Catching the Entrepreneurship bug

Last Friday I got several month’s advance rent plus deposit from the new tenant moving in to the Cocody house. It’s the best single day positive cashflow since I started the business, and quite a great feeling – very different from receiving a salary.

I think it’s because the cashflow comes from pursuing one’s own independent idea/dream and building something from scratch, instead contributing to someone else’s agenda. It’s kind of like a waking up moment, seeing that it’s possible to opt out from a day-job at a big company and a life with terms to a great extent dictated by someone else,  and that opportunities and possibilities are pretty great.

Guess I’ve caught the entrepreneurship bug or something. As usual Steve Jobs expresses the whole thing very well, this time in a 46 second long video:

 

When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and you’re life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

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Taleb’s measure of success

Possible but not easy

“My only measure of success is how much time you have to kill,”

-Nicholas Nassim Taleb

I have heard it said that you either have to work at a regular job, or you can start your own business, but if you do that you have to work even longer hours.  So we are all trapped, and it’s tough to meet Taleb’s measure of success.

Im thinking that it would be cool to show that it’s possible to start one’s own business without spending very much time on it, and without being wealthy at the outset.  So far my business is still small, but it looks entirely possible to make it bigger without increasing the time spent on it much. The blog actually takes more time than the business, and I’ll try to keep it that way. Ultimately it’s about a sense of freedom, of not being bogged down, and mastering one’s own time.

So, I think it’s possible to set up a business without spending too much time on it, but it’s hardly easy.   In my case I’m trying to manage things in Africa from Europe and that means you got to have people you can rely on to handle things on site. I think I do, but there are still snags.

Recently, I have had a carpenter  supposed to do work on the Cocody house taking an advance of 135,000 CFA Francs (205 euro), but not doing any work.  He has admitted he took the money to pay debts, and I got another carpenter to finish the job, but I’m not sure I’ll ever see those 135,000 CFA Francs again.  The law firm that I’m working with are pretty optimistic though. They say at worst they’ll get the carpenter put in jail and then his relatives will collect the money.  Well, I’ll see. It’ll be a test of the Ivorian legal system and how things work in practice.

Pas trop de frime

The other part of it not being easy to set up a business without spending much time on it, is that it means living beneath one’s means for a long period of time.  I’m taking a big chunk of my discretionary spending and investing it in the Ivory Coast, instead of well, spending it.

Guess it would have been possible to go down the debt route instead, but that isn’t really my style.  I mean sooner or later I will probably take on some reasonable amount of debt to expand the business, and there’s nothing wrong in principle with debt financing. What I mean is pretty well expressed by John Hempton at the Bronte Capital blog:

Chapter Two however starts with one of the best quotes I have ever seen:

“To be successful, keep looking tanned, live in an elegant building (even if you’re in the cellar), be seen in smart restaurants (even if you nurse one drink) and if you borrow, borrow big.” 

-Aristotle Onassis

Seldom have I seen a business/political philosophy so diametrically opposed to mine stated so clearly. And exemplars abound – think Angelo Mozilo in American finance or Andrew Peacock in Australian politics.

Just a fabulous quote and a world view that seems to work for the people who hold it if not for the rest of us…

Sense of Wonder

Wisdom from 1985

I just read an interview with Steve Jobs in Playboy Magazine from 1985.  Tons of interesting things in it. One thing that caught my attention was that he stresses the importance of being curious and keeping a youthful or even childish sense of wonder about the world.

One of the things that I find exciting about West Africa and the Ivory Coast – is that it’s so different from everything one can experience living in Europe (or most of the rest of the world). It kind of naturally spurs a curiosity to figure out how the place works. Setting up a business is turning out to be a pretty good way of channeling that curiosity and exploring how things work. And it should work the other way too, that  curiosity – if it can be kept up – should be good for the business (and far from only for the business).

So if I’m no longer interested in stuff such as how Ivorian taxi drivers make a living, what kids in Yopougon use computers for, and the next ivorian parliamentary elections, then it’s probably time to stop and do something else.  Hopefully that time won’t come anytime soon.

