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{ in·deed·a·bly }

adverb: to competently express interest, surprise, disbelief, or contempt

Spending

Have you ever had a really bad day?

Not an everyday garden variety bad day. Where you lock your keys inside the house, as you emerge into icy cold rain that is blowing in sideways. Your umbrella turns inside-out, then makes a bid for freedom cartwheeling away down the street. Your best business suit looks like you have showered in it, after an evil minicab driver took great delight in aiming at a giant puddle to soak you. Sodden and forlorn, you wait in vain at a bus stop for public transport that never arrives to carry you to that career-defining make or break job interview.

No, we’ve all had that kind of bad day.

I’m talking about an Olympic standard bad day. A day where you snap, and just can’t take it anymore.

Not a humdrum minor meltdown, expressed via a torrent of creative expletives while stomping around and feeling sorry for yourself. What they call the “red mist” in Formula 1, or a “brain snap” in rugby league. A five-alarm toddler tantrum writ large.

No, I’m talking about the kind of day that starts out badly and only gets worse. Finishing with the protagonist metaphorically (possibly literally) burning everything to the ground and fleeing the country.

Next stop: anywhere but here.

A former colleague had one of those days earlier this year.

For months they had endured bullying in the workplace. Working for a boss who claimed all the credit when things went right, but was invisible when things went wrong. They had found themselves frozen out. Removed from the loop. Excluded from decision making. Not invited to meetings. A clear pattern of actions collectively designed to deny their ability to get the job done. To drive them out.

An inconvenient truth it is often quicker, easier, and cheaper to break someone than it is to put them on performance management or make them redundant.

It isn’t nice.

It isn’t illegal (probably).

It isn’t uncommon.

After one bruising encounter too many in the corporate Game of Thrones, my former colleague stormed out of the building and straight into the office of a friendly neighbourhood employment lawyer.

They didn’t seek a get rich quick payday via a compensation claim.

They weren’t looking for an apology or an explanation for the unreasonable behaviours.

They just wanted it to end. For the world to stop so they could get off.

How could they escape from their many month-long notice period?

How could they make the next time they returned to the evil empire be the last time?

The lawyer asked some probing questions. Attempting to discern the real from the imagined.

In a world populated by “special snowflakes”, the lawyer encountered an endless procession of self-entitled narcissists who felt the world owed them success by right. Boastfully claiming credit for their wins. Forever blaming others when they felt they weren’t receiving their due. Immediately. And in full.

My bonus.

My payrise.

My promotion.

My destiny.

Occasionally however, the lawyer encountered a prospective client who really had been wronged. Those were the cases they had built their career around helping.

The lawyer sought to separate paranoia and observer bias from legally actionable wrongdoing. To distinguish conjecture and hearsay from what could be evidenced and proven.

In less than 10 minutes of listening, the lawyer had identified a clear pattern of intimidating behaviour and bullying. Yet one that would be impossible to prove in court.

They asked my former colleague one simple question: “how did you wish to spend the next 3, 6, 12 months of your life?

Continuing to work?

On gardening leave?

In court?

Or free from their current workplace entirely? Possibly with a payout. Probably without a reference.

At that point, my former colleague burst into tears.

They were done. An irrecoverable situation. Bridges burned. Working relationships untenable and unsalvageable.

When they expressed a desire to leave immediately and never look back, the lawyer advised going to the HR department. Request a without prejudice conversation. Play the discrimination card. Seek an immediate release from their employment contract, with the notice period paid out as a redundancy to minimise the tax bill.

The grounds for the discrimination claim didn’t matter, there were almost too many to choose from. My former colleague was female. Aged over 50. An immigrant. Sporting dark skin and an exotic name. The only member of the leadership team who ticked any of those boxes.

The fact that the bullying campaign had nothing to do with any of those things didn’t matter.

She had spent a career swimming against the tide. Battling discrimination and bias that made landing every job or promotion that little bit harder. Never one of “us”. Always one of “them”.

For the first time, those things that set her apart could be used to her advantage.

Merely raising the question of discrimination would threaten the inclusive corporate image that the firm spent a fortune projecting. When compared to the costs of a public relations nightmare, paying out a notice period would be the expedient choice.

The lawyer cautioned that playing the card wouldn’t be without consequences. Professional reputation tarnished, for leaving under a cloud. Hiring prospects damaged, as the inevitable whispers campaign would make it unlikely my former colleague would find work in that incestuous lucrative industry again.

In that moment, on that bad day, she simply didn’t care.

She just wanted out. She had spent enough of her life doing things that made her miserable.

