I sat down to write a year-end post. For bloggers this is largely a masturbatory exercise. An indulgence performed alone for their own self-gratification, as unlike any other week of the year, their audiences are away living life and enjoying the company of loved ones.
These posts tend to be formulaic. Reflections on milestones achieved. Excuses found for those that were not. “Mistakes were made”, “lessons were learned”, “what gets measured gets managed”. Then immediately forgetting all those lessons to list out unlikely new year’s resolutions. Eat less. Exercise more. Fix finances. Stop making excuses.
But today the words would not come.
I was thoroughly jetlagged, having completed a 30+ hour travel odyssey to return to London. 21 hours in economy class, developing patience and humility. Multiple layovers, totalling 11 hours spent idly people-watching.
Wondering who lives on the wild side, consuming sushi or oysters moments before a long-haul flight?
Guessing which bored captive consumers would succumb to buying overpriced tat sold in airports?
Marvelling at the lack of systemic thinking that leads to the purchase of duty-free liquor or perfume at one airport, only to predictably having it confiscated for violating the 100ml of liquids carry-on rule at the next security theatre checkpoint.
Puzzling at the sheer arbitrary randomness of those security arrangements.
Passports checked multiple times. Or not at all.
Bags emptied of liquids and screens. Pockets emptied of everything. Or not at all.
Coats off. Jumpers off. Belts off. Shoes off. Or not at all.
The prettier the passenger, the more frequent and thorough the searches. Perky DDs attracting more unwanted official attention than the dreaded boarding pass marked “SSSS”. Travelling while being an old white guy for the win.
The flights themselves were mostly uneventful.
Seatback screens promising on-demand entertainment. Once a technological marvel. Today complained about for offering a poorer range than Netflix or Spotify.
Onboard wifi, making consumers contactable anywhere around the globe. A more recent innovation. Today complained about for charging a premium price for a suboptimal service. Starlink to the rescue? I suspect it won’t be long.
In-seat charging points for all those who opted to Bring-Your-Own-Device. An unscientific visual survey conducted while roaming the plane suggested almost half of the passengers opted to do this. Hinting at a future where onboard entertainment becomes a premium opt-in.
Yet still the passengers complained. Hedonic adaptation never sleeps.
Bring-Your-Own-Device was a recurring theme throughout my vacation. Two weeks abroad and I hadn’t used cash once. All purchases made using fee-free credit cards offering wholesale FX rates. Mostly via ApplePay, using my UK mobile phone. Expensive money changers and cheap domestic SIM cards experiencing the same fate as traveller’s cheques: available, but no longer required.
Reducing complexity. Removing friction. Lower fees. Fewer moving parts. Welcome changes all.
An unwelcome change since I had last visited was the widespread adoption of payment surcharges. Once upon a time, there had been pricing certainty. Transaction costs came out of the merchant’s profit margin, already baked into advertised prices. Today, merchants add on those costs at the point of sale in the form of a surcharge. Debit cards incurred 0.5%. Credit cards up to 1.5%. In theory, the fees could be avoided by paying cash. In reality, since the pandemic, many stores don’t accept cash.
More transparent? Perhaps.
Creating complexity and introducing friction? Certainly.
Did the advertised prices drop as the fees moved from baked-in to added-on? Of course not!
I had thoroughly enjoyed the break. Winter sun. Christmas barbecues. A glorious assortment of summer, sea, and road trips. A reset of perspective and priorities. The rare chance to chat with people who knew me before we all became the role-playing, mask-wearing adults we all are now.
One old friend, a term I can now use both figuratively and literally, runs a successful freight business. Happily spending his days driving across the country, shuttling goods from point A to point B. As much or as little work as he desires. Revelling in the stress-free nature of his existence, just him and the road. Clearing £10,000 a month after tax.
He had chosen a different path, the bumpy ride of entrepreneurship. Leasing rigs while I had been studying for university exams. Scraping together every spare cent to buy a heavily mortgaged worst house in the best suburb while I had been backpacking around Europe.
Today he owns a small fleet of rigs and trailers. Employing half a dozen drivers. He is mortgage-free, still the proud owner of that worst house in a suburb where land values are worth more than most people have in their pension pots at retirement. Fending off unsolicited offers from property developers every week.
He offered a refreshing change in perspective from the C-suite bullies, FinTech shysters, and ego driven Masters of the Universe from the City I encounter on a daily basis.
Talking about goals and outcomes. Not in the ritualistic annual frenzy of budgeting and planning that typifies the approach of most corporates and more than a few bloggers. Rather in the refreshingly simple approach of a man with little education, but a lot of hard-won common sense.
His approach had been to work out what he wanted, in a tangible form. Things that could be bought or made, not woo-woo hopes and dreams. The former is the enabler. The latter is the outcome.
In his case, that had been a short targeted list.
- He wanted to live in a nice neighbourhood. Have his kids grow up surrounded by smart successful people. To be free of financial pressures by owning his home outright, before the inescapable realities of age and automation meant he could no longer earn a living.
- He wanted to be his own boss. Set his own hours. Control his own destiny. Sleep-in or work. Be present for those irreplaceable family moments, school plays and sports days and so on.
- He wanted to have the free cash flow necessary to be able to say yes to his children while they were children. Supporting their hopes and dreams. Have them believe anything was possible. Even if those things were expensive, like horse riding or go-karting.
Simple goals. Clear goals. Reasonable goals.
Next he asked himself what he needed to do now, today, to make each one a reality?
Decomposing the big picture down into a tangible sequence of ToDo list tasks. Little steps in the journey, that when successfully completed would slowly but surely make those desired outcomes a reality.
His ToDo list informs how he prioritised his time each day. If he wasn’t consciously taking the day off, what could he tangibly be doing to step closer to making those dreams a reality? No need to hustle or work until he dropped, just continue taking simple methodical steps in the right direction. This helped avoid apathy and time lost drifting, he didn’t need to think or decide, just follow the next step he had mapped out.
Planting the seeds for money trees now, so that by the time they were required in 5 or 10 or 50 years’ time they would have had sufficient time to compound and grow. Investing time with his loved ones while they were young, so that they would still want to spend time with him when he was old. Somebody they knew and liked, rather than a grumpy stranger who squandered their days battling goblins and trolls in a grim sounding land called “the office“.
He had no need for annual planning theatre or new year’s resolutions.
His ToDo list didn’t contain unactionable items like “read 26 books this year” or “earn £5,000 a month in passive income”.
Instead, it had items like “read 50 pages today” and “invest surplus cash on Friday”.
The thing I was most impressed by was his ability to link micro-level daily tasks back to the macro-level outcomes he desired.
Cognisant of why each one mattered, and how it helped.
Concurrently thinking at both the big picture strategy level and also down in the detail, ensuring focused attention and not wasted activity.
That is a superpower which few people in the corporate world possess. They could learn a thing or two from an old truck driver.
Along the way, he had developed a hobby as a nature photographer, specialising in landscapes, sunrises, and sunsets. A tangible activity he could explore and indulge while on the road. Helping to break up the monotony of a 12-hour drive across a desert or along a coastal highway.
He says he will publish a coffee table book containing his best work when he retires. A man needs to dream, to have something to focus on once his earlier hopes have been attained.
His ToDo list item? “Take 10 interesting photos during rest breaks today”.
I have little doubt we will see his work in bookstores one Christmas in just a few short years’ time!