It Was Made For You

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“The making and authorized distribution of this film supported over 15,000 jobs and involved hundreds of thousands of work hours.”

That’s the message at the end of X-Men: Apocalypse. The fact it’s anti-piracy is clear, but that’s not why I snapped to attention. What got me was I’d essentially seen this movie for free on Netflix, even though I should’ve paid hundreds more! Gimme a sec. I’ll explain.

Now, you obviously know a blockbuster movie takes millions of dollars to make. Not just that, but the combined experience of 15,000 creative men and women is nothing to shake a stick at. Many of them have been in the film industry for decades. Let’s average it out to 10 years of experience per person. (I think that’s fair because even -I- have 10 years of film experience.) Well, we’re already looking at 150,000 combined YEARS of experience to produce this movie I basically saw for free! X-Men: Apocalypse is 144 minutes long, so each minute I spent checking out the blue chick or cheering on the disabled psychic took 1,000+ YEARS OF WORK AND COMBINED LEARNING to make it as awesome as it was! It gets better. X-Men: Apocalypse had a budget of $178M USD. That’s $238,039,400 in Canadian dollars, so EVERY MINUTE of that movie cost $1,653,051! WHAT?!? Even if I’d seen it in theatres for $15, I think reaping the benefits of 150,000 years of work and $238M was a fair trade. So what if other people are watching it too? Other eyeballs on the screen don’t diminish YOUR experience with the movie. With your $15, you’re effectively hiring a stellar cast and crew, plus a production company, to personally show you people in funny suits punching each other! That’s goddamn hilarious! They did all that – FOR YOU.

Now, obviously, they didn’t do it for you exclusively. We know that. In order to appreciate life more fully though, pretend they did. Not to get into solipsist philosophy, but what difference does it make? You’re lucky enough to appreciate a $238M product for $15 in a theatre, or BASICALLY FREE at home, and it was all for your enjoyment! Now, apply this same line of thinking to every product you use. Your toothpaste took years of research. Your clothes went through a series of skilled workers. The food you eat in a month potentially came from hundreds of plants and animals. And yet, IT’S ALL AFFORDABLE ON ONE PERSON’S WAGES?!? If this doesn’t blow your mind, I can’t help you. You’re indirectly hiring thousands of people every day for only about $100. That’s bonkers.

Obviously, don’t spend more. Instead, recognize how lucky you are and SPEND EVEN LESS. If you just hired 15,000 people to tell you the story of a human magnet, you can proooooobably put the new Mass Effect game back on the shelf. While you’re at it, recognize the environmental impact you have on the world and eat one less animal maybe. You’re already hoovering up plants for pennies, and you didn’t even grow them. The iPhone you’re reading this on? 40 years of constant engineering from a staff of thousands. You don’t need to upgrade as soon as a new one comes out. You already have a personal oracle in your pocket that borders on sorcery.

Be fucking happy with what you’ve got. You’re already getting way more than you pay for. Pretend everything you use was made FOR YOU and appreciate where it all came from. Someone else may have the same product, but that doesn’t diminish your experience with what YOU own. In fact, it even adds value! This way, you get to talk about the same TV show with your friends!

From now on, look at each new purchase with this perspective. I hope it’ll give you a feeling of constant abundance. While you’re at it, maybe stop pirating movies. I used to work in film and TV too, y’know.

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Career Burnout and What To Do About It (Pt. 2)

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For the first post in this series, click here.

“A” wrote in: It was about 3 years into my second job in the engineering world so 8 year’s total. I was having trouble focusing, I was easily irritated, I wasn’t taking care of myself like I should have been (food and exercise wise). I ended up having appendicitis for over 1 year (yes crazy I know) and that only impacted my health more. It got to the point my bosses where being super understanding and letting me work when I could because they didn’t want to lose me. But I would delay deadlines, feel sicker then I actually was and make excuses not to go. I just wasnt happy and it was hurting everyone. When I finally was allowed to switch (a pay decrease of nearly half and, I now work in retail) my life improved drastically. I’m 100% happier, life is going well, I’m not looking for drama and my relationship is the best it’s ever been. My health is getting my better and I’ve lost weight!” (Editor’s note: This isn’t our artist friend, “A”. Totally different people.)

