I’ve been working on one of my projects since Autumn last year and it still isn’t ready.
I started it with enthusiasm. I was free from the shackles of employment. This was my chance to create something for myself. Put it out there. Show what I’m made of.
I attended lots of start-up events, went to pitch evenings, watched live-streams that educated me on “how to work with developers”, “UX journeys for the uninitiated”, “AWS and the Elastic Beanstalk”. Yes, really.
I followed the rules of first business projects (keep it small; base it on something you know about; don’t spend too much money). I designed the layout of my website whilst I was away in India before Christmas. Every evening after sunset, I’d work on it a little more, figuring out the work-flow, the right colour combinations, how many pages my site would need, what features were essential. My mock-ups were beautifully simple. I was ready to take on the world.
And then it turned 2013 and my enthusiasm fell off a cliff.
can’t I just go back to bed?
There’s a reason why so many successful entrepreneurs all seem to have boundless energy and the sort of pep that repels me at twenty paces.
It’s because keeping up any degree on motivation on a project is really, really hard. And it becomes a vicious circle.
spiral of despair
Helpfully, the Mack has taken away all of my shoelaces, belts, etc. And I’m no longer allowed out on the balcony unsupervised.
a real product development cycle
You see all these articles about product development with fancy graphics and jargon about the key stages of the development cycle. They make out that there’s a sign-posted, well-lit cycle path, shielded from oncoming traffic, leading you to your dream destination. Not in my experience. It’s closer to a cruel game of snakes and ladders…
game of life
My project, which is a website where creatives (designers, photographers, film-makers, copy writers), can buy customised contracts for their businesses – so they don’t have to waste time and money on lawyers – is so very close to being ready.
But it feels like my bastard child. I’m struggling to give it any love and attention. I’m favouring other projects. And, as a result, it keeps throwing tantrums and breaking things.
Every time I go to test that it works, the entire site crashes and comes up with a MySQL error message that sends shivers down my spine. I have developers on standby to complete the last tidying up bits, but I can’t tell them what needs doing because I can’t get past a certain point before it boots me out.
I try to purchase a contract through the site and my Paypal account is blocked. They need to verify my home address by calling my land line. What is this, 1992? Who the hell still has a land line? I try to call customer services (from my mobile, not my non-existent land line). The number they give doesn’t connect. I’ve emailed them, but who knows if they’ll ever get back to me. I’m stuck in a Paypal freeze-out.
I can’t help but have that feeling that the closer I get to completion, the further away it recedes. Taunting me from just out of reach. Probably sipping on pina coladas in some tropical oasis.
If I’ve learned one thing from this process it’s that you have to do some work on your project every single day to stay on top of it and keep momentum going. Even if it’s only a small thing. EVERY SINGLE DAY. No excuses. No let up. No quitting. Projects fail because people give up on them. I don’t care if my projects fail because people (ungrateful morons) don’t want my product. I do care if they fail because I couldn’t be bothered to see them through.
Woo Hoo. Feeling pumped. Dear Paypal….. I’m not sure you noticed, but it’s not 1992….
I realised today, whilst strolling along deserted beaches to a beautiful lagoon in Tibau do Sul, Brazil, that I’ve written a lot recently about my travels and not quite so much about my business. Which probably leads most of you to think that all this “business” stuff is just my way of saying that I couldn’t hack it in the rat race and have decided to give myself the rest of my life off.
Nearly, but not quite.
If you remember, the idea wasn’t so much to drop off the grid entirely, it was more to set the grid to roaming. Seeing if it were possible to have a work/travel/bank balance. Not spending more than 4 months at a time in the UK unless there was a very good reason (either I was incarcerated, or in traction, or my mum simply forbade me from flitting off again). But getting some sort of business up and running to pay for the travels, so that I wasn’t burning through my cash.
Again. Nearly, but not quite. (Getting there.)
At the time I started all this, I hadn’t factored on The Mack getting in on the act. With hindsight, it’s probably one of the reasons that we got together. But I was so busy thinking that he’d Derren Brown-ed me into being his girlfriend that I wasn’t paying attention. All that tappety-tap-tapping my shoulder and repeating seemingly innocuous words. And leaving a trail of gingerbread men on my route to our first date. I mean. The Mack is ginger. And he’s a man. The fact that I didn’t see them because they’d been squashed by passing commuters didn’t stop their subliminal power.
