – and very often underestimated.

To make the effect of commuting clear I did two calculations for you:

a) The “holiday-equivalent”

If you commute 1h to your work, that is 10hrs a week or (at 40 work weeks) = 400hrs per year. 400hrs in turn equal about 10 weeks(!) of additional holidays. Or more than 1 additional free day per week.

That is, in this situation by simply cutting commuting time you could earn yourself additional annual spare time far beyond your yearly holiday!

b) The “I want to express everything in hard currency”-calculation

Take your commuting time per month and calculate how much you earn on your job when working that amount of hours.
In the example that would be: 2hrs commuting per day x 20 work days = 40 hrs commuting per month. Total work time per month at 38hrs per week = 152hrs.
Let’s say you take home 4.000 EUR per month, this means your commuting “costs” you time-wise: 40/152*4.000= 1.052 EUR. Per month! Additional to any costs for your car! Per year this is a >12.000 EUR equivalent cost!

Are you now seeing the real price you pay for that nice house on the countryside? Still willing to pay it? Yes? Well, fine, but then don’t complain about having little time.

2) Home-Office

If your company allows, then push for home-office.
My perception is that this is not really helpful if you want to pursue a career (at least in Germany presence seems to be key in that case), but next to working undisturbed in more concentrated, and thus less stressful, it saves heavily on your commuting-time-budget.
Assume the above example, and two days of home-office, this saves you a time equivalent of 160hrs per year (=4 work-weeks) or a money equivalent saving of 4.800 EUR per year. A good deal. Plus helping the environment, relieving traffic density and saving your employer food, subsidized coffee, energy consumption and time consumed by casual office chat etc. A clear win-win.

3) Don’t do over-hours

Unless you really love your job, always remember that the really limited resource of yours – the resource that nobody can extend – is your time on this precious planet.
Don’t take the money for the over-hours but convert them to additional holidays or leave earlier.
Btw: Most companies unfortunately did not notice yet, but scientific evidence is clear: After more than 8 hours in the office, people become fairly inefficient and error prone.

4) Let go of perfectionism

You certainly know the 80/20 principle: The first 80% of the job can be done in only 20% of the time, while the last 20% (to make it perfect) needs another 80% of the time.
I think this is very much true for almost most areas of life. And in almost all cases, you are better of doing only 80% perfection on task A plus let’s say 80% on task B, and 80% on task C, and still you need only 60% of the time that the perfectionist needed for doing only task A. At the workplace it very much depends on your boss and corporate culture whether you better go for 80/20 or perfectionism, but in private life, 80/20 really is the way to go, when it comes to cleaning your house, doing the garden, planning your holiday, thinking about your investments. You will be amazed how much you get done, how good things still work, and how much time you have left to hang out at the lake.

5) Don’t schedule private life like a business day

You certainly know all that people who have their cloud-driven and family wide connected iPad diaries always with them, with a huge column for each day, sliced by hours or even quarter hours.
They are running their private life like a business schedule!
No good idea in my humble opinion.
I recommend getting rid of all the electronic toys in personal or family planning, and only stick a small paper year-calendar on your fridge. It gives you a great overview over the already busy periods in the year and it quickly looks so crowded that you will stop filling in too many additional appointments. Our calendar e.g. is only two DIN-A-4 pages big, thus per day that is not more than two square centimeters of space, less than the space for one hour on the typical iPad diary. No way to chunk in 4 or 5 items into a saturday. You fill in swimming and having ice cream with kids…thats it, slot is full, everything else will be declined. 🙂
This is a great thing to relieve yourself from excessive planning, please try it out!

