“Act as if You will be Fired Tomorrow” – the Impact of Capitalism on Family, Career, Society, and Trust

In the last few months I have been really busy. A lot of my work is mainly stakeholder management and project management. It can be very stressful but at the same time it can be rewarding because you produce something very tangible at the end.

The routine of work sometimes depresses me because it feels meaningless. The financial year is over, so I will need to prepare my tax return soon. This has its upsides because I get to see how much passive income I have received. Last year I made about A$20k in passive income, which works out to around A$1666 per month (US$1200 per month). (According to most digital nomads, passive income of US$1000 per month is enough to retire in Chiang Mai.) However, I don’t feel that US$1k per month is enough. Now that I have reached this milestone, I feel more secure in my job because, if I were fired the next day, I could simply fly to Chiang Mai and retire. Approximately two years into my job, there was a large restructure of the organisation. I saw colleagues being fired and legally abused. This experience taught me at an early age that the job you have (even a government job) is precarious and not secure. It was devastating seeing colleagues with family responsibilities and large mortgages being fired. In my opinion, this experience, coupled with witnessing the divorce of my parents, have shaped me greatly. These were hard moments but I got through these moments stronger, and thankfully none of these incidents affected me. They affected others, but because I witnessed these incidents, I was able to learn from them. The key lesson is the importance of acting as if you will be fired the next day. Whenever I walk into the office, I act as if I will be fired. I do not take my job for granted. I structure my life as if I will be fired and live accordingly. If I am not fired and make money, that’s a bonus. 

Marriage and career are similar in that, if you don’t handle them correctly, you will be in a position of dependency. My mother is a traditional woman. She cooked and cleaned and tended to the household. She was loyal. However, my father cheated on her. Many people ask me what I think about the incident and what I will do, almost expecting me to disown or become angry at my father. But I was too numb to really do anything. When I really think about, even though my father cheated with another woman, I begin to realise that my mother shares some blame because she made herself dependent on my father. She thought she was doing the right thing. Traditionalism seems like a good idea. Most people, when they are unsure of what to do, do what has always been done, which is the allure of conservatism. It provides an easy default answer. The problem is that what has been done in the past does not always work, especially when the world today is very different to the world centuries ago. Today we live in a highly capitalist individualistic society. As Margeret Thatcher said, “There is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women, and there are families.”

quote-there-is-no-such-thing-as-society-there-are-individual-men-and-women-and-there-are-families-margaret-thatcher-29-25-01

However, Ms Thatcher was wrong. The quote should be: “There is no such thing as society or family: there are individual men and women.” Society is just an aggregation of individuals, and so is a family. A family is simply a mini-society. Thatcher was a political conservative and as such felt compelled to accept capitalist ideology without understanding that capitalism and traditional family values are incompatible. Under a capitalist system, it is each man for himself, and family is an expense and liability. This explains why, as countries become more and more economically developed, family structure changes from extended family to nuclear family and now the nuclear family is breaking up into pure individualism. Under pure communism, the community, country, or people is the family. The nation is the family. However, as market capitalism is introduced, this family breaks down gradually. The next phase of capitalism will be technocapitalism, which will make the world far more individualistic. Whenever I see families, the children are on their smartphones, disengaged. In fact, often the parents are on their smartphones as well. Everyone has separate lives. Everyone is an individual, and this individualism is enhanced by technology.

So while family was important in the past, those days are over, and we must adapt to the changing times. The same applies to career. In the past, it was normal to have a job for life, but such an idea goes against free market capitalism because businesses should have the freedom to hire talent that benefits them, and so under pure capitalism you should only be hired insofar as you are profitable and if you grow older and your productivity deteriorates, the ideology of capitalism would state that you should be fired unless your experience and wisdom compensates sufficiently. More rights for businesses to fire workers as well as more private sector and contestability principles being applied to government jobs has made jobs more precarious over time. The idea of an employer being almost like a family is starting to diminish under the weight of individualism.