Spending time

Earlier this week, I read the obituary of one of my imaginary friends from the internet. A friendly personality, whom I never got to meet in person. Always generous with their time, support, and praise. Just five months short months after retiring to live their dream lifestyle, they had succumbed to cancer.

A tragedy on many levels.

The obituary was part biography, part eulogy. Attempting to distil a person’s essence and a lifetime worth of achievements into 500 words. Crafting a plausible narrative, weaving together all the randomness and “life happens” events into a comforting formulaic fairy tale of a life well lived.

Only possible in hindsight. In no way reflecting how the adventure actually felt while being experienced by the decedent.

One line stuck with me. The deceased had “spent their life” helping others.

Mercenary.

Transactional.

A medium of exchange denominated in that most precious of commodities: Time.

With an account balance that is only knowable after the fact. Constantly drawn down until exhausted.

The obituary proclaimed the deceased’s life had been spent doing something they found rewarding.

Which was comforting, yet it had been spent just the same. No refunds. No returns.

Wisdom of youth

Later that day, I bumped into my former colleague at the local shopping centre. Still unemployed, but much happier within herself. Richer in life, though poorer of pocket.

She recounted the tense final conversation with HR. Being unceremoniously escorted from the premises by security. Work issue laptop, phone, and security pass confiscated. Replaced by an onerous confidentiality agreement and a redundancy payment in lieu of notice.

No opportunity to say goodbye to her staff. Nor colleagues with whom she remained on good terms.

She confessed that the consequences of her exit had been more far-reaching than she had anticipated.

Health and life insurances cancelled.

Mortgage offer rescinded.

House purchase falling through.

A fruitless job hunt, despite daily media reports decrying a nationwide employee shortage and resultant wage inflation as employers competed over the shallow pool of domestic talent currently available. She described feeling as though she were radioactive. Former colleagues and people she had once thought were friends, all actively distancing themselves for fear of being contaminated by association.

Yet despite the career setback and financial dislocation, she described herself as being content with how she was now investing her time.

A marked change in outlook, where previously she had felt like her time was being spent unwisely.

Another person who was applying the same concepts to time that we do with money.

Save it? Not doing tasks we don’t enjoy. Outsourcing those that others can do more efficiently.

Spend it? A scarce precious commodity, that once used is gone forever. Commuting. Queueing. Devoting it to low-value activities that bring little joy or satisfaction.

Invest it? Using time productively. On activities that generate value, financial or otherwise. Learning. Playing with loved ones. Doing things we derive pleasure from.

My visit to the shopping centre concluded in the toy shop.

A smiling shop assistant announced: “That will be £29.99, please”.

My younger son turned his death stare up to 11 and let me have it. I had declined to pay for his latest coveted treasure. If he wanted it, he would have to either pay for it himself or wait until Christmas.

The boy responded by mimicking the shop assistant’s upbeat sing-song tone of voice. “That is 15 weeks of my life, thank you”.

She raised a questioning eyebrow at me, as a torrent of hard-earned gold coins cascaded from his pockets. The shop assistant expertly corralled the scattering coins, no stranger to unhappy customers emptying their piggy bank onto her countertop.

The boy grabbed his latest acquisition off the counter and stomped towards the exit. I shot her an apologetic shrug as I trailed in his wake. His attitude could use some work, but he was developing an excellent grasp of the concept that wealth is measured in time.

A valuable lesson that few adults ever learn.

Spending” their lives, without consciously understanding that is what they are doing.


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11 Comments

  1. David Andrews 15 November 2021

    “Wealth is measured in time.”

    My IT job requires me to work additional hours on a regular basis which has been known to cause domestic frictions. I endeavour to plan ahead and make sure “I’m in credit” on the domestic rota by taking an additional turn in taking our son to his out of school activities or getting up at an ungodly time on the weekend when the little monster stirs and advises he’s starving for breakfast. This allows my partner to have some additional personal time.

    We try to be conscious consumers and the boy knows that we mostly get paid for trading time for money. He also knows there are sometime ways to work smarter rather than harder. He took a great interest in the ups and down of the negotiations with my tenant regarding my rental property, he’s also invested in the stock market.

    Getting to a point where your investments replace a significant proportion of your income requirements should allow a household to have some additional choices. I’m sure that’s the goal for most FI seekers.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 15 November 2021 — Post author

      Thanks David.

      Outside hours work can be quite the juggling act when attempting to combine it with familial harmony. I struggled with it back in the day, it was only in hindsight that I realised that the whole concept of having to buy goodwill, and being punished for having to work afterwards, was broken. The problem wasn’t the work (though that too was a problem), it was the premises and ground rules upon which the relationship had become based.

