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

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

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

The next step.

All is flowing. From time to time you must venture on to new waters. (pic: Sailing, approaching north-west coast of Mallorca)

All is flowing. From time to time you must venture on to new waters. (pic: Approaching north-west coast of Mallorca by sailing boat)

It’s been a long time since the last post.

There were a couple of reasons for this which I think can be best summarized as “creative break” or “philosophical re-adjustment”.

Actually this had three aspects:

  1. Woodpecker & family were simply quite busy these months
    Social “capital” increasingly pay “dividend” in the form of various invitations, visits, social activities etc. Plus obviously the travel season started good and early this year and let to quite a list of trips, e.g. to Verona (see here),Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Freiburg in South-West Germany, a trip to relatives in Hamburg and finally, the last two weeks, I managed to integrate my passion – sailing – deeper into family life by doing a family sailing trip in Croatia. More on this in a separate post. All of this led to a phenomenon that – thanks to downshifting in the job – I seldom encountered before:

    Time got scarce!

  2. I decided to decrease virtual activity a bit
    This is on one side connected to scarce time and social activities.
    Plus while I like blogging and being in the internet, I am more and more convinced that we (as the western society) spend too much time in the virtual realms and too little in real life.
    I mean the internet is fantastic, one of the greatest inventions of modern times (right next to the dish washer), but more information is not always better.
    The internet is also dangerous in that it can distract us from living life itself. Distracting us into planning and planning, looking for non-binding contacts and social exchange, flipping from idea to idea without ever sticking to something real and enduring…you certainly know what I mean.
    And all the time, the real life is out there right in front of our doors and beyond the screen of our smartphones.

    When in doubt better turn off the computer and take a step out (Even if this means decreasing traffic to this blog! 😉 ).

  3. I had to do a few re-adjustments in my job
    In todays world which is centered all around work, progress, “sucess”, career and status, it is not always easy to go the middle way. It is easy to run in the rat-race and it is easy to just quit the job but if you want to go down the down-shifting road, i.e. work in a job, but in general concentrate on maxing out free time rathern than pushing career, then a lot of people around you will frequently get confused.

    Because not living 100% for your job is kind of a taboo today and considered almost a rebellious act by many of the rat-racers.

    The reason is clear: You do question their view of the world, and people don’t like that.
    So you have to do your moves carefully and spend some time every now and then to convince bosses and co-workers that you are committed to do a good job, but you simply want a different balance in your life.

    Companies are typically very normed social entities, thus the way to do this is to seek personal contact and build trust. On that basis it will be easier for others to accept you being different.

    Thats what I did, and I’ll go on another two months block of parental leave this summer, according to the plan to have a minimum of 50 free days (plus weekends of course) per year.

  4. The frugal living and thinking about money topic is sucked dry for Woodpecker
    We shall not forget that money still is only a tool. It is extremly important and thrilling to set the stage right by getting your financials in order, start to monitor and question your spendings, think about opportunity costs, efficient spending and the fact that happiness and money spending are consumption are little correlated, learn about adaptation effects and psychological traps when dealing with money and consumption, and understand the principles of successfull investing.

    But honestly, once this is done, it is time to move on to the next step.

    Because if you did your homework, your habits will sustainably change and you can savely put lots of the money related things decribed in this and other blogs to auto-pilot to a certain extend.So I could write 100 more posts about tiny savings and tiny optimizations, but I would start to repeat myself.

    Money is merely the tool.
    It is the hammer that drives the nail into the wall.

    But we should not admire the hammer, but the beautiful picture that you will put on that nail.And the picture is your life.

    If you keep on admiring the hammer, you are in no better position than the rat-racers or career-driven, no matter how frugal your life is.
    In that case you’d still worship the wrong god, the colden calf.

    Only from a different angle.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs (link)

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

So Woodpeckers journey (and with it this blog’s topics) will probably move forward to focus on the next stages on Maslows pyramid: Stage 4 (Esteem) and 5 (Self-Actualization).

Cheers,

Woodpecker

Modern work-life: How to avoid to become a Work Drone

Boy, this guy looks funny, but stupid. Fun sounds good, but do not join him in stupidity when it comes to your job.

Boy, this guy looks funny, but stupid. Fun sounds good, but do not join him in stupidity when it comes to your job. (seen in the Aquarium of La Rochelle, France)

Do you know that talk:

“To be successful you need a perfect CV !” (how did people get jobs 100 years ago, when the CV was not yet invented?! 🙂 )

“To succeed, spend all your free time during studies doing unpaid internships” (wow, sounds like fun. Instead of exploring the world on a shoestring, you do what you will do anyway the next 30 years)

“Involve socially – but not where you like it or because it provides fun but in a correct (probably boring) area to prove to potential employers that you engage yourself!” (fun is not the goal, but “success” – whatever that means?!)

“If you go sailing, don’t do it because you love it, but because you can sell it as leadership experience!”

“Never have any blanks in your CV – unemployment forever will be the punishment” (life is not about living, but about creating a perfect CV?!)

Continue reading

How much consumption is really optimal?

Holidays creats a lot of satisfaction for Woodpeckers, so we spend a lot for them. But that might be different for you.

Travelling creates a lot of satisfaction for Woodpeckers, so we spend a lot on it. But that might be different for you. Photo: Périgord, France.

Hi there and a happy festive season (guess that’s the political correct expression for merry christmas, isn’t it?)!

Well, at least in Germany the consumerist part of Christmas is over (presents are exchanged on 25th of December), so it’s a good time to reflect a bit on consumption in general.

I guess concerning this issue there are two major opposing groups when I look around:

1) The more-and-more attitude

i.e. the materialistically driven group that is striving to maximize consumption ever more.
Consumption, materialistic gains, and all that belongs to it (like career, political focus on efficiency, perfectly trimmed CVs, status and it’s symbols) plays a major role for them. To different degrees they are consciously or unconsciously sacrificing many non-material pleasures in life (like social contact, idle-time, hobbies, travelling, chilling, creative work, benevolence) for the main purpose: “Getting ahead” and “achieving something”.
Whereas it seems to be pretty thinly defined what exactly the purpose of this “achievement” is in the end. Continue reading

Money should be the means and not a goal.

Another one in my collection of “nice beaches within cosy surroundings”. The beach in St.Maria de Castellabate, Cilento, Italy. View to your right…

You probably know the phenomenon:

When travelling, or general when being in new situations, one starts to see things different, or additional ideas pop up that are faded out as long as you are struggling in the daily thread-mill.

Something crossed my mind the last days:

Not to confuse the goals of life and means to reach them

The goal clearly should be a maximum amount of happiness and well-being. And it is not to forget that frugal living – the topic I wrote, read and discussed most about in the last months – is only a means to reach that goal. Strictly saying it is only one out of several means. Continue reading