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Friday, December 19, 2008

Purpose



My sister Jessie (left) and I, age: quite young

Personally, I'm yet to feel the effects of the global economic slowdown. I've not been made redundant, my salary has not been cut, overtime is still allowed.

But I can feel it's just around the corner. Local redundancies are being announced on a daily basis, and the thinking is that it's just going to get worse. One of my private students was telling me how her company, once reluctant to fire anyone (something that is admittedly pretty difficult to do in Japan - the common method seems to be to bully and pressure people into quitting) has just announced 2000 cuts, with more to come in due course. Whilst the nature of the client base that the English & Chinese education company I work for means that we are not suffering so much from this initial phase of the slowdown, this past week there have been some hints that next year is going to be a tough one.

I'm very much a subscriber to Robert Kiyosaki's idea of there being four main types of people when it comes to income, who together make up the 'Cashflow Quadrant'. They are: E - employees, S - self-employed, B - business owners and I - investors.

(For more on the Cashflow Quadrant get hold of a copy of Kiyosaki's incredibly easy to read bestseller Rich Dad Poor Dad)

I've long had a gut feeling that I don't belong in the 'employee' quadrant, and in such economic conditions as these I find this gut feeling being exceptionally noisy. Seeing people in 'secure' jobs being left high and dry makes me question the sense of placing my future in the hands of an organisation that could let go of its staff at any time, for any number of reasons.

If I was working for the satisfaction that the day-to-day work brings, then it would be no big deal. Whilst I do feel real satisfaction in my day job (and before I go any further, I'd just like to state that as well as enjoying my day job a great deal, I see it as performing a very important and necessary role in my development, and I have no intention of leaving), I have a strong feeling that I'm heading towards a very different role in this world, of which I have only a vague picture at present) (this is aside from any purpose I have to become a better person in a spiritual sense, a journey that continues no matter what I do).

Whilst I am happy that I am able to make a positive impact upon the lives of my students and (to a certain extent) my colleagues, I can't get away from the idea that ultimately, the main purpose of most companies is to provide a good return to the shareholders. These are shareholders of which I know nothing. Who knows what they might choose to invest the profits of my labour in.

Some people might think this is taking things a bit too far, but I don't feel it is. I have a limited time on Earth this time around, and I want to make the most of it. I am happy to invest a few years in doing such things as working for my present company as I'm learning a lot, and teaching is a worthy cause, but I believe that I would feel that I had somehow wasted the precious gift of life were I to remain working for someone else for the rest of my life.

So then there's the S quadrant - self-employed. One thing I've been fortunate to learn second-hand over the past few years is that being self-employed isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be. For one thing, there's the fact that (for most one-man-show enterprises) if you stop working, your income stops. Then there's the hours. I forget what the stats are, but self-employed people usually work a lot more hours than those in the E quadrant. Having said that, the chances are that the self-employed business owner will get a great deal more satisfaction out of their work than an E. Every hour of work they put in is an hour invested in their own enterprise - an idea which appeals to me a great deal. They are also more likely to be doing what they love (or they probably wouldn't have started that business in the first place!). However, ultimately, the lack of time freedom in the S quadrant does not appeal to me.

Then we move across to the B quadrant - the business owners. These are people whose businesses continue to operate even when they are physically absent. This is where I want to be. This is where I feel I should be putting my energy ...but find the ease with which I can invest in the E quadrant too seductive. Striking out is tough. It's easier to just be told what to do.

The final quadrant - our ultimate financial goal, is the Investment quadrant, whereby the wealth we have created will continue to generate an income in perpetuity, for the causes that we choose. Being socially conditioned, I used to think that people in this quadrant had only got where they were by trampling on others. However, the more wealthy people I meet (here in Japan), the more this stereotype is revealed as being a load of crap. They are by far the most generous, caring and 'normal' people you could hope to meet, and don't give a poop about keeping up appearances. They are generous with both their time and money, and in my book are worthy role models.




