Are we Really Living in a Society Driven by Fear? …and What to Do Against It

People increasingly feel uneasy because they think all decisions have to be made perfectly correct to avoid ending on the "looser road"

People increasingly feel uneasy because they think all decisions have to be made perfectly correct to avoid ending on the “looser road” (link to clip see below)

Seen a great little film today on the media site of German Television (ARD).

It is about us being a “society of fear”. The clip is about German society, but certainly describes the feeling in many if not most modern societies.

Key theses are:

  1. The whole society today is basically driven by fear
  2. Everybody is obsessed by status and even more by the fear of loosing his/her current status
  3. People feel the constant urge to compete and want to be “fit
  4. People have the feeling they always have to choose and always have to be chosen
  5. Thus people become “radar persons”, always sensing for feedback from the outside (waiting for the “I like” of others) instead of trusting in their own intuition or inner guiding.
  6. People have the feeling that all relationships are alway cancel-able. Thus security dwindles
  7. We are more and more becoming a society of lone warriors
  8. All of this leads to a diffuse unease. But people see no real alternative, thus carry on.

A very accurate assessment of the situation in my opinion.

Link here (German only).

Having said that the question is out what can you do against this unease that probably most of us will feel from time to time.

Obviously I don’t have the answer (yet šŸ˜‰ ).

But a few of Woodpeckers mantras is certainly helpful to address most of the points above:

  • Improve and nurse your social contacts.
  • Hook up to groups, societies, or (if you feel like) to political parties, NGOs etc. And I mean offline, not online. Online communities are worth close to nothing if the shit hits the fan.
  • Always prioritize friends and families above work, duty, competition etc.
  • Understand that all this “a crisis is coming” talk is bullshit (see this post). We all have food, housing, warmth and clothes in full abundance and almost certainly will still have all of this for lifetime.
  • Be open and welcoming to all sorts of people. Use tit-for-tat in case the other misbehaves, but always start out friendly and trusting and be ready to forgive.
  • Never burn bridges.
  • Try to revive old contacts, even if they were buried for decades.
  • Understand that people will use this kind of fear to intimidate you and make you do what they want (to work cheap, to obey, to be “flexible” etc.). Resist and you will see that you have more negotiation power than others try to tell you.
  • Do a good job in your employment, but don’t play the work-drone. Once others notices you do everything, they will shovel everything on you. Not good.
  • Do sports, out-door activity, travelling to concentrate mind and body.
  • Spend more time offline and without news / internet. Definitly no blackberry outside office-hours!
  • Try to turn off all communication devices after e.g. 8 p.m. Learn to be by yourself or with the people who accompany you this very moment.

Any more suggestions by readers?!

Please comment, all ideas are welcome.




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

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

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

The recent weeks was a busy time at work. There was plenty to do, ā€œchallengesā€ to be met, hurdles to be overcome and victories to win. In fact it was a state that many people would call ā€œhaving fun at workā€.

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

This is great and it should be like that.

However, one should not confuse ā€œhaving fun at workā€ with ā€œhaving a really good timeā€.

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

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

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 šŸ˜‰ ).

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”.Ā 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… šŸ˜‰ šŸ˜‰


Film review: “Speed – In Search of Lost time”. A clever film on deceleration.

Film review on "Speed - On Search of Lost Time"

Film review on “Speed – In Search of Lost Time”

Do you often feel stressed and having no time?

That – despite of all the efficient methods you use – available time seems to diminish, rather than to increase?

You don’t remember the last time you really idled (and enjoyed it) or when you read a book for two hours without interruption?

You are often thinking: “Tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, after I finished this and that, I will take more time for friends, family and kids”?

You cannot remember the last day (or even the last half day) you spent entirely without internet or cell-phone?

If the answer to some of the above is YES, then you are not alone.
In fact you belong to the majority in western society.

You are suffering from uncontrolled acceleration.

In my opinion the main disease of our modern times.

Actually, yesterday I had a planned internet and phone free evening (at work it is hard to avoid), so I digged out from our library a nice little documentary film on the phenomena of the “accelerated society”:

“Speed – In Search of Lost Time” (link here, unfortunately German only).

A highly recommended film, where the author tries to find out why he is always stressed and tensed, what are the reasons for society’s acceleration and what are potential alternatives.