Anyway, much as I would love to lay the blame for my lack of results squarely at The Mack’s door by saying that he’s diverted my focus, jumped on the start-up bandwagon, addled my brain with wantrepreneurial jargon… that would be (1) wrong, (2) wrong and (3) wrong. Because, if the truth be told, I probably wouldn’t have got as far as I have if it weren’t for him.
Thanks to The Mack, I’ve identified the top 3 things that have been stopping me making progress on the business side of things and I’ve figured out a solution to each of them.
Issue #1: Never Seeing Anything Through to the End
I am excellent at starting things. And doing a nice design. I am less successful when it comes to completing anything. Or caring at all after about 2 weeks. Or when someone distracts me with something shiny.
Apparently, this lack of motivation for really pushing through on my projects is down to my inherent pessimism.
You say pessimist, I say realist. Let’s call the whole thing off…
The Mack bought me a great book by a guy who made up the idea that you can learn to be more optimistic and that it will transform your life. I was a little sceptical. Oh wait…
I started reading it and my productivity levels went right up.
Unfortunately, I **accidentally** left it in the seat back of the plane to Buenos Aires.
What a downer.
Issue #2: Contrasting Working Styles
I have discovered through this process that I’m quite difficult to work with. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly why that is, but it seems to have something to do with the fact that I need to get my own way on everything because my way is the right way and everybody else is stupid and wrong.
I don’t know. It might be that. It probably isn’t though. Probably it’s The Mack’s fault. For being stupid and wrong.
Solution #2: Working Space
I think that space is very important when you’re a couple working together. Right now it’s about 4,500 miles and things seems to be going well.
Issue #3: Hating the Game
I have a slight problem with the whole start up scene. I think it’s the combination of self-congratulation and jaw-dropping naivety that sticks in my craw. And when I say slight problem: what I mean is utter contempt.
I’m not even sure how I ended up working on start ups. I think my plan was just to have my own business. I don’t remember ever talking about wanting to build a start up. Tappety-tap-tap….
Solution #3: Hate the Player
Hell, this one’s easy. Every time I catch The Mack reading one of Paul Graham’s essays or signing up to a General Assembly workshop, I openly despise him.
I think now that I’ve eliminated these issues, progress will come in leaps and bounds. Stay tuned, people.
So I’ve spent the past few days leafleting for one of my business ideas in various parts of London. I’m testing some basic assumptions about the concept – i.e. that anyone, however remotely, anywhere in the whole of London, gives a gnat’s toss about what I’m trying to set up.
oh lovely flyer!
Which is all about real friends and happy, safe neighbourhoods. And the flyers are nice, bright colours with pretty pictures of cute little houses. And I spent a lot of time designing them. So you’d think that someone would give a damn. You’d think that friendship and belonging were pretty basic tenets of civilisation and happiness. Apparently not.
Even the blatant bribery attempt (“fill in our 5 min survey at www.beneighbourly.com for a chance to win £50 Amazon voucher”) – which still stands, by the way, so get filling – hasn’t spurred many people on to bother.
On the strength (um weakness) of feedback received so far, I think we’re going to have to pivot and start selling unicorns, ‘cos we’ve got about as much chance of making a go of it.
One of the pillars of wisdom in startupville (which I imagine is a place where people are really friendly and create nice neigbourhoods and use the website www.beneighbourly.com to enhance their sense of community), is that for your product or service to succeed, it needs to appeal to early adopters.
“Early adopters” is a fancy term for people who like new, cool stuff. They are the ones who actively get involved with new technology before the rest of us. They are like Umbrian truffle pigs, always snuffling around in the dark, dank woods to unearth little nuggets that go on to be worth gazillions. They are the lifeblood of start-up businesses.
