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…




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!



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.



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!)



Work and Happiness – Does a Promotion make you Happier?

The price: A beautiful autumn friday off and a hike to Kloster Andechs / Bavaria. The cost: Not exactly helping your career in Germany's companies that pay for presence rather than for output. Well, so be it.

The gain: A beautiful autumn friday off and a hike to Kloster Andechs / Bavaria.
The cost: Not exactly helping your career in Germany’s companies that pay for presence rather than for output.
Well, so be it.

You know that feeling?

You thought that – after years of practising – you are a downshifter down to the last bone.
You did your budgets, killed off any unnecessary spending. You internalized the idea of time and social ties being the most valuable ingredient in life instead of money or luxury. You are able to enjoy the simple things, you learned how to walk through a department store without being attracted by all the fancy superfluous stuff there in the slightest bit. You can enjoy a camp holiday as much as a holiday in a 5* spa hotel. You even learned to accept the strange material needs of others without any envy. And so forth.

In one sentence:

You thought you made it! Break out of the worlds material preoccupation and exit the never-ending rat-race. Continue reading

Deciding against Career – Reloaded.

Come on you temptations of the rat race! I'll shoot you all... (Photo: Bretagne, France)

Come on you temptations of the rat race! I’ll shoot you all…!! (Photo: Bretagne, France)

Exactly one year ago, Woodpecker had a fair chance to take over a leadership position and decided against it (see here).

Two weeks ago now, another almost similar opportunity arose in Woodpecker’s job (Fate seems to have decided to deal out these dangerous career temptations to me in an annual rhythm 😉 ).

Again, after some thoughts, Woodpecker decided not to go for the promotion.

No why is that? I mean getting promoted, climb the ladder as quick as possible, maximizing income, status and POWER are the main goals of our lives, are they not?!

Well, not quite in my humble opinion…

Let me explain:

Obviously all the thoughts in the post last year are still valid.
But this time I digged a bit deeper and tried to find out if there is another reason that makes me back away from this kind of promotion in an almost intuitive way. I asked myself:

Are my intuition and my reasoning really reliable?

Or is there another reason that makes me so indifferent against “climbing up”? Maybe I only avoid the responsibility, or am I too coward to take the job?

So I took some hours out on the bike to ponder on that question (the bike seems to be the best place to think for Woodpecker).

And I came to the following:

I very much like my company.
They are a great employer.
They (in general) care for their employees, they pay well, they offer at least some flexibility and above average holidays and social benefits.
Business there is done with high ethical standards towards business partners, towards society and towards the environment.
As every company they are looking for profit, but fortunately not in a too greedy and short-sighted way. I really bow to some board members who stood their ground on various occasions where outside pressure was high to get “more efficient”, “more modern”, “more ambitious”, “more hungry”. They did right to stay stubborn, as many competitors virtually broke their necks while getting ambitious, modern and hungry going forward.

I like all of that very much about my company and it played an important part why I decided to join them and will probably stay loyal to them for quite some time to come.

But then unfortunately there is the other side of modern work life:

While being above average attractive, my company still is a 21st century corporate with most of the CRAZY stuff going on that you will see in any larger companies.
They have most of the usual dull bullshit bingo and internal propaganda crap going on, all the stupid slogans, the “corporate mindset”.
Many people (and the higher up you go the more) are somehow narrow-minded and take themselves, the company, their business and their little games far to serious.
Loads of political energy is wasted in small and big battles over POWER every day. Some decisions (although fortunately much less than I have seen in other firms) seem hectic, aloof, inconsequent or driven by consultant style theoretical insights far away from real practical relevance.

All of this being very much normal things in a bigger company, and luckily easy to ignore if you are working at an operative level.

All of you working in a similar company know:
You take all this crap as some kind of force of nature, you make your jokes about it, you mock and laugh, or you let it pass by behind you.
And often enough, you, along with almost all other colleagues, simply ignore all the fancy new, groundbreaking orders, swings and flavours of the month that are dripping down to your level as soon as a new big guy comes in and wants to leave his divine footprint.

You simply continue to do your work in a professional way, generate some income for the firm (hopefully enough to make you valuable), and apart from that you can enjoy your salary and family and max out your free time. Truth be told, in the end no one really expects that you wholeheartedly and 120% sign up to the newest company slogans. Because only some ambitious strange nerds in the strategy department or other ivory tower levels do.

And as long as results are fine and you don’t switch to open rebellion, no one will care what you think.

But all of this changes when you go into management:

If you get a manager, I’d expect that you DO sign up more or less fully to your companies values. You DO have to live them and to stand up for them. And you DO have to promote them inside and outside the company.

Nothing as pathetic as a boss who behaves as if he was still a normal employee.

Yes, I DO want that my boss explains me the new slogan and crazy strategy of my company such that I can have a fight with him if I don’t like what I hear. I DO want that he takes my complains and carries them upward, but also I would consider him weak if he continues to mock about company decisions as if he was one of the common pack. Because a manager is part of the company (…yes, yes, yes, don’t bully me, I know, I know, we are ALL part of the company (slogan 4211). But there IS a difference in committment, or at least there should be).

When signing up to a leadership position, you DO change side (only a slight switch on lower management level of course, but a switch anyway).

And I would expect a manager to make company business a clear top priority in his life, and not continue to focus on his private stuff (as I do).

A manager has to be reachable by blackberry, he cannot be away on Sabbatical all the time, he does have to attend the important exec-meeting at 6 p.m. (poor him).

Because that’s his job. That’s the deal:
He does not have to do the dirty tasks anymore, he can delegate and order, he is entitled to the bigger bonus and salary, a larger desk and a more shiny business card. But in return he has to take the responsibility, he has to show passion, he has to go the extra mile while we unimportant employees enjoy some time off loafing in the afternoon sunshine at the local lake.
And he does have to sign up to corporate identity and at least has to try to believe the flavour of the month.
That’s what good managers have to do – simply as this.