Extracts of the Jobs interview:

Playboy: Why is the computer field dominated by people so young? The average ageof Apple employees is 29.
Jobs: It’s often the same with any new, revolutionary thing. People get stuck as they get older. Our minds are sort of electrochemical computers. Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind. You are really etching chemical patterns. In mostcases, people get stuck in those patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never get out of them. It’s a rare person who etches grooves that are other than a specific way of looking at things, a specific way of questioning things. It’s rare that you see an artist in his 30s or 40s able to really contribute something amazing. Of course, there are some people who are innately curious, forever little kids in their awe of life, but they’re rare.
Companies, as they grow to become multibillion-dollar entities, somehow lose their vision. They insert lots of layers of middle management between the people running the company and the people doing the work. They no longer have an inherent feel or a passion about the products. The creative people, who are the ones who care passionately, have to persuade five layers of management to do what they know is the right thing to do.What happens in most companies is that you don’t keep great people under working environments where individual accomplishment is discouraged rather than encouraged. The great people leave and you end up with mediocrity. I know, because that’s how Apple was built. Apple is an Ellis Island company. Apple is built on refugees from other companies. These are the extremely bright individual contributors who were troublemakers at other companies.
Then there is this unrelated gem:
Playboy: At what point did you meet Steve Wozniak?
Jobs: I met Woz when I was 13, at a friend’s garage. He was about 18. He was, like,the first person I met who knew more electronics than I did at that point. We became good friends, because we shared an interest in computers and we had a sense of humor. We pulled all kinds of pranks together.
Playboy: For instance?
Jobs: [Grins] Normal stuff. Like making a huge flag with a giant one of these on it [gives the finger ]. The idea was that we would unfurl it in the middle of a school graduation.Then there was the time Wozniak made something that looked and sounded like a bomb and took it to the school cafeteria. We also went into the blue-box business together.
Playboy: Those were illegal devices that allowed free long-distance phone calls,weren’t they?
Jobs: Mm-hm. The famous story about the boxes is when Woz called the Vatican andtold them he was Henry Kissinger. They had someone going to wake the Pope up in themiddle of the night before they figured out it wasn’t really Kissinger.
Playboy: Did you get into trouble for any of those things?
Jobs: Well, I was thrown out of school a few times.
And this TED video covers the sense of wonder pretty well:

Obviously the right thing to do

A Plunge into the unknown

On professor Hans Rosling’s blog I read:  [If you go Hans who? – check this out!]

Today at the airport in Stockholm I met a happy Swedish couple flying out to their new investment abroad! They had renovated and opened a hotel on “Ihla”,  the historic capital in northern Mocambique. Obviously done the right thing to do.

My feeling here is, by golly I hope Hans is right, because I have just bought two plots of land in Abidjan, whereof on one I plan on building an apartment hotel.  So this is it, not only will the name of the blog start making sense, but if it works out I will reach the “within 3 year” goal set out in the mission/vision post last year.

The Prof has spoken

There aren’t that many plots of land available at reasonable prices in areas that are sufficiently central and upscale to be attractive to people (including european tourists) that are prepared to pay budget hotel prices for their stay in Abidjan. So when finding a plot that met all the criteria, I had to go for it, but only after a lot of due diligence including double and triple checking the paperwork – the key check is that the seller really owns the plot, checking that it isn’t in a flood prone area, and pretending to be a customer at nearby hotels to see how they were doing.

One the nearby hotels actually turned out to be one of those that are rented by hour, which is surprisingly common in Abidjan and not an indication of a bad neighbourhood, but still not quite a line of business I had intended to embark on.

Despite all these checks, encouraging remarks from Hans Rosling and the likelihood that the investment will have a strong tailwind by demographic and economic trends, it’s still a plunge into the unknown and I can think of an awfully great number of things that can go wrong, so I got to admit that fear is one of the emotions I associate with this project.

Quotes

Thus, it’s a good time for a mixed collection motivational quotes and other wise words:

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“A goal properly set is halfway reached.” – Zig Ziglar

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“What you get by achieving your goals is to as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” – Henry David Thoreau

(H/t Maren Kate at Escaping the 9 to 5 for the above ones)

As Randy Pausch said: “It is not about how to achieve your dreams. It’s about how to lead your life.”

Basically it is all about the curiosity to experiment and explore your dreams. Mistakes made are not about being good or bad. Don’t be afraid to pursue your dreams. Opportunities occur randomly. If the environment is favorable there is a great chance that these opportunities will be favorable. Work to create this environment. If you are not happy, change. Do something. Don’t whine. Do things with passion. Exploit and realize your potential and talent to the maximum extent.

