Monday, June 25, 2012

Step #7 Avocations & Vocations

Living Free is about creating a lifestyle that is as simple, free of laws, rules, restrictions, limitations, encumbrances, covenants and other forms of control over how you choose to live as possible in a very complicated world. It does not, however, mean living for free, being fiscally irresponsible, without obligations, not being accountable for your actions or in any other way trespassing or infringing on the rights of anyone else.

You must be responsible and accountable for your own well-being and welfare. If you have a family, you have a responsibility to look out for your spouse and children. So, living free does have some limitations that must be defined according to your individual circumstances. Financial responsibility is a necessary part of living free.

Here are several possible scenarios to be considered.

The first is that you were fortunate enough to be born into significant wealth that provides enough financial resources to live comfortably at the lifestyle you have chosen. There is only a small percentage of people who find themselves in this situation.

A second possible scenario is that you have worked very productively during part of your lifetime and are financially independent and can live comfortably at whatever lifestyle you have chosen. Again, this is a circumstance only a small percentage of the population can relate to.

A third possibility, and one that more people identify with, is where you (or both members, in a family or domestic relationship) are gainfully employed, earning an income that may or may not be enough to satisfy you and is likely controlling your lifestyle. Most likely you’re barely keeping up with the bills and may have accumulated some debt. In this scenario you may consider yourself a wage slave. This simply means you probably don’t enjoy or gain much personal fulfillment from the work you’re doing, but must retain the job to maintain the status quo.

Yet, another scenario is when you are employed in work that is truly fulfilling on an emotional, intellectual and professional level, but may not provide compensation adequate to cover your current lifestyle. The work may require too much time, allowing little or no time to enjoy other aspects of a balanced life.

And, of course, you may be like me, led or driven into businesses you created for yourself. This scenario may be one of the most difficult to disparage since you may have, in effect, created your own employment “prison” and become a wage slave to your own dream.

Your own scenario may be similar or perhaps, a variation of those I’ve mentioned.

We’ve created a number of labels to describe this process by which we generate income to support our chosen lifestyle. Words such as work, job, profession, vocation, career, practice, occupation, employment, grind, labor, work hand, artisan, craftsman, drudge, rat race, salt mine, rut and others find their way into our vocabulary when referring to this facet of our lives.

You’ll seldom hear anyone describe what he or she does to earn his or her income as an avocation. That’s probably because an avocation, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is a subordinate occupation pursued especially for pleasure or . . . a hobby.

There are three words in that definition that catch my attention. First is the word subordinate as an adjective to the word occupation. An avocation places “work” in a lesser place of importance in our life. The second is pleasure. One does something that is enjoyable and provides pleasure. The third word is hobby. A hobby is a pursuit or interest one engages in for relaxation. Wow! Imagine doing something that is subordinate to other activities, pleasurable, relaxing and generates the income you need.

Let’s examine the differences between a vocation and an avocation more closely. You engage in a vocation, occupation or profession, typically, committing 50 to 60 hours each week including commuting, lunches and arriving early and staying a little late to complete the requirements of the job. This activity cannot be considered a subordinate part of your life since it requires the single largest block of your time each week. It’s likely not pleasurable nor does it provide relaxation.

On the other hand, you engage in an avocation because you have a specific interest in whatever it is. Additionally, you experience pleasure and relaxation from it. If you can generate an income from the avocation, could it be any better?

There are certainly a percentage of people who do earn their income from activities considered avocations by other people. The list of activities considered by some people as traditional work and by others as avocations is long. The difference is the frame of reference. Most people frame activities utilizing a skill, education, specialized training or some labor related process used to earn money to support their lifestyle as work or a job. There are other people who love and are passionate about certain activities and realize financial compensation from them. They get to enjoy doing something pleasurable, relaxing and financially rewarding. Again, could work be any better? 

Vocation or Avocation?

So, which sounds like the better choice to you? This should be a no brainer for most people. The avocation is the way to go. Compare these two scenarios and answer this question for yourself.

Scenario #1 – you wake up everyday on a schedule prescribed by someone else, grudgingly get out of your comfortable bed, commute to and from some appointed location through traffic and congestion and do your current job because you “love” the work and the people you serve so much. Then, you attempt to squeeze in all the other activities, both domestic and pleasurable, in the limited time available after your primary job commitment.

