Posts Tagged ‘careers advice’

Steps to Escaping Your Full-Time Job

September 11th, 2012 No comments

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a reader of this blog, who asked what advice I had for someone who wanted to give up their full-time career. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to think that the posts here have been some kind of encouragement for this. For semi-retirement is not just advice for teenagers starting out in the world of work – anyone can chuck in full-time work at any stage of their life.

This post is an extended version of my reply.

Before you go ahead and take the glorious step of telling your boss that you’re leaving, it’s a good idea to have put a few things in place. Here’s my suggestions:

Start investigating the creative work for which you have a passion

Do this whilst you are still in your full-time job. Assign to it as many hours as you currently have free, and be disciplined in how you work. (You will need your discipline later, for no one tells you to get on with your creative work.) This is the most important thing to do – if you have an idea of the direction of your creative work when you do hand in your notice, you stand less chance of feeling lost.

Reduce your current expenses

You will soon be living on part-time wages and you need to understand how you are going to do this. If you have a partner or children you will need to discuss with them why you will have less money in the future. (I have explained to my children on a number of occasions that the flipside of not having as much money spent on them as their friends is that I get to spend more time with them. They don’t understand the argument. But they do like me spending more time with them.)

Reducing your expenses is easier than it looks. And when you have creative work that brings you pleasure you find you have less need of stuff that costs money. Creative work gives you a different feeling of status from the one that you take from stuff, but a feeling of status all the same. People admire the choice to control your own time, to live in a way that they view as insecure. (So long as you are working on your projects and not just watching daytime TV.)

Investigate how you will work part-time

It may be possible to work part-time hours at your current job, hours that give you the time you need for your creative work. But if your employer will not allow this, see if you can use the skills you have picked up in your job to work freelance. It may be that you do just a small amount of freelance work to begin with, that you need to supplement with other part-time subsistence work.

If freelance work is not possible, look for other part-time work. Remember it does not have to fulfil you or give your life meaning. It is subsistence work to support your creative work.

Find other semi-retirees for support

You need to associate with like-minded people, either who are interested in the same creative work or who simply understand your reasons for doing what you are doing. I rented a desk space in an artists studio, and these people have become my main inspiration and support. Associating with other semi-retirees who have an interest in living cheaply has the added side-effect of helping you spend less money.

If you have made steps towards these – go tell your boss that you’re leaving…

The Purpose of Your Creativity is Not Making Money for Your Employer

July 10th, 2012 No comments

I love Ken Robinson. His TED talk and RSA animated talk were a big influence on many of the posts on this blog. He constantly reiterates how society does not value creativity enough, and it’s great that someone in such a prominent position says these things.

But I disagree with the reasons he gives for why creativity is important. He suggests it is important because creativity is what is needed in the modern workplace. His argument is that labour used to be part of a mechanised process, which needed workers to be specialised and controlled by bosses from above, but the modern workplace requires individuals who can think for themselves, who can work autonomously, and so creativity is needed to dream up new ideas for the companies for whom they work.

To dream up new products and services for your employer is not the reason to value creativity. It is certainly a better way to earn money than to have your every move dictated by a boss in a Victorian factory. But this is still using your creative ideas to sell mobile phones, or create websites to sell insurance, or design animated characters to entice children to spend money on your employer’s website. Are ends such as these really how you want to use your creativity?

The number of jobs where you are fulfilling goals about which you are personally enthusiastic is tiny. And if creative work does not originate from yourself, from your personal interests and passions, then a large part of the pleasure of fulfilling them is taken away. You do not end up with a finished piece of writing or artwork or other piece of work that started as your fleeting idea jotted in a notebook. It is not something in which you can feel truly proud, even though your company will try to make you feel artificially proud, so that you will do it again. And even if you have a job say, designing the covers of books, a job many people would love to do, the pleasure of creation is greatly diminished by the stress of deadlines, the criticism of editors and authors, the constant interruption of meetings and emails. It is very far from the pleasure of creating something of your own.

To be fair to Ken Robinson, I’m sure his idea of using creativity in the tiny minority of jobs where you have great freedom to follow your passion: scientific research, for example. But very few people get to do this, and we should not delude young people with the idea that it is likely to happen to them in their paid work. Having a creative part of your life is too important to be left to chance in a career. Find subsistence work that allows you time for your important creative work – your lifelong work in a craft that truly interests you.