Trouble is, most of these people live in California. Or, at a push, New York. The three that live in London are so exhausted by being the epicentre of all things new in business that they’ve barricaded themselves into a rec room at Google campus and are communicating only via an hourly twitter feed.
no thanks, we’re British
It’s tricky trying to start up a business in this country. Particularly an online, networky type business. Because we’re just not very networky type people. And we’re not very good at cheerleading. Or responding to surveys.
If you’ve ever worked with Americans, you’ll know that, on the whole, they’re incredibly perky, upbeat and enterprising. Sure, statistically there must be a few really grumpy ones in each state, who just spend all their time on the couch, mithering about how unbearably cheery everyone else is. But most that I know are optimistic and believe in that whole land-of-opportunity thing.
I think it could be because they have space. A lot of space. So they feel that there’s room for everyone to grow, and that one person’s growth isn’t going to leave less room for everyone else. So it creates a culture of encouragement. Whereas we Brits, on our very small island, are always worrying about someone encroaching on our personal space. So we don’t really like it if someone has ambition to outgrow their little patch. And we don’t go out of our way to boost one another.
You see it acted out daily, in a microcosm, on the tube. I was on the victoria line yesterday evening. I had my own space, next to the door, on that leany-ledge bit (which is the next best bit after an actual seat, as long as you’re on the opposite side to the opening doors – small wins, people). This 20-something girl got on at Oxford Circus. And stood into me – not next to me – into me.
And by that I mean that she pushed herself backwards so that her right shoulder was just touching the back of the leany-ledge and her left shoulder was in front of mine. So she was at a slight diagonal. But not for long. Because, keeping her eyes averted at all times, and maintaining the unflinching posture of the self-righteous, she then just jimmied her sharp little shoulders until she’d crow-barred me out of my space. At which point she became still. For 2 stops. And then she got off the tube. Inwardly triumphant, no doubt.
And I’d like to thank that deeply discourteous girl. Because I was starting to feel discouraged about beneighbourly.com. But now I’m even more convinced that we need something like it. So I think I’m going to build it and see what happens. And if that means skinning my knuckles on a few more letterboxes, then so be it…
I have included some incredibly subtle subliminal messaging in this week’s post. Don’t worry if you didn’t pick up on it – that’s means it’s working (and thanks for completing the survey!).
I think for most people, if they were asked who has been their biggest inspiration in life, their parents would rank pretty highly on their list. However, I suspect that there are very few who, like me, could take that question and very quickly turn it into a script for a weekday afternoon docudrama…
My mother is ridiculous. And before you get mad at me for being disrespectful, please know that I say this based on 35 years of empirical evidence (and plenty of anecdotal evidence before that). She is bonkers. Certifiable. A card-carrying, fully paid-up member of the monster raving loony party.
Uh oh, I probably shouldn’t have said that. Politics is about the only career move she hasn’t made. No doubt, now I’ve planted that particular seed, she’ll be out canvassing for the Harrow by-election come Monday morning, brandishing rosettes and attaching a loud-hailer to her car for campaign speeches delivered in the form of poems.
My mum had me when she was 18. Pretty unusual in those days and a bit of an extreme way of getting out of her A-level exams. But she liked me so much that she ordered another three girls from the stork over the next seven years. As you might imagine, there’s a smidgen of competition between me and my sisters for the title of no. 1 daughter, but there can be only one winner and, unfortunately for the other girls, it’s mine by birthright.
We get a lot of jokes about “four girls, eh? A house full of women. Your poor dad, how on earth did he cope? Ha ha ha.”
… Err, by leaving us… Not laughing now, are you??
Mum brought us up on her own at a time when being a single parent was incredibly rare. When I was a newly-qualified lawyer, working crazy hours, she used to ring me and tell me how worried she was about me. What a difficult time I was having. How on earth did I manage it? I found her concern hilarious. I’d remind her that at the same age (27), she was divorced with 4 children under the age of 8. “Oh yes”, she’d say, “so I was. How terrible”.
the wonder years
We didn’t have much money, but mum made up for it with with sheer craziness. If the great British summertime was a washout and stopped us playing outside, she’d just put down towels in the living room and set up the paddling pool indoors. It must have taken weeks for the carpet to dry, but I guess when your parenting is essentially crowd-control, you do whatever it takes to keep ’em occupied. And we loved it.
