Okay a confession, I was going to write a second post about the UK property market, and I am still going to do that. The thing is I started writing about that but then I went off on a complete tangent, and, well, this is that tangent. For some reason I’m in a philosophical mood.
I moved to Northampton to start a job at a large financial company in 2012. I actually began as a contractor and was made permanent after 5 months. In September 2012 I was asked whether I wanted to do a secondment in Milan in Italy for a few months. The conversation was a little like this:
Manager: Hi W, now it hasn’t been officially signed off yet, but the Italian branch of our company need someone to go and help out in their marketing analytics department and we thought you’d be a good fit, what do you think?
Me: (Trying not to appear too excited) Okay yeah I mean, that sounds good, I would be interested in that. For sure. Definitely. When are they thinking?
Manager: Their current analytics guy is leaving the business in a couple of weeks, so you’d need to go out there within the next week or so to get as much of a handover as possible.
Me: Right, right okay. That’s quite soon.
Manager: I’m aware it’s a difficult decision but I do need to know reasonably soon – maybe think it over this evening and let me know tomorrow morning?
Me: Ha! I mean, er yes, sure I’ll let you know tomorrow.
Of course I was secretly incredibly excited, there was never any doubt in my mind about whether to go. And before I knew it I was flying out to Italy to begin my secondment.
Milan is one of those cities that divides opinion – some say there is too much traffic, or that it’s too consumerist for their liking, especially compared to the rest of Italy. Personally I thought it was beautiful – the architecture, the history, the culture, the food, the people. I absolutely loved it. Living there, and working with people who knew the city made a big difference – I was able to eat at some lovely restaurants, I was able to play and talk about football with people who are possibly even more mad about it than we are, I was able to learn about what makes Italian people tick. I drank some amazing coffee. I had possibly the best pizza I’ve ever eaten.
Having said that, I had a lot of free time while I was there. I was in serviced accommodation so I didn’t need to tidy up or anything like that. I only really knew the people I worked with so most evenings I didn’t really know what to do with myself. Work was too busy to really take any holidays and I stayed for four months in the end, only coming home for my sister’s wedding and for Christmas. I think I mentioned in an earlier post, I watched a lot of Star Trek and Breaking Bad. I took some lessons in Italian and went out with my classmates a bit. I also read a lot, and I read a lot in particular about financial independence.
It’s interesting, when you have a lot of time to think about things you really start to reflect on what’s important in life. You start to think, what is my plan? What do I want to achieve in life? What is important to me?
Mindlessness and Modern Life
My experience of Milan was not too dissimilar to the time when I was younger that I travelled around the US and Canada for three months. It was a fantastic experience. But what they don’t tell you about travelling is how much free time you have – how much time you spend sat around waiting for a bus or a train, or sitting on said bus or train waiting to arrive at your next destination. But that is not a bad thing. Having extra time means you have time to think, to consider things in depth, your emotions and future desires.
(I suppose kids these days might watch something on their tablet or read something on their kindle whilst they travel about. These options weren’t really available to me when I was 18! I did read books, but every book had to be carried round so it was a limited pastime.)
In our ordinary lives we fill up our time, with television, exercise, cooking, cleaning, playing games or sport, socialising with friends – well these are the things I do anyway. I suppose if you have a family you have even less free time. And when you get a holiday you try to cram in as much as possible – sight-seeing, food, activities perhaps and so on. The thing is you can go months without really having a spare moment and suddenly another year has gone by and you wonder, well, where did that go? It becomes almost mindless.
How often do we really spend the time to sit back and think about what we’re actually doing? I would guess it happens less than we’d like to think. I find the only times when I can really have the time to think is when I’ve had a break from work longer than about ten days – that’s when my creative side starts to really come out and I start writing, or drawing, making things, and just generally thinking about stuff.
My Deliberate Life
Earlier this year one my best friends from university died from cancer. He was the same age as me. He was a reckless alcoholic and his favourite phrase when drinking was “Let’s trash the place!” (I should be clear, we never actually trashed any places, it was more a state of mind). He was impulsive, a prankster, and something of a womaniser. He was also a gifted physicist, a multi-linguist, and capable of the most sublime gestures of romance towards girls I’ve seen before or since.
