Season 1 Episode 8
Well, well, Well. What have we here?
Does anyone feel like they’ve just been thrust into the plot of a movie? Or that it kind of feels like you’re dreaming, but somehow you are sure that you’re not going to just ‘wake up’. That you are really here, in this situation, for better or worse, no way out.
As the world struggles to grapple with the outbreak of Covid-19, it’s clear that we are currently stuck in limbo, in the void, the space, between two worlds: the world before the coronavirus, and the world after. Make no mistake about it, the two worlds may not be that different, but different they will surely be.
Perhaps the new world we are heading towards will be better than the one we have now left behind, perhaps not. One thing is for certain though, this journey between worlds will not be easy, and it will not be comfortable.
It is the growing pain you experience as a child, with the new heights you then reach.
It is the ache of a tough workout, with the physical gains.
It is the sting of receiving a dose of tough love, but the reward you get for listening.
It is the troubling transition from adolescence to adulthood, with the gift of unlimited freedom.
As we are confronted with hard truths that we long-ignored, as we realise that as individuals we are profoundly connected to the collective, as we see stability for what it really is: a mirage, we start to understand that our perception of life will be forever changed. It is not the just the world that Is changing, it is you and I.
Despite the difficulties this developing situation is presenting us with, I feel fortunate that in this country, the UK, we have a strong tradition of resilience in tough times. The echoes of the mantras that underpinned and exemplified the steadfast attitudes of the two world wars still reverberate throughout the halls of our culture: Keep the home fires burning; your country needs you; keep calm and carry on. And now, we have our new rallying cry: Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives. Although we have grown soft in our insulated society, I’m glad we have that tradition to fall back on.
And it’s clearly not as bad as things have been for people who were alive then, and are still alive today. People who remember, with vivid clarity, the darker days of this island. At least we are now safe in our homes. My Grandma tells stories of rushing to their Air Raid Shelter when the sirens went off, she remembers when the backdoor was blown in by a German bomb, she recalls the deaths that shook the local community. She too lived through that most uncertain of times, when the whole country languished in the abyss between two worlds, the world before the war, and the world after. A world which saw the birth of rock n roll, an economic boom like no other, improvements in women’s rights, the influx of the Windrush generation and the creation of the NHS, which all led to society changing for the better. Although part of me is fixated on the nightmare of the situation, part of me is looking forward to seeing what things will look like, when we wake up.
This is episode 8 of Tim Quit His Job. The show that follows me on my adventures into the unknown as I quit my job, start a business and try and live life on my own terms. It’s a show for people who like to do things differently. For people who believe there is more to life than the 9-5. I’m not a guru, not an expert, not a preacher – and I don’t try to be. I’m Just a regular guy with a microphone, trying to document my journey, share what I’m learning and be honest about my experiences. The podcast is produced, edited and instrumentalised by the musical magician, the dot-WAV-wizard, the prophet of percussion – Henri Victorious. For comments, feedback and guest suggestions, hit me up on social media or email firstname.lastname@example.org – and head over to timquithisjob.com for the transcripts and shownotes of the episodes. Enjoy the show
Since the covid-19 outbreak, it’s been really interesting, as well as heartbreaking, to see how the virus is affecting different people in different ways. The more people you talk to, the more aware you become of the complex myriad ways people are being screwed over. It seems like everyone is starting to tell their own unique story, their own twist on a global phenomena – both the same for everyone, but also very different.
My personal story is such that I should probably start panicking and worrying. As regular listeners will know, I quit my job. Now primarily working as a freelance consultant for startup non-profits, I don’t have the protection that working for a large company could provide. I don’t get the benefits of sick pay if I need to isolate, no comfort of the guaranteed monthly salary, no working from home scheme. More importantly, and this is specific to the UK, I don’t get support from the government who are now offering to pay 80% of an employee’s salary during this lockdown period. I’m not an employee, I’m self-employed.
And what of my clients? The work I’m currently doing, can I not still do that during the lockdown? It’s complicated.
My primary source of revenue is helping charities write applications to funders so that they have the money to deliver projects to their local communities. The problem is that most, if not all of these projects involve person-to-person contact, usually in the form of some kind of group setting. So during the virus, these kinds of projects, that make up the bread and butter of the charity sector, will have to stop. As a result, funders who usually give money for these kind of projects will just stop giving out money until the virus has passed. Even those organisations who were promised money, may have to wait until after the virus to receive the funds. As I get paid through a commission on successful applications, I only get paid when the charities actually receive the money. So suddenly, I’m looking at a bit of a dry spell, to put it lightly.
