Categories
Work

Work Emails During a Holiday?

I understand the lure. It’s the weekend or you’re on holiday and your work phone pings. Or perhaps you walk by it on a desk and get the urge to ‘catch up’.

We’ve all been classically conditioned to check our phones.

So you sneak away for 2 minutes to check in to see if there’s anything urgent. Next thing you know you’re elbows deep in work emails, you’re mind is in corporate mode and your stress levels are rising.

Today in Canada is ‘Family Day’. Presidents Day in the US. Yet, just 10 minutes ago I felt the pull to check my work phone.

I caved.

In a flash, I saw dozens of unread messages. Suddenly the final moments of my long weekend turned from relaxing until the sun rises to dreaded anticipation for the shit-storm about to hit in the morning. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just the ordinary, regular, daily shit-storm that we call work.

Repulsed at what I had just done, I quickly put the phone back down and walked back to my family and comfort of my living room. I’ll deal with it all tomorrow. Of course, I now must pay the price for my curiosity with a cortisol spike pushing through my bloodstream.

Who the fuck is sending me emails when they should be spending time with their families or on leisure pursuits?

I spent no more than 30 seconds looking at my phone, but it was enough to see I received a dozen emails over the past 3 days – Saturday, Sunday and a holiday Monday.

Who the fuck is sending me emails when they should be spending time with their families or on leisure pursuits? I understand the drive to get ahead, but if productivity is really the siren’s call then why not learn a skill or read a book? Why attempt to ruin your colleagues’ Sunday with the Monday-to-Friday chaos?

Are these people bored? Do they have no interests outside of work? Or are they trying to cultivate the 24/7 workaholic image, which is celebrated in North American culture?

Worse, do they feel pressured by their peers to check their emails? After all, there’s nothing worse than being 2 days behind on a crisis.

Regardless of the reason, it’s unhealthy.

We already devote 5 out of 7 days to work, and much of the remaining two days is spent preparing for Monday. There’s already no such thing as a work-life balance. We don’t need to make it worse by answering emails on a Sunday.

Categories
Life Small Business Work

Should You Give Up On Your Dream Job?

I think many parents do their kids a disservice when they encourage them to ‘pursue their passions’ or that they ‘can be anything, if they put their mind to it’. For 99% of the world this is fairytale advice for a brutally pragmatic world.

Once kids leave the protection of home, they have the same relentlessly boring bills as the rest of us. The gas, electric, water and phone companies don’t put your bills on hold while you pursue your dream of becoming a creative director at an advertising agency or fiction writer.

The trouble is, many kids are encouraged to pursue their dreams and end up trapped. They get to a point where the have to decide whether or not to abandon something they’ve believed in for years.

Here’s the trouble with pursuing your dreams:

  1. Most people have the same dreams, so the competition is fierce. What happens when supply (in this case labour supply) is high? Prices (e.g. wages) fall. While a select few might make it, most do not. Although Johnny Depp might make millions per movie, the median hourly wage for actors in America is just $20.
  2. Even if wages are fair, if the supply of labour in a given field is high companies will work staff to death. Don’t like it? There are dozens of other wannabes waiting to take your place. Video game developers find themselves in this predicament all the time.

People decide to abandon their dream job either because it doesn’t pay the bills or because it sucks up their entire life. For most, neither is a great way to live.

If you’re going to survive in this world you must find a job that pays decently, provides a good work-life balance and doesn’t come with the constant threat of redundancy. These kinds of jobs are usually highly skilled, appear boring and don’t attract a ton of interest.

I’m not suggesting you trade an ‘interesting’ career for a ‘boring’ career. Quite the opposite. Careers that are sold as ‘interesting’ – like advertising – can actually be quite disappointing in reality. Every industry has mundane tasks and BS politics. When there is an endless supply of 20-something year olds willing to do anything to enter an industry who do you think will be doing those mundane tasks?

In contrast, when you’re the only actuary within a 5 mile radius, you can be more picky about what you work on.