From http://www.dailyspeculations.com/wordpress/?p=6260

“Peter Sims buries the myth that big talkers with brains and big ideas move industry and science forward. This modern masterpiece demonstrates that the most powerful and profitable ideas are produced by persistent people who mess with lots of little ideas and keep muddling forward until they get it right. Little Bets is easily the most delightful and useful innovation book published in the last decade.”

From: http://bobsutton.typepad.com/my_weblog/2011/04/little-bets-peter-sims-delightful-masterpiece-is-shipping.html

Laurence Peter (1919-1990):
“There are two kinds of failures: those who thought and never did, and those who did and never thought.”

Indira Gandhi (1917-1984):
“There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there.”

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963):
“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”
“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.”
“We should not let our fears hold us back from pursuing our hopes.”

John Cage (1912-1992):
“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”

Robert Heinlein (1907-1988):
“Most people can’t think, most of the remainder won’t think, the small fraction who do think mostly can’t do it very well. The extremely tiny fraction who think regularly, accurately, creatively, and without self-delusion – in the long run, these are the only people who count.”

Anais Nin (1903-1977):
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

Harold MacMillan (1894-1986):
“The man who trusts nobody is apt to be the kind of man nobody trusts.”

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963):
“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
“Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you.”

Christopher Morley (1890-1957):
“The real purpose of books is to trap the mind into doing its own thinking.”
“There is only one success – to be able to spend your life in your own way.”

Harry Truman (1884-1972):
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

George S. Patton, Jr. (1885-1945):
“If everyone is thinking alike then somebody isn’t thinking.”

H. L. [Henry Louis] Mencken (1880-1956):
“Conscience is the inner voice that warns us that someone might be looking.”
“For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.”

“Now, now, my good man, this is no time for making enemies.”
-Voltaire, on his deathbed, to a priest asking that he renounce Satan

Winston Churchill (1874-1965):
“We shall never surrender.”
“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”
“A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”
“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
“I am ready to meet my maker, but whether my maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”
“Once in a while you will stumble upon the truth, but most of us manage to pick ourselves up and hurry along as if nothing had happened.”

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970):
“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”

Thomas Crum (-):
“Our quality of life depends not on what happens to us, but on what we do with what happens to us.”
“What would it be like if you lived each day, each breath, as a work of art in progress? Imagine that you are a masterpiece unfolding, every second of every day, a work of art taking form with every breath.”

“When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.”
-Emo Philips, stand-up comedian

“To believe a thing impossible is to make it so.” French Proverb

G. M. Trevelyan:
“Never tell a young person that anything cannot be done. God may have been waiting centuries for someone ignorant enough of the impossible to do that very thing.”

Christopher Reeve:
“So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.”

Sir Walter Scott:
“To the timid and hesitating everything is impossible because it seems so.”

Paulo Coelho:
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”

Advice from the founder of Skype

Time for a quick break in the reporting about the Ivorian elections. This was after all supposed to mainly be a business/entrepreneurship blog.  In my defense though, the elections in the Ivory Coast have profound implications for anyone wanting to do business in that country.

Today, Wired magazine has an interview with one of Sweden’s most successful entrepreneurs; Niklas Zennström, founder of skype and many other IT-related ventures.

The interview contains a lot of wise words that I believe apply to anyone wanting to start a business, may it be in Voice over IP communications or real estate in West Africa.

Niklas Zennström

Continue reading “Advice from the founder of Skype”

Gaffe Man / Minimalism follow-up

Hand me the Zuse Clear Etched, Computer Coded Toaster, please!

Yesterday, while at my my friend’s place in Yopougon, I managed to do a Joe Biden, by asking where the light switch for the bathroom was.  I got the answer that there is no light in the bathroom.  And shortly after that I almost asked if I could heat up a mini-pizza in the microwave.   Gahh!

So, more things to add to the list from the last post:  A reasonably well equiped kitchen with a microwave oven, and lights in the bathroom.

Continue reading “Gaffe Man / Minimalism follow-up”

Minimalism

Big questions

Staying with people living on a couple of dollars a day makes it easy to think about almost philosophical questions such as what really makes one happy or as asked on Freestyle Mind: “What would you do all day if you wouldn’t have to worry about money or other things?”

In the New York Times there was recently an excellent article called But Will It Make You Happy about people simplifying their lives, reducing their posessions to 100 items, having more free time, and we hope, becoming happier in the process. Continue reading “Minimalism”

A little bit swashbuckling

I found this speech made by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to the Princeton Class of 2010. It hits quite close to home.