As such, the best approach is not to be suckered by the delusion of the sacredness of collectivist fantasies such as family, nation, or organisation. You are just an individual. You are expendable. You may be divorced, fired, or betrayed at any moment. You must expect that and you must prepare for it.

The solution is as follows:

  1. live a minimalist lifestyle in opposition to consumerism
  2. minimise all obligations, not just financial obligation (e.g. debt) but also non-financial obligation (e.g. social norms, obligations to family and friends, etc)
  3. diversify your investment portfolio
  4. live off passive income.

Ultimately, it comes down to trust or lack of trust in others. These recommendations address the risk of trusting in others. If you live a minimalist lifestyle, your distrust is in business whom you believe will try to profit off your impulsive desires. If you minimise debt, you do not trust that your the source of income to pay the debt will continue forever. If you keep people at arms distance, you do so because because you recognise that anyone can betray you at any moment for their personal gain. You diversify your investments because you cannot trust any one investment to perform well. You live off passive income because you cannot trust your job to provide for you, and you cannot trust your body to always be young and agile enough to provide value to an employer.

In an individualistic world, the only person you can trust is yourself, so you structure your life so that you never need to trust anyone.

Embracing Laziness

It is easter and I have not been out of the house. It is cold outside, so I just don’t feel like going out. I don’t have many friends, so I am rarely invited places, and even if I am invited, I often reject the offer because I consider it a hassle to go. It is paradoxical because I feel mild loneliness but at the same time I am repulsed by humanity.

When I talk to colleagues at work, they always talk to me about their latest weekend adventures, e.g. skiing or hiking in the mountains, going to music festivals, etc. Now that I am in my early thirties, many people my age are married and have children, so they do family activities, and there some DINKs as well who spend their free time holidaying or playing with their dogs.

Meanwhile, the way I live now in my early thirties earning six figures is no different to the way I lived when I was a university student, that is, with my parents mostly staying at home indulging in electronic entertainment. Now that I am older, I am less ashamed of my lifestyle, and there is a rebelliousness in me now. I want to defend this lifestyle.

Some things have changed. Rather than read books from the library, I read ebooks now. I still watch YouTube, but I prefer higher quality films and shows streamed via Netflix. I am still an avid reader of everything on the internet.

I still travel. About a year ago I travelled by myself to Bali, and I met some girls while travelling and have mostly kept in contact with them. When I travelled to Bali, I was strongly encouraged by my manager to travel because I had too much annual leave accrued. I have heard people telling me it’s illegal for an employer to force employees to take annual leave, but I sometimes don’t mind having my hand forced in certain situations.

Upon reflection, I am quite lost in my life because I don’t really know what to do. My main focus has always been on freedom and autonomy by living off dividends, and when you have the freedom to do what you want, oftentimes you don’t know what to do because nothing seems to provide any significant happiness, and I suspect nothing will. Nevertheless, having the freedom to be able to experiment with different activities is in itself satisfying.

I feel that my career has stagnated. I received a promotion about three or four years ago and since then I have applied for a handful of jobs with more responsibilities, but I haven’t been successful. I will continue to apply for promotions or better jobs, but I see it as just a chore. I feel like I am just going through the motions, and I show up at work because I have nothing else to do in my life. If I stay home, I would just sit in a room all by myself whereas work does give me companionship because I am around people, and I talk to them. I admit that the connections you make with colleagues at work are not as deep as, say, the connections you make with a spouse or family member, but I have learned to appreciate the benefits of superficial relationships now. Greater connectedness to others exposes your vulnerabilities, which invites conflict, and often when others reveal themselves too much, what they expose is quite vulgar. The interactions at work are sanitized by HR guidelines, anti-discrimination legislation, fear of authority, etc, and these forces seem to do a good job at making socializing at work more pleasant. Many people complain about “political correctness,” which to me is roughly defined as “restricting behaviour to minimize offending others.” I personally love political correctness. Why would anyone want to be exposed to an environment in which they are bombarded with people, ideas, conversations, etc that are offensive? You can grow a thick skin, but at the end of the day, everyone is offended by something. Blocking offensive communications is not about being afraid of truth. The truth is that there are many out there who only want to offend others without any regard for truth or logic. Trolls don’t just live on the internet.

