Here are my 20 happiness principles for your life:
I went back to a university reunion recently – all those Cambridge people, supposed to be the cream of the cream. Carol Vorderman was my lab partner when I studied Engineering, and Stephen Fry had the room next to mine, so I knew that all the rest would probably have made something of their lives so far. And sure enough there was a Ferrari in the car park as I pulled in, so I thought “This is going to be depressing, I bet they’re all incredibly successful, rich and smug”.
Everyone looked much the same – thought mostly looking a bit grey now. But the fascinating thing was that talking to them, they were nearly all a bit unhappy about where they had ended up. Working very long hours, doing worthy things like doctors, directors and partners in law firms and finance in the city. I was definitely the odd one out, having gone a more bohemian route – self employed, not living in London, not “important”, still playing sax in a band.
I think they felt that they had drifted along the inevitable conventional channels, heading up through their organizations, but management hadn’t made them happy, and money hadn’t either. But what can you do when you’ve learned one thing and become good at it, you can’t throw it all in at this point. And anyway, what would you do instead?
I’ve talked to medical consultants during my management training sessions and heard the same thing: “If we knew then what we know now we would have gone a different career path”.
So I started thinking about my own career path, what decisions did I make, was I lucky, did I get some luck and make the most of it, and are there any principles that I would pass on to others just starting out? And so, here is my story and what I have learned from it. My ten career decision moments, and the 20 career principles that come from those:
Career Happiness Decision 1 – Choosing to go into Production rather than Design
Starting out with a degree in Engineering, the obvious path was to go into design, but I quickly realized I didn’t have the patience or attention to detail for that, and anyway, I was competing with 100 other people for the job of Head of Design and I was never going to win that race. So I chose to go into the factory and try to sort out the quality problems and the lateness of all the parts that make up a helicopter.
Nobody else was mad enough to do this – the factory was noisy and dirty and there was a constant feeling of chaos and sometimes panic, and the men were not like the ones in the drawing office, there was a whole different sense of humour for a start. As soon as I saw the cartoon called “Now THAT’S what I call a fart!” (with the back of the guy’s trousers blasted away) I knew I could enjoy working there.
Starting my career in Production turned out to be not only fascinating and fun but also a fast route up through the management tree. Every time they needed anyone to run a new area they would think “There’s only Chris Croft, it’ll have to be him”.
Happiness Principle 1: Know what’s best for you
Happiness Principle 2: Don’t be afraid to be different
Career Happiness Decision 2 – Telling the boss I wasn’t happy
I was loving the factory – computers had just appeared and we were trying to understand scheduling (which by the way has recently been proved to be mathematically impossible to solve, but back then we didn’t know that!) but unfortunately HR had the great idea of standardizing pay across the company so all Engineers aged 24 would be paid the same, or at least there would be a ceiling, and I was already above the ceiling. So my pay would be frozen for at least 4 years – unacceptable!
Everyone grumbled, some people left, but I went to see Mr Marshall, the big scary boss. I was the only one who did. I figured if he wouldn’t help then I could (and probably would) still leave anyway.
He was much more sympathetic than I expected, he seemed to feel that I had passed some kind of test, and he offered me the management pay scale as a way out. Suddenly I was a manager, paid more, with more ability to make a difference, and I was on the next step of my journey.
Happiness Principle 3: Negotiating is worth a try when you’ve got nothing to lose. If you don’t ask you don’t get!
Career Happiness Decision 3 – Leaving Westlands
Actually the management job was fine for a year or two – I learned a lot about management and it got me started on the management ladder – but it became clear to me that Westlands at that time had a lot of problems – there was a vast amount of politics, it was really hard to get anything done and there was so much I wanted to do, and in the end, in frustration, I looked around for other jobs and was offered one almost immediately. At my leaving do one of the older managers said “There’s no point in leaving here Chris, everywhere else will be just the same”. How wrong he was! My new job in Bristol was brilliant – we worked as a team and every problem was crushed. I loved it.