Scenario #2 – you wake up on your own schedule with the thought in mind that you “get” to do whatever your passion is again today for as much or as little time as you choose to commit to it. You determine the time to commit to your avocation based on other activities you enjoy doing. You love your avocation so much you’d happily do it for free. Actually, you probably were doing it for free when you were able to squeeze it into a life that was based around the more traditional, industrial revolution model.

If you selected the second scenario as the life you’d prefer, then you need to do some serious contemplation.

Believe it or not, there are many people who feel work isn’t work unless it’s defined as work by society in general or, as I’ve called it, the “Committee of They.” Work is frequently defined by what we were taught by our parents, teachers, college professors and others still resigned to the antiquated, industrial revolution model. The idea that individuals can control their own time, do something they enjoy doing in a pleasurable and relaxing manner and earn an income doing it is an “impossible dream” to most of the population of the developed world. Then add that the individual can actually be passionate about whatever it is and blend their income-producing schedule into the rest of their life rather then blending the rest of their life into their job schedule.

To most this doesn’t seem realistic. This is what I’ve always described as “employee mentality.” Another term I’ve seen used recently is “wage slave.”

Do What You Love . . .

Speaker/Author Al Walker recording an audio book in his home

Ed Helvey directing and recording Al Walker's audio book
From this point forward you’re putting the traditional, antiquated, industrial revolution, vocation, professional, career model behind you. It’s time to focus on pursuing an avocation to support your ability to live free. You’ve probably heard the statement before, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” Well, it’s true. However, there are always conditions attached to everything. Selecting and pursuing an avocation doesn’t mean you won’t have to put forth some effort. Here’s another old saying you’ve heard, “Freedom isn’t free.” Don’t ever forget that. Living Free should never be confused with living for free. There are no free lunches.

The first thing I suggest is that you obtain a copy of an out of print book that’s been a primary inspiration for my living free concept. The book is, Working Free: A Practical Alternative to a 9 to 5 Job by John Applegath. I see used copies listed on Amazon regularly. It was published in 1982, so it’s dated. However, the ideas and concepts are just as valid today as they were back then. It’s full of examples of people who threw out the antiquated industrial revolution job mentality. They discovered what was important to them. They determined how much income they required to live the life they wanted to enjoy. Then they found the “avocation” to fit that lifestyle and live on their own terms. I searched for the author for 20 years and finally had the opportunity and privilege of meeting John Applegath and getting to know him in late 2007.

I also highly recommend two other books. The first is, Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow: Discovering Your Right Livelihood by Marsha Sinetar. After reading this book, I bought copies for everyone I cared about. The second book is, Making a Living Without a Job, revised edition: Winning Ways for Creating Work That You Loveby Barbara Winter. I’ve also had the opportunity and privilege of meeting and attending a workshop with Barbara. Barbara left the world of the traditionally employed to follow her dream of being “joyfully jobless.” Today she conducts seminars and workshops that provide people with the tools they need to reinvent their lives.

Here are four important processes in fulfilling Step #7.

1. You must determine your personal definition of living free and create an image in your mind of exactly what your life will look like and what you’ll need to do to live free. Here’s a hint, Step #7 is deeply entwined with the other 11 steps.

2. You must determine exactly how much it is going to cost to create and sustain this living free lifestyle.

3. You must create a list (yep, another list) of the various avocational interests, talents, skills and abilities you have, prioritize them in the order of your love/passion for each and then evaluate if one or more of them, starting with the one you have the most passion for, can create a revenue stream that will be meaningful in your quest to live free.

4. Finally, you must create a plan to turn this/these avocation(s) into the income producer for you to live free.

There may be other considerations in developing your plan, but these four are the most basic and important. Consider your age? Are you old enough to retire or take an early retirement? Retirement is just a word people use to describe when you’ve left your “recognized” occupation or career. It’s often identified with a prescribed age. In fact, you can “retire” at any age for any reason. Retirement is often used to loosely define what I call living free. The difference is that retirement usually has some age, financial position and, often, an employer determined stipulation attached to it. Living free doesn’t have any external prerequisites. Living free simply means not conforming to the standards and conditions typically accepted by the vast majority of the population, the “Committee of They.”