These past few weeks I've been making my way through The New Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, an updated version of the classic self-development book. It's very good. Informative, and inspirational. Whilst there's not much in it that you haven't heard somewhere else, the scientific angle is refreshing and convincing.

...and it really gets you thinking - "If I could be the person I really wanted to be, would I be the person I am today?" If the answer is no (as it is with me), then there's clearly a need for action.

It's compelling. Real change doesn't take months of years, it takes a split second - the split second it takes to make the decision to be that person. That person who is fit (or on the road to fitness), that person who owns their own successful business (or is in the process of setting it up), that person who has rich, loving and trusting relationships with all those around them (or is making a concerted effort to build such bonds).

I'm in an incredibly fertile environment that is brimming with opportunity. It's called life, and it's time I took the next step (even if it's only a small step). I'll write about it in due course.

night.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

How much does a university education cost these days?

I can tell you, because today I got a statement from the student loans company.

This is the total of four years of loans that have to be repaid - it excludes all the (non-repayable) grants that paid my tuition fees.



That's this much in a few other currencies:



It is increasing on a monthly basis - even with a low interest rate it's not an insignificant amount.

But the university experience and degree were worth every penny.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Exchange rates, and Running with technology

What's going on in the currency markets? It's absolutely mental!

During my Year Abroad, £1 equalled 233yen.

Today (45 minutes ago), £1 equals 162yen.

I was just doing the sums - my salary here is is worth £7000 more than it would have been worth a year ago (if sent back home).

This is great news for me, as it now means that, whilst I only have an average salary, I can pay back my debts at a rate of £1000 a month, something which until now I never would have thought possible.

I'm now in the process of resuscitating my long-neglected GoLloyds account, whereby I can deposit cash in any appropriate ATM here in Japan and have it show up in my British bank a few days later (minus fees of course).




In other news, I was up at 7am today for the first of my thrice-weekly jogs. I'm find it interesting how this time round, with the goal of a mini-marathon to aim for, I'm far more motivated when it comes to getting out of bed and heading down the road to the park. It's not a chore, it's FUN!

But I know that there may be some mornings when it's not quite so sunny, or I'm not feeling so enthusiastic about heading out into the cold, and for that reason I'm looking for as many ways as possible to keep me going. Timing my laps was a start, but I knew I needed something more than that...

...enter RunKeeper for the iPhone.

Basically, this app uses satellite navigation to track you as jog your course. From the GPS co-ordinates it can then of course work out your distance and speed. It also makes a note of elevation too.

The results are initially displayed on the iPhone as a bar chart, each bar (where height = speed) being one minute of movement.

That's all very well and good, but it's still a bit disconnected from reality. Where it really comes into its own is where you finish your run and tap on Save. Two things happen: it saves your run to your iPhone's history for later reference, and it then sends that data to the RunKeeper website, which places your route and stats on Google Maps.



How sexy is that?!

(Unfortunately I neglected to restart it after a pause for shoelace-tying up so the data on this screenshot is incorrect (I went further and faster!))

These are the kinds of uses of hardware, software and networks that I find really exciting. They can have a real positive impact upon my lifestyle, playing on some of my weaknesses (love of tech) to overcome other weaknesses (lack of extended dedication?).

Now all I need is an app that will sync with my camera to location-tag all my photos, then I think my life will be complete!

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Monday, October 20, 2008

It's only getting better

As of this week, I'm pretty much working seven days a week. It's part of the self-imposed six month debt-repayment and moving-house program, which is due for completion on the 5th of March 2009. It's step one of many steps in our Grand Masterplan, some goals of which include the paying off of all family debt and the establishment a perpetual charitable foundation that long outlives us.

Lofty goals perhaps, but it helps us to have them, as it does to have more concrete short-term goals too, like this six-month deal. Knowing that this routine is a temporary deal, a limited-time challenge, enables me to be excited about putting a lot into my full-time job and the various regular private English lessons I give.

