Today’s activity at the Japanese Grand Prix is cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis hitting Suzuka. Watching videos of the drivers making plans for their gift of free time, I feel like I’ve also been gifted some time and I’m spending that gift in the garage.
I’m currently waiting for the postman to deliver a steering head bearing for one of my BMW R1100R motorcycles and will get that pressed in when it arrives. I’m then going to ready the rest of the bike for an MOT test later this week. Youtube has no videos of R1100 steering head bearing replacement, so I might shoot something on that. Either way, I’m looking forward to doing the work.
Saturday is garage day for me and that time is closely guarded. When one is young and working Monday to Friday, free time can seem like a given. Time in general, but free time particularly. One of the great dangers of freelancing is taking on so much work that one works seven days a week. This is especially true of freelancers who work doing what they love.
I was very guilty of this when I first went full-time freelance back in 2010. Having handed the company Prius back to my motor trade publisher employers and gone solo a little ahead of time, the great fear was cashflow, so I took on everything that was offered. I was writing for two mainstream motoring magazines, several specialist Porsche magazines, many private PR clients and picking up other work, including bizarre jobs like writing a tourist brochure promoting adrenalin sports in Bedfordshire and oddball topics for in-flight magazines.
I rented an office in a village nearby and would go straight there after the school run. The working day started at 9:30am and frequently finished after midnight. No school at weekends meant I could start work at 7am and work through to the early hours of the following morning. Workaholic doesn’t begin to describe life at that time: if I wasn’t asleep for my usual four hours a night or running my three daughters to school, I was sitting in front of a Mac and trying to come up with the next big idea that would encourage clients not to drop me the following month.
The Freelance Fear
It took a long time to overcome the idea that every client phone call was the one that would end our relationship, and I was in good company. Derek Bell told me that he felt the same way when working for Ferrari. “Every time someone told me that Mr Ferrari wanted to see me, I was sure this would be the day he would tell me he’d finally figured out that I wasn’t that good and could I please leave the building.”
While freelancers all look at other freelancers and wish for their confidence, “freelance fear” is universal. Derek Bell eventually left Ferrari when he nearly burned to death in one of its cars and I had a similar epiphany in 2012. After two years of manic freelancing, I was making great money but putting on weight and becoming lethargic. The early years with my kids were drifting away at the expense of clients, most of whom would have left me to burn if my world caught fire and hired someone else in a heartbeat.
What was going on in my head was the same thing all of us face: mortality. Seneca’s letter “On the Shortness of Life’ expresses this perfectly. “You will hear many men saying: “After my fiftieth year I shall retire into leisure, my sixtieth year shall release me from public duties.” And what guarantee, pray, have you that your life will last longer? Who will suffer your course to be just as you plan it? Are you not ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnant of life, and to set apart for wisdom only that time which cannot be devoted to any business? How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live! What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to intend to begin life at a point to which few have attained!”
Seneca wrote this over two thousand years ago. The meaning of life, or “What should time be about?” is the question we’ve considered since the earliest days. As it is definitely not about selling your life to people who do not truly care about you, I started taking my time back.
Magazines were the first to go, as they never paid on time and were all pushing for more work for less money. I kept one magazine, as the editor is such a great friend and I have continued to work with him, mostly for free. My childhood ambition was to write for the car magazines I lost myself in from my earliest days and keeping that outlet is incredibly important to me: it honours a brave young man who got on a bus to London with his favourite music, £65 in his pocket and the desire to be published alongside his heroes.
As I retreated from jobs that any writer could do, I began to focus on the work that challenged me to keep learning and developing my marketing skills. I went back to college and studied photography. I teamed up with people starting new businesses: the classic Porsche risk takers. I made myself affordable for those guys, as their passion was infectious and our life stories often ran parallel. We understood each other without talking and breathed the same freelance air. Working with risk takers is always going to be at the centre of what I’m about.
Next year will be my tenth year as a full-time freelancer, and I look back on that decade with great fondness and respect. My kids are now starting to make their own lives and I know who they are: they are wonderful people and a great source of pride to their parents. Since taking more time for my health and wellbeing, I’ve lost thirty-five pounds and suffered no serious illnesses – touch wood. I’ve learned to cook quite a bit and enjoy time with Ted the Jack Russell and with my cars, bikes and friends. I continue to work with classic Porsche risk takers and they are a constant source of joy and inspiration.
Porsche as a centre of life
It’s hard to believe that Porsche as a brand sits at the centre of this most rewarding decade. Having always read voraciously, these cars are part of my story and bookmark chapters in my life much more than people or places. My earliest Porsche memory is as a young Irish boy sitting in a field, watching my first 911 pass by and sensing something important. Touching my first 911, driving my first one, buying my first: these are all moments when goals were achieved that reset my vision of life.
Less being more is a core Porsche philosophy, but Porsche did not invent the idea. The founders, designers and those who were attracted to the tribe connected with the importance of what was, and is, important. As we are all ultimately in search of the meaning of life, what better conduit to consider these questions than a classic Porsche? Simple, beautiful, highly emotional but humanly flawed. Every Porsche represents human imperfection.
We can read the daily press releases talking up the future – today it is Porsche’s new flying car partnership with Boeing – and get sucked into chasing what’s next, but the future is all about your time running out. Do not forget the importance of now. Learn from the great minds that have already passed: slow down and think of your time. One day it will be over, as this inscription on a Scottish gravestone so wisely reminds us.
“My glass has run
Yours is running
Be wise in time
Your hour is coming”
Has your Porsche help you to put metaphysical life into context? Tell me about that: in comments or in confidence.
p.s.: As I pressed “publish” on this blog, the steering head bearing dropped through the letterbox. Flow is how life works when we embrace what is truly important. Enjoy your weekend.
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