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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, it leaves you with the middle way:

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

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

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

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

 

In a nutshell:

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

Cheers,

Woodpecker

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

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

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

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

The actual question is:

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

My honest observation unfortunately so far is: No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you in with the pack or are you out?

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

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

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

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

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

And they do it very reluctantly.

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

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

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

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

OK, but enough of the ranting.

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

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

Basically you can go two reasonable ways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

But here comes the risks:

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

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

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

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

However, there are challenges and risks as well:

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

Cheers,

Woodpecker

Take Time for your Passion and Happiness will follow!

Lake Starnberg with thunderstorm. Woodpeckers sailing seasons opening weekend - two days weather like this, but FUN it was!

Lake Starnberg with thunderstorm approaching. The sailing season opening weekend – two days sh** weather like this, but great FUN it was!

Hurray!

I was not very ambitious on new year resolutions, but one of them:

Signing up for a sailing club

is accomplished.
Woodpecker had his first two days of Sailing at Lake Starnberg this weekend.

And what a great weekend we had!
It was quite bad weather, cold, stormy, rainy and with some pretty heavy wind gusts in-between. Of the 15 boats we went out with, three(!) overturned, leaving 7 people quite soaked to the showers. One mast broke and a shroud was ripped apart in a wind gust (a very rare event). And Woodpeckers boat was rammed twice(!) by the same beginner (…what did I do him that he was chasing us so hard?!?), leaving two quite unattractive dents in the wooden port side deck. We all were shivering and exhausted by the end of the days, but almost everybody with that frozen smile in the face, saying: “When do we go out again?”.

So, it was FUN!
(…and boy am I glad that I don’t own the poor boats)

But wait a second:

Sailing? Club? Starnberg?

Woodpecker, are you stupid? Did you leave the road of frugal living? Sailing is a posh and expensive sport, isn’t it? For the rich, the spenders and others who don’t know how to get rid of their money.
And Lake Starnberg! – the most expensive area around Munich, full of millionaires and other price-insensitive folk.
That doesn’t sound like a good treat to your budget, does it?

Well, interesting enough, as most times in life, there is a way to combine fun and cost saving:

In this case, I found out about the University sailing club, and an option to sign up as an Alumni with them!

Total cost per sailing day: 12 EUR!
That is for a day from 9-5. After theory, briefing, preparing the boats, lunch break, debriefing and securing the boats in the evening, this leaves about 5 hours of sailing, or 2,50 EUR per hour on the water.
This is incredibly cheap. For comparison: At lake Ammersee you pay about 30 EUR per hour for a rental small boat – and those are scrappy and old barges compared to the nice and well-kept wooden boats of the university.

Plus the University sailing club comes with a beautiful and centrally located own lake site, an own harbour, several different types of boats, most in a great condition, plus schooling rooms, a small dockyard, two motor boats for support and rescue, showers, changing rooms, food area and a variety of trainings and courses for free!

And the best of all:
It comes with a load of young, motivated and non-money focussed people sailing together with Woodpecker!  This really is important, as it was a major donwturner to me that many commercial sailing club around Munich seem to attract mostly elderly and money-soaked posh people (this does not at all hold for sailors in general, but unfortunately often for clubs around Munich).

Obviously the University club comes with different rules – all of them very much appreciated by a downshifter, but not so much maybe for a career-driven consume-optimizer:

  1. You have to sign up well in advance for courses and commit to dates. You can only do whole weekends, two times 9-5.
    No problem for a downshifter with enough of time available. Sure a problem for the career-optimizer where work always goes first and weekends are desperately needed to sleep or do household stuff.
  2. You can do spontaneous half-days as well, but only on Wednesdays starting from 16:00.
    See bullet above.
  3. You don’t own your own boat but share the club boats.
    Well, perfect. In most cases sharing is much more economic, plus see above what can happen to the poor things! You want to be on your own pulling overturned boats out, tossing them to land, repairing damage and so on? Me not.
  4. You have to prepare and store away everything by yourself, including sail drying, little repair works etc.
    Fantastic! Part of the fun is to really work with the material instead of being a simple consumer of services.
  5. You are encouraged to help out at frequent occasions. Be it helping the carpenter in the dockyard for a day, instructing beginners, later becoming an official trainer or preparing a party, whatever. In return you are allowed to rent out boats outside the courses later on.
    Man! That’s great! Excactly the model I appreciate. People volunteer on different things they are good at to the benefit of everybody. And you are in-between the action and the community. Much better than dedicating the woodwork to an employee and only sit dully on your deck having champagne, isn’t it?

So let’s see where this is going, but I am quite positive this was one of the best decisions so far this year.

I think in general that’s a good receipt:

Go out, think about your passion, find a way to do it the most cost-efficient way, take time away from work and devote it to your passion. And sooner or later, happiness will follow!

Cheers,

Woodpecker

A new era of work – Part 3: Improve your holiday/worktime ratio.

How can you combine paying for you hobbies while working as little as possible? Try the middle way… (Pic taken sailing close to Mallorca, Spain)

Back in Munich after the quite decent Italy journey of 7 weeks.

A very good duration for a trip in my opinion.

Unfortunately for most employees quite difficult to manage if you are working (like Woodpecker).
But you might go back to this post for some ideas how you could manage as well if you want.

So this is a good time to think about how to achieve great breaks like this regularly.

So I would like to share the current plan on how to go forward as well as laying out a general tabulation below how you can do this as well:

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A new era of work – Part 2: Both partners working full time – what a crazy concept!

One of the more relaxed jobs – lighthouse keeper. (Lighthouse seen in Brittany, France)

When talking about work you often get the impression – at least here in Germany – that people live for their work and define themselves only by their job.

Their job seems to be no more a tool to generate maximum possible income at the minimum possible inconvenience, so that it serves you such that you can dwell happily with your hobbies, social contacts and families in a maximized spare time (as I think it should be).
Instead the job surprisingly often seems to totally define people, and the reasoning is turned upside down so that the spare time seems to be there to serve your job and not the other way round.

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A new era of work, Part 1

In medieval times, some workplaces where quite dangerous, but certainly not boring… What is the situation today?! (Seen at Kaltenberger Medieval Festival, Bavaria)

As everybody I had my fair amount of quarrels with my parents, but one thing is for sure:

They certainly were not narrow-minded.

And I think for their time, they already lived a quite progressive live if I compare it with the really mouldy times then in the german 80s.

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