But then, personally, I really do not want that deal, I do not want to switch sides.

I love the mental independence of the side I’m on.
I love to have the freedom to say: “Sorry, but that is not my task as a simple employee, we need some management fire power here”. I am happy with the income I can generate from my expert role, I am happy with my tasks and the level of control I already have now and I love to put full weight on private things like travelling, maximizing holidays, having a good time with family and friends and keeping work second priority most of the time.

So I either would make a poor manager or I’d have to sell out part of my identity to become a good one (see my interview with a board member).

And I don’t want to sell out anything of my identity and my life – because, guess what – I came to like it over the years!

Plan is to downshift, and much of this is fighting back the role the job plays in life, instead of boosting it!

So, goodbye shiny business card and large desk – may you serve someone else and fill him/her with pride and POWER – I would not have appraised you sufficiently anyway…

Probably to be continued in one year… 😉 😉


Talking to a Board Member of a Global Corporate

Career is a dangerous thing: Easy to get caught and difficult to escape. (Spider net seen during a misty morning)

Career is a dangerous thing: Easy to get caught and difficult to escape. (Spider net seen during a misty morning)

When Woodpecker was younger (around 20), I had the fantastic chance to speak to a board member of an internationally operating and  well-known German DAX company (DAX is the stock index of top 30 corporates in Germany). A company who’s name most of you would know, with +100.000 employees and stuff.

My parents were quite normal people, so we rarely had any board-members at out home, but this one they knew from their university time and he showed up on a birthday party of my mother.

He was (and probably still is) a very amiable person and a self-made man with a middle class background. And naturally at that age I was quite curious to learn anything I could about the glamorous world of international companies.

So we started to have a little chat about life, work, career, and what path to choose.
A chat that was more helpful to me than any business book or career development crap I ever encountered later.

It’s been more than 15 years since then, but I very clearly remember four core statements.
All of the absolutely worthwhile to follow, even though I am far from aspiring a CEO job or anything like that.

1) First statement:
When asked by my mother how he had managed to get so high up (from being a middle class student earlier himself), he answered absolutely frankly, without any smile or irony: “That’s because I am such an amiable person”.

And indeed he was!
Obviously he probably had other qualities as well, like being intelligent, a good observer and what not. But this statement showed me that all the tips in the books like “be always competitive”, “behave strategically”, “beware of others” etc. are total nonsense.

Take-away for us Downshifters?
Be kind to people at your workplace and you are likely to advance without any stress. Make friends wherever you can and your position will be rock-solid and your job a much more fun place to work at (although not too much I hope 😉 ).

2) The second remark was:
“When you do a really good job, you get away with almost everything”.
I think is a very valuable advise.
For us downshifter that means: You will want to get away with a lot. You will want limited hours, no over-time, a home-office, sabbaticals, parental leaves, a fair pay, no stress. No need to talk around that this is a bunch of demands that are unfortunately considered fairly non-standard in todays stressful and “high performance driven” work environment.

How do you get away with it anyway? Do a good job!
And how can you do a good job?
Do a job that is slightly below your maximum capability. This way you will always perform great without any real effort.
Needless to say that most people sadly do the opposite: They crave for promotions until they end up with a position they can barely fill and thus will have a shaky stand and a lot of stress. (This is called the “Peter-Principle”)

In Woodpeckers case, I was never seeking to advance upward on the career ladder, but I was asking for a raise quite frequently instead. “Keep your promotion, but give me a raise!” :). And it worked, I often got the raise while the title went to someone else. Fine with me and much better than the other way round!
I changed positions sideways when it got boring or annoying and now I am in a position where I can safely say I am very good and very efficient at what I do. I don’t have a leadership or management role although it was once offered to me, and that is good! So I don’t have to deal with annoying employees or boring company politics, I am not afraid of restructurings and changes and I am generally much more independent. I always deliver in time and in return my boss leaves me to have as many coffee breaks as I want – yeah, there are quite a few, but who cares as long as things run smooth?! 🙂

3) “Bit by bit you have to sell out your character while climbing up the career ladder”
You will not often get such an open statement from a board member of a huge company! Deep respect!
And there you go: Another reason not to aim for a career. At least for me, because I like my character.
The guy was quite specific on how he had to give up on political and other opinions, had to adapt to corporate consensus, was gently pushed to streamline his out-of-work social activities to match with peers etc. So additional to character he had to pay with freedom, too!
Nothing that I would strive for.

4) “For a long time I did not have so much fun as at this party tonight”
Boom! Another surprising buster!
I mean, this guy had it all and was involved in all sorts of fancy social events! And the party at my mom’s was not special at all. No villa, no fancy views, no spectacular evening dresses. But a lot of people who knew each other for a long time and had a lot of laughing, open talks, fun and relaxation.
And particularly relaxation and open talk was apparently the thing he missed in 95% of his typical social events. Not surprisingly, he said people there are extremely political, always double-thinking what to say and whom to please, and merely pretending to have fun than really having it. He said most of this social events were more like work than like free time. I can imagine very well!

And then there was another observation a few years later:

After being a board member for 10 years or so, he finally was fired during a reorganisation. He was 55 or so and had probably made a double-digit million Euros, big villa with a nice pool, private guard, huge car with driver and stuff. I mean, in conventional terms he had it all.
Yet he fell into a desperate depression for years, had to do extensive therapy etc. until he finally recovered and is running his own consultancy service now.
What does it tell you? Money and power do not make you less vulnerable to the blows live can deliver – maybe even on the contrary, because you are too little diversified.

In remembrance of an evening that changed my life,