I used to take a lot of pictures. People often commented that I should get into photography professionally, and for a while I entertained the idea. I found it enjoyable and was reasonably good at it. Before making any irrational decisions, I conducted more research and discovered two things: 1) The top photographers earning a living from their craft are true masters. While my friends enjoyed my work, I was still far from being the crème of the photographer crop. 2) I noticed many top photographers also write books, teach courses, etc. Nobody gets into photography to teach. This means they’re doing this to supplement their income. If the top photographers can’t make a living strictly taking pictures, what hope is there for me? 3) Most professional photographers warn hobbiests that the business of photography is 50% sales, 25% administration and 25% actual photography. So if you truly love taking pictures, the business of photography might be wholly unsatisfying. Discovering all this was deflating. I felt like I found something I loved and was good at. But I was also realistic. I have bills to pay, mouths to feed and didn’t want to destroy a fun hobby. So I didn’t quit my day job.

I hate to be a downer but most people eventually realize that their dreams won’t come true. There are tons of charlatans willing to sell you a dream, but if these people could truly make dreams come true they wouldn’t be selling shitty courses. Everyone arrives at a point where they realize they can’t do what they really wanted. And whether you’re mid-career or just starting out, it’s never too late to have a backup plan.

But don’t take my word for it.


Below is a surgical breakdown of what happens to almost all rock bands, originally written by Steve Albini, the manager for Nirvana and Pixies:

There’s this band. They’re pretty ordinary, but they’re also pretty good, so they’ve attracted some attention. They’re signed to a moderate-sized “independent” label owned by a distribution company, and they have another two albums owed to the label.

They’re a little ambitious. They’d like to get signed by a major label so they can have some security—you know, get some good equipment, tour in a proper tour bus—nothing fancy, just a little reward for all the hard work.

To that end, they got a manager. He knows some of the label guys, and he can shop their next project to all the right people. He takes his cut, sure, but it’s only 15%, and if he can get them signed then it’s money well spent. Anyway, it doesn’t cost them anything if it doesn’t work. 15% of nothing isn’t much!

One day an A&R scout calls them, says he’s “been following them for a while now,” and when their manager mentioned them to him, it just “clicked.” Would they like to meet with him about the possibility of working out a deal with his label? Wow. Big Break time.

They meet the guy, and y’know what—he’s not what they expected from a label guy. He’s young and dresses pretty much like the band does. He knows all their favorite bands. He’s like one of them. He tells them he wants to go to bat for them, to try to get them everything they want. He says anything is possible with the right attitude. They conclude the evening by taking home a copy of a deal memo they wrote out and signed on the spot.

The A&R guy was full of great ideas, even talked about using a name producer. Butch Vig is out of the question—he wants 100 g’s and three points, but they can get Don Fleming for $30,000 plus three points. Even that’s a little steep, so maybe they’ll go with that guy who used to be in David Letterman’s band. He only wants three points. Or they can have just anybody record it (like Warton Tiers, maybe—cost you 5 or 10 grand) and have Andy Wallace remix it for 4 grand a track plus 2 points. It was a lot to think about.

Well, they like this guy and they trust him. Besides, they already signed the deal memo. He must have been serious about wanting them to sign. They break the news to their current label, and the label manager says he wants them to succeed, so they have his blessing. He will need to be compensated, of course, for the remaining albums left on their contract, but he’ll work it out with the label himself. Sub Pop made millions from selling off Nirvana, and Twin Tone hasn’t done bad either: 50 grand for the Babes and 60 grand for the Poster Children—without having to sell a single additional record. It’ll be something modest. The new label doesn’t mind, so long as it’s recoupable out of royalties.

Well, they get the final contract, and it’s not quite what they expected. They figure it’s better to be safe than sorry and they turn it over to a lawyer—one who says he’s experienced in entertainment law—and he hammers out a few bugs. They’re still not sure about it, but the lawyer says he’s seen a lot of contracts, and theirs is pretty good. They’ll be getting a great royalty: 13% (less a 10% packaging deduction). Wasn’t it Buffalo Tom that were only getting 12% less 10? Whatever.