I went back to Westlands a year later to see the guys and everyone was still sitting at the same desks having the same frustrating problems with bad management and bad meetings and bad systems. It was as if they were in prison and I was the lucky one you got out. And yet they could ALL have got out if they wanted to take a small risk and leave their comfort zone.
Happiness Principle 4: Don’t settle for a job you’re not loving
Happiness Principle 5: Lots of people giving the same advice can all be wrong!
Career Happiness Decision 4 – I wrote a list of goals
This may sound odd, but writing down my objectives changed my life more than any other thing I’ve ever done, and I firmly believe that. It goes against all logic …or does it? If you write things down your subconscious focuses slightly more on those objectives, like a weak form of satnav, and you are likely to be a bit more self disciplined because you have a reason to be.
A friend of mine got excited about a goal-setting book and persuaded me to read it – I decided to do what it told me, and to actually write a list (I wonder if YOU will do a list after reading this? Or will you decide you can’t be bothered??) I wrote down a whole load of things that I would ideally like to happen, a description of what I wanted my life to be like.
Nothing happened for a couple of years, but gradually everything I had written down all came true. Would it have happened anyway? We’ll never know, but certainly there were some odd coincidences along the way and I would strongly recommend anyone to set their mental satnav in this way. It doesn’t cost anything, and it might just work!
Happiness Principle 6: Have clear goals for your life.
Happiness Principle 7: Write them down.
Writing them down is important because it’s a promise to yourself, it makes you get serious. And if you don’t know what your goals are then all the more reason to put some effort into thinking about them. Have a goal to get your goals listed.
One example of the effect of the goals was that I had written “To do a job I really enjoy” and “To only work 2 or 3 days a week”. At the time I was running the factory at Dolphin packaging and a) I hated it and b0 it required 6 days a week, not 2 or 3. How was that ever going to change??
Then one day my neighbour (who I didn’t even like and virtually never spoke to) brought the local paper around, pointing to an advert in the jobs section and saying “Here you are Chris, this is the perfect job for you!”
It was for a lecturer in Operations Management at the Business School at Bournemouth University. I would never have considered lecturing, in fact I didn’t even think I had the right qualifications, but because of my neighbour I applied for it and to my amazement I was offered it.
But should I take it?
Career Happiness Decision 5 – Taking a teaching job on half of the pay
The lecturing job was a complete unknown – would I be any good at it? What exactly was involved?
And the other problem was the pay, which was only £22,000 while at the Factory from Hell I was on £44,000. Exactly half…. could I live on half of what I had become accustomed to?? Wife and two kids, house, etc…
Anyway I decided that something had to change so I took it. I would find a way to do it and find a way to live on the money.
Happiness Principle 8: You MUST enjoy your work – otherwise something’s got to change
The job turned out to be very enjoyable – I had found my true vocation. And we only had to teach for 100 days a year which is only 2 or 3 days a week. So my list of goals was continuing to happen!
Happiness Principle 9: Keep searching until you find the job for you. This will involve change, and risk, but do it anyway.
Happiness Principle 10: Don’t be led by the money. Find the right job for you and you’ll be great at it and then the money will follow later.
Career Happiness Decision 6 – Going Self-employed
Being self employed is not everyone’s cup of tea – you have to sell and do, you have to be self-disciplined to work, and you don’t belong anywhere. But I love it! No boss, and the freedom to do what I want and to be myself.
Anyway you might say it was luck but I know I would have done it anyway: I was doing some training courses in my holiday to make ends meet and I planned to go full time out on my own – the sums added up – and just before I was going to resign from the University they called a big meeting and made us all redundant. They were closing down the department, and letting us keep the customers – “have the golden goose and all the eggs for ever”.
So there I was, suddenly self employed, having to find out about tax and VAT and how to invoice people. It wasn’t hard to learn, and I carried on doing the same training courses for the same customers, but just as me rather than as the university.
