Can’t Handle FIRE? Try To HEAL!

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It’s 6 in the morning and I’m on a SkyTrain headed into Vancouver. From the looks of it, I’m the only one not on his way to work. The suit next to me is reading Bloomberg articles on his phone, and half the passengers are nodding off. I can’t imagine most of them want to be here. I’m listening to Taylor Swift on my iPhone and enjoying the ride because I have nowhere I need to be. My only goal for today was to write this, and I can do it from anywhere! This is the story of how I found freedom and lifelong happiness at 29. Hopefully, by the end of this post, you’ll be on your way too.

If you haven’t heard of FIRE before, it’s an acronym in personal finance writing that stands for Financially Independent, Retired Early. The Physician on FIRE guy? Not actually on fire. He’s just a family man who achieved financial independence at 39. You see “FIRE” kicked around a lot on the MMM forums too, and it’s a goal of many. It turns out most people don’t actually want to work for a living! I mean, given the choice between lounging by a pool in Guadalajara and a lifetime of office drudgery, most of us would be marching out on our bosses and guzzling Corona in no time! Well, I’m here to tell you things aren’t actually that simple. You might not actually want FIRE! To understand why, let’s take a closer look at its definition.

FIRE is generally defined as the stage a person reaches when the return on their investments is enough to cover their living expenses. A quick bit of math you can do to figure out your FIRE number is to take your annual expenses and multiply by 25. (If you spend $25,000/year for example, your FIRE number is $625,000. Start saving.) The reason for this is 4% interest is a generally accepted estimate of how much you can reliably make off the average portfolio. It’s somewhere between too-safe 2% GICs and somewhat-risky 7% index funds, and 4% just kinda became the default number. At any rate, I have no reason to dispute its logic. 4% certainly makes sense to people far smarter than I. However, FIRE is no longer a goal of mine. Part of the reason is the numbers are outside my grasp — I’ve done the math and I have no delusions about my ability to save — but I’ve also grown up a bit and experienced a different view of retirement. I now know what it’s like to barely work at all, and what I’ve found is it actually totally sucks! I needed to create value in the world to feel fulfilled, and sometimes, people were willing to pay me to create that value! Why wouldn’t I take the money? So what if someone might define that as “work”? Retirement sounds great on paper, but do you never want to work for anything ever again and just lie back and consume? Fuck, no!

With this in mind, I started optimizing my lifestyle. I needed freedom whenever I wanted, some work to feel useful, autonomy in my professional life, and enough money to have fun. FIRE wasn’t the solution because many FIRE followers try to frontload all their earning towards their early years working brutal hours, then they putter around not knowing what to do with themselves as soon as they retire! The Mad Fientist retired at 34, spent months travelling, then “realized it wasn’t making him happy”. Mr. Money Mustache basically went back to work doing construction and managing rental houses. If FIRE is so great, why are so many success stories plagued with ennui or employment akathisia? Well, it’s because full-on, work-hard-now-to-never-work-again FIRE is just too extreme. Fundamentally unbalanced, it takes too much effort in early life and too little effort in later life. In theory, it’s a great goal to work towards, but maybe there’s a better solution that can give you the good life now. I call it “HEAL”.

HEAL stands for Half Employed, Adjusted Living. It’s my way of describing a balanced lifestyle that involves half or less of a typical 40-hour workload, and adjusting your lifestyle to afford that freedom. You can achieve HEAL in a variety of ways, even if you’re young. For example, you can bump your income up so you only work 20 hours a week and spend the same as before, or you can go frugal so you can live off 20 hours of regular pay. For most, going frugal is easiest. Part-time work and frugality are key to HEAL. Some people even bump up their income and go frugal, and those people have it made. Though they might even achieve FIRE, they know “no work” isn’t the goal. What you want is the freedom to only work when you feel like it.