Christmas in our family is still THE major event of the year. My mum’s house is a two-up, two-down terrace, yet we have a christmas tree to rival the sort you’d find in most town squares. It’s standard for us to have to lop 2 foot off the top to fit it in the lounge. Our style of decoration is known as “explosion in a Christmas tree factory”. Our tree lights cause a power surge on the National Grid and I believe that we have single handedly kept the lametta industry in business. Does anyone else even know what lametta is??
Mum insists on buying us hundreds of presents. This last Christmas, we didn’t eat lunch until 7pm because it had taken us 9 hours to open them all. And then there’s Second Christmas. Which is where we get all the presents that didn’t arrive in time and the presents she didn’t get time to wrap… They tend to be the panic buys. Mine included a date stamp. For my business.
One year I begged her not to get me any presents. I had a good job, I didn’t need anything. She was horrified. So I suggested that she bought me a goat for charity. She relented. And then bought me a goat, 3 chickens, a donkey, a well and 15 bags of grain. So I didn’t feel left out when the other girls opened their presents.
Discipline was non-existent. She used to try to pretend otherwise, but it’s just not true – she once tried to ground one of my sisters when we were teenagers, probably for bunking off school. My sister, through her tears, said scornfully “you can’t ground me, you’re hopeless at grounding”. And she was right. Mum just couldn’t see it through – she felt too sorry for us. So she just let us off.
interesting career choices
Mum was always desperate to be a doctor. So she went back to school to do her A-levels when I was doing my GSCE’s. No specialist college for her. Nope, she just joined the local sixth form. And she was doing sciences. A 30-something, mother of four in a class full of spotty 17 year old boys. The physics teacher said that she added an extra dimension to the class. One of the wags piped up “yeah, sheer bloody mass…!” Fun times.
The Royal Free Hospital turned her down for a place at their medical school. Losers. They said she needed better grades. So she retook her A-levels. And then took them again. She and I tried the other day to calculate how many A-levels she racked up in the end. We think it’s somewhere around 20… I keep telling her she should sell off some of the earlier ones…
Her career path has taken some interesting turns over the years. She did an undergraduate degree in photographic sciences (and graduated just at the time that traditional photography gave way to digital. Oh. Dear.) She helped produced a short film for an eccentric wealthy Italian, subject matter: the omega centuri star constellation. My uncle gave it the best critical review: “at 25 minutes, it’s about 20 minutes too long”.
She gave that up to become a carpenter. Yep, you read that right. My mum, with her 32 A-levels, went on a local YTS scheme and became a chippy. She worked on building sites, where they swore at her all day, and she f***ing loved it. The day that we made her put her power tools in the loft, a little part of her soul died. She still carries a retractable tape measure in the car…
One Easter Sunday several years ago, we were all having a lovely lunch at my youngest sister’s. Midway through, my mum said: “there’s something I need to tell you girls”. We put down our cutlery. She continued: “It will explain why I’ve been acting a bit weird and crying a lot over the past few months”.
My younger sisters started to cry. We collectively assumed a terminal illness. Probably only weeks to live.
“I’ve been accepted into medical school”, she said.
Now, the reason that this came as such a surprise to us, is because she hadn’t mentioned the whole lifetime-ambition-to-be-a-doctor thing for years. We had absolutely no idea that she was even still thinking about it. And unbeknownst to us, she’d gone all secret squirrel on our arses and decided to give it one more go. And she got in. And not just into any old medical school, but one of the top schools in the country. UCL.
So, once we’d got over the trauma of thinking that she was dying, we went and bought champagne and congratulated her in the only way we know how. Whooping.
you have got to be kidding me…
And then we wondered when she’d had time to do all of this. And here’s where you should probably reach for the tissues.
Because it turns out that she sat her medical school entrance exams the day before she donated a kidney to my sister.
Freeze Frame. Rewind. Close up shot of sister lying in a hospital bed, her anxious mother by her side…
Yep. My mum gave up one of her kidneys, so that it could be transplanted into my sister. And the day before that operation, she sat some very important and difficult exams. And she didn’t tell anyone.