I heard lots of responses like this one. “A” here was bogged down with “Drafting, data entry and project management” and just wasn’t feeling it anymore. She didn’t include numbers, but we figure she was making decent money. If working retail gives her roughly half what she used to make and she was eight years into an engineering career, let’s pin that around $50,000. Let’s also assume she makes and lives off $25,000 now. First off, good on her for keeping expenses down enough for a career shift. Even assuming she spends everything she makes, she’s on par with how much I spend in a year. (I spend roughly $20,000/year now, but I don’t have rent. She does.) If she’s managing to save money too, she’s kicking my ass! Second, it’s awesome that she knew when to walk away. Here’s why.

This article suggests a “stressful workplace could take 33 years off your life expectancy”, but if you read the article, they’re sensationalizing a little bit. For our purposes, let’s say half that – 16.5 years. Average life expectancy in Canada is 81.24 years, so what happens when we take 16.5 years off that? Uh, it looks like people subject to a stressful workplace drop dead just before their 65th birthday. So much for that RRSP! Clearly, workplace stress will not only kill you, but it’ll also make your financial goals moot. After all, you want a long and prosperous life, right? Anyway, “A” decided to look after her health and mental wellbeing, and her life has improved dramatically. I maintain that no matter what field you choose initially, there will come a day when you may want a change. For that to become even a remote possibility, you’ll want to start saving ASAP.

This is what happens when you’re frugal and/or have savings to fall back on: increased life flexibility, and keys to the golden handcuffs.

“A” escaped.

*****

Everyone is going to be different, but I quit shooting weddings 2 years ago (after 15+ years) and no longer take paid photography work. I could not be happier.”

“J” used to shoot weddings with me. It’s been years since we’ve done one together, but we’ve had some wild adventures. Because of photography, we’ve ended up in car accidents, kink dungeons, and more than a few situations I can’t talk about on a PG blog. I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences for the world. That’s why I was sad when he announced he was quitting wedding photography. I thought, “Why give up?”

I was wrong, of course. He wasn’t giving up. In talking with entrepreneurs who have “burned out”, sometimes the dream jobs we craft for ourselves aren’t much different than the trappings of a day job. The only difference is we “own” our jobs, but they’re still jobs. I think of my photography career as my day job, for example. And just like any other work situation, sometimes you need to step away when your career isn’t in alignment with what you want anymore. Even I’m sometimes tempted to leave photography because regular pay at a regular job is FAR EASIER than running your own business. Entrepreneurs are a weird bunch. For every success story that lasts for decades, there are some who didn’t quite attain their ideal, yet soldier on anyway. Sometimes, we build our own prisons.

The romantic notion of creating our own work based on our passions is a great story. I love shooting weddings, but I don’t publicize the bout of depression I dealt with last year and how it set me so far back in my projects, I gave partial refunds to my customers out of my own pocket. People don’t see the months we go without work at the beginning of our careers, living off ramen and unhealthy amounts of alcohol. And yet, us entrepreneurs are proud motherfuckers great at self-promotion, shouting “LOOK AT WHAT WE BUILT”, believing that creating our own work is somehow better than what Safeway Joe does for a living. For some of us, clinging to a business we created, whether or not it meets our goals, is the only thing we know how to do, and that’s how we ACTUALLY burn out.

Some jobs are objectively better than others, but there’s a myth that self-employment is better than regular employment as long as you can pay the bills. It’s not. I say find employment wherever you feel most fulfilled and, if possible, take money out of the equation by living on less and saving as much as you can using the advice on this blog. It’s quite possible that avoiding burnout is as simple as changing gears every few years and going back to our passions only when it feels right.

You don’t “work for someone”. You work for you. Seriously, just save some cash and do whatever the fuck it is you want to do, even if that means being a barista. Climb the corporate ladder, or don’t. Start your own business, or don’t. Retire early, or don’t. As long as you do what’s right for you, you won’t burn out.