The film is available in German only, but I’ll try to extract some highlights:

  • An interview with a man of Sueddeutsche Zeitung (a very well-respected German newspaper) who did live without internet, computer and cell-phone for 1/2 year, and his experiences while looking for fax-machines or public phone booths.
  • Meeting with Douglas Tompkins, who is planting trees that need 1000 years to grow up. This guy founded the cloth labels Esprit and Northface, but then left the business and bought a huge piece of land in Chile to “deprive it of acceleration”.
  • Interviewing one of the most celebrated business consultant lady (OMG, what a cold and dead person she is) on her “mission to make the world a better place by accelerating it”.
  • Staying with mountain farmers that live entirely without watches, have no holidays and stuff thus seem very relaxed (the secret seems to be living by a rhythm instead of a tact. A tact (like the tact of the clock or the machine) is merciless and ever pressing. A rhythm instead is repeating as well, but it adapts to the nature or the body and allows for deviations.
  • An interview with the Minister of Happiness in the state of Bhutan, where the growth of the country is measured by “Gross National Happiness” instead of GNP. This guy made the most clever comment in the film:“The key to happiness and deceleration is to forget about the notion of ‘time is money’ and replace it by the notion that ‘time is life’ “.Woodpecker couldn’t agree more.
  • Meeting with the German Sociologist Prof. Hartmut Rosa (link in German) .
    His core theory on the subject can be summarized as below:
  1. Stress is caused by having too many options in today’s world, thus being forced to make decisions all the time (and forgo millions of other opportunities at the same time)
  2. Acceleration is caused by the use of competitive logic to not only economics, but to all areas of modern life, e.g. to social contacts, friends, hobbies, family, religion. People fear very much to be “left behind” and thus do all to “stay in the game”. From a historical point of you this focus on competition was never the case before.
  3. A vicious circle is started:
    “People feel stressed by the high tact of modern life” -> “They have little time” -> “They get inpatient” -> “They expect others to act quicker (e.g. the phone hotline, the computer startup, the teller in the supermarket, colleagues at work etc.) -> “Demand is generated for more accelerated technical or organisational solutions” -> “People feel even more stressed by the high tact of modern life”-> etc.

Unfortunately, the film does not really provide a more general solution, except for small tips (like testing out your internet/iPhone/blackberry addiction by internet-free days, saying “no” more often, follow a rhythm instead of a tact, stop spinning around yourself etc.) and a vague “everybody has to find out for himself”.

And actually it misses any hint at all at Downshifting!

Where downshifting at its core (at least in Woodpeckers definition) is a lot about deceleration and living in the here and now.
As well as it is a lot about breaking out from the vicious cycle of “staying in the game” and finding ways to organise life outside the competition postulate.

But apart from this little aspects missing (maybe they are saved for part two šŸ˜‰ ), the film is a must-see for any German-speaking downshifting candidate!
Go to your local library and find out!

And please let me know any similar films you know in English or German!



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 andĀ  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 šŸ˜‰ ).

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?! šŸ™‚

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,



Downshifters in Australia – Interesting Case Study

Sorry to remind you, but life is finite. Better start here and now to make the best of it!

Sorry to remind you, but life is finite. Better start here and now to make the best of it! (sculls seen at Meteora monastery, Greece)

Hi there to the beginning of the rest of your life!

Not cheerful enough for a greeting?

Well, maybe, but it’s the truth!
Sorry to remind everybody every now and then that our time is limited. But then, we all need to be aware of this fact, and draw consequences, like trying to have a good day here and now!

As Woodpecker’s family is planning to do exactly that and is going to celebrate our very good family budget results with a decent meal at a nice restaurant around and everybody is already waiting downstairs, today’s post will be short.

Short but very valuable, as I found an interesting study by the Australia Institute about Downshifting in Australia.

They interviewed a couple of downshifters with different approaches (e.g. cutting hours, retiring, changing job to something less paid but more rewarding) on their reasons, feelings, pro’s and con’s, how peers reacted and so forth.

A very valuable Sunday read that gave me some great insights. Hope it’s interesting for you as well.

See for yourself and let me know your opinion:

Interview w/ downshifters in Australia (pdf)