The old label only wants 50 grand, and no points. Hell, Sub Pop got 3 points when they let Nirvana go. They’re signed for four years, with options on each year, for a total of over a million dollars! That’s a lot of money in any man’s english. The first year’s advance alone is $250,000. Just think about it, a quarter-million, just for being in a rock band!

Their manager thinks it’s a great deal, especially the large advance. Besides, he knows a publishing company that will take the band on if they get signed, and even give them an advance of 20 grand, so they’ll be making that money too. The manager says publishing is pretty mysterious, and nobody really knows where all the money comes from, but the lawyer can look that contract over too. Hell, it’s free.

Their booking agent is excited about the band signing to a major. He says they can maybe average $1,000 or $2,000 a night from now on. That’s enough to justify a five week tour, and with tour support, they can use a proper crew, buy some good equipment and even get a tour bus! Buses are pretty expensive, but if you figure in the price of a hotel room for everybody in the band and crew, they’re actually about the same cost. Some bands (like Therapy? and Sloan and Stereolab) use buses on their tours even when they’re getting paid only a couple hundred bucks a night, and this tour should earn at least a grand or two every night. It’ll be worth it. The band will be more comfortable and will play better.

The agent says a band on a major label can get a merchandising company to pay them an advance on t-shirt sales! Ridiculous! There’s a gold mine here! The lawyer should look over the merchandising contract, just to be safe.

They decided to go with the producer who used to be in Letterman’s band. He had these technicians come in and tune the drums for them and tweak their amps and guitars. He had a guy bring in a slew of expensive old “vintage” microphones. Boy, were they “warm.” He even had a guy come in and check the phase of all the equipment in the control room! Boy, was he professional. He used a bunch of equipment on them and by the end of it, they all agreed that it sounded very “punchy,” yet “warm.”

All that hard work paid off. With the help of a video, the album went like hotcakes! They sold a quarter million copies!

Here is the math that will explain just how fucked they are:

These figures are representative of amounts that appear in record contracts daily. There’s no need to skew the figures to make the scenario look bad, since real-life examples more than abound. Income is underlined, expenses are not.

Advance: $250,000

Manager’s cut: $37,500

Legal fees: $10,000

Recording Budget: $150,000 Producer’s advance: $50,000 Studio fee: $52,500 Drum, Amp, Mic and Phase “Doctors”: $3,000 Recording tape: $8,000 Equipment rental: $5,000 Cartage and Transportation: $5,000 Lodgings while in studio: $10,000 Catering: $3,000 Mastering: $10,000 Tape copies, reference CD’s, shipping tapes, misc expenses: $2,000

Video budget: $30,000 Cameras: $8,000 Crew: $5,000 Processing and transfers: $3,000 Offline: $2,000 Online editing: $3,000 Catering: $1,000 Stage and construction: $3,000 Copies, couriers, transportation: $2,000 Director’s fee: $3,000

Album Artwork: $5,000 Promotional photo shoot and duplication: $2,000

Band fund: $15,000 New fancy professional drum kit: $5,000 New fancy professional guitars (2): $3,000 New fancy professional guitar amp rigs (2): $4,000 New fancy potato-shaped bass guitar: $1,000 New fancy rack of lights bass amp: $1,000 Rehearsal space rental: $500 Big blowout party for their friends: $500

Tour expense (5 weeks): $50,875 Bus: $25,000 Crew (3): $7,500 Food and per diems: $7,875 Fuel: $3,000 Consumable supplies: $3,500 Wardrobe: $1,000 Promotion: $3,000

Tour gross income: $50,000 Agent’s cut: $7,500 Manager’s cut: $7,500

Merchandising advance: $20,000 Manager’s cut: $3,000 Lawyer’s fee: $1,000 Publishing advance: $20,000 Manager’s cut: $3,000 Lawyer’s fee: $1,000

Record sales: 250,000 @ $12 = $3,000,000 gross retail revenue Royalty (13% of 90% of retail): $351,000 less advance: $250,000 Producer’s points: (3% less $50,000 advance) $40,000 Promotional budget: $25,000 Recoupable buyout from previous label: $50,000 Net royalty: (-$14,000)