Next, consider these questions. Do you have a significant traditional or Roth IRA, a 401K or other retirement instruments? Do you have pensions that will be available from an employer at some prescribed time? When can you begin withdrawing from your various retirement and pension accounts without penalty? When will you be eligible to receive Social Security and Medicare benefits? How much will these benefits amount to each month? None of these are required or necessary in deciding to live free. Depending on your age, they may, however, be of some assistance in your transition to living free.

How much savings do you have? Do you have funds in investment accounts that generate dividends? How much are these dividends? Will you be downsizing and liquidating assets worth sizable amounts of money? The assets could include your home, extra vehicles, a boat, one or more vacation properties, expensive jewelry, an airplane and so on. After you downsize and pay off your liabilities and become debt free, will any of this money be available to subsidize you until you can generate an adequate income from your avocation(s) to sustain living free?

I stated earlier that every step of the 12 Steps for Living Free is integral to the other steps. As you proceed through each step, you’ll discover opportunities and possibilities you likely never considered before. An open mind is important. Never say never! Just because you have not considered something before doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.

I also said that 12 Steps for Living Free is a process. A few people may decide to go “cold turkey” and change their lives overnight. This may work for some people. I strongly recommend against being overzealous. Making a change as drastic as living free is not easy. It is stressful. It is emotionally charged. It can take a toll on your physical well-being. It will require changes to almost everything you’ve based most of your life on. It will require a rewiring of your concept of work and how it integrates into your life. Your avocation is an important part of living free, however, it is not going to define your life as your vocation did when it controlled the largest block of your awake time each week.

The Perfect Blend

Creating a balance of having time to pursue all the activities you want to enjoy through living free and pursuing avocations to generate income to live free is what I call the perfect blend. While I’d like to say that creating this blend is a simple process, I’d be kidding you.

Remember, earlier in this series of 12 Steps for Living Free, I said that life is all about choices. Now is an excellent time to focus on the word “choices.” Choosing to reinvent your life to live free is one of those choices. Each of these first seven steps has required you to consider numerous choices. You’ll be making choices through the last five steps as well.

Here is another important thing to remember. You can’t have everything. You can dream about what you want. You can include it in your plan. However, like everything else in life, when the rubber meets the road, you’ll come to intersections, detours and obstacles that will require more choices. Some of these choices will require compromise. Compromise is an important part of living free.

So, how can you create this “perfect blend” and balance and live free? Setting aside some issues we’ve already established, like whether you’re a single individual or in a relationship of some kind (relationships require consideration of the other people involved and some compromising) you can do some speculating and contemplating.

Your definition of living free, dreams, desires and objectives is personal to you. I don’t know what is going on in your heart and mind. As an example, I’ll use myself. It’s important to understand that I’m a work in progress, just as everyone is. Because I’ve made and acted on some of the difficult choices doesn’t mean I’m where I’m ultimately heading or that many of my earlier living free definitions, dreams and desires haven’t and aren’t continuing to change and evolve. That’s part of the process.

Transitioning from Vocation to Avocation

You already know that I’ve been a serial entrepreneur since I was 12. I learned business basics and what customer service meant right from the beginning as a newspaper delivery boy and developed a good income as a 12 and 13 year old.

I earned an amateur radio license at 14 and had my introduction to electronics, radio and broadcasting. At 16, I wanted to be a Baptist minister. I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Arts Education certified to teach Kindergarten through 12th grade by 22. I earned a Master’s degree in TV and Radio and by 23 and at 24 I was teaching television production part-time on a college level.

Over the years I’ve owned numerous businesses, too many to go into great detail here. Once I discovered the recording and sound industry during my freshman year in college I finally had a direction. I was doing live sound for national touring performers, starting my independent recording and by age 20 I was a member of the international Audio Engineering Society. At age 24 I had been approved for a very large six figure venture capitalization to build a multi-media production and duplication center in Central New York State. Unfortunately, this was at the peak of the Vietnam War. So, in order to avoid being drafted into the Army, I found myself a job in the recording and broadcasting field with the Air Force in Washington, DC. The venture capital deal, obviously, fell through.

During my professional recording and sound career, I’ve done just about everything anyone could do in that industry including: location recording, recording studio owner, record production, high-speed tape duplication, independent audio and video production and voice-overs to mention a few. Additionally, I created and published an international audio magazine, was involved in multi-level and network marketing, owned a book publishing business, have done professional speaking and consulting in various fields. This only touches on some of the facets of more then 50 years in business ventures.

