The other week I alluded that there were lots of things going on in my life. This was impacting on the time I had available for the things I wanted to do, such as writing blog posts, researching technical material for the blog, getting my workouts in and so on. At the time I said that I couldn’t yet divulge what was going on. However, this week is finally when I feel able to share it all.
Initially I wasn’t going to do this for another week but I had a wonderful, if crazy, weekend squeezing in a trip to London, visiting some old friends and going to my younger niece’s first birthday party. Unfortunately it meant I didn’t have time to finish pulling together the type 2 diabetes material so this is me buying myself another week. Sorry everyone!
I’m not sure if I’ve ever put on this blog what I do for a day job, other than noting that it is a desk job. I am a corporate tax advisor. There’s a reasonable amount of responsibility involved and the interaction with clients makes my day unreliable. I can start the day with an urgent to-do list, find that my phone rings off the hook with queries from clients that they want dealing with urgently, assist more junior staff through the day with their queries and, at the end of the day, find myself with the same to-do list still outstanding and have to work late to make a dent on it.
When things are quiet my working day will be reasonably reliable. I should work 09.00 – 17.30 with an hour for lunch. However, the reality is that an average day has me arriving at 08.30 and packing up at 18.00, while only getting up from my desk for lunch depending on my client work that day. Compared to bankers and lawyers, my job is really much less stressful than it could be. Having said that, I often have a few months at a time when there are several big projects on as well as the usual day-to-day pieces, when the hours are unreliable, when there is too much going on, when a client is being unreasonable in their demands, and when something comes up at 5pm on a Friday and I end up doing several hours at the weekend.
On top of this I have a natural tendency towards “allowing” situations to become stressful. I’ve done a lot of work over the last few years with the help of a mentor at work. This has helped me get some control over my OCD-type approach to living (no more obsessive washing up when I get home from work late) and also given me the perspective to step back from things and keep chilled more often.
It’s not perfect – I still get wired and stressed when things get really bad at work but I’m a lot better than I used to be.
What I want from life
When I was 8 years old I announced to my parents that I was going to build up a property portfolio and then use the rental as income so that I was free to travel all over the place. At the time I remember that in my mind this was limited to the excitement, as I perceived it, of travelling to new places in the UK by train. Pretty perceptive for an 8 year old.
By my early teens this has changed slightly to an idea that I would also be a reader for publishing houses (doing the first read of manuscripts that a publishing house receives to decide if they should make it to the editor’s desk) or a proof-reader. These were jobs working with reading, which I loved, and which could be done freelance at times that suited me.
I’ve never let go of the idea that I wanted to be able to relax and explore and do all the activities I enjoyed. The flawed UK school system meant I had to make a notable decision about which way my life was going to go when I was 14 years old. I decided at that point that while I loved music and playing my violin, piano and singing, I didn’t want to make a living doing music. I worried that I might end up hating music because I would have to accept every piece of work that came my way, no matter whether it was a job I wanted to do or not.
In my final meeting with my lecturer when I was graduating from University I told my lecturer that I would love to keep doing research but didn’t want to rely on it for a living. I told her I was going to be an accountant and save up until I could afford to retire early and be free to do the research without having to do worry about whether it would earn enough money. I had in mind 35-40 years old.
I’ve put this all down here because it gives a lot of insight to what I want from life and how the idea of that lifestyle developed as my understanding of how the real world has changed. If I were to summarise what I want from life it would be as follows:
- Financial security through careful investment of money I’ve made myself (I’ve never wanted to rely on someone else for money)
- Having the freedom to explore places and activities when I want
- Pursuing all the things I enjoy in life including music (especially my violin, piano and singing) and academic research (these days torn between archaeology, nutrition and fitness)
- Ability to consistently improve my gym performance eventually qualifying to compete at National or even World levels at drug-free powerlifting
- Being outdoors doing things like rock climbing, cycling, walking, wild-camping with the flexibility to go when the weather is good rather than when my time allows it.