Record company income: Record wholesale price $6,50 x 250,000 = $1,625,000 gross income Artist Royalties: $351,000 Deficit from royalties: $14,000 Manufacturing, packaging and distribution @ $2.20 per record: $550,000 Gross profit: $710,000

THE BALANCE SHEET This is how much each player got paid at the end of the game. Record company: $710,000 Producer: $90,000 Manager: $51,000 Studio: $52,500 Previous label: $50,000 Agent: $7,500 Lawyer: $12,000

Band member net income each: $4,031.25

The band is now 1/4 of the way through its contract, has made the music industry more than 3 million dollars richer, but is in the hole $14,000 on royalties. The band members have each earned about 1/3 as much as they would working at a 7-11, but they got to ride in a tour bus for a month.

The next album will be about the same, except that the record company will insist they spend more time and money on it. Since the previous one never “recouped,” the band will have no leverage, and will oblige.

The next tour will be about the same, except the merchandising advance will have already been paid, and the band, strangely enough, won’t have earned any royalties from their t-shirts yet. Maybe the t-shirt guys have figured out how to count money like record company guys.

Some of your friends are probably already this fucked.

-Steve Albini

Categories
Work

49% Seriously Considering Quitting Job

With the benefits of working from home now crushed for most workers, many people are working longer hours and unable to compartmentalize their work and home lives.

Consequently, many people are on-call and on-line 24/7. As I’ve written previously, companies have learned that work-from-home staff suddenly have an extra 1-2hrs a day to work (because they no longer have to commute). Furthermore, many employers believe staff will do anything to keep their jobs in an uncertain economy, and are therefore piling on the work. Many of these same companies have reduced headcount and are unwilling to pay for the resources necessary to take on the extra workload.

Every single private sector office worker I know is putting in much longer hours than before the pandemic started. Moreover, with the comingling of home and the office, many are unable to separate themselves from their work. This is consequently creating tons of stress for the average worker.

Meanwhile, as year-end approaches most workers are being ‘prepped’ for a shitty bonus and meaningless salary increase. After all, the way many employers currently view it these people are lucky to have a job.

It might come as a shock when workers start to voluntarily quit in this economy. Unfortunately, that’s where we are likely headed.

New research by Hays finds that 49% of Canadian employees are seriously considering leaving their jobs, a nine percentage point jump from last year. That number for Ontario: 52%!

According to Travis O’Rourke, president of Hays Canada:

“Canadian employers are navigating difficult headwinds but the growing number of employees who want to leave their role, even in the face of a tentative job market, is a big problem. COVID-19 has left everyone exhausted and while many businesses are improving, staff are waving a white flag. Employees expect a company to have their best interests at heart and we’re now seeing evidence that unsupported teams look for better opportunities. Once we turn a corner on the pandemic or see more signs of job market strength, those employees are gone.”

Canadians are overworked, stressed and see little help coming their way from their current employers. Indeed, only 64% of employees are positive about their well-being, down from 81% early in the year. At the same time, 54% of employers admit they have done nothing to support employee wellness or mental health.

I’m already seeing more people being easily lured away by attractive competitor offers. It appears that people are losing hope that their career will grow at their current place of employment.

Additional Hays 2021 Salary Guide highlights

  • Where is employment optimism highest? ON (77%), QC (77%), BC (74%). AB trails at 50 per cent
  • How about raises? 46% of AB employers plan no salary increases, followed by QC (33%), ON and BC are tied at 23 per cent
  • Where are employees most ready to leave? QC (54%), ON (52%), AB (48%), BC (41%)
  • What do employees want from a new role? Benefits (53%), career development (44%), work-life balance (40%)
  • What’s affecting people’s well-being? Lack of social interaction (45%), isolation (27%), increased workload (25%)
  • What about hiring plans? Over the past 12 months 35 per cent of employers decreased permanent staff. Looking ahead, 36 per cent plan to add headcount

Categories
Life

Covid-19 Quarantine: Don’t Panic Buy, Prepare

With the relentless flow of Covid-19 coronavirus news, over the past 48 hours I have read a growing number of reports of panic buying across America and Europe. People are understandably scared of a quarantine and inability to buy groceries.