As I said at the beginning: ridiculous.
Now, anyone who might have wondered how it is that I can give up my job, bum around and generally lack in anything approaching ambition? I’m guessing that it’s starting to become a little clearer. My mum is the most phenomenally courageous, barmy, lovely person that you’re ever likely to meet. So it takes the pressure off. I’ve got nothing to prove. Never gonna get anywhere near that level of greatness, so I don’t need to worry about it.
She’s in her second year as a junior doctor now. I wish I could tell you that it’s a dream come true for her, that she’s loving every minute and it’s everything she ever hoped for.
But remember, this is an afternoon weepie, so it’s never quite that simple. It’s the NHS and she may be the oldest junior doctor in town, but she’s still a junior doctor. So it’s punishing hours, terrible pay, zero support and stupid managers pushing even stupider made-up targets.
But that doesn’t stop her being a brilliant doctor. All of that bonkers life experience has come together to create the best beside manner at Chase Farm Hospital. Her patients and colleagues love her. And we know it’s only a matter of time till she finds her niche and really starts to enjoy herself.
And if not, well, she can retire in 11 years…
If you want to know how proud we are of her, this little video should do the trick. It’s her graduation ceremony and my sisters and I provide the soundtrack. I suggest you turn the volume down.
Happy Mother’s Day, Ma.
Ps: Girls – I see you your mother’s day cards and I raise you. Read it and weep, sisters.
I’m staying at The Mack’s this month, before we head off to South America. We just about survived the moving in of my stuff. Mainly thanks to The Mack getting rid of 95% of his possessions to make space for the 10% of mine that I carefully calculated I could hide about his place and get away with. That and his vow of silence.
It’s been a week so far and, put it this way, I’m pretty sure that The Mack cannot wait for our 3 week trip, just the two of us. On the strength of my performance so far, I think we can safely say I’m not in the running for Girlfriend of the Year 2013.
the taming of the shrew
Now some lesser men might have taken the view that, if you give houseroom to an unpredictable, highly-strung creature with a history of fiery outbursts, you should probably try to maintain a calm, stable home environment. And avoid anything that is likely to rile the beast.
Not The Mack. His view is that if he is kind enough to give houseroom to said creature, then it gives him free rein to wind it up. stand back – taser in hand – and watch it run itself into exhaustion.
I’m starting to suspect that he’s using this as some sort of social experiment. He knows I know I’ve got nowhere else to go…
I hate you so much right now
Two things I really don’t like. The whole start-up over-exuberance and slavish adherence to made-up methodologies. And anyone checking up on me.
So The Mack has kindly decided to combine both of these in what has proven to be a foolproof system of destruction of will.
There are too many things that make me mad to list them all here, but I’ll give you the highlights (and don’t worry, I’ve got the others safely filed away in my brain under “things to bring up in our next big public argument”):
– his enthusiasm for our business ideas and general upbeat attitude vs my rightly-held belief that everything we’re doing is a pile of crap and an utterly pointless big fat waste of time.
– making me write tasks on post-its, which we stick on the wall for each of our projects. Colour-coded for the different types of tasks (concept/content, technical, marketing). Ranked in order of priority. Allocated to one of us to action. “Action”. Oh dear lord.
– his insistence on having “team” meetings every morning where we update one another on progress. It’s an interrogation, people. The man is never satisfied with my answers. And I’m realising I’m quite a defensive person.
– scheduling our time each day “cos it’s the only way things get done”. 2 hours on my project, 1 on his, 30 minutes on planning our trip, 1 hour off for lunch where we watch either an episode of Girls or Modern Family (there are no other options, soldier).
– using an egg-timer app to make sure we stick to the schedule.
– endlessly using the phrases “engaging the pre-frontal cortex”, “synapses”, “gamification” and “what’s for lunch, babe?”.
I know, I know, you’re wondering how it is that I’ve managed not to crack under this inhumane regime. Well, I’ve developed a few strategies for dealing with this toxic environment. They include:
– talking in a really shrill, harpy-like voice.
– cursing (both like a navvy and like a witch-doctor).