It sounds easy looking back but the point is that I had planned it – I had worked out that leadership, negotiating and time management were the most popular subjects, I’d volunteered to be the specialist in these areas and had built up really good training days on them, because I just had a feeling that one way or another I’d be running courses on them for myself in the future. I had done the sums, allowing for costs and selling time, and they added up. If they hadn’t made us redundant I would still have done it.
Happiness Principle 11: Follow your dream. Have a plan for what you want to do, check that the sums add up, and then make it happen, whether the world helps you or not.
Career Happiness Decision 7 – Making a go of self-employment
This has been more a 20 year process than a decision, but I’ve been thinking about why I’ve survived when others haven’t, prospered when others haven’t, and I think it’s because of being reliable.
I always call customers back when they leave me a message, I always check my emails every day even when I’m on holiday, and I always keep every promise. I’ve never been late for a course and I’ve never missed a course or cancelled a course, in 20 years, in 3000 courses all over the UK and abroad. I believe that being reliable puts anyone in the top 10% of their field right away. Most people aren’t reliable, which is crazy when they’ve done the difficult part of designing and selling their product or service.
Happiness Principle 12: Be obsessed with customer service, which includes reliability
What has this got to do with happiness? It’s meant that I hardly have to do any selling, my work is all repeat work, so I can either have more time off on holiday or do more work and earn more – and it’s good to have that choice.
Career Happiness Decision 8 – Stayed living in Poole
I considered it but I’m really glad I didn’t move to Oxford – more central in the country for access to all my customers, but more expensive and no beach. Or heaven forbid I could have moved to London where the best paying customers are, and I could have earned more, but for what quality of life?
No thanks, I’ll keep my big rambling house near the beach.
Of course this is just an opinion, I can hear you saying “Oxford is great” and “London is the place to be”. And those two places are great in their way. But my point is:
Happiness Principle 13: You can choose where you live, and fit your work around the life you want to live
I want to walk a dog on the beach – it gives me a faithful friend, contact with nature, exercise and a feeling of it being good to be alive – and I’ve made that happen. Whatever you want your life to be like, you can do it!
Happiness Principle 14: Other people’s opinions don’t matter
Some of our friends have very impressive houses, but my wife and I have made the decision to spend less time and money on the house and more time and money on travel and tennis and the beach. It’s just a personal opinion, our choice, but we like it. The point is that we are not conforming to what we think other people say we should be doing, we are doing what makes US happy.
Career Happiness Decision 9 – Continued to make time for playing music
This is an odd one! Not everyone loves music but I know it makes me happy so I have continued to fit it into my busy life.
People sometimes say “You’re so lucky to be able to play the sax. I wish I could play an instrument” or “You’re so lucky to be playing in a band. I wish I played in a band”. IT’S NOT LUCK!!! It’s taken a lot of time and effort to get a band together and songs written and practiced and gigs booked. But I know it’s worth the effort and l’ve kept on doing it, since 1979!
The songs I’ve written and the CDs I’ve recorded and the gigs I’ve played have been some of the biggest happiness generators for me.
Happiness Principle 15: Do something creative – whatever works for you – and have the determination and self discipline to make time for it and keep on making time for it.
You can’t really make money from music (not unless you’re 20 and good looking and VERY talented and lucky, none of which is me) and I don’t do it for the money. Only a fool would! But weirdly, I have made money from my music. If you follow your heart and do things that are good, or as good as you can make them, regardless of what other people think, then things can happen.
I met a great rapper – the son of a friend of ours – and discovered that to make ends meet he makes raps for people on request, so he and I made a Project Management rap together. It was totally ridiculous, but also sort of good (you can find it on YouTube) and I just did it for the fun of it really. I actually worried that it might LOSE me business because it was so silly. “Make a plan before you start, always have a Gantt chart!”