Some pics I’ve seen:

Personally, I haven’t witnessed panic buying but I have seen more shoppers buying party-sized packs of toilet paper. Even if it hasn’t hit the public consciousness yet in your area, there is a segment of the population quietly preparing for the worst.

I don’t want anyone to panic, but I also think it’s irresponsible to not prepare at all. By not preparing as individuals we could place a greater burden on public health and social services if a crisis occurs, diverting resources from more critical needs.

While I don’t suggest unnecessary hoarding, I do recommend stockpiling some extra non-perishable goods to get through one month of quarantine. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. But as we’ve seen elsewhere, things can go from normal to crisis within days.

By the time the panic button is pressed you’re shit out of luck. Store shelves will be cleared within hours. We haven’t even reaches crisis levels and Costco crowds are already putting Black Friday mayhem to shame in some parts of America.

If you’re reading this and you haven’t prepared at all, don’t worry. Take some action instead.

Here’s a list of items you should get to almost immediately prepare you for the worst:

  • Required medicines
  • Quick oats
  • Rice
  • Crackers
  • Peanut butter
  • Toilet paper
  • Honey
  • Feminine hygiene products

That’ll probably take care of most of your critical needs if you get stuck at home.

You won’t be running a 5 star restaurant but you won’t starve either. Treat this as a starting point.

As you make future trips to the grocery store to buy regular stuff, add a couple extra items for storage. In fact, you can just skip the trips and buy what you need online in the next hour without stopping your Kim’s Convenience binge. Genius.

In this just-in-time delivery world, society is always just 3 missed meals away from total anarchy. Covid-19 or no Covid-19, you should always have some sort of emergency stash of food in your house.

While I’m sure I sound like some nut job doomsday prepper, storing a little extra food was the norm throughout human history. It’s all stuff you’re going to use anyway.

Wealth isn’t just about money. It’s about resources, health, balance. So help protect you and your family by being prepared.

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Categories
Work

Worked to Death

I know a man – let’s call him Henry – who was a fresh b-school graduate in the mid 1990s. Henry was young, smart and he wanted to make a lot of money. So he committed his life to a career in finance.

    To succeed at a singular pursuit one must be smarter and harder working than the competition. So Henry chose a well worn path that included evenings and weekends at the office. Nobody faulted him for doing so. In fact, his dedication earned him respect from friends, family and colleagues. This is a cultural phenomenon.

    His dedication earned him respect from friends, family and colleagues.

    What do courtroom, cop, political and hospital TV dramas all have in common? The glamorization of work!

    The competence of characters in these shows is frequently hoisted to heights unattainable to the average human. Normal people must split mental and physical capacity between kids, in-laws, leaky roofs and work. Clearly these characters have nothing else happening in their lives to distract from marathon research and preparatory sessions. Unrealistic, but this model is presented as an example to live by.

    For the average person, characters in these dramas might be admirable, but not feasibly aspirational. If you’re like me, you show up to work Monday morning and spend 20 minutes trying to remember what it is you do all day. In between meetings and endless impromptu distractions I’m lucky if I can focus for more than 30 minutes in a row. Because of this, if I truly wanted to get ahead in the corporate world I’d need to work outside of regular business hours, when distractions are reduced.

    Luckily, I’m over the corporate world. I paid my dues long ago. I don’t aspire to rise in the ranks any further so I get my shit done and leave. This is not to say I don’t create value. I create immense value by working hard and fast within standard business hours.

    I worked evenings and weekends in the early years of my career. I studied, got several degrees and accreditations and worked my ass off to grow my career. I was young and new so I had to prove myself. Of course, at that time I had no kids to come home to.

    My wake up call.