6) Don’t have too many regular appointments

“Less is more” also holds for regular appointments, like sports-club, meetings, trainings, kids-regular-things etc.
All of them might be nice and good stand-alone, but if you have your guittar training on monday, your yoga on Tuesday, swimming on Wednesday, grocery shopping on Thursday, chinese-learning on Friday etc. AND your wife AND your kids have similar schedules, then good night, prepare for your family burn-out. No fun anymore.
My rule of thumb is: Two regulars per adult and week is enough. For our kids it is one regular appointment per week for the older one (5 years old) and none for the 3-year old.
Of course, the Woodpecker clan very often does additional things, outdoor activities, short trips, sports, going out for a beer, meeting friends etc. But most of this is spontaneously, dependent on weather and mood or as a reaction on invitations (which we basically never have to decline due to our ample availability).
In the end, my feeling is that the Woodpecker clan in the end does more diverse things, experiences more and is much less stressed than the average well-planned and tight-schedule family.

7) Instead do more spontaneous things

As said, cutting on regulars frees time for spontaneous action, which can be much more fun like the 5th recurrence of a squeezed in regular activity.
E.g. last friday, Woodpecker decided to grab his boys and go for a night in an alpine club run youth-hostel in the mountains. Cost: 15 EUR. Fun: Great. Planning: Close to zero. Surprise-Factor: Very good, exactly because there was no plan and not much thinking beforehand. Weather: Horrible. But come on, who cares…! 🙂
Last sunday, nothing scheduled, went bouldering with the kids. Next weekend, nothing scheduled, lets see what surprise comes in this time! Etc.

8) Stay more or less local at weekends

If you are already short on time, then no good idea to plan weekends 500km away with a lot of driving or flying on crowded roads/airports.
Weekend in Barcelona, Shopping in London, Daytrip to Lissabon? Besides the crazy costs, let’s be honest: This is more stress than real fun.
If hopefully you picked your place to live right, then most of what is interesting you should be close by anyway. Go sailing on the lake nearby or hiking in the mountains, or riding the bike on the countryside at the weekends. When you have holidays or time off and more time available, you can travel further away obviously.

9) Don’t do everything yourself

This is a point where I probably disagree with most of the otherwise admired frugal-living-community. I don’t think it makes sense to do everything yourself.
Of course you should do things on your own that you like and you are good at. But e.g. if you and your partner hate cleaning the house (more than working in your job) and a cleaning service costs you 13 EUR per hour, whereas you earn 26 EUR per hour in your job, then I see no reason why you should not outsource this work and spend one hour working in your job for two hours of cleaning get done by a third-party.
This may be different if you have ample free time left, but for somebody working full-time, or for a family, where time will always be a scarce resource, outsourcing makes sense in many cases.
Actually I very much prefer spending money on services that give you free time (cleaning service) or experiences (traveling) instead of spending it on stuff.

Edit: One more:
10) Use your Smartphone less often

Nothing much to say on that one, right?!

 

 

Any other ideas of you guys?

Curious to hear – leave a comment in case!

Cheers,

Woodpecker

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

Prometheus – on the Art of Empowering Yourself

Prometheus brings fire to mankind.

Prometheus brings fire to mankind.

From time to time, even the true downshifter, who is much less interested in power, money, glamour that the average chap, will feel a stitch of envy.

Especially if you are a self-made man or woman, who started without rich daddy, without great family connections, helping little ties etc.

A downshifter will typically not envy the powerful or rich career makers who made it to the top on their own account and paid their price to climb up the ladder, because he theoretically could have done the same but decided not to.

But he might envy the 1% (or 5%, whatever), who did just nothing, who did not work hard or invest clever. Those who simply and by stupid luck were born rich and powerful, in the right family, at the right time, in the right place. Those that (although they – as the only ones – will never see that) got their status, their wealth and their (apparently!) care-free life not by effort, but by pure luck.

As most human emotions envy is nothing wrong at all, but holds a function:

It’s a signal from your subconsciousness, that something is wrong here, that you seeing something unjust.
Of course the signal can be wrong, but often it is also right, because – please don’t tell your kids – life is indeed unjust.
There was never full justice in the world, there is not today (not even in your country, company, family) and there probably never will be full justice in the future. I don’t like it, but that is the way it is.