But hasn’t the government just released some support to help self-employed people? Kind of…
Similar to the way the UK government is helping employed people, by paying 80% of their salaries, they have committed to paying 80% of self-employed workers’ average monthly earnings. However, and I sympathise with the government on this, it’s not that straight forward to work out how much a self-employed person earns every month. For starters, self-employed people don’t just declare income, they also declare their expenses. They deduct their expenses from their income to work out their profits, and only pay tax on that. It’s very different to having a job where you just get your income, and either the company pays your expenses – like the work laptop, stationary, work trips and office coffee – or you do, like your petrol to and from work, your lunch, your work clothes. Self-employed people have the luxury of declaring all of these costs, which lowers their declared profits and therefore lowers the amount of tax they usually pay compared to someone with a similar income who is employed by a company. So the government has a difficult decision to make, do they pay 80% of self-employed people’s income, or profits? The second, more difficult part, is how they work out how much self-employed people are currently earning. Now, self-employed people can be crafty and a bit slippery. Having to fill out your own tax returns and work out your own profits forces you to understand the system quite deeply, and learn how to game it, how to spin it ever so slightly in your favour. The government knows self-employed people do this, it’s this bizarre game of cat and mouse, played mostly within the limits of the law. So the government can’t just ask people, ‘how much are you currently earning?’, because they know that we will just make it look like we are currently earning more than we are – maybe we just forget a few of our expenses in order to raise what our profits look like, then that 80% bursary the government will give us will be higher. So they say, okay we will work out how much you are earning, by taking the average of your tax returns over the last three years, to work out your monthly profits. This sucks for a lot of people right? What if you barely earned anything in your first two years, as you were learning the ropes, and now you are earning more, but your two difficult years dramatically lowers your overall average earnings? But that’s not the problem I have. As the government can’t trust self-employed people to declare what they are currently earning, they go off our tax returns, handed in at the end of the financial year. But what if you’ve been self-employed for less than a year, and have never handed in a tax return? Well, then you’re screwed. The government’s advice for these people? Apply for benefits – and that’s the end of that.
As my main source of revenue will be drying up as a direct result of the virus, and I’m not eligible for the government’s support, you can see that I’m in a bit of a tight spot. Even if I do apply for benefits during this period, which I probably will, the money will take about 6 weeks to come in. As I write this, there’s an article in the news saying that over a million people have applied for benefits in the last two weeks, a ten-fold increase on this time next year. The people who assess the claims will surely be inundated, what if it takes longer – 7 or 8 weeks to come in?
The virus is a global phenomenon, but we all have our individual stories about how it is affecting us. The unique challenges we are facing.
A large part of me thinks that the self-employed should receive the same level of support, even though I know it’s very difficult to organise. But another part of me thinks: isn’t this what we signed up for? Did I not take the leap into entrepreneurship knowing the risks? Didn’t I set sail into the unknown knowing that I could encounter rough seas? Of course I did. And as bad as everything is, as terrible as it can and will get, it’s just that – rough seas that we’ve got to learn how to sail.
I once asked my girlfriend to buy me a philosophy book called Meditations by an Ancient Roman Emperor called Marcus Aurelius. You may have heard of it, as it’s by far the most popular work that underpins the stoic philosophy movement. She bought me the book a couple of years ago and, unfortunately, I couldn’t understand a single word of it. It’s translated into this really archaic and quite frankly, tortuous form of complex English. I really tried to my best to read it, but I just had no idea what the hell was going on. So this year, I’ve asked her to buy me the version for kids, so that I can get to grips with it… But there was one verse that I managed to understand:
“Thou must be like a promontory of the sea, against which though the waves beat continually, yet it both itself stands, and about it are those swelling waves stilled and quieted.”
You see what I’m dealing with here? This is the simplest verse in the whole book and still had to use google to find out what the damn hell a promontory is… It’s a rock, that sticks out of the sea.
But essentially, this verse, and the message behind it, represents one of the cornerstones of stoic philosophy: that in rough seas you can and should stand strong, and endure. In the book Marcus Aurelius goes as far to say that absolutely nothing that happens outside of your control is either good or bad, it is simply what you make of it. The external is defined only by your individual response to it. He would look at the situation we are in now and say that the outbreak in itself is neither good nor bad, we cannot judge it. We can only judge our own reaction. It got me thinking, if I cannot judge the outbreak, how would I judge my response – good, or bad? How would you judge yours?
In a situation where we can harbour so much anger and resentment for others: those in the government who respond too late and cover up their own mistakes; those who flaunt their social responsibility to self-isolate; those whose panicking makes things harder for us all; I feel that we should consciously aim our attention and intention inwards, towards ourselves rather than the outside world. For we cannot control it, and energy wasted on the outside is energy that could’ve better been spent on our own endeavours and behaviour. If we all did that, then we would probably find that as a collective we all act more responsibly anyway.