The only imperative is you save enough money to afford your own freedom.

*****

Continue the discussion on Facebook. I heard from dozens of people on career burnout, so give us a like and chat with us there.

Career Burnout and What To Do About It (Pt. 1)

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This article took weeks to write, and is coming to you in parts. In researching for it and wading through hundreds of reader messages, I was forced to reexamine certain assumptions I’d made about career choices and burnout. I learned lots. For the sake of keeping this post concise, I’m making “burnout” a catch-all spectrum ranging from “losing passion in a job” to “being unable to do a job because of exhaustion”. In all cases though, burnout WILL most likely happen to you, so here’s how to manage it. That’s what this post is ultimately about.

I heard from a wide variety of people on burnout. Some were entrepreneurs like me, who’d found their dream job only to realize it wasn’t all sunshine and ponies. Others went down the more practical route and chose a well-paying job over their dream job, only to regret it. Others chose very lucrative day jobs that ended up taking a major toll on their health. One respondent almost died when job stress drove his blood pressure to 240/120, and stories like that were COMMON! As we go on, I’ll be peppering my insights with reader messages. Enjoy.

*****

“I used to be an engineer and now I’m a train driver and hate it”, “M” wrote. “it has ended up where I have to work very anti social hours which I hate. I’m at work on Friday night until 1 am Saturday morning which is my day off. Then straight back to work at 5 am Sunday. Also I have to deal with a lot of very horrible people. Just yesterday someone literally took a shit on the train. Have to deal with drunks, fighting and I’ve even had an attempted suicide. Also I find my work very boring and unrewarding.”

I asked him how much he made.

“Minimum wage for someone over 21 in this country is £7.50 per hour before tax which is 20% at the moment”, he said. “I trained for many years as an engineer. I worked for various companies where I enjoyed the work but couldn’t find somewhere that paid enough. I was earning about £20k. I now earn £34.5k”.

Ah, fuck. Another case of The Golden Handcuffs. FYI, £20,000 is $33,000 in Canadian dollars and £34,500 is $57,000. Now, you MIGHT anticipate my response being my usual condescending arrogance, but given what I’ve learned, I’m actually NOT recommending “just live frugal and go back to engineering”. Granted, $33,000 is TOTALLY LIVABLE, but here’s the catch: I’ve now heard from people who burned out at their dream jobs too. What’s stopping that from happening to “M” if he goes back to engineering, and for less pay too?

I recommend building up some “Fuck You Money” first to afford extra flexibility. “M” is burned out now and maybe other jobs to recharge are necessary, but he needs a cash cushion to fall back on. One reader wrote in, feeling as though her job cost her her personal life, and she now longs for “a simple coffee shop job”. Fuck, do that! You know how millennials are now notorious for job-hopping? IT’S BECAUSE WE(‘RE LUCKY ENOUGH TO) SEEK SELF-ACTUALIZATION AS OUR FIRST PRIORITY. I say work where you’re at while the money’s good, save all you can, and when you have enough to fuck off and change gears ENTIRELY for a few years, do it. Life wasn’t meant to be lived doing the same thing every day for 40 years. The most interesting people I know have had 5+ jobs. No matter where you work, you’ll inevitably run into some form of burnout given enough time. When you can’t take it anymore, get out and do something new. It doesn’t even have to be a total departure from your job. Maybe scale down your hours and work on that 10-to-2 on the side.

My life story has already involved MANY career changes, and I’m only 28. I burned out when I worked in the film industry, and at one point, that was my dream job! I’d wanted to work on movies since I got my first job at a video store, and there was literally a point in time when I could walk down the aisles and go, “worked on that, worked on that, worked on that”. It was pretty goddamn cool. I rose up in the ranks, from starting as an indie film PA to working on NBC’s lighting team during the 2010 Olympics. I even became an IATSE 891 permittee. And yet, the long hours made that job unsustainable. I left a job that paid $400+ a day, five days a week, in order to work less than 30 days a year as a photographer, DRASTICALLY cutting my income. Why? I had the Fuck You Money to do it. Build up your FYM. Think of it as your Freedom Fund. It’s your freedom to work wherever, for whatever, whenever!