Here’s the end of it:

(The full thing can be found at http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S27/52/51O99/index.xml?section )

I was working at a financial firm in New York City with a bunch of very smart people, and I had a brilliant boss that I much admired. I went to my boss and told him I wanted to start a company selling books on the Internet. He took me on a long walk in Central Park, listened carefully to me, and finally said, “That sounds like a really good idea, but it would be an even better idea for someone who didn’t already have a good job.” That logic made some sense to me, and he convinced me to think about it for 48 hours before making a final decision. Seen in that light, it really was a difficult choice, but ultimately, I decided I had to give it a shot. I didn’t think I’d regret trying and failing. And I suspected I would always be haunted by a decision to not try at all. After much consideration, I took the less safe path to follow my passion, and I’m proud of that choice.

Tomorrow, in a very real sense, your life — the life you author from scratch on your own — begins.

How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?

Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?

Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?

Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?

Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?

Will you bluff it out when you’re wrong, or will you apologize?

Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?

Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?

When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?

Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?

Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?

I will hazard a prediction. When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made. In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story. Thank you and good luck!

Jeff Bezos

Now there is a bit of survivorship bias here. Those that left good paying jobs to start their own ventures and failed, instead of creating multi-billion dollar companies, are unlikely to be invited to make speeches at Princeton.  Still, I think Bezos makes a lot of good points.  Life does get more enjoyable and interesting if one doesn’t play it safe all the time, and dare to make original choices.

And I have a feeling that those who leave nice jobs to start companies and fail, manage benefit from the experience somehow like succeeding in the next try or taking the career in a new path.  I don’t think there are many regretting trying.

Translating this into my own situation, I am already determined to push the real estate venture in Africa until it either becomes much bigger than it is today or fails.  (And blog readers will see how it goes!) Even if the venture never provides as much money as my day job, at age 80 I’d rather tell the grandchildren about setting up a real estate company in West Africa than being a mid-level employee at a large corporation.

No cold calling here

Falling for the current craze

Feels like everybody is setting up, or talking about setting up, an online business right now to make money  through advertising, affiliate marketing, selling ebooks or other products or services.

Guess I’m a very late to join the bandwagon, but I thought it would be fun to run a site and learn, and see how it works out, and have a source of passive income that is not linked to real estate in West Africa.

So I contacted a guy that had a site for sale (I’m too lazy to build my own) who quite honestly and interestingly explained that to come up with a sale price he assumes that the site revenue will drop by 10% a month if no further work is put into the site due to competition.

10% is huge, and a good reminder of why I like real estate so much.

A few advantages of real estate compared to website businesses:

-Unless you buy during a boom you can realistically expect the value of a property and the associated rental income to increase over time with inflation. Not decrease by 10% per month. This is of course reflected in the prices of websites vs property, but:

-With real estate you have a stable income, so you can plan ahead and slowly but steadily re-invest your earnings. You can estimate where you will be in ten years and even see that your grand children can inherit a real estate portfolio. With a website earnings fluctuate wildly, and you have absolutely no idea where your website will be in 10 years. I think this is the kind of the reason Warren Buffett isn’t too much into investing in technology companies – it’s just too hard to look into their future.

-I have heard a saying that “all entrepreneurs or anybody in business is ultimately a salesman“. This is a bit of a problem since sales isn’t my thing. I’m into stuff like investing, math, finance, negotiating, interacting with people of different cultures (especially Africans, but not necessarily selling stuff to them), psychology (but more of the theoretical “finding interesting biases in human behaviour” sort than practical salesman psychology ) .

I’m interested in businesses where the sales part isn’t the key part, and contrary to the saying, I believe there are such businesses and that buy and let real estate is one of them.  In the tv show The Apprentice with Donald Trump most episodes are about sales, but there are exceptions such as in the first series when the contestants are asked to rent a luxury apartment with a great view.  Potential tenants enter the apartment, get the wow-feeling, and from there on, it’s all about negotiating and not about pure selling.  Loved that episode!

In real estate, as I see it, the investing part is critical, and then there is a bit of a marketing part to get buyers to be aware of your property, and a bit of a sales part to make the property look nice for prospective buyers, and to say smart things while the prospective buyers view the property, and then an important negotiating part.  Admittedly negotiating can be seen as a part of selling, but it’s about psychology in combination with numbers, calculations, discount rates and forecasts, and that I like.