It’s strange, I wasn’t too upset at his funeral because I knew he’d lived his life to the full and he had achieved so much. At the service his academic supervisor talked about his work on radioactive waves and how he was using physics to identify different types of cancer quicker. I sat there in awe. After the service I reminisced with my old university friends about all of the stupid things we did at university, and we laughed a lot. I’m pretty sure my friend would have been happy to see us laughing.
Where am I going with this? I suppose what I’d like to say is that when I’m on my death bed, looking back on my life, I can be like my friend and say, yes I did the things I wanted to do. I didn’t just accumulate money for the sake of accumulating it. I didn’t waste away my life on workplace targets. I didn’t spend all my time watching television. I want to be able to say that I contributed. That I made something. That I loved and lost.
I suppose this is why my blog is called ‘My Deliberate Life’. I don’t want to just live mindlessly one year to the next, following the herd, doing what society tells me I’m supposed to do. There has to be an aim, an overarching plan. I want to contribute in some way, in some small way make the world a better place. And I want to be happy – deeply happy not just superficially or temporarily happy.
Currently it seems like financial independence could be one of the ways to help me achieve that. If I’m able to stop working by the time I’m 40 then I can start a new chapter in my life free of financial worries. But that’s a long time to wait! I don’t want my life to be on hold for 8 years until I achieve financial independence – that seems an impoverished existence and probably unrealistic.
Over the last 4 years I’ve completed an A-Level in Creative Writing, and I’ve just finished a Diploma in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. I’ve written a lot of stories in that time and have ideas for more. My current plan is to take a little time off work next year – I’ve agreed with my manager that I can take January and February off – half of that is paid holiday leave, the other half is unpaid.
The idea is that I’ll do a little travelling – perhaps a month’s worth – whilst writing. I guess the hope is I’ll receive extra inspiration along the way. And then I’ll have a month to write everything up. I plan to write two stories, each about 100,000 words in length – a standard novel’s length. And then I will start to write to agents and publishers I guess.
I have two particular stories in mind, one of which is already reasonably developed and has over 20,000 words. But both still need a lot more work. I also realise I need to make a good start on both of these before my extended leave starts. I received good marks for the extracts I submitted in my studies so I’m reasonably hopeful I’m not just walking up a blind alley. But even if I were, I enjoy the process of writing and I’ve made some good friends along the way so I don’ t think it would have been a complete waste of time.
It’s a philosophy, stupid!
One of the reasons I like Mr Money Mustache is that his blog is not just about tips to save money, or investing advice, or humour – although it is all of those things. The reason I like his blog is because it’s a philosophy. He tells us not to buy that big pickup truck with all the extra features (which is such an American thing to buy by the way) not just because it’s a waste of money, but because ultimately it will have little effect on our happiness and actually will probably negatively affect our happiness (in the form of debt, longer work life etc). He encourages us, in his own humorous way, to think about what’s truly important – family and health and so on, and he shows us why actually those things don’t need to cost the earth.
These are not new ideas, though we do need reminding of them every now and then. There is an Ancient Greek philosopher called Epicurus who spent much time considering the subject of happiness and concluded that (and I’m shamelessly quoting from Wikipedia here) the purpose of philosophy is to attain a happy, tranquil life, characterized by ataraxia – peace and freedom from fear – and aponia the absence of pain – and by living a self-sufficient life surround by friends.
And because we’re talking about philosophy we don’t have to have a rigid one-size-fits-all outcome. We all just have to spend some time and think for ourselves. Some people reach that big financial independence milestone and decide, actually, they would like to continue working. It gives them structure, a social life, a purpose. And that’s fine – the important thing is that they’ve truly considered why they’re doing what they’re doing, and they are continuing to work out of their own free will, not because they have to.
Who knows, when I reach financial independence maybe I’ll decide, actually I want to stay working? Maybe all this pontificating about meaning and purpose is just hot air, maybe I’ll find out I’m not as creative or thoughtful as I thought I was? It’s certainly possible. But at least I won’t have lost anything along the way and I won’t look back and regret the things I didn’t do. A wise man once said, ‘it is better to aim high and miss, than to aim low and hit’. Now there’s a motto to live by.
Anyway, I was supposed to be talking about houses. Where was I?
As always, thanks for reading,