Many years ago I was visiting my sister in the South of England. I was travelling up to London and went to Tunbridge Wells to catch the train. It was quite early so I was travelling along with a whole bunch of commuters. I got my ticket and made my way to the platform. There was a very strange sight. Small lines of people at right angles to the lines and about a meter back from the edge. In a few places there were two parallel lines of people side by side. There was no train. When the train pulled into the station, each line of people matched the position of the doors to the train. It is an image that has stayed with me all these years. I think I was thinking “lemmings” at the time.
I am travelling this morning and I went to get my usual seat. Somebody has nicked it. That’s my seat!
When I find myself in these situations, I always think back to that incident at Tunbridge Wells station. I am just as bad. When I catch myself thinking like this, I find the whole thing quite funny. But then we all have our habits and routines. I suppose it is how we get through our day. We don’t need to think about anything because it is the same every time. We can just “do” and everything will be fine. Then we carry on doing the same every time and so it goes on.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. What that means to me is that on those days when something happens that takes you away from your “normal” then you actually have to think and in thinking you find new opportunities, new ways of going about things, and maybe you find that you do not want to go back to your old habits, your old safe place.
I have always thought that in periods of economic turmoil, whether that be national or local, there are opportunities for businesses to grow. Economic circumstances may put you in a position where you have to find a new way to make a living. It might be that one or more other businesses have gone under, opening the doors for somebody, like you, to step into that gap. Whatever it is, there is opportunity. Of course, if your normal is unaffected you may be quite content to just carry on in that safe space. It depends a little on your personality but many people I come across who are working for someone else are discounted to a lesser or greater extent. Constructive discontent is a concept I came across and basically it means using your discontent to drive a positive change in your life and to take positive action to really make a difference.
I was never a good employee. I think I came to terms with this very early on when I was working in various accountant firms. I was discontented. I knew that I needed to work in a different way and so I decided to progress towards having my own practice. It took 7 years of employment before I actually made that change. I moved 300 miles with my family including three children, with the oldest only 5, and a fourth on the way. I stepped into an established practice and me and another guy ran that business for 15 years, growing the turnover well over 10 times in that time. Good times. Worked hard. Worked long hours. But that was what I needed. Sink or swim by your own efforts, and nobody telling you what to do. So, we made plenty of mistakes along the way, but good times.
Still, all good things must come to an end and after 15 years, that constructive discontent had reared its head again. Helen and I started off again from scratch. Worked hard. Working long hours. Made plenty of mistakes. But we have grown our business and we get a lot of satisfaction from what we do,
The period of fastest growth was following the banking crisis after 2008. Turmoil in the economy. Businesses going under all around us. But we grew quickly and steadily throughout that period. Turmoil brings opportunities. Turmoil means that your competition go into survival mode and just batten down the hatches to survive the storm. We set full sail and ran with the wind of economic change. We won some and lost some. We had hard times and had to make some tough decisions. But all this stops you getting into that Tunbridge Wells mentality. It keeps you alert and thinking. It means that you are open to grabbing new opportunities as they appear. No time to prevaricate, just go with it and work it out as you go along.
The other side of this is that you are the sum of all of your experiences. If you live an active, thoughtful economic life, grabbing opportunities as they come along, inevitably you grow as a person. You learn by your mistakes and having made so many of these, I must have learnt something along the way, and that learning continues each and every day.
Many years ago, when I was deciding how I wanted to earn my living, the reason that tax work appealed, was that it was always changing. Sometimes I could wish for a little less change, but there is no doubt that there have been massive changes to our tax rules over the years. Chancellors cannot resist tinkering and occasionally sweeping away a whole tax. But that is just what is and I don’t suppose that will change anytime soon. I also doubt whether this or any other government has either the wit or motivation to make our tax system both sensible, logical and easy to understand. Mind you that’s how I earn my living.
So, what opportunities will come your way today. Are you open to new ideas and ready to grab that opportunity? You may prosper, or you may just add to your experiences, ready for the next opportunity that comes your way.
Alan E Long
The Long Partnership