“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.

Quit Your Job and Go to Chiang Mai?

I love YouTube. In fact, if you still watch normal TV, I highly recommend you buy a Google Chromecast, attach it to your TV, and watch YouTube instead. I watch about two to three hours of YouTube per day while I eat dinner.

If you spend a significant amount of time watching YouTube videos about veganism, entrepreneurship, minimalism, and digital nomadism (as I do nowadays), a recurring theme is that of quitting your job to work on your online business. Most likely the recommendation is that you move to a place with a low cost of living, such as Chiang Mai, the digital nomad capital of the world.

I have recently been reading The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, which is described by many as the bible of digital nomadism. This book gets mentioned frequently by digital nomads. This book seems to strongly recommend to its readers that if you don’t love your job, you must move. Two other digital nomad books I’ve read, Johnny FD’s 12 Weeks and Thailand and Life Changes Quick, seem to make similar recommendations. If you hate your 9 to 5 job, then just quit otherwise you are wasting your time, and you’re watching your employer’s time.

Of course, the advice to simply quit initially didn’t resonate with me. Everyone is different. I haven’t finished reading The Four Hour Work Week, but it’s clear based on reading the first few chapters so far that Tim Ferriss is not your average person. He has been starting companies ever since he was young and was likely already well off.

I have read all of Johnny FD’s books via Amazon Kindle, and his situation is slightly different to that of Tim Ferriss. Although Johnny FD makes close to $30k per month now, he spent about four to five years in Thailand not sure what he would do with his life. He dabbled with writing ebooks, Thai boxing, and being a divemaster. He finally started making serious money when he discovered dropshipping.

Everyone is different. If you are young and single, with no mortgage, car loan, or children, it is less risky to simply move to Thailand. If you are renting in a developed country like Australia, you will likely save money on rent. For example, US$1500 per month in Melbourne, Australia would only get you an average place to rent, but in Chiang Mai you can easily rent a place for US$500 or less. Even if you have a mortgage, you can rent your house out and use the rental income from your house to live in Chiang Mai.

As for me, I have not quit my 9 to 5 job yet, which is unfortunate because I hate my job! There are days when I feel like quitting on the spot, but my mood seems to go up and down. I remember I was very unhappy with my job about a month ago, but more recently I feel better. There are days when I wake up and dread going to work, and there are days when it’s not so bad.

My biggest fear with quitting and going to Chiang Mai is that I run out of savings, which means I’ll need to return to Australia and start applying for a job again, which is not ideal. Not only would I not be living my dream as a digital nomad, but it’s also quite shameful chasing your dream in a faraway land only to return defeated.

My advice is to follow Sean Lee’s advice (below), which is to only quit your job and go to Chiang Mai if you have set up at least one online business that is producing money.


I live off dividends

I would even go further. Sean mentioned in his video that you can live like a king in Chiang Mai for US$1000 per month, so you should not only aim to create income from an online business but you should also aim to invest in ETFs and produce US$1000 per month in dividends. This ensures that if your online businesses fails for whatever reason, you can draw upon your dividends, live in Thailand, and continue to keep building your online business. Your dividends should be your safety net.

Personally, I already make more than US$1000 per month in dividends, but I have no online business, and I do admit it’s difficult to get an online business going because there are so many ideas that it’s easy to get lost, but I believe that the first step is to simply devote time to trying different ideas out. If it fails, move on to something else. I am busy during weekdays with my 9 to 5 job, but on weekends I have spare time. I have discovered that I waste far too much time on weekends.

Don’t talk to your coworkers or your family about your digital nomad dreams!

Among just about everyone in a 9 to 5 job, socializing, travelling, and going out are seen as status symbols. On Fridays, everyone asks about what’s up for the weekend, and if you tell them you will stay at home and read The Four Hour Work Week, they think you’re a loser. They ask, “Don’t you have any friends? Don’t you have a girlfriend?” They may even attack you for reading a self-help book. One coworker said to me, “How can you work four hours a week? That cannot possibly work because you’re still working here!”

My advice to 9 to 5 worker is to not talk about your dream at all, and if people ask you what you’ve been doing over the weekend, you don’t need to lie, but you don’t need to be specific either. You can speak generally and tell them you are “relaxing at home, browsing the internet.”

The reality is that there is a crab mentality among most office workers. The office is filled with negative people who are fearful of being fired from their jobs. They are also envious (and fearful) of those higher in the hierarchy.

Most people look down upon status symbols like Ferraris, Rolexes, and Hugo Boss clothing, but personally I find these products cheap, especially since you rarely buy them. The worse status symbols are those accepted by society, e.g. going out with friends, taking a girl to a fancy restaurant, marriage ceremonies, having children, and getting a mortgage. Before you scoff at me calling these “virtuous” expenses status symbols, you must admit to yourself that when people talk about these virtuous expenses at the office kitchen, people are showing off. You can tell when someone is showing off. There is a snobbery vibe they give off. I have felt it, and I’m sure you have as well.

Conclusion

As mentioned above, I am not an expert in online business, but currently I am experimenting on or thinking of the following: blogging, eBay arbitrage, online stores, and buying/selling websites (e.g. using Flippa or Empire Flippers).

What is great about living off dividends is that you can live off dividends forever, which means you have a lifetime to devote to making your dreams a reality. If you simply saved up, quit your job, and moved to Chiang Mai, you’d run out of savings and you’d need to return.