Sunday Supplement – Under pressure?

May 29, 2022

“A diamond is a chunk of coal that is made good under pressure” – Henry Kissinger

Welcome to the supplement! Last week’s readers will note that last week was a part 1 of 2 – and indeed part 2 will follow over the Jubilee weekend, as our GDP slips by 0.25% due to the bank holiday (I’d love to see the maths behind that – it sounds ridiculous to me). However, this is one I’ve been putting off for a while, and a curve-ball of a supplement, and it is timely given a few things I’ve got going on at the moment.

I was asked the direct question by one of the members of the Boardroom Club that I run with Rod Turner, about 8 weeks ago. “How do you cope with the pressure?”. It was one of those questions that threw me a little bit, if I am honest, because most days it doesn’t even come on to my radar for a few reasons:

  1. I enjoy what I do – I’d go as far as to say I love it. I have built the life around my work that I’ve chosen to. It doesn’t mean that everything goes right – far from it, to be honest – but it keeps me busy, keeps me interested, and keeps the wolf from the door.
  2. I’m particularly busy – again, from choice. Ergo – there isn’t that much headspace for self-care, thinking, etc. when in the heat of battle in a typical day.
  3. I’ve got a sunny disposition and a tough mindset, and that has been hardened over the years because things have gone wrong, from time to time, again and again, and that means that bad news affects me less than it would have done 5 years ago, which is less than it would have affected me 5 years before that, etc. etc.

There’s probably a few more in there somewhere as well. It’s also, like a few things, something that I’ve studied with interest over the years – primarily from observation in others, but also when there have been times that I’ve needed to listen to my body, take a break, relax for a holiday, or otherwise. 

I’ve definitely learned from other people’s coping mechanisms and tactics. Things that people do when they’ve already suffered from burnout – or close to it – before. Watching people’s self-care routines trying to learn. Learning from people who’ve transformed a life they didn’t want into a life they do want. 

Then – there’s the learning that comes from being close to people who are currently going through adversity. Supporting them, or being there for them. When someone is tested like they never have been before – how will they react? How should you react? How can you help? Sometimes it is incredibly difficult, but there’s always something to say or do.

To prepare yourself for a life involved in direct asset investment, particularly property, there are a few principles that you need to learn and develop I think. Mine are nowhere near finished articles, but here’s a few of my observations that I think some might find useful on this subject:

  1. Expect people to behave as they are incentivized. This should be self-evident, but if you needed good examples, you would talk about the brickie “superhod” from the 70s, who found cleverer ways to carry and lay more bricks, incentivized by being paid per brick. (retired as a multi-millionaire). If you wanted bad examples, you might look at some of the politicians during Covid and where the contracts landed, or how a group of bankers might conspire to fix the LIBOR rate.
  2. Plan for the worst, hope for the best. A simple maxim, but not often replicated. This is a classic “lip service” comment – what does it actually mean? It means what it says. At this time, I am planning for more macroeconomic metrics to go out of control. It doesn’t mean I think they will. It means that they could, and there’s enough chance of that happening for me to be taking action as I’ve been talking about recently.
  3. Expect no praise. I’ve refurbished hundreds of derelict, empty, unloved buildings and created new units in a fair few commercial buildings. I’ve paid millions in VAT, stamp duty, and a whole swathe of other taxes as well. I am not awaiting the knighthood and am stoic on that front – instead I expect to be vilified and mischaracterized by the press and the general public (not myself, so much, I mean being a landlord/property owner)
  4. Be honest. You act out your highest values – they are there in front of you. Don’t just reel off “integrity, honesty, and equality” if that just isn’t true. Know what you are. If you don’t like what you see in the mirror – you need to change it and take active steps to do so, and follow a plan.
  5. Breathe. Moments of quiet are important. Time without mobile phones, for example. Walking. Being in the gym. Don’t put the earphones in every time you go for a walk or some exercise – your mind needs to rest too. It is finite.
  6. Surround yourself with the right people. Amazing people are out there. Like many things you may well need to kiss a few frogs, I’ve worked with some fairly challenging people over the years, and also some absolutely brilliant people. Like trading – run your winners. There might be some steel required here if peers are abusing your good nature, or otherwise taking more than they give. Only you can change it.
  7. Be real. Not quite the same as being honest – just remember the paradox – the more time you spend on social media convincing the rest of the world that you are happy/rich/good-looking or whatever – the less likely that is to be true. Fix your roof when the sun is shining before firing up the humblebrags every 5 minutes.
  8. Quality of time, not quantity. We’ve all got 168 hours in the week – it’s just that some of us have more weeks left than others. We have an idea about who has more and less, but only an idea. If you are working towards a defined retirement age, then you also know how many work weeks you have left. What you shouldn’t do is compromise on sleep – there’s tons of evidence behind that. You need to prioritise, and be effective – and one hour of quality is vastly superior to one day juggling 15 other things, whether that be time with partners, kids, friends or family.
  9. Give before you expect to get anything back. Or the Gary Vaynerchuk “jab, jab, hook” approach. It will be easy to meet people who just want to take from you, over time, especially as you become more accomplished and experienced. If you try to deliver value above all else; if you start each new potential connection with that attitude, you will find you’ve unlocked the real key to networking.
  10. Use context to benchmark. Something bad has happened. OK. Has anyone died? No? Then it could be worse. Is your life irreparably worse on the basis of what has happened? No? Then, again, it could be worse. In fact, perhaps it isn’t all that serious at all. I’ve posted about the ladder of accountability before – it’s worth revising if you aren’t familiar with it.
  11. Understand and harness the power of “no”. You will be defined by what you say “no” to, rather than what you say “yes” to. It is easy to say yes. Saying no ensures you are valuing your own time, and also is the practice of someone who is clear on their goals. 
  12. Preserve your sanity, not your vanity. Why do I spend time writing this every week (for example)? It keeps me honest. I know that some people are habitual readers every week. That can pander to the ego – of course – but it is more of a driver for me. It ensures that I do the work, work I might not otherwise have done. It forms part of a routine – something I struggle with in general, because I am always spinning multiple plates. Anything less and – as per above – I’d risk boredom which I’m keen to avoid!
  13. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. A hat tip to my friend John Paul here who taught me bucketloads about letting and estate agencies – the business side behind them – and I thought about paraphrasing this one, but I don’t know a better way of saying it. If you will have to have hard conversations – and in property it’s unavoidable – you need to get used to them so they aren’t a cause of massive anxiety or stress. 
  14. Use your foresight. Vizualize. In every refurb – for example – there is a hidden problem somewhere that will come to the surface. Almost always – more than one, and more than once. If you take a moment to picture the end product, it will help you breathe through this minor bump in the road on the way to the goal.
  15. Every day above ground is a good day. Gratitude. Under-repped in today’s society, let’s face it. If you spend time thinking about, or even better, journaling, the things in your life you are grateful for, it puts into context just how minor some of the problems that are blowing you up can be.

So, there’s not “15 rules for life” there although of course many of them work outside of the property sphere. Just some hints and tips for the survival kit. 

Next week – part 2 of the toolkit for getting through these current economic times. Or, I might talk about how the windfall tax (sorry, Temporary Targeted Energy Profits Levy – TTEPL) isn’t a windfall tax, or is inflationary, or isn’t typically Tory. Or, how we’ve entered a new phase of economics – with Thatcher we graduated to the monetarist school of thinking. With Johnson, Bazooka Economics is born (you heard it here first!). Keep calm, keep the stress levels down and have a great week……..