On the other hand, too much envy is certainly not helpful, so today I have something for your comfort:

 

One of my favorite “heroes” from Greek mythology and a “role model for the modern middle-class employee” (woodpecker interpretation 🙂 ):

Prometheus!

As you might know, Prometheus was the guy who stole the fire from the gods and brought it to humankind.

In the Woodpecker modern interpretation:
Prometheus was the anti-authoritarian self-made man, who empowered himself, built his life from scratch without the help of a devine birth and then took what needed to be taken from the powerful without caring too much about their permission (in fact no harm done, of course the gods still have their own fire too, but they just wanted to keep it all for themselves). And he had his pride about his self-empowerment and about all he had accomplished HIMSELF despite his low born start.

To better understand, read my favorite poem from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Simply replace “Zeus”/“the gods” by the “rich and the powerful born class” and “Prometheus” by yourself or “the self-made-man”.

You will see how Prometheus/you can be proud about the house he built on his own and in fact is envied by the gods for the warmth of his hearth. A warmth that they will be able to enjoy.
You will see that the gods/the rich born are poor in a sense that they all depend on the mercy of the people plus owe their whole status to our all masters: time and fate.
You will see that Prometheus/you overcomes disappointment, empowers himself and decides on his own to be as happy as the gods/the rich&powerful, and you can be as well.

You will understand that you, the self-made man/woman, have sources of happiness at your hand that the rich born will never know.

That is independence.
That is real comfort.
That will shield you and make you an upright and self-confident person, no matter where you stand on the “social ladder” of your country.

What a fantastic piece of art by Goethe!

(English translation of the poem here)

Prometheus

Bedecke deinen Himmel, Zeus,

Mit Wolkendunst!

Und übe, Knaben gleich,

Der Disteln köpft,

An Eichen dich und Bergeshöh’n!

Mußt mir meine Erde

Doch lassen steh’n,

Und meine Hütte,

Die du nicht gebaut,

Und meinen Herd,

Um dessen Glut

Du mich beneidest.

 

Ich kenne nichts Ärmeres

Unter der Sonn’ als euch Götter!

Ihr nähret kümmerlich

Von Opfersteuern

Und Gebetshauch

Eure Majestät

Und darbtet, wären

Nicht Kinder und Bettler

Hoffnungsvolle Toren.

 

Da ich ein Kind war,

Nicht wußte, wo aus, wo ein,

Kehrt’ ich mein verirrtes Auge

Zur Sonne, als wenn drüber wär

Ein Ohr zu hören meine Klage,

Ein Herz wie meins,

Sich des Bedrängten zu erbarmen.

 

Wer half mir

Wider der Titanen Übermut?

Wer rettete vom Tode mich,

Von Sklaverei?

Hast du’s nicht alles selbst vollendet,

Heilig glühend Herz?

Und glühtest, jung und gut,

Betrogen, Rettungsdank

Dem Schlafenden dadroben?

 

Ich dich ehren? Wofür?

Hast du die Schmerzen gelindert

Je des Beladenen?

Hast du die Tränen gestillet

Je des Geängsteten?

Hat nicht mich zum Manne geschmiedet

Die allmächtige Zeit

Und das ewige Schicksal,

Meine Herren und deine?

 

Wähntest du etwa,

Ich sollte das Leben hassen,

In Wüsten fliehn,

Weil nicht alle Knabenmorgen-

Blütenträume reiften?

 

Hier sitz’ ich, forme Menschen

Nach meinem Bilde,

Ein Geschlecht, das mir gleich sei,

Zu leiden, weinen,

Genießen und zu freuen sich,

Und dein nicht zu achten,

Wie ich!

 

(side note: Prometheus was harshly punished by the gods for his theft, thus be a bit careful with the “stealing” part 😉 )

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

Saving by Efficient Second Hand Buying

You can use money you saved on your cloths shopping to finance a healthy lunch at your next outdoor activity e.g. (Here: Siebenhütten,  Kreuth, Bavaria)

You can use money you saved on your cloths shopping to finance a healthy lunch at your next outdoor activity e.g. (Here: Siebenhütten, Kreuth, Bavaria)

Frequent readers noticed that I got away from focusing too much on aggressive money accumulation because it became clear to me that obsession about money leads as well to unhappiness as having no money at all.

