Thought-provoking, funny and quite moving look at what’s important and how happy people live happily with vulnerability. The desire to try and control everything is very strong, but it seems like giving up on that is key.
As we enter a new year, let’s have a quick look at how the reworking the work and living intentionally stuff been going.
Pretty well, actually. Although I still get frustrated with myself and am impatient about my progress, but let’s look at what I’ve got done recently:
- 2 photo shoots completed, a gift voucher for another one sold, and more enquiries for shoots
- guest post on the Digital Photo School website which gets a huge readership. This produced more enquiries, emails and more follows on the social media outlets for the site. Another guest post for them is already scheduled
- got a new logo design from 99designs.com and redesigned the Clearing The Vision website to appeal more strongly to my audience.
- booked my trip to Vegas in February to attend the WPPI conference
- wrote 13 blog posts for Clearing the Vision since September
- traffic for the Clearing the Vision site since September 2010 is over 14,000 page views on 5,000 visits
- there are now 76 fans of my Clearing the Vision Facebook page, and 28 subscribers to the email or RSS feed from the site. Building up a core of committed and regular readers of the site is key, and that’s the first 100 folks – thanks to all of them
- watched Tamara Lackey’s great Creative Live training session and filled many notebook pages with useful advice and follow up tasks
- kept up with my plans of blocking in time in my calendar to do certain things: coffee meetings with people I want to keep in touch with, trips to the movies, end of month review sessions. This helps me remember the big picture, and keeps me happy.
- worked out a detailed budget and plan for 2011. I still need to contribute my share to our living expenses, so I need a clear picture of what’s required. I’m using mint.com to help me with this, and like the look of it.
When I worked out the end of year financials for the website business it turned out that my profit this year was almost exactly the same as it had been last year (and the year before that, as it happened). While it’s good to be consistent (especially in a recession), the difference this year was that I was working on a large an unpleasant web project for a lot of the year.
The only reason for taking it was that theoretically it should have offered me the chance to bank a big pile of cash – which God knows I earned the hard way. But by the time I’d paid the sub-contractors I needed to work with to get the thing done, I ended up with just the same amount of money as if I’d continued with the smaller and less unpleasant projects I had to turn down to do the big one.
It’s a valuable lesson. If you choose to do something you really don’t want to do just for the money, you might find you end up not getting the reward you want.
I’m still going to be doing website work in 2011 – I need the money as I build up the photo business and I like helping people with this sort of thing – but it’ll be smaller scale projects for clients I’d choose to work with – fellow photographers, architects, and some old faithful repeat clients.
As well as the numbers of shoots booked towards the end of the year, and the promising signs over the site traffic and social media follows, the best sign that I’m on the right track is that I’m much happier in my work.
Over Christmas I’ve been compiling my list of things to do in 2011, and I can’t wait to get started. Compared to the grumpy irritable sod I was over the summer (I even had to do a conference call for the big ugly project while we were taking my daughter to Disneyland), I feel much more excited and in control.
Roll on 2011.
I know nothing about Robin Sharma and from a quick look at his website it’s hard to tell if he’s a snake oil salesman or someone with something important to say. I might well take a look at one of his books, though.
But this list of lessons overcame my skepticism. My favourites include:
- The more you worry about being applauded by others and making money, the less you’ll focus on doing the great work that will generate applause. And make you money.
- To double your net worth, double your self-worth. Because you will never exceed the height of your self-image.
- The more messes you allow into your life, the more messes will become a normal (and acceptable) part of your life.
But there are some other ones that struck a chord. And let me know you know more about this bloke.
Irish comedy writer Graham Linehan (responsible for some of the best British TV comedy over the last fifteen-odd years, including Father Ted, Black Books and the IT Crowd) has a small section on his blog called ‘Baby Needs Shoes’.
It links to the DVDs of his shows available for purchase, and it gently points up that however creative, minimalist and free-spirited they might want to be, parents have responsibilities that go beyond themselves.
I’ve just finished The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau. It’s a good book, but one thought kept bubbling up as I read it – the same thought that crops up during a read of Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek, or some of the simple living blogs.