I now have a desk with a window view facing the city, so I can see skyscrapers and busy streets below, and often I love staring out the window at people walking on the streets. There is a homeless woman who sits on the street at the bottom of the building opposite mine, and I see her all the time, and I often think about her life and how she ended up where she is. We all live together in this city but we all go through different paths in life.

Because work for me has become very comforting and pleasant, I spend a lot of time at work. Often I am not working hard enough during the day, so I need to stay back to catch up.

I will continue to live off dividends. I believe it is the best way to live. Everything I earn from work, I invest, and I live off my investments. This ensures that I am not dependent on work. Even if I am fired, it does not matter because I already live off my investments. I can work how I want to work. If I don’t like where I work, I simply move, and I am very happy to hire career consultants or other professionals to help with the move. If all efforts to move to a new job don’t work, it doesn’t even matter. I can travel to Thailand and start my own online business or I can freelance. I have layers upon layers of backup plans for everything.

I will always work because I love making money and growing my investments. My investment portfolio is like a child to me. I love watching it grow. I love protecting it by diversifying government bonds or gold mining ETFs into it. It is a beautiful child (in my opinion), and unlike a human child, my investment portfolio pays me money in the form of dividends. I love to work, but I don’t like to work hard. I hate pushy people and unrealistic deadlines. I want to enjoy my work. I want to work with people I get along with. I don’t think the job I do right now is the perfect job for me, but I am hopeful I will land in that perfect job one day.

Comparing Yourself to Others at Work

The last week at work has been much busier than normal. It is getting tough. There is a new member of our team, and she is such a sweet girl. She’s probably 25 now. She can be quite a distraction because she and I chat quite a bit, but I enjoy it. She and I are equal in pay now, but she is seven years younger. This made me wonder about myself. I did quite well in high school and university, but in my seven or so years of work I’ve only been promoted once, which is less than average. This girl started working at the same time I did, and she studied while working whereas I didn’t work (substantially) while I studied. The way I see it, university is an investment and for some it pays off and for others it doesn’t. 

When I joined my new team area four years ago, I worked with completely different people. The people I work with now are different to the people I started working with four years ago. Basically what is happening is that I am staying where I am while people all around me are changing, which I suppose is good because it allows me to work with new people, and I love all these new people. They are better people to get along with compared to the people I used to work with, but at the same time I feel like other people are moving ahead and I am falling behind.

I shouldn’t fall into the trap of comparing myself to others. Even if I go get a promotion soon, my pay will be low compared to some people who have climbed the corporate ladder much faster than I have, and even they would be inferior compared to the billionaires of the world, so it’s important to not compare yourself to others but focus on yourself and improving yourself and being happy with what you have. I also believe that it is not so much what you earn that matters but the difference between what you earn and what you spend. Someone earning $1 million per year but has $2 million in mortgage payments, bills, alimony, and other necessary expenses will be unhappy compared to someone who earns $100k but happily lives off $10k per year.

Rather than compare myself to others, I should just keep working. I remember a quote from Ted Turner: “Early to bed, early to rise, work your butt off, and advertise.” I think the advertise part is important because I need to get into the habit of advertising myself to others, lift my profile, and apply for jobs with more responsibility.

My Strange Relationship with God

Last night was horrible. I woke up in the middle of the night and suddenly felt pain in my tummy. This pain kept me up for about an hour. During this time, as I lied in bed, I kept thinking about what could possibly be wrong with me. I have been coughing like a madman, so I’ve been taking codeine linctus. Of course, too much codeine can cause liver damage, so perhaps this is the problem. Another possibility was an overdose of protein powder, which does damage to your liver and kidneys. I normally drink a scoop of protein powder just before I go to bed.