If I apply this kind of philosophy to my own situation, I can better come to terms with the difficult reality I’m facing, and then confront the problems head-on – without fear – and find solutions. In fact, when I do that, I realise how lucky I am compared to millions of people in this country, and billions of people worldwide, when it comes to how the virus will affect me.
- For starters, I’m incredibly lucky to live with my girlfriend, so I’m never short of love and companionship – as well as the occasional argument to retain the essence of normality.
- My girlfriend still has a fulltime job, so if things really did get bad, she could help me out – so long as I ask nicely.
- I’m lucky enough to not have a big mortgage hanging over my head, or even that much rent to pay, as Leeds is very cheap.
- Although I live in an apartment and there’s no garden to run around in, we have a big balcony that faces south, so we can step out of the confines of the flat without breaking the guidelines.
- I still have my health and physical fitness, so I’m able to go for runs along the canal right by our building.
- Although, like all of us, I know many at-risk people. So far they are all still healthy and taking as many precautions as they can.
- I’ve got a close family, who probably wouldn’t let me starve. The universal credit system has thankfully opened up slightly, and increased in amount, meaning I have a good chance of obtaining some form of benefits to help get me through the month.
- Lastly, and thanks to everyone now communicating more over the internet, I feel more connected to my childhood friends than I have in a very long time. I have lived far away way from my hometown for the last six years, but now we talk, hang out and play video games together every day – it feels like the good old days. Although still separated by geography; united under circumstance.
Regarding the tight-spot the chancellor has left many of us in, for me it’s not the end of the world. Despite work right now being tricky to say the least, I feel like I can finesse my way around some of this. I’ve still got a bit of work to do for a client in Northern Somalia, and that work will continue despite the virus. As my hourly rate is so much higher than when I was employed, and because my costs have plummeted due to being on lockdown, I don’t need to find too many billable hours to be able to sustain myself. There’s also a bunch of charities who are now redirecting their efforts towards helping virus-hit communities in the UK, and I could in theory help them apply for the emergency funds that have been made available by numerous different organisations.
I now have no excuse not to put maximum effort into my podcast. Into writing, speaking and storytelling – My passions. I even think my audience may have grown, as more people are sat inside bored. I could make more interesting content, and share it, and promote myself.
Somewhere deep, amidst the disaster and difficulty of our current predicament, that is piled high like driftwood on top of our lives, there is also nestled the burning ember of opportunity. Opportunity that has the potential to start the fire of progress and possibility in our otherwise-stagnated lives.
But although I genuinely believe that this virus, as with everything in life, does present opportunities. I also think there’s a lot of personal development, self improvement rubbish out there at this moment in time that’s really not helping anyone. I see so many people posting about how now is the perfect time to better yourself in nearly every single way imaginable:
‘Now is the best time to get fit and workout at home’
‘Now is the best time to start that side hustle’
‘Now is the best time to start meditating daily’
‘Now is the time to read a whole book every week’
‘Now is the time to learn to cook amazing food’
‘Learn a new language’
‘Learn to play the guitar’
‘Learn to paint’
In summary, ‘Learn to stop being a lazy, useless, waste of space’. That’s what it feels like people are telling me. I think some people have to realise that life has changed in some really negative ways for nearly all of us. And some people have it infinitely worse than others. There is a frighteningly real class divide in the virus’ impact on the people of this country – something that we are not yet acknowledging. Some people are literally having their whole lives turned upside down and inside out due to this virus, and the last thing they need is society to put added pressure on them because they’ve not redownloaded duolingo and started doing situps. Let’s be real, we are in lockdown, barred from our loved ones and the convenience of everyday life, running a wartime economy during the biggest crisis (and you know I don’t use that word lightly) this country has seen since World War II.
You don’t ned to flourish, you don’t need to better yourself, you don’t need to change your life – you need to survive. You need to take care of yourself. You need to be there for the people who need you. You need to manage your anxiety. You need to stay calm. You need to make good decisions. You need to stay home. You need to obey the motherfucking guidelines!
This is essentially contradictory to what I said about making the most of things and finding opportunities, but I believe there is a middle ground…
I think that once we start to accept that we don’t have to move heaven and earth from the confines of our own home, we can also start to acknowledge that we do have the power to find ways, no matter how small, to make the most of this situation. And perhaps in doing so, improve just a small but not insignificant area of our lives. Be it our fitness, our finances, our friendships, or anything else.
We have the power to be like Marcus Aurelius’ great promontory of the sea, that stands resiliently above the water, and about which the rough and violent waves of circumstance are stilled.
Thanks for listening. See you next week.