Thursday, January 15, 2015

Your Own Patron

You can often tell the age of a field of endeavour by the age of its pioneers. Social Media is new and so many of those coming up with new ideas are fresh out of university (if they complete it). As older fields like mathematics and physics get more and more sophisticated, it takes years and years just to get to the boundary before you can push it further. So those making the big changes are older. As things get more complicated there is an 'Asymmetry of Information'. Those who pay (the customers) may want something different to what you think they need. Want trumps need when want holds the purse strings. This can be really frustrating for those who are at the boundary. Think of the artist who has to make a decision about whether to push the boundaries of creativity, or to produce something that has an established market. Artists of old needed to find patrons. Typically these patrons would have come from the leisure class spending hours enjoying the finer things in life. Work isn't considered a swear word amongst today's wealthy. When you start pricing time, nothing is free. As the Economist puts it, 'thanks to rising real incomes, an American's time is worth more now. A walk in the park is more expensive than it used to be'. When you start pricing time, nothing is priceless. So what happens to all the patrons?

Maybe you have to become your own patron? Instead of retirement, what if you thought of your career in two parts. In Gladiator, the character Cicero says 'Sometimes I do what I want to do, the rest of the time, I do what I have to'. What if you flipped Cicero's concept. Instead of targeting the end of your career, invest more of your savings early on to get to the point where your money becomes your patron. For the second part of your productive career you will then be free to push the boundaries of whatever creative pursuit you desire. Independence isn't about working directly for the client. Dethrone King Customer. You will no longer be constrained by having to convince people who haven't walked down the path with you to fork out the cash. You won't work for money, money will work for you.

This is perhaps the opposite to what I said in 'Whippersnappers and Turnips'. The way incentives are aligned, the scenic career route may actually be more powerful. If the boom years in corporate life are in your 50s and 60s, climbing the ladder aggressively and saving aggressively while you are young may be a dated approach. If you are sufficiently calculated about your career, there is no need to rush. It is a case of deciding whether to eat your vegetables first*. If you enjoy vegetables, then that is no problem. If you find a career that you are fulfilled in, you needn't be calculated at all.

Whichever path you are taking, or have taken, the most important bit is to ensure you find the space to make choices consciously and not just fight fires. That way you will have a shot of prioritising all the things that are important to you.

*Evidence of just how much of a meat eating culture South Africa is, that plotting when to eat the 'horrible bits' of the meal is an important part of the strategic education of a child.

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