The thought goes something like this, ‘Downsizing to a tiny apartment with no car, travelling around the world with less than 50 possessions tango dancing, going to yoga class and living a simpler life – that all sounds good, but BABY NEEDS SHOES.’
Speaking as a father of a five-year-old, I can confirm that it’s a lot easier to do a lot of these things when you’re not a parent.
This isn’t to put those fine folks down, it’s just that it’s harder to forge a new path when you already have some non-negotiable obligations.
The first of these is time. I want to give a lot of the time I have to my daughter, so my wife and I alternate taking her to school, picking her up, doing bath and books, and the rest of it. We’ve chosen to do it this way, and don’t want to change, so a chunk of my time is off-limits for anything else.
Another of our non-negotiable obligations concerns money. Baby doesn’t just need shoes, she needs a bunch of other stuff that costs money. Not diamond-encrusted Barbie houses, but the simpler necessities, plus some special treats now and again.
If I want to live on rice and beans for a year while I’m writing the Great Anglo-Irish-American Novel, that’s my choice. But my daughter shouldn’t be forced to follow suit.
We’re exploring our options for her schooling next year – it’s a little like doing a lucky dip where most of the packages contain dog turds – and we might be facing either an expensive move across town (or across the country), or shelling out for some obscenely expensive private schooling.
We have to make enough money to cover the costs of the things we want to do for our daughter. And like most parents, I’ll put my child’s needs before my own if there’s a conflict.
Which raises the question of what we want to teach her about work and money.
Fill the college fund or teach by example?
My Dad worked a job he hated for decades to provide for us while we were growing up. He never complained but I saw the toll it took on him and his marriage. The lesson I learned from him is that there’s no way I’m going to do the same thing.
But when it comes down to a choice between following my passion and sending my daughter to a good school, things get a bit more murky. At times I think about going back and getting a regular job, but I don’t want to repeat my father’s experience.
And I want to show my daughter that it’s possible and important to forge a career that’s rewarding in more ways than monetarily.
I won’t take the corporate job (even if I could find one), but I don’t have any easy answers either. But I don’t think it’s an either/or question – it’s possible to earn enough money while still pursuing a fulfilling life yourself.
We need to be creative in how we set up our working life so we’re not choosing between filling up the college fund or teaching by example but doing both.
I’m as big fan of minimalism and monetary caution as the next blogger (unless the next blogger’s Leo Babauta). I know that if I’m to give myself a real chance of expanding my photography business, I’ll need (and want) to cut down on my website work, and the only way to do that is if I’m careful with my pennies.
So why can’t I get the idea of an overpowered and very expensive Audi S4 car out of my head? Despite all my good intentions, I have an Audi complex.
I’m not a very profligate person by nature. When myself and two friends went galavanting around Europe the summer before we started college, they gave all their money to me to look after because I was the most reliable one.
And even when I lived in San Francisco at the height of the dot-com boom of the late 90s, I didn’t blow my obscene salary on a black Porsche and fancy threads. More like a nice bicycle and some camping gear.
I started the web design business without a loan and as a family we pay off our credit cards every month and also pay off a little more than we have to on the mortgage.
An approach to life that favours spending time together rather than splashing out on a supersize barbecue grill seems appropriate, so we don’t work mad hours and we’ve cancelled our cable TV subscription in favour of Netflix and Hulu.
Which is all very responsible and all. We even have two newish cars (both paid off), including my long-held dream car, a VW Golf GTI. So why can’t I get the idea of a fast stealth Audi out of my head?
When I was working in San Francisco, one of my bosses (the one with the nice house in the Castro and the ridiculously nice weekend retreat in Sonoma) had a Audi A6 wagon, and I think that might have started the problem. I was beguiled by the elegant simplicity of the interior, the orange wash to the dashboard lights and the understated but powerful stance.
The only way we could afford my mythical S4 (starting at around $46,000) would be for me to find a highly-paying job that I’d probably hate. I’d have much less time with my wife and daughter, and have to put my career dreams on hold. I know there’s no way it’s worth it.
Every time I see someone driving around in a lust-inducing car, I ask myself what misery the driver had to put themselves through to get it. But still it nags away at me.