Living Cheaply is Easier Than You Think

June 26th, 2012 1 comment

Whenever I talk to people about Semi Retirement for the Under Twenties, the idea of living on part-time wages is the objection that is most often raised. That’s not realistic, you say. Who can live on part-time wages when rents are so high, when houses are unaffordable to buy, when there are cuts and austerity measures with which to contend?

My answer is that you cannot live on part-time wages if you expect to have all the material trappings that people with a full-time career salary think of as essential to living. But your desire for these trappings lessens when you work part-time, and when you have time to do creative, meaningful work. These trappings are only what are required in order to do and survive a full-time career. It is part of your creative life to work out how to live cheaper.

You do not need somewhere of your own to live in order to collapse in silence at the end of a hard day’s work. Save money by house sharing. Better still house share with people who also value creativity, and who also want to live cheaply. You do not need a smart phone, a cheap mobile will do. You do not need the most up-to-date laptop, an older version will be fine. The latest model is only a careerist status symbol. Your creative work will give you your status.

Get rid of your car – live somewhere where a car is unnecessary. You do not need new clothes. There are plenty of great clothes given away to charity shops by people with careers. You do not need to eat out in restaurants. Cook for yourself and invite friends round. If you do need an expensive piece of equipment for your creative work, share it with other people. There are always cheaper alternatives, and having spare time helps you to find them.

If your response to these suggestions is, I don’t want to dress from charity shops, and I’d like a smart phone, this is said with the mindset of the full-time careerist. It is the mindset imposed upon us by the government, by advertising, and by careerists. The parent who says, ‘I worked hard all my life, why do you think you’re any different?’ cannot bear the idea that perhaps they wasted their life with all that work. Ignore the politician who calls you workshy, because you are working at important creative work, you are just not being paid for it. (Besides, your creative work may benefit society in ways that a career selling insurance never will.)

Remember that the main benefit you are gaining in not having these material trappings is not having to work full-time. Control of your time is a wonderful thing denied to many people. When a boss controls the time when you work and reprimands you for being late it is demeaning.

Living cheaply is a creative activity in itself – the semi-retiree is always looking out for new opportunities to live more cheaply. If you are not presently good at managing money you must learn to be. Frivolity with money is not ‘cool’ – it condemns you to the need to earn more of it. And living cheaply is not being a skinflint, as careerists will suggest. It is just one part of finding the time for the creative work that will make your life rich and fulfilling.

Semi-Retirement for the Under Twenties: introduction

January 18th, 2011 No comments

The Careers Advice I Never Received

I needed this careers advice when I was sixteen. I needed it when leaving university, and again aged thirty, since I did not understand it until then. Such advice is not available at school, which focuses on just one way of living, that of the full-time career job, and so is of limited use. Not only of limited use, but also demoralising: it gives you a distorted view of the working life of adults, and of the possibilities open to you.

A sixteen-year-old needs advice beyond how to obtain a nine-to-five, full-time job with benefits and pension. They need to know that there are other alternatives: that there is a working life that allows you enough spare time to use your genuine capabilities, and discover the pleasure in using these capabilities. In my experience it is people with this kind of life who are happier. So here is some careers advice addressed to the sixteen-year-old me.

The full-time career is not the only future available to you. When asked the age-old question, ‘what are you going to be when you grow up?’, the answer you presently think correct actually answers the question, ‘what work are you going to do to earn money to eat?’ The question you ought to answer is, ‘if left to your own devices, what do you most dream of doing?’ Not to earn money, just to do for its own sake because this is where your genuine capabilities and interests lie.

This is advice on how to live according to the second question. In twenty years time you won’t have what your school would call a career. You will have part-time work for which you’re paid enough money to live as you need to, leaving you enough time to investigate the activities in which you are really interested.

This advice is not available at school because the teachers giving the advice only know about career jobs, since they are working in one themselves. This limited vision, together with the academic bias of school, will combine to make you (that is, me) think your genuine capabilities and interests are not important. And then, years later, when you work in an office, you find you spend seven and more hours a day thinking, ‘I was not born to do this.’

