An experiment with work

An Experiment With Work

 

I’ve long had a habit of saying “yes” to trying new things. My natural curiousity tends to get the better of me. 

It’s why we spend so much time travelling now – there’s a lot ‘out there’ to be curious about and discover in the real world. I love it.

But last year saw me undertake a totally different kind of experiment – returning to paid work.

Gasps of horror all round? Or a smug knowing nod, in a ‘I knew she’d have to go back one day’ kind of manner? What’s the story here – where did it all go wrong?

Let’s find out….

Why Would I Want To Return To Work?

First up, let’s quickly put you all out of your misery. It hasn’t all gone wrong at all. Far from it. 

Early retirement is as awesome as ever and the finances are working out nicely too despite everything crazy the world can throw at us – thanks for asking.

So just why did I find myself updating my outdated C.V. last year?

Well, it all comes back to that ever-present sense of curiousity. One day over my usual leisurely morning cuppa, I spotted an innocent looking ad looking for financial writers for the Motley Fool. 

It was entirely remote working based, so I could see it wouldn’t interfere with our travel plans. And it offered a possibility of reaching a far greater audience than my small blog will ever do. 

One of my reasons for blogging is to share my experience in the hope it may help others. So it seemed an opportunity to try a different way to attempt to do that.

And, if I’m totally honest about it, I was curious as to if I could actually return to paid work. After all, I’d been retired for about 4 years at that point. Would anybody still want to hire me?!

Getting Started

And that is how I found myself unearthing my CV one evening. Laughing at how ancient it already felt. Reading previous experiences, that already seemed a different lifetime ago. A different person. 

To be honest, it was a slightly surreal experience that brought home just how far mentally I’ve moved on since quitting back in ’18. 

And the difference in updating my CV was startling too. Previously I would have taken a fair bit of care over adapting it for whatever role I needed it for. Highlighting the relevant skills, making it as easy as possible for the hiring manager to see I ticked their boxes. 

Though, in a big corporation like the the one I last worked for, my final roles were far more influenced by word-of-mouth recommendations than any fine-tuning or word-smithing. That was just how things usually worked beyond the jobs that required real technical skills. No matter how much HR said otherwise!

But for this financial writing role? I had no real previous relevant working experience to highlight. It was like being back at the start, a fresh wide-eyed graduate with ‘lots of enthusiasm’ but little practical skills. A sobering reflection.

But the other odd thing about the process this time? I didn’t really care if it worked or not. I put something together that was as much tongue-in-cheek about having ‘been there, done that’ than anything else. If they were interested in that, great. If not, no real loss.

This was again quite different to when I was working. Back then, I’d often have had a lot invested emotionally in getting the new role. Even when I knew my long-term goal was early retirement. Each successful change was a step closer, be it more money or more flexibility. Or sometimes just escaping a bad situation…

So I submitted my quirky details along with the required sample article. And to my real surprise, I quickly received an offer of a trial run. Five paid articles and let’s see how you do.

Ok then, let’s give this thing a go, I thought. Why not?

Remembering Why I Retired

Those first five articles went surprisingly well. I’d suggest an idea to my editor, he’d give it the thumbs up. I’d write it up in Word and he took it from there to get it published on the site.

It was simple enough, I enjoyed the creativity. Plus I’ve always got a bit of a buzz from seeing something I’ve ‘made’ shared with others.  

So when they offered me a contract at the end of the trial, I again thought – why not? Travel was still difficult from the pandemic and I had more time on my hands than usual.  So I agreed.

It got more complicated from there.

Once officially on board, a lot of things changed. 

First up, there was new processes to be followed. House rules. Working directly in their WordPress set-up. Understanding how and when to submit articles for review.

Getting the equivalent of a lot of red ink back from the sub-editors. Rewrites required. I learned a lot about how bad I actually was (still am..)  at English grammar! 

I didn’t mind all that. It’s just part of getting up to speed with any new role.