      • Chris 16 November 2021

        Feel free to decline to comment further on a personal matter, but I’m interested if you could expand upon this statement “The problem wasn’t the work (though that too was a problem), it was the premises and ground rules upon which the relationship had become based”. It’s something many of us struggle with – the balance of time, money and how it can almost become transactional. This can cause a significant amount of strife, despite all parties wanting a “fair” system.

        • {in·deed·a·bly} 16 November 2021 — Post author

          Thanks Chris. Every relationship is different, so your mileage may very.

          Sometimes relationships start out as a union of equals.

          Each partner wishing nothing but happiness for the other. Doing whatever they thought might bring the other joy or pleasure. There existed no formal demarcation of duties, or expectation imposed by one upon the other. Acceptance. Gratitude. Perhaps each just does what needs to be done. Or perhaps one doing pretty much everything, while the other blobs on the couch drinking beer and watching football on the tv!

          Over time routines form. A shared past accrues. The loved up beginnings of a relationship giving way to the more practical middle part. Economies of scale from a shared living arrangement are realised. Individual hopes and dreams merging into a shared compromise vision of the future (often based more on the dominant partner’s goals, at the expense of the more submissive partner).

          A distribution of chores, expectations, obligations, and responsibilities is stumbled upon. Some consciously, others out of habit.

          Many things become transactional. Childcare. Chores. Gifts. Goodwill, Holidays. Leave passes. Sex. Rewards for doing good. Withheld for not upholding the evolved relationship bargain.

          One individual might begin to find themselves on the receiving end of hurt feelings.

          Perhaps they are away from home or out with friends “too often“. Not doing their chores. The union of equals devolving into a team, where not all the players are pulling their weight. Whether the grievances are real or imagined, one partner begins to feel it is ok to tell off or punish the other. Imposing their will. Making decisions for them. More boss or parent than equal partner.

          At that point the union of equals is no more. There are clear roles, reporting lines, and power structures.

          Every couple is different. They all navigate this in different ways.

          In some, the receiving partner sucks it up, toes the line, or incurs the consequences. A prisoner, trapped by the familiar, fearing the unknown.

          In others, a new balance of power is negotiated. It might last, it might not. An accord. A reset. Possibly a lasting way forward, satisfactory enough to both parties. It just may work.

          Yet others may decide enough is enough, and leave. The longer they have been together, the larger the blast radius. Mortgages. Debt. Friends. Family. Children. Pets.

          Each relationship is unique, as is their approach to traversing this evolution. All families are complicated!

          • Pre-tired 22 November 2021

            That about nails it.

          • Chris 25 November 2021

            This is a really good response, thank you! It’s something I could conceptualise when younger, but only by going through it do you really feel it. This makes me think about my own approach – how can I be the force for good to make it less “transactional” and more “giving without expecting a return”. Something for me to work on.

  2. Tom B 21 November 2021

    A bit tight on the old pocket money, £2 per week! I think I got that back in my day, and with 30 years of inflation it should’ve doubled approximately twice to be equivalent.

    Beautifully written, and I agree with the sentiment but I cannot help but feel your son deserves a “raise”.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 21 November 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Tom B.

      The rate of pay is designed to introduce scarcity and get him to think about trade offs like opportunity cost and delayed gratification. He’s able to earn more by doing additional jobs, but rarely chooses to avail himself of that opportunity.

      Separate from their pocket money, I have also funded junior ISAs for each of my kids. They don’t know about them yet, but by the time they finish school the balances should be sufficient to allow them to graduate from university debt free should they choose to use the money to pay for their tuition and accommodation. That means they can begin “adult” life with a clean slate, as opposed to starting out underwater and anchored to a mortgage sized student debt.

      • HariSeldon 21 November 2021

        It sounds odd but we never gave our daughter pocket money, she never asked. She would occasionally intimate a need, we would anticipate a need, we would be generous at Xmas and birthdays and sometimes in between.

        I asked her recently about it, ( she’s now in her mid 30’s) she said she never needed money, never missed it, if it had been an issue she would have asked for it but never felt a need. Remarkable really.

        • {in·deed·a·bly} 21 November 2021 — Post author

          Thanks Hari. Your daughter sounds like an impressive young lady.

        • John Smith 24 November 2021

          It was about the same with my daughter. She deepened the connection between money and time when she started working during university. First as a waitress (400 £/m) and then as aviation cabin-crew (11000 £/m), then as a graduate (18000 £/m) etc.

          Specifically, she did not spend anything on her salary, I still provided her with basic needs: accommodation, meals, transport, gifts. Today it seems to me that she is even tighter than me. Maybe I would prefer her to live more generously, not so preoccupied with money. Youth passes faster than inflation.

What say you?

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