Here’s my situation: The last time I calculated my monthly spending, I arrived at $1,948.18. I’m bringing on a second roommate in a month or two, and the rent I charge him will cover my entire Bills category, eliminating at least $447.29. This puts me at just over $1,500 I’d need to cover in income. Working 20 hours a week at my low-pay liquor store job would net me about $1,100, and the remaining $400 could easily be covered by any photography booking! In fact, since I bill $400/hour to shoot weddings, even a single 8-hour booking covers me for 8 months! (The photography work is spotty, so I’m hesitant to provide monthly numbers. It fluctuates from $0 with no bookings to months like April 2016 when I somehow earned $6,353.41 without even shooting a wedding.) Naturally, any excess income from photography goes straight into paying off my debt, and once that’s taken care of, I’ll be trying to max out my TFSA! I’ve got this whole “HEAL” thing down! I’m “Half Employed” and my “Adjusted Living” made ~20 hours a week work for me!

If HEAL sounds good to you, here’s some recommended reading. First off, if you’re still unconvinced that you might actually want to work for the rest of your life, check out our previous blog post, “I Want You To Half-Retire (HR)”. Finally, consider picking up the Marcus Arce book, “HALF RETIRE – How to Escape the Rat Race Without Waiting to Win the Lottery!” At a cursory glance, the math in it checks out. I’m using strategies from it already.

By realizing I wanted HEAL and not FIRE, I’ve freed up my younger adult years to do whatever I want while working just the right amount to be even happier. Click the links in this post and all over this blog, and read them. People need work, and yes, I do intend to work even when I no longer have to! If you think of Work as a dirty word, it’s because you need a better job!

At 29, I’ve found the lifestyle I intend to have forever, and I didn’t even have to worry too much about retirement. What the heck is stopping you?

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I Want You To Half-Retire (HR)

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I worked this week. Well, kinda. Yesterday, I drove a few towns over and dropped off a wedding photo delivery I’d shot two months ago. Between lazy shifts at my liquor store and prodding at Lightroom edits for the past few weeks, I’ve been averaging 20 hours a week for a few months now. It’s enough to get by. Considering that a week has 168 hours, working 20 hours is only 12% of that. Not a bad trade, I figure.

Anyway, I know a lot of you work 40 hours a week, and that’s certainly smart. Everything you invest now is worth 10x more, so I can see why you’d want to put in your hours and aim for an early retirement. I mean, what’s better than never having to work again? Well, as I found out, the closer I got to No Work, the worse my mental health was. When I was working just 30 days a year, I was definitely less than sane. What eventually happened was the idea of Half-Retirement, or HR. Statistics Canada “examined data for more than 265,000 workers over 28 years” and “shows that of those Canadians who exited a long-term job at age 55 to 59, 60% were re-employed in some capacity within 10 years”. Based on that, it looks like Retirement is as ill-defined as ever. Even when shown Early Retirement, most people chose Half-Retirement instead! What gives?

Well, I’ve theorized that people need to actively work on something in order to feel truly fulfilled – progress equals happiness, after all – but after some basic digging, it turns out research backs me up. In the Netherlands, over “half of Dutch workers are on part-time hours” and they consistently rank as “one of the world’s happiest countries”. Meanwhile, this article suggests “people who keep working after age 65 tend to be much happier than their peers who are retired”. This was particularly interesting to me because full-on Retirement no longer seemed like what to aim for. The goalposts had been moved. If Half-Retirement was what made people happiest, WHAT’S STOPPING US FROM DOING THAT RIGHT NOW?!? All we need is basic frugality.

I certainly feel content with a light workload, and I’m confident my decision to not frontload all my moneymaking towards my youthful years is a good one. While I’m young and dumb, I want most of my weekdays off, and I’m honestly not just fucking around with them. I’m taking time to learn skills and meet people who will benefit me for years to come. This past month, I’ve taken time to hike with FI nerds, I’ve started work on a new garden, and I’ve expanded my writing opportunities by applying for an ACTUAL writing job that I can’t even tell you about yet! It’s all stuff I couldn’t accomplish if I were working a 40-hour 9-to-5, but here I am, financially stable (though admittedly, debt is an issue) and happy as can be.

