Is your ladder against the wrong wall? Episode 10

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Is your ladder against the wrong wall? Episode 10

How long since you’ve taken a step back from your professional life and considered where it’s taking you?  Is your current professional activity taking you to somewhere you want to be in 10 or 20 years?  Is it leading you towards inner happiness?
It’s easy with the pressures of mortgage repayments or rent, perhaps kids, and just the normal expenses of life, to push on, head down bum up.  The problem is that can lead you to a destination when you are perhaps in your 40’s or 50’s and with plenty of working life ahead of you, of middle management restructures, possible redundancies, and industries changing.
Or perhaps the outlook for your profession is good, but will it take you to your personal goals?  How many people throw their whole life into their work, only to neglect their family and home life, and then one day find themselves divorced, or just distant from their kids and partner?
So today we’re going to ask the question, “is your ladder against the wrong wall?”.

So you’re climbing the corporate or professional ladder.  There’s the normal politics and set-backs, but on balance, you’re progressing, you’re moving up.
But have you paused and looked at what’s at the top of that ladder?  Is it actually where you want to be in 10 or 20 years?  And if you were at the top of that ladder, how’s the view?  In reaching that pinnacle, are you living the life that you aspire to?
The aim of today’s audio blog is to get you to take a step back and consider whether in fact you are on the right ladder.  You’ve only got the one life.  Let’s make sure you don’t look back in your old age and regret how you used it.
The first step in determining whether your work life is taking you in the right direction is to develop your goals, and for this exercise, it’s the medium, and especially the long term goals that count.  Where do you see yourself at 50, 60, or 70?  Will you still be living in the same city?  The same country even?
Do you hope to have family around you, perhaps even later in life some grandkids?  Or would you anticipate a life interacting within your particular communities, be they professional, cultural, or geographic?
Setting out some long term goals is such an important foundation stone, not just in a financial planning context, but in a broader life planning context.
A goal that my wife and I set several years ago is that once our youngest child completes secondary school, we’d like to be able to live in a foreign city for 2-3 months each year.  We don’t want to be tourists.  We want to continue working, just remotely, and experience what it’s like to really live in the city – to read the local news, to develop in your head a bit of a mental map of the area, to hopefully get to know a few locals, and just take in the little differences.
Now it’s still 8 years away, but when I’m thinking about how I grow my business, or even if I grow my business, I’m in part thinking about it with a side thought as to “is this going to help me be able to work remotely for 2-3 months a year one day?”
Similarly my wife works in tourism, and she determined that as a sector, it was where she wanted to be.  But the employer that she had worked for was not where she wanted to remain.
So in thinking through her next step, we again discussed, “well, how is whatever you do next going to help in us achieving our goal of being able to work remotely for 2-3 months a year?”.  It was a factor in deciding that a good solution would be for her to buy a business in the tourism sector that she can develop, and build it over time so that working from the other side of the world for a few months each year would be possible.

In developing your goals, a common framework to use is called SMART goals.  This acronym stands for:
Time bound
Regular listeners will know that with each Financial Autonomy audio blog there is a downloadable toolkit to help you in implementing the ideas in each episode.  In the Toolkit for this episode I have a template for you to flesh out your SMART goals. We’ll also have in there our Dream Planner template, which helps you make progress on achieving the goals that you’ve set.
Let’s take a quick look at how you might use the SMART goals framework to flesh out one of your goals.
What if you had a goal that you wanted to own a house near the beach one day.  It’s something that perhaps you would retire to later in life, but you’d like it to be a holiday house until then, just somewhere you and your family can escape to.
So the first step is Specific.  Where do you want to have the beach house?  How many rooms would it need to have?  Your goal might then become, I want to own a house near the beach, in the Inverloch region, that has at least 4 bedrooms and two bathrooms.
The next step is Measurable.  Do a little bit of internet research and determine what it’s likely to cost.  Let’s say you determine that a suitable property is likely to cost around $400,000.
On to Achievable and Realistic. Given your current financial position, and income, is there a genuine likelihood that you can get to this goal?  You may not know the exact path, but you should have a sense of whether it’s likely to be possible.
Then finally Time bound.  So that might be, “by the time I’m 50”.
So your original goal was to own a house near the beach one day.  But your goal, re-expressed as a SMART goal becomes “By the time I’m 50, I want to own a house near the beach in the Inverloch region, which has at least 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, and expect to need to spend around $400,000.”
Your goal has gone from a one-day, maybe, proposition, to something that is quantified and really specific.  With this nailed down, you can now work on a plan to get you there, whereas before, who would know if you were making progress?  There’s a really good chance that with the original goal, you’d never get there, because there would always be other things that popped up and kept your goal, your dream, out of reach.
Okay, so you’ve determined your goals.  If you continue climbing the current corporate or professional ladder, will it get you there?
If the answer is yes, fantastic, continue on as you are.  You’ve now got some good quality goals, and a plan to get you there.
But if the answer is no, it’s time to consider the alternatives.
If you’re happy working in the industry that you’re in, but your current career trajectory isn’t going to see you achieve your personal goals, then you could look at how you can accelerate your career progression, or perhaps move sideways into a sector with more room to grow.
Would some extra qualifications help? A Masters or an MBA for instance? It would certainly demonstrate to your employer that you’re keen to develop your career, and that you hold ambitions to grow and progress.
Maybe it’s time to look around at what other employers are offering.  Sometimes it’s possible to do a bit of leapfrogging on the corporate ladder by jumping from one employer to the next to broaden your knowledge and experience.
Or maybe the industry that you’re in just won’t get you to where you want to go.  What re-training do you need to make the transition?
I went to Uni at night as a part-time student.  One of my fellow students was an Engineer in the Oil & Gas sector but had determined that he had got as far as he was likely to go in that sector, and wanted to move across to finance.  He’s now an analyst with a fund manager, looking at the resources sector.  His prior Oil and Gas background gives him fantastic insight, and he’s been very very successful.  So don’t think that changing industries midway through your working life necessarily means starting all over again.  It’s very likely that the skills you’ve already learnt will be of use in your new career path, and those skills may actually make you a rare and therefore highly valuable commodity!
What about a move out of town?  In episode 6 we looked at Nish’s story, where he moved from inner Melbourne to a seaside town about an hour and half away.  In the process he and his wife dramatically reduced the size of their mortgage, providing far more options around what they needed to do employment wise.  If you haven’t already listened to this episode I encourage you to go back and do so.
Perhaps you could start a business, or buy an existing one.  Higher risk, but with higher risk comes the potential for higher reward.  As with the example I gave earlier of a goal that my wife and I have to be able to live and work overseas for 2-3 months a year in the future, having the flexibility and control that self-employment provides is really important in enabling us to achieve that goal.
So over to you now.

Take some time over the coming days to think about what your goals are.  If you have a partner, ideally discuss it together.  It’s so easy to just float along with the current.  Determine what you want out of life, and start taking deliberate steps to get you there.  Make sure your ladder is against the right wall!

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