Slowly managing to sort out things like insurance and savings plans. Tonight, a friend of ours who works for a large life insurance company came round to explain to me more about their policies, whilst at work I'm being enrolled in various pension / insurance schemes (which I am yet to fully understand). Yesterday, *Twinkle* and I decided which charities we'll be supporting on a monthly basis (FoE Japan and Unicef). We've also started our 500 yen collection scheme - inspired by my boss Mr. D who saved 247,000 yen in one year without even trying (everytime you're given a 500 yen (£2.87) coin put it in a special tin). Proper savings and investments as such will have to wait until the debts are repaid.

It's a fun game to play, especially as we know that this is just phase one, and as the beautiful Stephanie Dosen sings, It's Only Getting Better (not sure about the video!). I have this song as my alarm clock :-)

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Friday, September 12, 2008

The first 7 days

I had grand plans to document my arrival back in Japan both on this blog, and on a podcast. It's not going to happen though - at least not yet.

I've found it a lot more difficult to settle in than I'd anticipated. One main stress factor has been money - or lack of money. Things are very tight, and with payday still at least 6 weeks away (once I have a job that is), it looks like things won't be getting easier anytime soon. I find it difficult to relax when I have no income. We should have enough to survive on though, it'll be OK.

The main goal of the next six months is to earn as much money as possible to pay off our debts and move house, without the relationship suffering too much. This means that my creative projects (such as a new podcast series and further development of Three Seeds Publishing) will have to be put on hold. It's a shame, but I feel it's a necessary sacrifice in order that we can keep these difficult times as short as possible.

Having said that, things on the job front are looking promising. I have been the beneficiary of a lot of help from two friends in particular - my ex-colleague Shari, and my good friend Tom. Without them I think I would be feeling a lot more desperate! Thank you both. I'm also grateful to my potential employers for their understanding of the situation.

At least the house is now in order. For a while there it was all cardboard boxes, difficult to find anything, difficult to relax, but I've got it sorted, everything in its place. I'll take some photos soon.

I will also post about what *Twinkle* and I have been going through, perhaps at the weekend.

Right, time for lunch.

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

The challenges of a long distance relationship



A misunderstanding this week between *Twinkle* and myself has led me to realise that, after 5 months apart, we've started to lose touch with one another's realities. Whilst we do communicate regularly via email (just over 2,500 messages since we saw one another in January), these cannot give us a true picture of the daily mosaic of each others lives. Skype is all well and good, but the time difference and our busy schedules means that these exchanges are limited in number, and quality, with one or both of us being too exhausted for meaningful conversation.

This means we are losing the ability to understand one another's feelings and reactions to the everyday occurrences that we do talk about.

Things have become especially difficult lately as the end of this period apart has suddenly been moved back by between one and four months. This is due to recent conversations with the Japanese authorities, who not only require me to go through a tedious 2-month-plus application process for my visa (whether it be a work visa or spouse visa), but also require that I have between £2000 and £3000 (US$ 4K - 6K) in my bank account for three months. I'm a student at the end of 5 years of higher education, so of course that is money that I don't have - and I don't know anyone who could lend it to me either. Even if I did, we couldn't do the usual temporary transfer to get the required bank statement. It needs to sit there.

This means that I might even have to stay in the UK until the autumn in order to save up the necessary funds (even if I had a job lined up before I went to Japan I would need funds to keep me going for the first two months). Thinking of how difficult things are between myself and *Twinkle* at the moment, this is an horrific thought. Especially as we'll be newly married in July.

It's all a bit of a mess really. The only thing I can think to do is try not to worry about these disagreements that have resulted from a lack of understanding of our current situations, and instead focus upon the love and understanding that holds us together at a deeper level. I think it's important that we not let the situation get the better of us. We are good together, and we know it. Just got to stay strong.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Rivers of money ...and parking tickets

This past year I have adopted a policy of not holding on to money.