Part of this is just a boy thing. Despite my creative leanings and excess of education, I’m still a bloke, and most of us like nice cars. I love Top Gear, and when I’m stuck in traffic I’ll look around at all the other vehicles and see if there’s any of them that I’d have rather than mine.
But this is mainly simple spoilt-kid greed that I’m wrestling with. Why can’t I have a really really nice car (instead of the really nice car I already have)? I want it!
Interestingly, getting the GTI (partly courtesy of the Irish Government’s very generous SSIA scheme that gave a 25% return on money squirrelled away over 5 years – a plan that looks positively bonkers now) didn’t cure me of car lust, it made it worse in some ways. Now I knew what a good car felt like to drive, I started wondering what you got for even more money.
Which is a great example of the fallacy of thinking that buying stuff will make you happy. You get something, you’re partially satisfied for a while, and then unless you’re very careful, you need to get a bigger better thing next time to get the same hit from retail therapy.
The notion of enough is a powerful antidote to this. The great car I currently have is enough (and more than enough) for me. I’ll drive it until it falls apart. Because I don’t want to have to do what would be required of me to get a better one, even if I would really love it.
So I’ll still admire the silver Audi S4s I see purring along Santa Fe streets the odd time, but I’d rather write, photograph and pick my daughter up from school in the car I have now. On which note, must dash.
Fantastic talk from Scott Stratten, a social media marketing expert. The talk’s absolutely nothing to do with social media marketing, fortunately. It’s about why we shouldn’t just keep going flat out, or we will stop.
Like large chunks of humanity, I was moved by the rescue of the Chilean miners last week.
I’ll never get near an understanding of their experiences in the depth of the earth, but as they each emerged from the capsule after 69 days underground (the first 17 of them spent not knowing if they would ever be found), it was obvious that many of them re-entered the world with a clearer sense of what matters.
One miner proposed to his partner of long standing, and others spoke of realising that their families were the most important thing to them.
People who have been through a near-death experience such as a serious accident or illness often reflect that they have a different perspective on things than before, which changes how they live subsequently.
I’m sure the miners spent some of their time in the dark drawing up lists of the things they would do when they got out.
So what would be on your Chilean Miners’ To-Do List? And what steps can you take over the next week to tick a few of them off?
Mine would have some ‘peak experience’ things - the kind of stuff you’ll find in glossy magazines’ list of 100 things to do before you die: cycling around New Zealand and going back to Japan in my case. And there’s definitely real value in those – recent research suggests that spending your money on trips and experiences makes you happier than spending it on objects.
But other things on my list would be small routines that I know like doing but which which somehow get lost in the daily slog: making time to read the paper in a cafe, or taking an after-dinner stroll. These activities can also add to our sense of wellbeing. The same article on happinness points to research saying that buying lots of small treats has more effect than a big purchase.
We don’t all have to have been stuck down a mine to start focusing on what’s important to us. But seeing the miners returned to us underlines how valuable and fragile life is. A truism, I know, but one we often forget.
When the family and friends of Carlos Bugueno, one of the rescued miners, had a welcome home party for him, they couldn’t afford balloons so tied black rubbish bags to the trees.
Whatever reasons you might have for not starting on something meaningful (at least for yourself), I’d bet they don’t involve being trapped down a mine for 69 days and then returning to a life so hard that balloons are a luxury beyond reach. We don’t really have that many excuses.
Photo Credit: Hugo Infante/Government Of Chile
The good news is that last week was a productive week. I planned a schedule that blocks in time for blog posting, research, bike-riding and other good stuff. I wrote some blog posts and booked a kids’ photo shoot for next month.
The bad news is that now I’ve actually done some things to move to a more considered working life, the doubts have arrived.
Suddenly it seems that everything is conspiring to show me how ludicrous my plans are. NPR runs a story on the slow economy, this is re-enforced by a Santa Fe New Mexican story on the particular unemployment problems we face locally, and I’m now convinced we’re all going to starve.
A check on local photographers’ sites shows one has moved to Austin. That should be encouraging, but then I find a site from a shooter who’s new in town and kind of does what I do.
That’s it, I’m doomed.
None of this is very rational of course. It’s not news that times are tough. And with one photographer leaving and another arriving, we’re all in the same situation we were in before. And I genuinely believe that there’s work for all of us.