I’d also argue if you take the time for self-care early on and use an HR mentality, your health won’t degrade as much and working part-time in retirement age would be more rejuvenating than torturous. Why not half-retire now by being frugal, AND EXPERIENCE THE SAME LEVEL OF FREEDOM AS SOMEONE WHO’S 65?

Consider that Tim Ferriss wrote “The 4-Hour Workweek” after presumably mastering a 4-hour workweek. He then wrote “The 4-Hour Body”, “The 4-Hour Chef” and “Tools of Titans”. IF A 4-HOUR WORKWEEK IS THE IDEAL AMOUNT OF WORK FOR A PERSON TO DO, WHY IS HE VOLUNTARILY TAKING ON A LARGER WORKLOAD? I humbly suggest a workload of anywhere from 20 hours (working for someone else) to 40 hours (working on your own projects). Maybe fulfillment isn’t just chasing Happiness. Maybe fulfillment has something to do with Usefulness.

If HR is the goal, WE CAN ACHIEVE THAT NOW WITH FRUGALITY. Then, we can coast our entire lives on a lifestyle that even retirees find preferable to full Retirement! As someone who’s lived it, it’s fucking wonderful.

Imagine this: Most of the week, I wake up without an alarm. I poke around in the kitchen and decide what I want to make for dinner. I make sure the gardens are okay, leisurely edit some photos and maybe blog a bit while having a beer, then shop for ingredients. Making dinner is a joy. If I’m feeling particularly adventurous, I ride my trike to the brewery and pick up a growler. I go to bed whenever I feel like after some screen time. If I work in the morning, I set an alarm. Even then, it’s usually just 8 hours at the liquor store for a day, or an 8-hour wedding. It’s good to know I’m needed somewhere. I can honestly say coasting like this forever is what I want. I will never tire of this. It’s goddamn magic.

If this all sounds too good to be true, it’s not. If rent is too high, live with someone. If you’re short on cash, you can always make a buck. If paying for gas is killing your budget, live closer to what you need. If you spend too much on events, don’t pay for them. If you drink too much, use smaller glasses. And so on, and so on. You can live HR now, and it’s better than full-on Retirement. It’s just frugality and part-time work!

I had trouble finding Unconbentional’s core message before, but this is it: HR is better than Retirement, and you can have this now. Build your wealth and optimize your situation until you can live on part-time work. Give yourself the gift of free time, especially while you’re still young enough to make some memories. Work isn’t a bad thing. You need it to live a fulfilling life. What you want is work-life balance. Don’t blindly sacrifice your youth chasing a day when you no longer have to work, but also don’t be a dumbass with your money. HR is the goal now. You can make this work, and you’ll be miles ahead of the modern workforce. You. Yes, you. You can do it.

I believe in you.

Am I nuts? Tell me on Facebook.

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.

My Secret to Hyperproductivity

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A few days ago, I had all of the following done by 12 noon:
– took 15,000 steps
– listened to 90 minutes of “The 48 Laws of Power” on audiobook
– wrote ‘Why Eating Out Makes Me Sad’
– read Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual” cover to cover
– grabbed office supplies for my photography business
– and most importantly: even had two beers at the pub!

At no point did I feel rushed or stressed, and I’m happy to say mornings like this are a regular occurrence for me now. I exercise, expand my personal knowledge, do a bit of work, and even take time to relax… All before some people take their lunch break.

Sure, Ben, you’re probably thinking. You can do all that before 12 noon because you’re an entitled douchebag without a day job. Try working for 8 hours a day like the rest of us.

Uh, well, I do. By midnight that day, I was up to 28,000 steps with a 7-hour liquor store shift behind me. Even then, no rush and no stress. I felt more productive than ever, and it was all due to a simple idea I like to call “compound tasking”. Here’s how it works.