Having said that I still 100% subscribe to the need of efficient spending.

The concept is easy:

Money can buy you nice things and possibilities but money typically is in short supply, plus we downshifters are not into working long hours to maximize income.

Thus spending money on the right things, as well as spending as little as possible on a give thing we want to buy, are important.

One way to do this is to buy second-hand stuff:

In todays consumption and throw away world, actually the second-hand market is one of the most inefficient markets I know – to the benefit of the buyer!
A book not even read but unpacked typically sells for only 60% of original price. Once read but in perfect condition it drops to 30%.
Electronic articles are incredibly cheap to get once they are half a year old and thus no more “fashionable”.
Toys, bicycles etc. are available at very low prices even if they are still in very good condition.
In general the second-hand market is always in oversupply as most people buy new stuff far too often with a need to get rid of their old gear.

The same holds to a very large degree for second-hand cloths.

Problem here is that second-hand stores are typically stuffed with all kind of crap, quality is extremely diverse and it is difficult and no fun to find good cloths in those shops.

Now Woodpecker by accident came across a very good internet service (Germany only?) to buy used cloths.

I typically do not promote internet shops and like to assure you that I am not connected nor paid by these guys.

The site is called ubup.com.

It offers an amazing choice of cloths that you can sort by quality, size and brand. They still might want to work on their search function a bit, but in general this is much better and more comfortable than eBay etc.

I (and Mrs. Woodpecker) did some test buys and went only for high-end brands (brands that we typically would seldom buy because they are too expensive in the shop) and for the very high quality section (i.e. barely used or unused).

And, voila, we were very positively surprised. Prices even in the barely used section come in around 25%-30% of the shop price, and the things we got were in fantastic condition, no shipping costs plus you can resend for free.

Please feel absolutely free to ignore this post but if you want to try the shop anyway and would like to support this blog a bit without a cost to you, you can use Woodpeckers promotion code.

That way you will get a 10 EUR deduction from your first purchase, and Woodpecker gets a voucher of 10 EUR as well.

The code works anonymously for both parties (tried it already with Mrs. Woodpecker) and would be:

ZX7BWKWY

Simply enter it at the check out page.

Cheers,

Woodpecker

A Modern Disease: Self-Optimization

Last week, near Koenigssee, Berchtesgaden, Bavaria.

Last week, near Koenigssee, Berchtesgaden, Bavaria.

Its been quite a while since the last post.

This has two reasons:

1) I drastically cut down on my internet activities.

The internet is a great thing, but as you probably have noticed yourself, it has also a great potential for addiction and distraction from real life. You might negate that this is the case for you, but very like it is nonetheless. If you disagree, try to turn it off for only one week, NOW.

The good thing is, there is no need for quitting. But what I tried (and will continue to try) is just to shift focus even more from conversations, discussions and experiences in the virtual world back to conversations, discussions and experiences in the real world.

E.g. I joined some “offline” groups of like-minded people who keep me quite busy, plus drastically increased outdoor activity with friends and family, plus more reading (paper books!) as well as more sports.

Look at the picture above. All internet activity, all online conversation and facebook-crap can finally not keep up with a good hike and a sunset in the mountains (and – no picture of that – a classical Bavarian Weisswurst-Breakfast with beer at sunrise on the lodge next morning). At least not for me, so I will continue to prioritize offline over online. Even if that means fewer posts or lower investment income.

I might add more details later, all I can say now (no surprise): Highly recommended.

2) I am struggling how to write this very post and am not sure if the though is finished already.

I’ll try now, but am not sure if I can bring across the thought correctly yet. Lets see.