But the doubts don’t care about reason. It’s like bringing a knife to a gun fight to try and deal with the doubts reasonably. No matter what you say, they’ll keep needling away at you, and they know exactly which buttons to press.
Getting the lizard brain angry
They’ve surfaced now of course because they’re afraid I’m actually doing something – making a few waves in the water that might upset the status quo. When it was just planning, the lizard brain was happy enough to let me scribble lists in my Moleskine. I was working on client projects, just like before, only now I had a little hobby – dreaming about doing something different.
The fact that I still did some billable client work this week, and that there are a bunch of cheques on the way doesn’t silence the mumbling. Nor does the acknowledgement that this was always going to be a long process.
The argument that this is what I really want to do, just turns the mumbling into angry shouts: ‘Just shut up and go back to the work you know you can make money doing. Who do you think you are anyway? There are millions of people in the country looking for work, and you’re turning jobs down. Look at your daughter there, writing her list for Santa.’ (nobody said the lizard fought fair).
Tammy Strobel over at Rowdy Kittens had a similar wobble recently and her advice to remember the big picture is a good one. I’m also going to try concentrating on the very small picture too – just putting one foot in front of the other and not looking round to see where I’ve got to. Just do the work without judgement and let the future take care of itself for a while (and maybe stop listening to NPR news).
Unfold the map as far as you can go that day
While I was pedalling across Europe in pursuit of a sixth-century Irish saint, the thought of covering over 2000 miles on a bike was too daunting to contemplate. Every morning I’d fold the map over from the previous day’s leg, only revealing as far as I had to ride that day.
One day at a time would get me there. Unfolding the map to its fullest just scared me.
If anyone has some other suggestions on silencing the doubters in your own head, I’d love to hear them.
In my last post I outlined the problem of being always reachable by phone. You’re interrupted at work and (worse) when you’re not working. You want to be responsive, but you’ll serve nobody well when you’re burnt out from not taking any real breaks or unproductive from being disturbed all the time.
You could pay for an office line, but that’s expensive and cumbersome and might end up with the opposite problem – not being reachable enough – if you spend much time out of the office.
So an ideal solution would give you a work phone number that you could hand out to folks, but which rang your cell phone when you wanted it to and went to voicemail when you didn’t.
Google Voice to the rescue
There are plenty of low-cost versions of this plan – using Skype and and a Skype In number, for example, which you could forward to your cell phone when you wanted to. Or here’s a great-looking service called Line2 that does something similar (and more), but it costs $9.95/month. But at the moment my favored option is Google Voice.
The two main reasons for this are:
- it’s free (in the US)
- it offers very flexible forwarding options so you can manage which of your real phones ring when
My setup is basically this: the only number I give out to anyone but close friends is my local Google Voice number. That’s the one on the website and the business cards.
I don’t have to pay a monthly fee for it, and through the the simple online admin panel, you can set it up to ring your cellphone (or any other ‘real’ phone) instantaneously (if you want it to). The settings let you set specific times when it won’t ring through to your cell (such as evenings and weekends).
Or you can do a manual override, and just tell it to ‘hold all your calls’ while you get down to some real work, or head out for an afternoon of air hockey.
The web-based voicemail service is excellent – with email and SMS notifications too.
The benefits are clear – if my cellphone rings out of hours or when I’m not available for calls, I know that it’s not a work call. If it’s imperative that I take a call wherever I am, I can let the GV number ring my cellphone but screen my calls.
So I’m reachable when I want to be, not reachable when I don’t and I’ve reclaimed my personal phone from being an immediate channel to work.
The downside is that unless you’re careful about making outgoing calls through the Google Voice interface on your iPhone (it’s actually a mobile-friendly web page, as Apple won’t approve a GV app), you’ll be revealing your cell number anyway.
I might take the Line2 option for a spin (there’s a free 30-day trial), partly to get round that annoyance, but mainly as I’m already paying Skype for minutes to call the folks at home in England and Ireland. I could use Line2 (and its good international rates) for that too.
I’ll let you know how I get on, but adding a virtual second line one or another is definitely the way to manage your calls efficiently and effectively.