    After my first child was born I was still working crazy hours. One night my wife reminded me that my child was only going to be young once and that I’d regret missing her milestones. That really shook me up. I suddenly realized that I had to purposefully make time for the other parts if my life if I wanted to truly flourish as a human being.

    A rich life is made up of several parts that aren’t necessarily always operating at peak levels. I still work hard – I dedicate extra time to DumbWealth.com – but work is no longer my priority. Balance is my priority.

    Balance is my priority.

    If I wanted to keep growing my career like my buddy Henry, I’d have to dedicate another 10 or 20 hours a week to my corporate overlords. This would require sacrifice. Henry learned this the hard way.

    Throughout his life, Henry’s days and weeks consisted of breakfast meetings, working lunches, golfing, business travel and long days at the office. Even when he made it home to his wife and two children, he was preoccupied and distracted, slipping into his study to get ahead for the next day. Weekends and vacations were spent on the phone or laptop. Over a couple decades his status grew immensely and he earned a lot of money.

    Henry was like a character out of a TV drama. The clothes, the cars, the vacations. His family had everything HE thought they could possibly want.

    However, over the course of almost 30 years, Henry repeatedly missed birthday parties, recitals, anniversaries. More importantly, he missed the small things that don’t get Hallmark cards – homework, doctors appointments, family dinners.

    While he told himself he was working 80 hour weeks for his family, this wasn’t actually true.

    I once read that time is the most valuable gift you can give your children. Not iPads, not extravagant vacations, not Nike Air Force One shoes. Kids might not be able to articulate it, but the time you invest in them will build a lasting and caring relationship. As kids they will say they want the Nikes, but as adults they will remember the time spent together.

    Henry’s career eventually hit a brick wall, and like many executives he was packaged out of his company. He was financially fine. Emotionally, however, he was broken. His career had steadily progressed for almost 30 years and suddenly fell off a cliff. His entire identity evaporated and Henry desperately searched for meaning.

    He met with former work colleagues a couple times, but the distance between them widened as threads of connection frayed. He quickly discovered most work ‘friendships’ are built on nothing more than convenience and quid pro quo.

    So he leaned on his adult children instead. However, his kids barely knew the man and dismissed him like he once did to them.

    Unfortunately it gets worse.

    Neglected for many years – many of which included suspected affairs – Henry’s wife finally ended the marriage. The marriage wasn’t terrible, so she waited until the kids were grown. They had always lived separate lives and didn’t really know each other the way a married couple should. She couldn’t envision Henry as part of her life because he never was.

    Photo by Sven Mieke on Unsplash

    The divorce hit Henry hard.

    He felt betrayed, as he was still convinced everything he had sacrificed was for his and their children.

    In the end, Henry lost half the assets he had worked so hard for. All those late nights dedicated to a job, only for half of what he earned to be ripped away. Worse, Henry finally realized that his true loss was not financial. It was the friendship with his children, the experiences of family life and the companionship of someone who truly has your back. Hours at the office were no substitute. And most work colleagues were not true friends.

    Coworkers aren’t family and they barely qualify as friends. Who will be at Henry’s death bed? Who will still miss him 20 years after he’s dead? Definitely not Brian from accounting.

    A life worth living is diverse in experience and filled with connections to people who care about your well being. Work is important. But it can’t be everything.

    It’s a tough lesson for someone who made his career his entire identity and reason for living. The truth is, corporate entities don’t care. They can’t care. Public companies exist for a single immutable purpose: the shareholder. They’ll trick you into believing they care about you, but the second you’re not part of the plan you become persona non grata and you might as well have never existed.

    If it weren’t for labour laws and the bad publicity, many employers would work their employees to death. Indeed, many already do in a perfectly legal way: stress. Stress has huge consequences on a person’s physical and mental health.

    A life worth living is diverse in experience and filled with connections to people who care about your well being. Work is important. But it can’t be everything.

    Henry is now unrecognizable, his former self destroyed by his career. He is now working to build a relationship with his children and has developed new healthy relationships. He can’t make up for what was lost, but he is making the most of what remains.

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