– taking myself off for a late night walk through dodgy estates in South London (there’s nothing like fear of personal attack to make you want to come back “home”).
– watching Rambo I and II.
The worst bit about it all is that I know that The Mack has a point. We need to start making some money fast, and getting on with our projects is the only way that’s going to happen.
Doesn’t stop me wanting to stab him repeatedly with a fork every time we break for lunch though…
PS: I’d be really grateful if my UK readers could take 5 mins to fill out an online survey for a new business venture I’m working on to do with friends and communities. Please go to www.beneighbourly.com. Thank you!!
My great aunt Lizza died last Friday. She was 94. An age that speaks to character as much as to genetics.
She was my favourite. She was tiny (her passports, little books of history, said 5ft 1, but even as a small child I was aware that Lizza was made in miniature. I’m sure it’s where my peculiar fondness for mini things comes from.
tiny person, big life
Until very recently she lived in a dolls’ house near Bradford. A homely-sounding address, 5 Allen Croft. Just the fact of saying it forces you to flatten into Yorkshire vowels. And when I say dolls’ house, I don’t just mean that it was small, although it was. One room downstairs and one (plus a bathroom) upstairs. Nicely proportioned with high ceilings, but essentially thumbelina sized. And there was no central heating or even a kitchen. It felt like one of the dolls houses I would make as a kid out of shoe boxes upturned on one end. An upstairs and downstairs created by cereal cardboard partitions. Hand-drawn wallpaper glued on the walls. A pretend house, for putting nice little things in.
As I child I was enchanted by her house. It was full of beautiful objects. Decorative plates, painted paper leaves and brickwork on the walls. Candelabra, tapestries and mirrors. The embodiment of the mantra of more is more. When I helped her move into sheltered accommodation last year, I had the chance to really look at these things I’d found so intriguing. And boy, were they beautiful. Beautifully bonkers. A wall devoted to pictures of cockerels? A finnish voodoo doll for hatpins? You betcha. A veritable old curiosity shoppe.
Lizza was a wonderful seamstress and gave me loads of incredible fabrics over the years, which, predictably, I’ve done nothing with, but I get great pleasure from taking them out of the loft from time to time and stroking them. I’ve also inherited her beautiful clothes. Bizarrely, given our height difference (she barely came up to my shoulder), her stuff fits me perfectly. Well, now that I’ve decided that gangly arms and 3/4 length sleeves are the height of elegance.
she was fondly known as “The Duchess”
She was a headmistress, so did imperious like no-one else. She would start most conversations with “Now darling…”, so that it was impossible to refuse her. She had a way of tilting her head as she looked at you, so you knew she had you sussed. She liked who she liked and had little time for people she found dull or narrow-minded. She once described one of her sisters as “man-mad, incredibly stupid and bovine”. Wickedly funny.
Lizza was an original thinker, a timeless personality and one of the most interesting people I’ve ever known. She had great knowledge, the sort that comes from a classical education, a sharp wit and a fearless spirit. She was well-travelled, genuinely cultured and a real aesthete, without any of the stuffiness of pretension. Put it this way, you’d be looking at one of her allegedly “priceless” paintings and realise that she’d coloured in parts of it herself, where she thought it too feint. Priceless is right.
She took a stab (in both senses) at most major religions. Faith was both a comfort and troubling to her. I put it down to her intelligence. She didn’t have the easy belief that comes from ignorance. She was too knowing. So she sought answers and had to make do with rhetoric. Last time I saw her, she borrowed a fiver from The Mack to give to the priest. It went totally against my lapsed-Catholic dogma, but in the end I was just glad I’d talked her down from £20.
She was exceptionally generous and in the best possible way. There were no conditions attached to her gifts. She’d send you a cheque, just because she wanted to. And she didn’t care how you spent it. She encouraged frivolity and was thrilled to hear that I’d quit my job in favour of adventures.
When I was studying in Manchester, I’d get a bus to Leeds and we’d visit galleries, Harvey Nicks (which we both agreed was a poor provincial cousin to the London store) and drink so much red wine that I’d have to sit on the bus back with my face pressed to the cold window, so as not to throw up.