Compound tasking and multitasking are completely different beasts. The first distinction is that compound tasking comes into play when you have both a professional goal and a personal goal, and want to work on both at the same time. Multitasking tends to be all about work. Examples of multitasking include Elon Musk’s version of productivity – “he sends emails while scanning invoices, holds meetings and takes care of business on his phone at the same time, and even texts with his children on his lap”. (One could argue he’s also spending time with his family in the last example, but let’s come back to that in a bit. There’s only one hard no-no about compound tasking, and we’ll talk about that at the end.) On the other hand, compound tasking looks more like this – I get my exercise by walking 5 kilometres to the office supply shop while answering business texts on my phone, and I listen to mind-expanding audiobooks at the same time. My work obligations are taken care of, I’m looking after my health, and I’m actively learning… ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

I try to adopt compound tasking in all my activities. Even my shifts at the liquor store involve it, and I deliberately chose that side job with compound tasking in mind. For one, it expands my knowledge of beer, wine and spirits, which is a hobby of mine. On top of that, it provides me great exercise as I unload the weekly orders. It also gives me just enough downtime to actually stop and think about things. The job isn’t very mentally taxing, and I often formulate new business ideas and write post drafts as I work, usually while pacing the store to burn calories. And SOMEHOW, I’m getting paid for it all just by being present and stocking the occasional shelf! Compound tasking even reinvigorates me as I work because I’m working on a personal goal at the same time. I volunteer for the most physically active tasks to get more in shape, and end up looking super productive in the process! You can do this too!

Can you do double duty on your goals and attack personal accomplishments during your workday? Harvard Business Review suggests that “walking meetings support cognitive engagement, or focus, on the job”, but maybe you just want more Fitbit steps like I do. Look into them. Maybe you’re a security guard and most of your job involves just staying in one place. Can you listen to an audiobook or podcast instead of just throwing on Top 40? Trust me, the Adele lyrics never change. What if you’ve got a side hustle in addition to your day job? Write down ideas for your 10-to-2 while you work your 9-to-5!

Ever wonder why achieving a personal goal seems so hard? IT’S BECAUSE YOU PRIORITIZE THEM LESS THAN YOUR GODDAMN DAY JOB. STOP THAT.

A final note: Don’t attempt compound tasking with your friends and family. They’re not “a task that needs to be done”, they’re people. Spend time with them fully, and engage them with undivided attention. If you follow my advice on compound tasking, you’re gonna end up with more time anyway. Don’t forget to use it wisely.

This is Why Every Job Has a Shitty Part

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My job’s pretty great. It wasn’t long ago I was shooting with swimsuit models and crisscrossing the globe on multi-thousand dollar contracts. That lifestyle doesn’t work so great for me anymore (and this is why), but I had a good thing going. It was easy for others to be envious. They didn’t see all the hard work below the surface.

Yes, I’d shoot world-class conferences and their eventual afterparties, but they never saw me cabbing to a backup site in a faraway hotel at 2 in the morning when I needed to be up again to shoot at 6. Yes, I photographed models, but people never saw me working with an awkward 14-year-old model who seemed like she was forced into it by her mother. Yes, I shot extravagant weddings that I adored, but no one saw me editing for 15-hour days for full weeks at a time. I went kinda batshit. I once went so insane I’d edit for 15 minutes, THEN JOG AROUND THE FUCKING BLOCK before I could edit another 15 minutes! I was twitching like a meth addict. It was fucking hell. And you know what?

It was still a great job.

Like mopping at my liquor store, I found it far too easy to complain about shitty tasks. It wasn’t until speaking to people like my programmer roommate or film industry friends that I realized I was being a baby about it.

“Oh, you spend 15 hours a day editing in a warm room where you can sneak a beer anytime you want? Life must be SO HARD.”

“You don’t have a boss and get final say on your images? Try having to communicate with six other people working on the same project, and making that project WORK. Fuck off.”

I’m paraphrasing, but the sentiment is genuine. The shitty parts of my job were negligible to other people. To them, I was already living the dream, and here’s why: I GOT SO USED TO ALL THE DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF MY JOB, I SIMPLY CHOSE THE LEAST ENJOYABLE PARTS OF IT TO COMPLAIN ABOUT. I had a great job all along!