Now, here’s the scary thing: I -know- I’m gonna burn out with photography someday. I already kinda have, since I say no all the time now. Yet, I’m not worried. One reader mentioned that burnout doesn’t have to be permanent. You can take a few years off to do something different and go back to a career, whether you love it or not. Now, that’s an important point. Our career lives now are different than career lives in the past. Millennials have so many options now, it’d be silly if we didn’t at least explore SOME of them. My point? Here’s your TLDR:

Build up Fuck You Money. Use it to explore job opportunities you think you’d enjoy. Burnout isn’t permanent, and you can jump back into an old career anytime you want. Don’t be scared of change, and beware of golden handcuffs.

In the meantime, I’m preparing for the very real possibility I may hate photography someday, even though I love, love, LOVE it now. Crafting a Plan B as we speak.

More insights coming your way in Part 2.

Moving is Always an Opportunity

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“K” was moving out. My roommate and I took him in for a month while he was looking for a new place, and he literally lived in our storage closet for all of February. He never had much furniture, but that was a good thing. It meant he was more mobile. When he found a new place though, certain amenities were lacking, like tables and a couch. Luckily, I knew tons of people looking to declutter and downsize. I always see people moving as an opportunity now. After reading this, you will too.

I embrace minimalism, and I think my constant nagging to my family is paying off. My mom’s finally clearing out my dad’s belongings – he died in 2014 – and my grandmother is moving to a smaller place after my grandfather’s death last year. Long story short, lots of stuff needed to go. Selling our furniture was definitely a possibility, but I stepped in and chose to help a friend instead of capitalizing on the situation. “K” eventually got a couch and a dining set from my grandmother, and a side table from my mom. This made my inner minimalist very happy. Not only was my family regaining their space, but “K” was keeping more money in his pocket and only took what he needed. Nothing was wasted, and no one blew too much on a junk removal company. It was win-win all around. Moving is an endless source of living space recalibration, even when it’s not -US- doing the moving. When a friend moves, maybe it’s time to look around our living space and throw our shit away based on what they need. Regular generosity is pretty kickass already, but generosity that streamlines our lives and improves our living space? Fucking amazing.

I often find I can get stuff from people when they move too. Maybe their old couch won’t fit, or they just got a bigger bedroom and are replacing their queen with a king. A more enterprising mind can make thousands off these transactions. To a family pressed for time, speedy junk removal is a luxury and people really don’t care where their stuff ends up. Take it. Old mattress in good shape? $150 on Craigslist. Old 32” TV? $100. Old home theatre speakers? $200. If you’re willing to put in the time when ANYONE moves, you can either cash in or streamline your living situation. You’ll always look like the good guy too, since you’re either helping get rid of stuff or giving it away. WHY DOES NO ONE DO THIS.

I personally choose NOT to make money on people’s moves though. It’s much more rewarding for me to send people off with great stuff for free. As my mom decluttered, I gave away a mattress last month. I’ve got a free table up for grabs now. Besides, remember you don’t own anything. If you’re not using it regularly, isn’t it just selfish and stupid to store it underutilized in your home? If more people listened, NO ONE WOULD NEED TO BUY FURNITURE AGAIN. Instead, people blow thousands on tables and chairs, then pay hundreds 10 years later for 1-800-GOT-JUNK to haul it all away. Don’t be like them.

Embrace a community where people share Stuff as needed. Give away your Stuff when you’re not using it. If someone is getting rid of Stuff, take it or sell it. It’s not hard, guys. When people move, take it as an opportunity to improve your life. Maybe that way, we’d all be a little happier and minimalism will become the norm. That’s the kind of world I want to live in. Heck, it might even save the environment.

(FYI, that table is still up for grabs. Ping me on Facebook.)