And I had a few successful pieces published that I was genuinely pleased with. Where I shared how long-term investing has helped me achieve my financial goals of freedom. No get rich quick schemes or screaming buys from me. 

Then the numbers game began. The pressure to keep ratings high. The quality of the article and the number of views didn’t matter, all that counted was how many of those clicks were converted into signed up members.

I’m not totally naïve, I knew it had to pay its way. But it became increasingly difficult to manage the conflict it caused me.

I’d want to write about something I cared about – but the guidance was always towards the big name-pullers. Large well-known UK shares like Lloyds and the like, the kind of investments I rarely owned myself. 

I gave it a go, writing about a couple of the big names and why I wouldn’t touch them with the proverbial barge pole. That was ok, apparently. Gave the site ‘balance’.

But I didn’t enjoy it. I have little interest in spending time researching individual shares I have no intention of buying. I barely do enough research on what I do own. 

Then the sub-editors kept pushing for more and more detail. Which as a big picture/strategy kind of person I down-right hated. It was a total style clash. 

I started getting a lot of rewrite requests. Meaning I was spending way too much time at my laptop. Starting to stress about it all. 

That’s when it hit me. I’m just not that into it…and I don’t have to be…

Quitting (Again)

It’s actually really hard for me to quit anything, even when I’m not enjoying it. I like to conquer it first – and then quit.

But I wasn’t happy and it wasn’t going to change unless I did something about it. So I put together a (very) honest summary of what I was struggling with. Why it wasn’t working for me. Spelling out what I could do – and what I just didn’t want to do. 

It was the kind of thing you can only write when you know you don’t need the gig. Amazingly liberating.

I sent it to my original editor, who I’d always got on much better with. To my surprise, he didn’t tell me to get lost. Instead he tried to find a solution that would keep me. Sharing my details with other areas that wrote in the style I felt I could do honestly.

I really appreciated the gesture. It wasn’t something he needed to do and it was unexpected. I was grateful and hopeful.

Ultimately though, it didn’t work out. The other departments had plenty of people already. What they wanted was people who could repeatedly churn out Google grabbing headlines.  I understood it – but that wasn’t something I was interested in doing.

And so we came to a very amicable agreement to go our separate ways. 

It was quite an eye-opening experience for me. It’s still really hard to get used to the paradigm shift of early retirement. When earning money is no longer the major driver for decision making. It feels strange after so many years where that wasn’t the case.

I was honestly surprised they wanted to keep me. Anybody could tell my heart just wasn’t in it. I wasn’t helping anybody the way I wanted to. We just had different goals.

And you know what – it felt damned good to be able to walk away – again. Choosing freedom over money, my time back as my own. No longer feeling like I was having to compromise my values.

It was a timely reminder of why we’ve gone down this financial independence path. The privilege of being able to say not for me, thanks.

So am I glad I did it?

Would I Do It Again?

Despite the parting of ways, I found I got a lot out of this experience.

I enjoyed the challenge of learning again. Figuring out how it all worked. An eye-opening first-hand view into the world of big-time online publishing. 

And despite not enjoying the sub-editing feedback, it was useful to see how professionals viewed my work. These people had so much experience of what does and doesn’t work commercially.

It was just a shame it was such a style clash at times. My sense of humour is definitely not for everyone. I don’t enjoy the detail they wanted to see. My best articles were all part-story, I was rubbish at the financial side. 

The killer blow though was the constant focus on what would sell best. It’s just not what I am interested in, clearly. There’s a reason I run this blog but it’s not to make money – fortunately..

And the experience went a long way to helping me appreciate the freedom of my own blog. It was so hard having enforced rules. I’m just not good at following what I don’t believe in. Different aims, different approach.

It made for a striking reminder of why I left work in the first place. A lot of people at my old company genuinely believed in the company goals. I didn’t. This was the same enlightening experience about how difficult that is to manage for too long.

