Lenten reflections 2020-27: Home-work time

I should have seen the space to write this sooner, but no time like the present. I’ve worked from home for the better part of a dozen years, first falling into it, when I was taking a leave of absence and my wife was director of a regional organization in Barbados and our youngest was just getting ready to start school. I did not have a ‘job’ and fell into the routine of ‘stay-home parent’. Fast forward, and I still don’t have a ‘job’ and I’m not quite a stay-home parent because our youngest has gone away to school. But, I am very much a stay-home person, full-time, and loving it. Perfect for the world of limiting viral infections by ‘working from home’ (#WFH).

From that unplanned start, things have taken several shapes and the most evident is that I spend time at home thinking and writing. I’m not going to repeat my points about how standard measures of work and national income/output (GDP) puts most of what I do as zero, whereas, if I were doing the same for an organization or perhaps incorporating myself and reporting, I’d be adding to GDP.

Along the way, I’ve actually done a few ‘jobs’ including some being an adjunct professor for the Univesity of the West Indies (UWI), football coaching, interviews with various media, including some current affairs and economics on local TV and a radio interview with the BBC, written articles for newspapers and magazines, editorial work, reviewing books, been on commissions, board director, and more. Some of that has been for financial remuneration, but most has been pro bono, and I like it that way. (I’ve good pensions and I really don’t like money that much 🙂 ) I’ve also been my wife’s travelling companion (for which the pleasure is more than money can buy 🙂 ) and oft-time social secretary/personal assistant (for which, no amount of money may be enough—please call her at her office about her laundry).

I imagine that in the rapidly-changing world brought on by the Novel Coronavirus (COVID 19), I could pass myself off as a homeworking guru and rake in serious wonga as a consultant. Hmmm 🙂 That said, one of my young entreneurial friends has gotten the ball rolling for his company, well-positioned in the digital world:

Funnily, I got into the virtual side of working from home as a matter of necessity and also ease. I was asked if I’d teach at UWI Cave Hill, and said yes. The course was strategic planning for an executive MBA course; it involved standard class room methods for my first, local cohort. But, I then had two follow-on cohorts in Tortola (again, mainly standard class room teaching evenings for two weeks) and Belize (where my course was taught online and was not synchronized, ie I taught while my students were at work during the day, posting my material; they reacted bilaterally and we’d interact in the evenings, then repeat periodically). I set exams for these courses, which were taken at their respective locations.

For all of that, I needed a laptop and, increasingly, good access to the Internet; I had both. I had a nice space at home that became an office and I was good to go; better so, as the office led almost straight out to the garage., so as I was always on afternoon school pick-up, I was just a step away from ‘job 2’.

It was a good gig and the contract with UWI was well-structured (that’s code for a good payer :))

I’d started blogging and that was where I saw a lot of my mental energies going, as I tried to make sense of what I was seeing and experiencing in Barbados (see http://LivingInBarbados.blogspot.com). I’d no expectations from this new venture, other than a better understanding, and it was a natural ‘fit’ writing from my economist’s perspective. It got me noticed, though some of the attention was less than welcoming (a lot of Bajans couldn’t handle a Jamaican, albeit one with a lot of likeable British traits pointing out that their economy was on the skids before 2010 and thought he should go and ‘sort out’ his own country first. Well, we know where that thinking got them.) But, the blog led to articles and interviews and a regular commentary stint on a daily call-in programme called Brass Tacks.

Again, funnily, it was while I was doing the Tortola course that I had an idea that set the home-working thing well on its way. I’d heard of Olint and was fascinated by what I thought were extraordinary returns (10%/month, 120%/year) from foreign exchange (FX) trading, and while sitting down during the days awaiting teaching stints with my students in the evenings, I thought I’d run a little economics experiment to see if I could come near to those gains. So, I learned a bit about the FX market, beyond what economics textbooks tell you, got myself registered with a trading platform, set up my work station, and set off on the journey.

I discovered that high returns were possible…sometimes, but the kinds of returns Olint and others were offering were not sustainable. I knew people who’d invested in these schemes and cashed out well ahead and they were really lucky. However, I was hooked on trading as it put a lot of my economics training on its head: fundamentals don’t matter that much in the essentially short-term world of trading–in fact, such considerations can be downright counterproductive. Markets tend to ‘buy the news, and sell the fact’, which means that any announcement tends to get treated the same way and the art of trading on news, if you must, was to get in and out fast; often, better to stand aside.

Trading can be intense, and when your own money is on the line and leveraged, it can get stressful: successes are great, but losses hurt. But, losing is part of the nature of the beast with trading. But, nothing beats your first big win on a trade…except your first big loss. Swallow and get up on that horse again, buddy.

I took my trading from Barbados into our return to Washington in 2010 and on a little further, and I think I was burning out. I had my monitors set up and was getting my news fastish, including from the new social media platform, Twitter, where traders made a good, collaborative community. Some excellent non-institutional traders offered online advice and guidance and live trade suggestions; it’s a great world where freedom on action means something–your money to lose, baby. I preferred being a nimble trader and honed my interest down from many hours to just a couple each morning, and was saved by the golf bug, which offered similar anxieties but with little real cash loss likely. I’ve learned that saving and having money invested in a few funds pays really well, and I do not try to second-guess my broker or pick winners.

Along the way, however, I also realized that my work-at-home space was ideal for putting my thoughts into writing, and I kept on blogging, changing my ‘voice’ to fit new situations. My Barbados blog was often well-received and many sought it out for its independent views and useful information: one current good American friend came to the blog to dispel ideas about Muslim terrorism in Barbados before setting up a family holiday; after getting my take she booked and we met and had breakfast one day in Barbados with her whole family and they were having a ball.

Obviously, I’m still trucking on the blogging trail. Independence is really my watchword and I fiercely guard that. I felt honoured to get an award for Best news, sports or current affairs blog by the Press Association of Jamaica in 2017 (and I honestly haven’t submitted an entry since out of a sense that I dare not win it again).

As it says on this blog ‘about the author’, it’s my thinking space. It’s developed into a place where I get most clarity of thought on many topics, not just those that are clearly economic, and I have sometimes then tossed my thoughts out to the media to see if they like them and they resonate.

I’ve long passed ‘working’ in a basement office and much prefer being up in the light (usually, the kitchen but more often in the ‘TV room’, where I can write and consume sport with equal ease). I’ve tried a few adjustments and done some live commentary on Facebook and am thinking about podcasting or a YouTube channel. I know there’s space for my thoughts, even if it’s tiny: followers grumble when I go ‘silent’ for any time. 🙂

I’ve honed my craft so that I can ‘write’ on any of several devices and also know how to use voice-to-text software–now a standard in many applications–so that ideas don’t get lost because I’m doing something else. I write in a stream of consciousness way and don’t really do redrafts–it is what it is. I’ve a great love of things visual and my work also includes my many pictures of what I see passing as normal life, especially in the parallel universe called Jamaica.

My daughter looked at my blog the other day and was blown away by the number of followers it has; me, too.

I’ve carved out a good routine for my writing–mainly early mornings, as the darkness fades away into dawn. It’s the time of minimum interruptions and so long as I’m done by 7am, I’m normally clear. It also means that I have few frustrations as the day develops because my ‘work’ is done.

It fitted nicely into parenting, as I was rarely caught in conflict with whatever my child needed after school, whether my presence as driver, supporter, advisor or ice cream buyer 🙂

I’d still like to see what I do clearly placed in national output, and if nothing else comes from the current turmoil with COVID19 it may be a wholesale reassessment comes of how and what we measures as economic ‘wellbeing’.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)