-I thought making ad revenue from a website didn’t involve much selling.  Sure, the website needs to be made to attract viewers, but beyond that I thought basically one signs up to Adsense and watch the money roll in.  However, having looked into buying a website I’ve realised that one can sell links on it too, that Adsense isn’t enough and often one needs to sell the site directly to advertisers, and that getting people to link to you looks uncannily like a saleman’s job.

Other paths out there!

After having said all this, I still want to take the plunge and own a income generating website and maybe challenge my aversion to selling. But I would love to see someone who is currently making passive income on websites only, trying one of the many other ways of making passive income. There are other paths out there!

Dream Zappers

So, what to do when somebody has already expressed what you are trying to say, but much better?  Well, quote and link:

From The Middle Finger Project:

We’ve all encountered them; they’re the ones jumping up and down to squish, squash and stomp all over your ideas & aspirations, usually accompanied by the likes of, “You’re being unrealistic,” or my personal favorite, “You’ll have to join the real world sometime.”

Big, giant menacing GRRR face.

In the post, I discussed the importance of defending your dreams, despite traditional advice that advocates not sinking to that person’s level, not taking it personally, and recognizing that it’s not you, it’s them.

[…]

To a Dream Zapper, you are actually the offending party.  Even though you aren’t outright attacking a DZ’s dreams, you’re indirectly doing so simply by existing.  The fact that you’re sitting there all inspired and hopeful with your zest for life and your bucketfuls of ambitions is nauseating to them, because it forces them to question their own realities.  And in being forced to question themselves, they may not like the conclusions that are drawn.

And that’s really freaking uncomfortable. (Tissue, anyone?) 

It’s so uncomfortable, as a matter of fact, that our brains have actually adapted and developed a mechanism designed specifically to reduce any unpleasant psychological discomfort that’s experienced.  Know what that’s called?

The fine human art of rationalization.

[…]

if someone has gone through their entire life up to this point believing that the standard American work-life model is the ideal–go to school, go to college, get a job, get a mate, get a house with a yard, get kids, etc.–and then someone comes along and says, “Pshhh!  That’s ludicrous!  You be trippin’, fool.  I’m going to do things this other way, that person’s mind will do everything it can to prove you wrong.  In the name of self-image and personal integrity, they won’t want to believe that.  So instead, they rationalize their own decisions and beliefs in any way they can to avoid that mental discomfort–even if that includes putting you down for yours.


“But everyone has to work!”

Feedback

When I talk about my little venture in the Ivory Coast,  surprisingly,  the overwhelming majority of people are very supportive, and I have actually had more inquiries about co-investing with me, than skeptical or critical remarks.

I almost want more naysayers, so I get a bit of drive to prove them wrong! The most common critical remark (received twice) is along the lines “Are you crazy to be putting your money in Africa? You risk getting scammed!”

Recently, talking to a few people about money, I got a different skeptical remark. They were saying one shouldnt give too much importance to money in life, and I said that the purpose of my venture wasn’t really money, but more freedom and to not depend on my job. To which they responded “But everyone has to work!”

In hindsight I would have added that it is also about the thrill of building something up over the long term, and to work for oneself, and that money is the means, but not the goal. Anyhow, I just answered “No!”

High Net Worth Individuals

Thinking about it, the “But everyone has to work!” remark is quite curious, especially when pronounced by intelligent people who maybe should know better.

First of all, it’s incorrect. There are tons of people who could stop working and still live the rest of their lives in a developed-world middle class or higher standard. With 2 million € conservatively invested in index funds and not so risky bonds, I think one can siphon off 4% every year and still have the notional to increase with the inflation or better. 4% a year is 80,000 € a year, and since capital gains taxes are normally lower than income taxes, the net income of the 2M € could correspond to a gross salary of 100,000 € or so in a West European country.

I have not seen figures of how many people in the world have 2 million € or more, but Cap Gemini compile an annual “World Wealth Report” that includes figures of so called High Net Worth Individuals having at least US$1 million in investable assets, excluding primary residence, collectibles, consumables, and consumer durables.

In 2008, which was an unusually bad year, there were 8.6 million High Net Worth Individuals in the world, whereof 100,000 in Africa. As an aside it would  be interesting to see how many of these 100,000 are [self-made entrepreneurs] or [dictators and their families] and how these two subgroups have developed over the years.