For the curious among you, financially I made just over £1k from this experiment. It was obviously never about the money for me but it was an odd experience being paid for something I was largely doing for fun.

I think that’s why when playing with AI recently, it crossed my mind it was something I could enjoy getting into.

But the biggest lesson of all for me was again how much I value my freedom. Being tied to a laptop because edits were due really sucked. Especially as travel opened up, it just got in the way. Instead of adding value to my life, it was stopping me getting out and enjoying it fully.

I (re) learnt how much I love being out in the real world. Exploring, interacting. Too much time behind a laptop is never a good thing for me. As you will have noticed from the haphazard posting…

Maybe it’s just me. I didn’t get on too well with volunteering online either. But that was for very different reasons.

So do I think working again some point in the future, in whatever form it takes, a total no? I don’t know. I do know I got a lot out of it despite everything. That made it worthwhile in itself. If I thought it was helping others, I would have stuck at it.

And I think that’s what will be key for me, if there is a next time. I (re) learned a lot about what I’d want to be different. What would make it work out for everyone. 

And that made the whole thing a pretty valuable exercise by itself. So who knows?! But not yet – there’s more travelling to do…

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6 thoughts on “An Experiment With Work”

  1. Wow, this took me by surprise!

    However, can see how you would take up a writing gig – it’s something I would consider when I pull the plug on FT work as I enjoy writing. But your story highlights something I’ve always known; when a hobby (and I consider writing a hobby) becomes (too much like) a job, all the joy is sucked out of it!

    Good on you for walking away, when, as you say, it’s not in your nature to quit at the first sign of trouble.

    I appear to have missed your online volunteering post the first time round so that was a real eye-opener, again something I was considering in the future.

    I think I would prefer forum/email-based type sites, not sure how I would have coped with some of those dodgy chats you got!

    Bit disheartening that so many just wanted your money though.

    1. Hey Weenie, always great to hear from you – and even better I can still surprise you, ha!

      Yeah, I tend to agree on the hobby/job point. It’s funny, since so much advice says to do something you love as a job – but I think it’s much harder than what people think to continue to enjoy it as work, it’s just different.

      And yes, that online volunteering experience was so very eye-opening!!! From my research, it’s much easier to find a volunteering opportunity when you can commit an amount of time for a year, or at least six months. But that’s something I can’t do while travelling so much still. I’ll look into it again as/when we slow that down, if that ever happens!

      I have no doubt you would be awesome with online forums – you’re already doing it for the FIRE folk!

  2. I have been working less than full time for a while and dabbled in a second part-time side gig for the last year, to see if it was something that might suit me. What I found is that I am losing completely my desire to work for other people. Similar to your experience, the more freedom you get used to, the less you’re wiling and interested in fitting into the rules and constraints of “a boss”. Going forward I think would gravitate strongly toward work that is self-driven only, rather than supervised by someone else.

    1. Hey James, nice to hear from you. And absolutely, you are spot on. I think it just becomes harder and harder to work for others. It’s fascinating, if perhaps not surprising, that something we love to do loses it’s appeal as soon as constraints of others are put on it.

      Self-driven sounds a great way to go from my perspective, far easier to maintain motivation!

  3. What an interesting experience. It is so liberating to be able to have a go and not be concerned about the financial consequences.

    Out of curiosity, how many published articles did you have to write for the £1000? It would be good to have a rough benchmark for what one of your or my posts is notionally worth as a commercial proposition. Might be able to buy my kids a happy meal with it!

    1. Hey Indeedably, nice to hear from you. And yep, absolutely, one of the huge upsides of financial independence. And a strange feeling to get used to, even now.

      Each article was paid £45. Sometimes they’d run a monthly competition on a subject they wanted to promote and whoever did best could claim an extra £100, stuff like that. So it wasn’t mega bucks but even down London way it’d still get your kids happily fed…

      How long it will last is a different question as AI starts to spew these kind of things out by the dozen! They were mulling that over when I left…

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