She was an inspiration to me. A smart, beautiful, stylish, inquisitive, funny, independent (read: mulishly stubborn) woman who knew her own mind and wasn’t afraid to impose it. I will miss her, but I’m not sad. Hers was a life very well lived indeed. Her funeral wishes summed it up for me – she left strict instructions for us to hold a “happy reception for any mourners”. We shall do exactly that. And there will be plenty of red wine.
The Mack and I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking and talking about food.
The Mack’s one of those guys who’s always thinking at least one meal ahead. We’ll be mid-way through a big cooked breakfast and he’ll start wondering aloud what we ought to do about lunch, smacking his lips and emitting deep belly groans at the thought of more food. Worryingly Homer Simpson.
With me, it’s more the typical no-carb obsessiveness of someone who worked on the fringes of fashion and who has an entire wardrobe of size 8 clothes. Dullsville. But absolutely necessary.
The Mack says that it’s simply his genetic coding. He’s hardwired to be a hunter-gatherer, so it’s only right that he’s always planning where his next meal is coming from. It’s usually coming from Sainsbury’s, but I guess it’s good to plan…
We’re all ultimately driven by two things: fear and desire. The proportions vary from person to person and often from situation to situation, but whatever gloss you add to justify your particular actions, if you strip it back you’ll find plain old fear or desire (or a combination of both).
Marketeers have had this sussed for yonks. They play us constantly on both sides. The aspirational longing – if only I had that watch/car/phone, I would be instantly cooler. The insecurity and inadequacy – I must buy all the anti-aging creams I can afford because no-one wants to be with a wrinkly old hag.
New-fangled marketing is no different. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, FourSnore, all are built on these two pillars of what it means to be human. It is the desire to belong, to be connected, to share. And the fear that if we don’t participate in these collective obsessions, then we are marginalised, we’re not really living. You’ve probably noticed it amongst some of your friends too – they upload so much of their day-to-day existence: it’s as though they believe that if it’s not captured and published, then it doesn’t count.
Strange, but maybe that’s what those cave paintings were all about…?
fanning the flames
I’m largely immune to the normal desire sales triggers. Show me all the magnum adverts in the world and I’m still not buying. Even those ones with triple caramel and almonds all swirling around hypnotically. Spare me. I grew up in the 80s with soft-focus Flake adverts and the Caramel bunny. Do you really think I’d fall for that lame old seduction routine??
So desire doesn’t really do it for me. I know this because I contrast my approach to starting up a business with The Mack’s. He’s a go-getting, nothing-stands-in-his-way, smash-some-walls-down, bish-bash-bosh (his words, not mine), laser-beam-focused, machine. He has energy, purpose and clarity of thought. He makes decisions quickly, moves on and gets shit done. And then he howls at the moon and beats his chest. (That last bit is, unfortunately, not made up – he hired a lion mask last weekend for my sister’s fancy dress party and seems in no hurry to take it back to the shop).
This is because he is driven by desire. He wants to succeed and he enjoys the process of making things happen. It’s quite impressive in action.
Whereas my approach is more stagnant puddle than flowing torrent of ambition. Sure, I get the occasional burst of enthusiasm for my projects, where I’ll splash around happily in the puddle for a day or so. But ultimately all that happens is that I churn up the mud at the bottom. And no-one’s investing in mud. So I stop.
But fear, now that I can relate to. According to The Mack, the 3 little words that I say to him most often are, “Babe, I’m worried…” And I have a really good scared face.
I think, on the whole, women do anxiety better than men. Maybe it’s because we’re so adept at multi-tasking. It means that we can worry about 821 things simultaneously. What a gift.
The downside of using fear as your primary motivator is that it has a tendency to paralyse you, rather than spur you on to greatness. You don’t often hear really successful people interviewed saying that what made them was sheer blind terror. It’s always burning ambition, passion, desire for self-improvement. Fear and self-loathing don’t seem to feature much in rags to riches stories. Well, unless Oliver Twist is your mentor.