No one’s denying there are parts of your job that suck. It just helps to have perspective from people who have it worse off than you. I hated mopping. Tell that to a janitor. He hates cleaning urinals. Tell that to a sanitation engineer at a wastewater treatment plant. She hates unclogging pipes in literal human waste. Tell that to a “manual scavenger” in India with no protective gear. YOUR JOB DOESN’T SUCK. YOU’RE JUST SO USED TO HOW CUSHY IT IS, IT’S MADE YOU A WUSS.

Surely, maintaining your composure as a customer asks for EVEN MORE extra olives on their sandwich isn’t cause for hara-kiri, and overtime on Christmas might actually be okay once you account for stat pay. If you’re in North America and working for above minimum wage, you actually have it pretty good. What’s shitty to you is a dream to someone else! Even my friends who work in the Downtown Eastside do so as a passion project, and THEY HAVE THE CHOICE TO LEAVE.

Stop complaining. Love your job. Difficulty doesn’t suck, it helps you grow.

THE ONLY REASON YOU COMPLAIN ABOUT YOUR JOB AT ALL IS BECAUSE YOU HAVE IT SO GOOD, YOU FEEL THE NEED TO FIND SOMETHING NEGATIVE ABOUT IT.

Prove me wrong. Go ahead and tell us why your job sucks in the comments.

Do The Thing You Hate Most

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Six years ago, I was a little shit. I know I’m still impetuous and entitled now, but you should’ve seen me when I was 22. I was no-fucks-given personified.

My photography business was doing well. I was already shooting for thousands on good days, hundreds on bad days, and I was working part-time on film sets. I knew I had a solid skill set, and I never saw myself settling down for a Normal Job. My rule back then was “I don’t get out of bed for less than $200”. That’s not my motto anymore, but it summed up how I felt at the time. I thought I was too good for regular employment, whatever that was. I was THAT millennial.

Things changed in 2010. I realized my income, as decent as it was, couldn’t keep up with my uncontrollable spending. NBC had just let me go after the Olympics wrapped up, and I found myself without a day job and paying real bills for the first time. I applied at a liquor store because I liked fancy wine, and they hired me. Suddenly, the entitled millennial found himself working for $10/hour when he was used to billing $2,000/day, and to top it all off, it was Real Work. Mopping, taking out the garbage, cleaning windows, stocking shelves, unloading orders… all that shit. I hated it.

Mopping 8,600 square feet every day was what I hated most. I couldn’t see the point in it. Why not mop every SECOND day? Maybe every third day? No one’s actively shitting on the floor, so why did it need to be pristine? I still did it though. Not with enthusiasm, mind you, but I did it. I’m glad I did too. In retrospect, it wasn’t a big deal at all, but it’s paid off in unexpected ways.

After I retired for two years, I wanted to get back into casual liquor store shifts. I missed talking about wine, and I also needed to actually go outside once in a while. I remembered the mopping, and dreaded it. So goddamn stupid, right? I hated mopping. Then, the big day arrived: I had to fucking mop.

I dragged my sorry ass to the back and got the bucket. I poured in the Mr. Clean and whispered obscenities as I did it. I wheeled everything out to the front, and slapped the mop down. I was gonna get this motherfucker clean, but I wasn’t gonna like it. It’d take forever, I thought.

I was done in 15 minutes.

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I’m telling you this story not because I became some sort of Mop Wizard™, but because I truly believe attitude is everything. Simply acclimating yourself to an unpleasant situation somehow makes future unpleasant situations less shitty. My current store is about 3,500 square feet, HALF the area as my old store, and mopping it is a breeze! For one, I’m used to mopping now, and two, it’s 50% less work! Because I was used to how bad something COULD be, an average unpleasant task was now nothing! Experience at something makes future situations easier!

This applies to basically everything. Hate cleaning your apartment? Do it all the fucking time, and cleaning the house you buy 15 years from now will be easier because of it. Hate budgeting? The more you do it, the more likely it is you stop overspending because you’re so aware of it, you don’t want to put in the extra work to add it all up. Pretty much always, the stuff you HATE doing is stuff that NEEDS to be done. This goes back to personal development too. Just the fact you’re doing SOMETHING often means you’re making progress, and progress is happiness!