This is not advice for everyone. Some people are content to do a full-time career job. But many are not and, tragically, end up in a full-time, well-paid career and do not understand why they are miserable. But if you are that miserable person, it’s not too late. You can act on this advice any time. Read on below…

next: Part 1 – The Vast Majority of Full-time Career Jobs are Dull and Unrewarding
Part 2 – Rewarding Jobs Are So Highly Prized They Are Unrewarding
Part 3 – The Pleasure of Creative Work is Not Found in a ‘Creative’ Career
Part 4 – Full-time Careers Leave no Time for Your Own Creative Work
Part 5 – Time Spent Earning Money Comes Second to Your Own Creative Work
Part 6 – The Nature of Your Part-Time Subsistence Work is Not Important
Part 7 – University is Not Essential For a Fulfilling Life
Part 8 – Learn to Live Cheaply If You Desire Spare Time for Real Work
Part 9 – The Pleasure of Creative Ideas

Semi-Retirement for the Under Twenties: Part 1

January 18th, 2011 No comments

The Vast Majority of Full-time Career Jobs are Dull and Unrewarding

Look at the job description in an advert for a career job: many claim that the job is ‘exciting’, ‘rewarding’, ‘fulfilling’ or something similar. It won’t be. Such claims seemed doubtful when I first read those adverts, and I now have plenty of evidence that this is false.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell gives his necessary criteria for a satisfying job: autonomy, in that you decide the tasks you perform and when you perform them; complexity, in that the work is not dull and routine; and a sense of reward for a job done.

It is the last, the sense of reward, that modern careers pretend to provide but do not. This is a big loss. Many (though not all) well-paid career jobs provide autonomy: an account executive who develops new mobile phone contrtacts will decide who she does business with and when and where her meetings are held; and career jobs almost always provide complexity: gambling on the futures markets in the City is more complex and intellectually stimulating than the corking of wine bottles on a production line. But the sense of reward for a job done is seldom provided for.

Companies provide one kind of reward: the payment of a salary. But this is only a substitute reward – it is not the same as a genuine reward for the job done. To feel the kind of reward  that makes a job satisfying you must be able to view the end product of your work as something in which you are proud. Are you going to feel genuinely proud of working as a teller in a bank, of balancing the accounts for a multinational corporation, or being a producer’s assistant on a reality TV programme?

The reason that the answer to this is ‘not really’ is because the end products of these jobs did not arise from your own ideas. You did not set out with these goals for your job, they were handed to you by someone else, by your boss. You spend thirty-seven and more hours a week under pressure to complete tasks which you do not care about. (There are of course jobs, such as a doctor, where there is reward in the job done. More about these jobs in Part 2.)

But, you say, is there not still enough satisfaction to be had in completing goals in a career job, even if they are set by an employer? They are still goals. No. You become vaguely aware of this months after starting work, and it becomes clearer as the years go by. Goals set by other people cannot truly satisfy, because deciding these goals yourself is an important part of the sense of reward. Right now do you really count building a website to sell insurance products, or even writing policy advice for a government department amongst your goals in life? Are these activities which use your genuine capabilities and in which you are truly interested? You may have little idea of the nature of your genuine capabilities at the moment. But do you imagine that they coincide with those of any company?

Companies substitute for this lack of genuine reward by trying to make you feel part of a company ‘family’, and by trying to convince you that the company’s goals are your goals. They send you on away-days with these family members that are labelled ‘team-building’, which sound like their primary purpose is to forge stronger relationships at work. But a company does not care about genuine relationships. Team-building exercises try to create stronger bonds between work colleagues, but only in order that you feel celebrated by your colleagues if you achieve for the company, and that you are letting them down if you don’t: a slave driver’s whip of emotional guilt. Team-building days feel awkward and false because they come from false motives – they try to form ‘friendships’ between people who would not naturally be friends.

Your goals are not the company’s goals. A company’s only goal is to make money, for themselves.

Ask people you know who have full-time career jobs how much they like them, how much they find them fulfilling. Watch carefully as they answer: judge whether you think they are giving a truthful answer. Many who answer ‘yes’ or ‘it’s okay’ are lying to themselves. It is a necessary survival trait to convince yourself, above anyone else, that your job fulfills you. Why else would you be spending thirty-seven-plus hours of your waking week working at it?

What then, you already ask, are the goals that you should instead pursue for a satisfying life?

Work satisfaction comes less from pursuing particular goals than from experiencing the pleasure of creative ideas. Ideas connected to your genuine capabilities, not to an employer’s demands. And although anything described as ‘creative’ is usually understood to be found in activities labelled ‘art’, the word ‘creative’ covers a much wider range of activities. We’ll return to this in a later part.

But already, you object: all the career jobs described so far, they are not professions I would choose anyway. I want to be a doctor, or work for a charity, or be a zookeeper, a job where I might make a difference to the lives of others, and, as a consequence, receive a non-monetary sense of reward. Rewarding career jobs do exist, of course. But the demand for them is high, and this brings its own problems.

next: Part 2 – Rewarding Jobs Are So Highly Prized They Are Unrewarding