On the one hand, my lack of need to prove anything or to feel productive just for the sake of it, is hugely liberating. On the other hand, it might be the thing that hampers me making a go of this new lifestyle. I’ve chosen a path that requires me to be enthusiastic, proactive and self-starting. And then I’ve basically covered myself in quick-setting tar and feathers and wondered why I’m struggling to move off the sofa.
I’m essentially living the life of a still-sprightly octogenarian. Those little chores that used to sit on the periphery of my life (the supermarket run, online banking, hoovering) are now right up top of my to-do list. I haven’t got to the point where I need an afternoon nap yet, but it can’t be far off.
But I’m not worried (well, maybe a teensy bit). Because I know that the longer my state of apathy and paralysis lasts, the more anxious I will become about it. And one day soon, the fear of losing this lifestyle will force me into action. I just don’t think it’s a job for today… I’ve got some washing up to do.
There are two distinct parts to being semi-retired.
There’s the incredibly smug “retired” bit, where you spend your weekdays flaunting your freedom. Being able to see sold-out exhibitions, going for a slap-up afternoon tea just because you fancy eating miniature food, or starting cocktail o’clock at 3pm on a Tuesday… It doesn’t really matter what you do – all that matters is (1) you’re not at work and (2) you make sure everyone knows it. You know you’re doing great at this bit when your nearest and dearest regularly tell you via facebook to stop showing off and get a bloody job.
And then there’s the less smug “semi” bit. Which basically translates as not having enough money to actually retire. And then translates as having to email all your mates and former colleagues and random people you once met at a work “do”, to ask them if they have any work that they need help with. And finally translates as ringing round various temp agencies to tell them that you pack a mean 70-words-per-minute and surely somebody, somewhere needs a jaded former lawyer with an acute allergy to hard work??
Six months into the new lifestyle and time to take stock. For anyone watching my progress with (a) a view to jacking it in and living the dream, or (b) anticipatory schadenfreude, here’s a list of the highs and lows so far, to help you make your mind up.
leaving my job and being able to leave all the accumulated stress and mental energy behind. I expected there to be a time-lag between physically quitting and mentally quitting. As it turned out, I seemed to shrug it off as I walked out the door. See ya, suckers!
how incredibly supportive and enthusiastic everyone has been. And also how my decision seems to have positively rubbed off on other people, even without my doing anything. I don’t think that I’ve made it look particularly easy, but I think I have shown that there is an alternative to what we’ve been sold.
being able to go full olympics last summer and being massively over-excited every day for the best part of a couple of months. Typically whilst wearing ridiculous union-jack-emblazoned outfits.
going to bed at 2am and getting up at 10am. Much more in tune with my body’s natural sleep/wake cycle. And nothing good happens before 10am. Fact.
getting very carried away with new business ideas, before either forgetting them (see above high re: 2am bedtime) or realising that they lack the vital money-making element.
losing my blackberry tic. You know, that involuntary twitch every time you see the notification light flash. And the Tourette’s that seemed to accompany it. That’s disappeared too.
the month spent horizontal in the Indian sunshine. Aside from the karma drama and the fear that all that lounging would result in muscle wastage rendering me unable to walk, it was wonderful to escape the winter grims.
the lows (regrets, I’ve had a few; but then again, too few to mention…)
the lost passport f***-up, practically doubling the cost of my India trip. Idiot. And yes, my passport is in a very safe place now.
the ever-lurking spectre of anxiety about money. Which starts from fair-enough resolutions not to spend quite so much on cocktails. But which quickly spirals to resenting paying for essentials like shower gel and toothpaste.
not getting the Friday feeling anymore.
the occasional bouts of self-doubt which, if left unchecked, descend into abject fear and disillusionment over your complete lack of purpose in life. Daytime TV feeds this. Avoid anything involving homes under a hammer, bargain hunting or escaping to the country. They will only highlight that your life has no meaning.
Since nobody seems in a hurry to get me back to work, I’ll probably focus on the retired bit for a little while longer. Starting with a week in the Lake District next week. Smug enough for you??
Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Workweek and Lifestyle Design Blog. Tim is an author of 5 #1 NYT/WSJ bestsellers, investor (FB, Uber, Twitter, 50+ more), and host of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast (400M+ downloads)