Needless to say, the list is long. Everything I’ve ever done has dovetailed from one thing into another. Opportunities appeared and doors opened. It wasn’t unusual to be running several businesses at the same time. Most of my career I operated independently and contracted or outsourced certain things to others. Several businesses required as many as 25 to 28 employees.

Here is reality. During my 48+ years since my introduction to the recording industry in 1963, my life went from relatively simple to extremely complicated. I literally created my own jobs (yes, plural because I was often filling multiple positions) and my own self-imposed prison. I was a wage slave of my own making. I certainly didn’t start out in business to end up in that situation. However, reality is reality and that is what I created.

Considering in my late teens and early 20’s I had a very similar dream to the dream I currently have of living free, I certainly took some significant detours and off-road trails. Some of those detours took me out of my way and the off-road trails were often very rough.

Now, compare your own life to mine. Perhaps you’ve been in business for yourself. You may be able to relate to this snapshot of my life. On the other hand, perhaps you spent your life employed by one or more employers. You may have prepared to enter one field, and then strayed from that path due to circumstances and reality. The important point is that whatever roads you’ve traversed, you are the sum total of all of these experiences.

In my case, most of what I’ve done during my lifetime began with my main love and passion for recording. Would things have turned out differently had I become a Baptist minister, received the venture capital at age 24 and not had to enlist in the Air Force? Probably! But, such speculation is folly since reality and life happened and can’t be reversed. Woulda, shoulda and coulda don't count. The same is true for you.

While there were some businesses I wish I had never been involved in, the reality is that I did take the road and despite any other consequences, I gained considerably more experience and knowledge. But, how does this apply to creating income from some avocational pursuit at this time in my life? Watch this process and see if you can transfer and apply it to your own quest to live free.

I’ve gone through the 12 Steps for Living Free (and continue through them, a life long process). My life is much simpler then it has been in years. I’ve downsized and eliminated the major tangible and much of the intangible assets and “stuff” that no longer serves me. I’m virtually out of debt. I’ve evolved my definition of living free over the past few years. So, what are my passions? I still have a passion for facets of the audio and recording industry. I love to travel. I’ve been writing all my life, but mainly for business. Now, I realize that I love writing. I always loved teaching and helping others and speaking in public is a continuing passion.

So, my new life allows me to do the occasional audio project for a few, select clients who I enjoy working with and gain personal enjoyment and fulfillment from. I have personal audio and video projects I am pursuing. I’ve done photography, often for business, so I can take pictures during my travels and after careful selection, I can offer them for sale through online image services. I’m blogging and writing books that will ultimately be available through Amazon and other outlets. I can conduct seminars, workshops and in depth retreats to teach, guide and coach people in their quests to live free. And, my passion for travel will take me across the U.S. and Canada by motor home as I do all of the above.

Will any one of these avocations provide an income adequate to sustain living free? I’m not counting on it. However, I’ve reduced my overhead to approximately 20% of what it was just three and a half years ago. I’ve reinvented my lifestyle to enjoy living simply, frugally and as a minimalist. I’m freer and happier then I’ve ever been. Thus, I fully expect the income from these various avocations to provide all the income I need with some left over for a “rainy day.”

Of course, there are some aspects of pursuing these avocational pursuits that I’m not interested in doing myself. You’ll probably feel the same. Maybe you won’t feel comfortable with marketing or fulfillment. Perhaps you don’t want to deal with the bookkeeping, accounting and finances. You may feel inspired to create the ideas and designs for some product ideas, but would prefer not to deal with the manufacturing and delivery of the products. All of these can be resolved through partnering, virtual assistants and outsourcing. Sure, there will be some cost involved, but the most important part of an avocation is that you get to do what you love, are passionate about, enjoy and are relaxed doing on a schedule you establish.

This will not be accomplished overnight. The process I’ve described in this step, just like the other steps, is an ongoing process. As Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” I’ve managed to find just about every way to complicate my life and imprison myself. Unraveling this lifetime of detours and off-road trails is no easier for me then it is for you. Perhaps, it’s even more difficult for me. The most important thing is that if I can do it, you can do it. Life is all about choices. You can choose to accept what you have and where you are now. Or, you can choose to take another step toward your dream of living free.

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