Whatever you hate doing is what you need to make the most progress on. Willingly allow yourself some difficulty in life. The more difficulty you let in now, the easier the rest of your life becomes. For all you nerds out there, think of life as an RPG. Experience is key.

If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got 3,500 square feet to mop. See you all in 15 minutes.

Successful People Say No

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“Uh, you know I literally charge 10x that, right?”

This was nothing new. A friend of a friend was offering me work, and though I appreciated the gesture, $300 to shoot a wedding just wasn’t in the cards. I politely dismissed the offer, and spent the rest of my day fantasizing about what I could’ve said instead.

“Write another zero on the cheque, and we can talk.”

“I don’t need exposure. I have exposure. That’s how you fucking found me.”

“So, is this a short-term wedding?”

I’m starting to think I might be an asshole.

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I used to take every photo job I could get because I wanted to shoot full-time. What ended up ACTUALLY happening was far from full-time, but photography’s still my main gig. I just spend way less time at it. Why? Well, I say no all the time now. It’s one of the most important mindsets a person can learn.

If I were to write a long-winded CV, my photography experience is wild: I’ve done weddings in Greece and China. I’ve shot more conferences than I can remember, but my favourite one was a medical conference in San Francisco. I’ve worked with world-class athletes, including an Olympian and one of the BC Lions. I’ve done boudoir, concert, event, newborn, sport, editorial, fashion, and maternity photography. I’m used to making $4,000/day. I shot for Royal Bank once in my living room. I have 10 years of experience, and there’s no doubt in my mind I’m worth what I’m paid. I’ve even sold fine art photography. And so on, and so on. You get the idea.

Well, you can’t have all those experiences and NOT learn a few things. One of the things I got hung up on was what felt ethical. I stopped doing fashion photography because shooting young girls in revealing outfits felt predatory to me. I stopped shooting nightclubs because I don’t think drunk douchebaggery should be promoted or glorified in any way. I stopped doing boudoir professionally because – and it pains me to say this – I’m not great at it, and I didn’t feel good charging for it. Doing it for free seemed even weirder and creepier. Then I asked myself, “What was worth my time?” $300 weddings were obviously out, and so were destination jobs. I can see some of you freaking out now, wondering why I’d ever turn down shooting another wedding in Europe. The reason? Time and money! I make more on local weddings, and destination weddings tend to be multiple-day commitments. I dropped editorial photography because getting paid $50/photo was too low, I stopped shooting newborn after getting my set peed on, and I stopped doing concerts because I started to hate crowds. It was just no after no after no. And you know what came out of all that?

I always shoot for thousands a day now, and most importantly, I became fucking happy.

*****

Tim Ferriss is a big advocate for getting the largest possible gains out of the least possible work. There’s no way I can do it justice here, but you should read his “4-Hour” series, and pay special attention to the chapters on Pareto’s Law. I’m not going to spoil it here, but I live by this rule. Pareto’s Law is THE reason I say no to 80% of job opportunities and STILL make enough to live on. If you want to go full Unconbentional, this is required reading. Buy “The 4-Hour Work Week”.

I figure there are two kinds of successful people in the world: “yes people” and “no people”. The ones who say yes all the time get money because there is literally nothing they won’t do. They’ll be a footstool for a day if the money is good enough. The ones who say no are the ones who rule the world. You think Annie Leibovitz jumps on a $300 wedding? FUCK, NO. And it’s because she doesn’t that she’s able to command the rates she does. She’s now worth $20M. What you DON’T do matters more than what you do. Say yes ONLY to what matters.

Don’t EVER feel pressured into doing something you don’t want to do. Don’t EVER allow money to be the sole reason you do something. Don’t EVER compromise your integrity. LEARN TO SAY “NO”.

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For further reading, check out MMM’s article, “Making Space for Badassity”.