Friday, July 31, 2009

Corporations Dangling Carrots

In our company an internal client of mine, a lady whose work ethic I respected, was promoted to a VP. Ours being a Fortune 500 company, this was a pretty big deal. Since she always worked late, that evening just before leaving work, I walked over to her office to congratulate her. I asked her if she would be moving to the corner office, the one previously held by the person who had the job.
“No, I am not allowed to occupy that office, Ram” she said. “It has two windows. Only Senior VPs can have an office with two windows. I am only being made a VP, not a senior VP. That office is being converted into a conference room. And they will be building me a new office adjacent to it for me, with one window.”
I was surprised that she didn’t see what all corporations are trying to do. They are forever dangling new carrots (a pay raise, a better title, a better office), anything to get their employees to put in more time.
It was like one of Pavlov’s lab dogs figuring out that it was being programmed to salivate. I think I lost quite a bit of my appetite for corporate carrots after that evening.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Giving up income for personal freedom -- Tyler Cowen

There is a wonderful jolt of recognition in reading something that echoes and validates our own thinking, and does so far more eloquently than we ever could.

How is it that someone like me, coming from a strictly middle-class background, with no inheritance, after working in middle management for just a dozen years can even consider myself as possibly financially independent? I have often wondered this in the last year.

Several clues to the answer come from Tyler Cowen, whose thinking and pointers I respect enormously. He's recently written a book called "Create Your Own Economy" (great reviews) and says the following in Newsweek Q&A about his book:

The wealthier we get, the more we are seeing people give up income for personal freedom or for a more interesting job.
Human welfare is becoming less attached to wealth than it used to be. It’s quite plausible, for instance, that an upper-middle-class person can be happier than Bill Gates or some other billionaire. You wouldn’t have said the same back in the days of Carnegie and Rockefeller.
The widespread presence of free fun on the Internet has made it very easy for a lot of consumers to limit or postpone their spending. Just stay at home and cruise the Web.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cryptic Crosswords: Step by Step

A lot of people end up not trying cryptic crosswords at all. You don’t need to be proficient in general knowledge to solve the clues, but you have to spend some time to learn the rules. Cryptic crosswords involve a lot of signaling and misdirection. Unlike the straight crosswords, which are really popular in the US, cryptic crosswords are more like English-language puzzles.

I have an uncle who is really, really good at cryptic crosswords. Not only does he solve several a day, he has also started taking the time (every Sunday) to hand-create the grid, include all the clues and provide progressively easier hints for others to give it a try.

Here are 3 that he's created:
21st June, 28th June 2009 and 5th July 2009 including a page with links of lessons about cryptic crosswords.

Cryptic crosswords take time and perseverance to get good at. I am not very good at solving them, but thanks to my uncle’s liberal hints, I am able to solve a good number of the clues in these Sunday crosswords.

Do give them a try. And if you would like to get future grids directly in your inbox, you can email him.

Monday, July 13, 2009

5 Myths about not having a job

It’s been one year since I succumbed to the idea of not having a job at all. Like everyone, I had hopes and preconceived notions of what it would be like to not go to work at all. Here are 5 things I have learned in the ensuing year are not really true.

Myth #1: You will have vast stretches of unlimited free time
This is the primary reason to give up a regular job, but it is surprising how little extra time one really gets. Not having to set out for office daily is when you realize how many of our day to day activities have to get done anyway. If you manage your time well, you can get a few extra hours every day, but it not even close to whole days.

Myth #2: With no routine to adhere to, you can do whatever you want, whenever you feel like it
It has been a shock to me how quickly new routines get formed. Yes, it is possible to be rebellious and try to shun routines. But for me, not having a routine worked out to be really counter-productive. I have made peace with the fact that routines to a certain degree are inevitable, and that the structure is actually helpful for me to function better.

Myth #3: You can forget about Work and earning Money
Your ex-colleagues and friends will come up with suggestions for what else you could be doing with your time, even if you don’t want to work 9 to 5. From time to time, I myself come up with schemes which I feel are ways to earn extra money. That kind of thinking lasts until I realize that it simply doesn’t make any sense to venture out on dubious propositions that have a remote chance of succeeding. And that I would be earning one tenth of my annual salary even if they did pan out. But it takes conscious effort to stay clear of work and money-related thinking.

Myth #4: You can’t live without a regular paycheck
Actually, employees get a lot more than just their paycheck, if you also consider the perks and benefits that go with being employed. So there is a big fear in letting go of what feels like life support. In my case, after a few necessary adaptations, it didn’t at all feel that bad. I don’t want to make it seem easy. Just that with enough planning, careful saving and living within set budgets it is possible to attain freedom from our dependence on regular paychecks.

Myth #5: You will get terribly bored
This is perhaps the biggest myth of them all. Those who say this really don’t know what they are talking about. When was the last time you got bored of a 4-day weekend, or your 2-week vacation? With all the events, movies, books and so much of the Web to discover, if anyone gets bored it is really their own fault. I am just as pressed for time as I was when I was working, and haven’t yet gotten bored.

In all, I am happy with my decision to leave the workforce. (Otherwise I’d be out looking for a job right now.) Just that things don’t always turn out as you think they will. If you know of friends or colleagues who mention their urge to shove their job, you might consider forwarding these myths to them.