What I don’t get from life at present
Right now I aim to fit in the following things to my life:
- Full-time job as corporate tax adviser
- Playing violin
- Passing on my skills and knowledge by teaching violin, piano and general musicianship at weekends
- Powerlifting training
- Regular walking trips, working for a walking company and checking their self-guided routes
- Technical research in the form of reading and writing for this blog
I’m not doing badly at meeting my list of things I want from life but there are some problems with fitting it all in. Recently, I decided that I wanted to do more cycling, because I realised that I had not touched the bike for 9 months. To fit some cycling in, I had to cut down from three to two workouts a week and I built the cycling into my commute to cut out 20 mins of normal commute time and put it into my cycling time. Chris now kindly drops me off at work with my bike and I cycle home on days when I don’t have a workout planned and won’t need the car to drive to a client or another office.
I also wanted to spend more time practicing my violin, getting my piano playing back in line with where it was and increasing my teaching volume – I was really missing music. To manage that I had to cut down my blog work, which I was already focussing on weekends to free up teaching time, and tighten up the timetable of my weekday evenings to ensure a half hour of practice time can be grabbed most days.
My desk job was starting to impact badly on my posture so I needed to build 15-30 mins of rolling time into every day – I started getting up earlier.
Then there are the things I just don’t manage to fit in at all. Rock climbing, wild-camping outside of walking holidays, doing the walking when the weather is good (holiday gets booked up to a year in advance – I’ve no idea what the weather forecast will be), archaeology research, reading fiction books (although I’ve started doing this while I do my rolling), singing, getting piano practice in is very hit and miss, long-distance bike rides (some of you may remember that a year or two ago I was doing 80-100 mile rides most weekends, touring style which took 5-6 hours)…
There just isn’t the time to do everything I want to do.
A radical solution
You probably already understand from all of this why the blog has been taking a bit of a back-burner for the last few months and why my training has gone down to a maintenance level. However, there was a reason why I was prepared to make those sacrifices – I knew that I had a long-term plan and this was a short-term problem. I have, essentially been leading two or three lives simultaneously for the last few months.
Chris and I have been working hard for the last few years, living a frugal lifestyle and putting everything aside to pay off our mortgage. We knew that if we could clear the mortgage then our main drain on cash would be gone. Thanks to our frugal living, which has become a habit rather than a chore, our need for money is very reasonable. So back in April we finally managed to pay off the mortgage and have been building up an emergency reserve since then.
During the last few months I’ve been increasing the number of music pupils I have at weekends to build it to the point where it can bring in sufficient recurring income to cover my contribution to the house expenses. A few weeks ago I told work that I will be leaving the firm at Christmas.
At the start of January I will be without a desk job. Instead I will be teaching music at the weekends to bring in the money I need and taking paid playing work on my violin when it comes up. That will leave me free from Monday to Friday when I can head out cycling, walking, camping, climbing and anything else I like whenever the weather is good. I’ll also have the time to do research whenever I want.
I’m hoping that the lack of desk job will also mean I can fix the mobility problems in my upper back. This would mean that I can finally get a grip on my bench press. That’s why I announced at the start of this year that 2011 was the year of the deadlift and 2012 would be the year of the bench press. Once I’ve sorted out my bench press problems I will feel confident about competing and start on that path.
The best bit should be that this removes one of the least controllable stressors in my life. The result should be top-notch health and happiness.
I’m terrified that it might all go wrong and I’ll find myself jobless and penniless, but I need to take control of my life so that I live the life I want to live. Seth Godin put is beautifully when he said:
Make big promises.
Burn your boats.
Set yourself up in a place where you have few options and the stakes are high.
Focused energy and serious intent will push you to do your best work. You have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. (Better than the alternative.)
Apologies if I’m not always consistent in my writing for the rest of the year – as the teaching work builds up I will have less time for myself. I promise things will be back on track and better than ever next year.
Do you think I’m crazy?