The idea is not just to spend willy-nilly. As you know, I've done that in the past, with spectacular results.

Rather, the idea (simply put) is to not take ownership of money in the first place. Instead of thinking that I 'have' a finite amount of money that has to last me until my next student loan payment, I picture money as a river that flows through my life. I trust that I will have enough to meet my needs (I've not yet gone hungry in 30 years): as some leaves my custody so more will arrive, from somewhere.

[n.b. This approach requires that one believes that we live in a world of abundance, not a world of limited resources. I'm talking a general mindset here, not stuff like oil or water reserves. For example, a world where we are not jealous of others' success ...because actually there is plenty of recognition for everyone.]

It is important though that I use the money in accordance with what feels right. Thus, for example, I can't just go out and buy a MacBook Pro in the belief that the money will show up from somewhere, as it would simply be my own greed motivating that action, and thus the chances are that I'd end up in a pile of horse plop.

However, when it comes to giving to worthy causes, the river technique really works. I don't know how, but it does. It's simply amazing. The more you give to others, you more you find money flowing back to yourself in even greater quantities.

The result of my scientific survey in which I have been deliberately far more generous than has been the case historically, is that all sorts of money-generating opportunities start to present themselves. It's happened time and time again this year, and I even find myself able to put some money aside for our wedding, despite the fact that according to my budget forecast I cannot even meet my basic expenses this academic year.

I encourage everyone to give money away. It's liberating.

Sometimes though, one is presented with difficult situations that send one straight back to the land of limited resources. Today, that happened to me, as the university's parking services gave me my second £60 parking fine in two days. There has clearly been an unofficial change in policy, or perhaps the regular traffic warden is off sick and some jobsworth has taken over.

Yesterday I wasn't overly upset as I only got the ticket after following instructions from a member of staff whom I incorrectly assumed has some insider knowledge of the university's parking system (he told me to park in a registered bay). I have appealed that, and have no intention of paying. Today's though was a little more complex. I was parked outside my house, as I have done on many previous occasions, in an area that whilst not an official parking area is often used by residents who have temporary need of somewhere to put their car.

I think the attendant must have seen the car and recognised it, and thus thought that he'd teach me a lesson by ticketing it. Again.

Technically, I'm in the wrong. But I strongly object to being made to pay £60 for something which didn't cause anyone any harm, something that caused absolutely no obstruction and which many people do almost every day without penalty. It's our courtyard, and we don't mind sharing it.

I visited the university's parking office to see what could be done. Unfortunately, whilst one member of staff was polite, kind and helpful (and I was grateful for her understanding my feelings), the other was not. She kept on butting in, gleefully telling me that there was no way that I'd get out of it.

This really upset me as she seemed to be getting a great kick out of deliberately trying to make me feel bad. It was only the second time in 4 years that I'd met someone like that on the university payroll...

I was pretty surprised by how upset I was - I actually had to leave the room very suddenly as I felt myself about to burst into tears. (What's happening to me? What's all this emotional stuff about?!)

After leaving the parking bunker (now armed with a temporary permit which the nice lady had given me), I wandered home in the rain, and thought about how I could deal with these feelings. I realised that one reason I was feeling so upset was that I had attached meaning to that money, that meaning being £120 less for my wedding.

...so how about if I let go? How about, if I just paid the second fine, and accepted it as part of the natural flow? Trust that the pot would be replenished. This sounded like a good idea, and thus a few minutes later I'd contacted the 3rd party parking company and given them my card details. I also realised that by doing so I was demonstrating that I was willing to pay a 'just' fine - perhaps this would give me a little more leverage as I attempted to get the first fine cancelled.

I felt a lot better then, and went on to eat free pizza in Bart House.



Case Study - "Making Students Matter: The Family of East Asian Studies" - now online!

I'll blog about this next week. By then, I'd like you to have read this text :-p

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