From these numbers it looks like that there are many talented people with a big enough wealth not to have to work, and that to some degree the world depends on these people working anyway. One example would be the drop in Apple’s share price upon the news of Steve Job’s medical problems.   I don’t think the world needs to worry though, as most of these people continue working  due to – I would speculate: (a) they enjoy it and (b) don’t want to lose status relative to their peers.

On top of the high net worth individuals there are those who do not have much wealth to speak of, but which have passive income large enough to live off.

Psychology of Naysayers

I think the roots of the “But everyone has to work!” remark, doesn’t really lie with thinking there are no rich people, but rather with an uneasiness that there are people that don’t have to work or aspire to not having to work, compounded by the person making the remark maybe not enjoying his or her own job. I think there’s a bit of conservatism in it too (in the non-political sense); a wish for conformism and skepticism against alternative life choices.

Additionally, I don’t think the problem is that Bill Gates doesn’t have to work. The uneasiness felt by the person making the remark comes, I think,  from the fact that it is his or her peer that aspires to not depend on a job. I’d speculate there is some deep rooted fear in humans – possibly evolutionary based – of falling behind one’s peers.

A few years ago, I read a quite interesting book called the Status Syndrome by British Professor Sir Michael Marmot, making the case that one’s health and well being is linked to one’s social status for all levels of social status. That would explain why it makes sense to care about relative social status.

Hobgoblins

Watching the Oscar’s yesterday, I saw British actor  actor Colin Firth out of the blue saying the quote I have on the  “about” page,  answering a question about why he has played a somewhat different character in his latest movie compared to previous movies:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

I saw this quote on some site somewhere I can’t recall, and found it great, but I haven’t seen it since. A google search gives that it’s attributed to the American writer/poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, and that the full quote is “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

Along the same lines Oscar Wilde is quoted to have said:

Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.

Many people seem to always do the same and never contemplate other options, both when it comes to trivial matters such breakfast cereals, and less trivial things like life choices. They can even show hostility to good-hearted suggestions of ways to do things differently. I guess these people can derive happiness from not changing and having a seemingly stable environment, but – and this is why I like these quotes (or rather my interpretation of the quotes) – I’m the complete opposite, I derive happiness from curiosity, from trying new things, from travelling, and I like to question if what I am doing is what I really want, and imagine new ways conducting life.

Guess this attitude is a precondition for seriously considering switching from a well paid job in a stable European democracy to running a small business in West Africa.   Hmm, at a second thought, I got to admit that there is such a thing as foolish non-consistency (or non-conformity) too, and that it probably has more adverse consequences than foolish consistency.

Looking at the full Emerson quote it is possible that it was meant more for consistency in opinions, than for actions. John Maynard Keynes said that “When facts change I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” A foolish consistency would be to not re-evaluate one’s position when facts change.  Well, this interpretation is related to the one above, and I think I’ll stop worry about interpretations, and just go with the one that is most in line with my own biases and prejudices!

And to round up I would like to recommend a blog called The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau  who has taken the concept of doing your own thing to new highs.

To veer off course

Time for a blog post recommendation. Over at therenmenshow.com there’s an interview with Tim Ferriss touching some of the fundamentals of lifestyle design.

The things Grant (the guy to the left) says in the beginning are worth stressing: Basically that Tim made him change a paradigm from “put in time – exchange for money” and “don’t pursue dreams, because there is security to be found”  to pursue things that really matter to you, pursue dreams.

My parents are both employed at universities working with pretty theoretical stuff  so my paradigm has been: study hard – education is very important – get a degree – and exchange time for money in a large organisation where theoretical skills are valued. So I kind of did that, spent five year at a university, got a fancy degree and got a decent job at a big organisation.

I have always had a wish for the freedom of mastering my own time, not having a boss, and being sufficiently financially independent to travel the world with no fixed end time of when the money would run out. I have lots of projects I would like to do if I wasn’t bound by having to spend so much time at the day job. I just never really committed myself to achieving those goals, still influenced by my old paradigm.

Even before hearing of Tim Ferriss or lifestyle design I had been thinking of, and taking small steps towards veering off course, but it’s good to get a kick in the back which is what the Renmen guys and Tim Ferriss are providing. Kind of wish I had guys like these around me at university, but well, I’m still young and it’s not too late at all!