But I stuck it on YouTube in case people liked it, and after about a year I got an email from a company called Lynda.com saying they had seen my rap (and then some of my more sensible videos on YouTube) and would I like to contribute a video to their site? Well, I’d never heard of them, I don’t really like being filmed, and I couldn’t see how the logistics would work – they are based in America – so I nearly just said “No thanks” – but I asked for more information …. get all the facts, you never know.
And it turns out they were offering to fly me out to LA and film me in a professional studio with a producer, director, autocue guy, make up lady, the full works, and pay quite a bit up front and then per view, with millions of viewers – they are HUGE. So I overcome my fear (terror really) and did it. Now I’m a regular visitor to their LA offices and it’s the biggest thing in my work world. All from my crazy little project management rap.
Happiness Principle 16: Do whatever YOU think is good. If you’re doing your best then somebody might like it.
Happiness Principle 17: Keep putting it out there. Most marketing is wasted but if you keep plugging away then you’ll find something, probably the least promising thing, will attract the attention of someone.
Career Happiness Decision 10 – Not working Fridays
Would you sacrifice 20% of your pay in order to regain 80% of your time?
Well the Pareto principle says that 80% of your money comes from 20% of your customers, so in theory you could ditch the other 80% of customers and only lose 20% of the income. Wow!!
Of course in reality it’s hard to do this because things keep varying, customers come and go, bad ones turn out to be better then you thought, some are connected, etc, but certainly if you got rid of the bottom 20% you probably wouldn’t miss them. In fact they might even be loss making, or break-even customers, so you could get that 20% of time back and not lose any money!
The plan to get rid of some customers and then have more time never actually seems to happen – when you’re self employed you’re always worrying about whether the future work will come in, and you often end up saying yes to work which you regret later. A better way to make it happen is to cut the time first, and then force yourself to fit the work into the time you have. Then you HAVE to become more discerning over the work you take, and you can maybe put your prices up a bit too since there is less of you available.
So I have recently started doing this. I don’t work Fridays – unless something really great comes along, I mean why have a rule that is so rigid it’s silly.
The ratio of 3 days off to 4 worked is SO much better than 2 days off to 5 worked. Compare 75% to 40%, it’s pretty much double.
But “Work” is difficult to define for me – I’m writing this on a Saturday, but then this is fun, not work. If you love your work then it’s no longer work.
But leaving that debate aside, it’s great to have cut back on the driving and the presenting – I feel fresher and do it better when I do my four days rather than five.
And I do average only two or three days a week, like I first wrote down in my goals, because I take quite a lot of holidays each year. I love foreign travel – it’s fun, I learn, it gets me away from working all the time, and it’s the thing I look back on each year and really treasure. But the biggest factor in my work life balance is not working Fridays.
You might not be able to give up your Fridays (although if you have a boss they might be amenable to paying you less and giving you more time off – Friday afternoons at least) but the following principles do apply to everyone. How can you use them in YOUR life?
Happiness Principle 18: Consider sacrificing money for time. Time is more important. Happiness comes from time not from money.
Happiness Principle 19: Put your prices up! You’ll only lose the customers who you didn’t want anyway. The ones who were not very profitable, and probably gave you more than their fair share of grief too.
Happiness Principle 20: Get rid of customers who you don’t want – if they don’t make you happy or you don’t learn from or who are leading you in the wrong direction, or who are not financially worth it. Put the price up until they either leave or become worth the hassle.
So that’s it, that’s where I am at the moment. Working 2 or 3 days a week doing a job I love, filming my courses with Lynda.com so I can get some kind of income while I walk my big fluffy dog on the beach – even when the weather is cold I’m wearing a good coat and I love it. Playing in the band quite often, travelling abroad quite a bit, enjoying time with my wife and kids, and still pondering the meaning of life. And I nearly forgot: eating curry as often as possible.
Your plan may be completely different to that, but whatever it is I hope my 20 principles help you to get there!
Onwards and upwards!
… and this just in: