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!

Cheers,

Woodpecker

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.

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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

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

Envy – a most frequent but unhappy emotion

Your friend owns a plane and you don't? How to avoid getting jealous... photo: Woodpecker in Costa Rica. No, not my plane, but cool pic anyway, isn't it ;)

Your friend owns a plane and you don’t? How to avoid getting jealous… photo: Woodpecker in Costa Rica. No, not my plane, but cool pic anyway, isn’t it 😉

Let’s have a look at Envy today, an emotion that is deeply connected to (un)happiness.

And to be honest, an emotion that was haunting Woodpecker much more than he liked in the past. (Today it is slowly getting better though 😉 )

So I decided to put some thoughts in it, some might be of interest for you (and don’t say you are never jealous, I don’t belief it).

Types of Envy

Material envy

Envy on:

Money, Spending, Status symbols, Cloths, Housing, Vacations (cost of), Career.

Obviously, if at all, this is the type of envy that you as a downshifter will feel from time to time seeing others, because these are the things you don’t have to their extend (although based on your own decision).

Quality of life envy

Envy on:

Freedom, Straightforwardness, Independence, sovereignty, Courage to speak open without fear, Unconventionalism, Vacations (duration of), time, time, time, time.

This is the sort of envy that many average happy people will feel when the see you as a downshifter. Because these are the things they don’t have to your extend.

The cloak of envy

Envy often comes in a cloak, typically it is

  • feeling mistreated by the world
  • complaining about “having no luck”
  • complaining about others only achieving something “because they had luck (or the right connections etc.)”
  • feeling that everybody is stupid but unfortunately they don’t listen
  • feeling exploited (I am the only honest hard-working guy, all others are lazy, bludgers, tricksters etc.)
  • and others.

But why should you care at all?

Envy is clearly a negative emotion, an emotion that not only urges you to approach others in a negative and destructive way, but also an emotion that inflicts direct unhappiness. Envy will cloud your senses and your intellect and will lead you to wrong conclusions both on yourself and on the world around you.

Most important:

An envy person can never be truly happy and vice verse.

Enough reason to find out how to get rid of this thing.

Drivers of Envy

The intense of jealousy on others material “better off” being comes in different intensities, dependent on your age, your happiness and on your progress on the downshifting ladder.

Impact of Age

Research clearly shows that envy increases all the time with your age.

The reason is straightforward:

  • As a young person, people who are better of, have a more thrilling live or are more happy are seen as an example, a role model, something you can easily achieve yourself if you want, because, well, you have time, you have all the world full of opportunities laid out in front of you, and you are boosting with self-confidence. This is not a realistic view of the world, but anyway it is a healthy one, and it is an important part of the generally overwhelming optimism young people display.
    And their optimism is good and important for both themselves and for the whole world, so please dream on if you are young, and dream BIG!! And in case you are older, please don’t enforce too much of the “tough reality” on young people! The world needs their fresh thinking!
  • Getting older, things start to look a bit different. You will (have to) pick your path, and whatever path this is, it will bring advantages and it will come with certain disadvantages. You will see, that luck plays a role in life. And you will realize that there are certain things that will be harder or impossible to achieve given the path you are on. Still, there is a chance to change that path, at least in theory.
    At that point you should honestly reflect on your path, over think if you are on the right track and check if you are willing to pay the price in form of the disadvantages of a given path.
    Do this check frequently no matter what!
    Because the danger of the mid-life is that you are so tied up and busy in this rush hour of life that you forget to step back and see the whole picture. A lot of people do this mistake, and one day they wake up with the alarm clock of their body sending them a fierce signal, in form of a depression, a midlife crisis or even a heart attack.
  • Getting more older, things are even more locked in. You made a lot of decisions, your time and energy are getting shorter. When you now see areas of life where others are better of, there might be a nagging feeling deep down within you, that maybe you should have decided differently in the past. At that age many people try to bury this difficult confrontation with their own past errors and will not understand that their envy (or from their perspective: their rightful and reflected criticism) is merely a symptom of their own regrets. Obviously not a good way to happiness but yet very common.
    Be careful, for at the end of this road lies a sad and embittered person.
    The way to avoid this is to accept, to make peace with yourself, peace with your past and with the world. A world that you will be less and less able to change the older you get. So better learn to live with it.

Impact of Happiness

Very clearly, happy people are less envy.
A happy person is self-sufficient, optimistic, self-conscious and lives in the best of all worlds. So why should he/she be jealous?

OK, most of us will not be at that stage yet to feel happy every waking hour.

However, you can use the anti-correlation of happiness and envy to check your current state:

Do you feel envy (or mistreated by life and society) often?
Then currently you are not truly happy.
Check why!

Because the unjustness of the world is not the source of your unhappiness as you might think, but your feelings of envy are a symptom of your unhappiness or of your deep regret.
Good news is that both regret and envy can be overcome, while the world will stubbornly stay as it is no matter how much you complain or try to change it.

Impact of your Downshifting proficiency

At the beginning of your downshifting career, and after a certain short living euphoria when taking the downshifting decision, there will be a phase where you are more prone to material envy than before.

Obviously, you still have your old peer group and suddenly you fall back in material terms. Not because you are inferior or less clever, but because you decided so. Anyway, they still have it: The expensive car, the luxury holiday, the brand-new house etc.

When you are an apprentice in downshifting, it will take time for you to really understand and accept for yourself that after all, less expensive housing, less expensive cars, less expensive eating out, less modern cloths etc. do not have a big influence on your well-being.

At a more advances level, four things happen:

  • You understand that your decision to downshift comes with a price, the price is less consumption.
  • You understand that less consumption is no problem at all, because your material needs adapt over time and will still be more than satisfied.
  • You understand that you are more than compensated by having more time, feeling more free, in other words: You are living more! Your initial envy will turn into pity with those that are dependent on status symbols.
  • Your peer group will slowly change as your contacts to work-drones are likely to suffer whereas your contacts to other downshifters will flourish.

Not yet there or having a fall-back to nagging jealousy?

No problem, here is a method how to quell it:

Just imagine as lively as possible how it would be to really change position with the person you envy.Imagine you get the chance to be him NOW and forever.

What do you say?
In 99% of cases you would reject I guess. Right you are, but no need to envy obviously then.
And the 1%: You either met Dalai Lama or another truly happy person. OK, envy him, learn from him, and understand that these people will do anything to help you find happiness as well (this is the nature of truly happy people).
If it is a normal person you would seriously swap your life with then you are in big trouble and you must really start from scratch to think about your path or even get some professional help to consult you.

How to avoid others being envy on you

Most important thing:

Keep a low profile.

As a downshifter, avoid to boast with your 5 week vacation trip, the sheer amount of time you spend on nice things outside your job, your constant state of non-stress. Remember: You are challenging other’s concepts of life if you are too bossy about your way being the best.

Second thing:

If you tell, then tell the whole story. Tell the price you pay (less consumption, less career, less status symbols). And tell that this path is open to everybody. Therefore the envy of others will change in curiosity, and they might start to see you as a role-model.

Or they will say: Crazy guy, giving up on this precious thing called career and status, how stupid.

Their choice!
Important thing is to stop them getting a negative attitude towards you, because especially at your workplace you don’t want that.
Simply because you are there so rarely that you don’t want backstabbers running around the office while you enjoy your day at the lake or in the garden! 🙂

Cheers,

Woodpecker

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… 😉 😉

Cheers,
Woodpecker

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”
Wow!
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,

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?!)

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