Regardless of what caused this pain, I suddenly felt vulnerable. This was how easy it was to be struck down with a serious illness. What will happen to me? Will I be on dialysis for the rest of my life? Is this punishment from God because I have become too proud and arrogant? Is this God’s reminder to me that He is in control of my life? My mind was then filled with thoughts of dying alone. I was actually afraid of dying alone, and I suddenly thought about the girl I’m currently dating, and I felt a desire to be with her for the rest of my life. At least then I’d have someone to look after me if I ever had a debilitating kidney or liver problem. I’d have someone to caress me while I was sick. I didn’t want to be discarded in the corner of some hospital all by myself.

Feeling alone in the dark, by myself, with my thoughts, and with incredible pain in my belly, I actually started praying, as I always do when disaster strikes. It seems to be a predictable pattern: disaster strikes, I turn to God, He saves me, and I turn away again.

And just like clockwork, when I woke up today, the pain was gone. It was a Monday, and I dragged myself to work. Having had insufficient sleep, I trudged through the day feeling depressed, wishing five o’clock would finally arrive. I deliberately chose to do easy work because I was drowsy. I made a few mistakes at work. I don’t think my manager is happy with me. There are times when he has confidence in me because I do work hard and try my best, but a good reputation can be destroyed so easily. It is embarrassing. Sometimes I feel like jumping off a cliff because I am so ashamed of my incompetence. I honestly don’t know how I even got my job or how I even keep it. I sometimes get the feeling that it was a mistake or a fluke that I am even employed. But maybe not. I do remember, during the last year of university, I was job hunting, and I hated it. I was stressed out with interviews and writing resumes. I prayed to God. I asked Him to give me the job of my dreams and if He did, I promised I would sponsor a child on World Vision. I got that dream job and hence five years later I still sponsor a child on World Vision.

I suppose this is why I am so grateful for being employed, why I try to work so hard, and why I save money so aggressively. I feel as if I don’t deserve anything. I don’t deserve any of the money I earn. I don’t deserve the health I have. I don’t deserve the job I have. That is why I must constantly go to the gym, why I must eat healthy, why I must save up as much as possible. I know that, just as God can give me everything I have, He can take it all back with the flick of a finger. And I need to be prepared for that. This is why I am always on edge, why I stay away from debt, stay away from a large mortgage, and refrain from committing to a long-term relationship or to getting married. This is why I am a commitment phobe. How can you commit to anything if the future is so uncertain?

I don’t even consider myself religious. I don’t tell people I am religious, and yet God is so real to me when there is trouble in my life.

Career Planning is Like Walking Through a Foggy Maze

I’d like to talk about career planning. Many times I think back at my career development and think about lessons learned. What I have discovered is that career planning just doesn’t seem to work.

Many people pressure you into defining what you want to do before you go out and do it. The problem with this idea is that it assumes that it is easy to determine what it is that will fulfil you. It is not. Suppose you think you like accounting. There are so many branches of accounting that you can’t possibly know if the branch you eventually fall into will satisfy you. Furthermore, there is so much more that makes up career satisfaction than a broad academic category like “accounting.” You may love cost accounting but when you end up in a job where you hate the people you work with or you hate your manager, you will not be happy.

To complicate matters, although you may think you like accounting, there is no guarantee you will even end up in an accounting role. You may study accounting and specialize in, say, accounting standards, but once you enter the job market you may find that there are no jobs available that suit your stated passion, and you have to settle for something else.

Career planning is like walking through a maze. You know you need to reach your destination and you may know the general direction of your destination, but there are multiple walls or obstacles around you, so much so that long-term planning seems pointless.

So what are we to do when we walk through the foggy maze that is our career? When you walk through a maze, you focus on what is ahead. You focus on the walls around you. You focus on what paths that are available for you right then and there. If you make a wrong turn and reach a dead end, you walk back and learn your lesson.

The same applies with your career. You follow the paths available to you. If the only jobs available are general finance graduate jobs rather than the accounting standards job you were hoping for, it may be better to settle with what is available. Even if you get something you think you want, for whatever reason, you may end up not like it. Even if you end up liking something, circumstances change. Your manager can change. There might be a restructure. The world is not fixed, and planning too much leaves you inflexible and vulnerable to a rapidly changing world.

We need to be flexible and adaptable. We need to be prepared to be the best we can be regardless of the situation presented to us.