As said a few post before I came to a point in this blog where I found that more or less all has been said on a topic that occupied me for a long time (about two years):

Downshifting, Frugal Living and the laws of happiness.

I guess if you read all the posts here, you get the picture, you will be able to get control over your spending and your time usage and about setting the stage for more happiness.

But now comes the complicated thing:

At a certain point I noticed that all this “stage setting” for happiness was in fact driven by my wish to find an algorithm, a way of life to “force happiness”.
If I am brutally honest to myself (and what other way is there when you are working at the higher stages of Maslovs pyramid?) I have to realize that I was hoping to arrange life in a way that happiness will endure “forever”. In other words I made the same mistake that so many searchers for happiness made before, I thought there is a receipt for happiness, or in other words a “religion” one has to follow to be happy. Where indeed happiness is a complicated state of being that kicks in without planning but as a side effect of things done the right way.

In my case the “religion” was a mixture of downshifting (maximizing free time), frugal living (maximizing financial independence and minimizing need to work) plus social contacts, travelling, outdoor experience etc.

In other cases (allow me to say more “trivial” cases), the religion is consumption, accumulating wealth and status, career or – closer to Woodpeckers case – things like financial independence (for the ERE community).

And now comes the complicated thought that somehow struck me one day during my two months of sabbatical in summer:

All of the downshifting and frugal living exercises do obviously not bring happiness per se, and if done wrong, they can even create unhappiness.

Don’t get me wrong, I still highly recommend downshifting and frugality as ONE way to set a good stage for happiness, as a good fundament where happiness can prosper and unfold itself.

But only under one precondition:

Most of us people today, downshifters and others alike, we should relax  a bit on our self-optimization efforts.
Actually we not only have to relax a bit, but we have to relax a lot.

I am convinced that a huge, very huge opponent of becoming happy is today’s world’s focus on self-opimization and never-ending growth (be it personal or economic). The constant urge to get better, faster and more perfect in whatever area we are concentrating on. An urge to grow and to get richer without knowing the “what for?”.

The low hanging fruits suddenly have a bad reputation, staying in your comfort zone is considered something bad and boring today, and deciding not to grow or not to develop seems not really acceptable anymore.
Whereas not to grow and not to stretch might be an excellent choice from time to time.

And, if you are honest, the treadmill that most other people tread  in their jobs and lives (putting themselves under pressure to go ever higher and further); this very treadmill can exist as well for the frugal living and the downshifters (save even more money, spend even more effective, generate even more free time).

And this is the big danger:

Than in your (perfectly reasonable) desire for leaving the job-/work-treadmill, you are merely exchanging it against the “extreme frugal”- and “extreme downshifting”- treadmill.

That you forget about the middle-way.

You calculate and count too much, you are optimizing things too grim and create another system in your mind that is as stiff as the old one.

Coming back to the middle way means concentrating on the low hanging fruits (there are many), stay in your comfort zone (this is what all sane life forms wish to do), and more than all be careful to not put yourself under too much optimization stress.

Plus two things:

1) Avoid contact to people too much concentrated on this “optimization” (they are constantly unrelaxed and their urge for self-optimization is very epidemic).

2) Avoid contact to people with significantly higher socio-economic “status” (i.e. the rich guys, the “big” guys), because it is very hard to not start comparing to them is you see them too often and as a result of the comparison you will either (a) start to self optimize again, or (b) feel depressed.
Let them life in their money world and stay in your own world. At least in my case I noticed that both conversations and activities with the rich guys are quite boring anyway – too much focussed on money and political tactics.
And definitely put all your “why-Steve-Jobs-is-such-a-great-guy-and-how-you-can-become-him”-books in the bin immediately. They are all crap and this Steve Jobs guy never struck me happy or good company anyway.

Your world is already big enough (in a way likely much bigger than most big guy’s world) and can offer a perfectly happy life if you just accept being where and what you are.

That’s it for the moment.

Hope I was somehow able to bring across my thought.

Cheers,

Woodpecker