Today I learned, in the most visceral way possible, the power of money
Storm Doris hit Liverpool and she hit hard. Scaffolding crashed to the ground, the oceans swelled, winds hit 90miles an hour and the perfect storm (literally) hit the power supply of Liverpool Lime Street shutting down the entire network and stranding thousands of people. Including me.
While ordinarily this would just be a bloody inconvenience, today of all days this had the potential to be a downright disaster.
I had left London this grey and windy morning with more than just Liverpool on my agency. I had an evening flight, to Australia, to talk financial education at the the Australian Higher Education Conference, and being stranded, 200miles from Heathrow and 8 hours before take-off, it seemed I was well and truly f£$%ed
There was no "next train" scheduled and the next train with any hope of departure, the 5.45pm on which hundreds were hoping to travel, had just been cancelled!
Sometimes, I find, the best way to calmly find a solution is to remove the most obvious barrier from the decision making process and then work backwards to a practical solution. So I asked myself - what would I do if money was no object.
A helicopter? No way, far too dangerous in these winds. Get on a plane? High probability the gale would be a factor there too and how often do flights depart? (plus security hassles!) Bus? Would take far too long and we'd have to make several stops on route, not to mention no flexibility. Taxi? maybe, it's easily accessible and convenient though super expensive. Minibus? Done.
Turns out I wasn't the only one coming to that conclusion and when I asked the information desk if they had a number they pointed to a lady standing a few feet away who had had a similar idea. The fabulous Scouser Sarah.
Sarah had a number but not the £100 deposit she would need to put down to arrange the transport. I on the other hand did had the money but not the number. Now we needed to find 14 other people and then trip back to London would cost, a fairly reasonable, £45 each.
We found the 14 - we actually found more, but for many the £45 fee may as well have been £100 and they headed for the bus queues.
So what did I learn from this?
Not having money restricts your options
We saw loads of people piling into buses and not looking happy about it. Scouser Sarah herself was about the head to the bus too before I came about.
The difference between not enough and enough can be small financially but enormously impactful in terms of convenience and life options.
Not enough money would have meant standing in the cold for hours waiting for a bus (and it might have taken till midnight to get on to one, since there weren't enough to cover all the passengers) and the mass inconvenience of missing work etc
Enough money allowed us a mini-cab.
Takeaway: Have an emergency fund. Everyone bangs on about having a stash of cash saved away somewhere safe so that when something goes wrong you have access to the money you need.
Like most clichés people say it all the time because it's true! An easily-accessible account with £500 will mean the ability to cover most emergencies without panic.
$hit happens and when it does you better have a plan
I booked my tickets knowing that I was going north that I was going to need to get to Heathrow. Under normal conditions I would have had 5 hours from returning to London and take-off.
Plenty of time, even with traffic.
Who could have predicted the ferocity of Doris? That she would knock out the power, so viciously, that two of the biggest train stations in the UK would need to be closed down?
That thing that you thought would never happen, just might and if it does will you be able to withstand it.
I often refer to this as "having slack in your life". Think about how closely you sail to the wind and what would you need to do to take some of the stress out.
I was stressed about the airport particularly because I always allow myself 3 hours before the flight. That means I usually have some room to maneuver if something goes wrong.
Takeaway: Plan for the alternatives. A few months ago there is a lot of discussion in the Blackbullion office about interest rates (yes, we are party people!). A couple of team members were soon to buy their own homes and with interest rates looking to rise conversations have ensued about what might happen to their mortgages and how to plan for it - they made sure they budgeted for at least a 1% rise in rates.
If is important of course to note that it is impossible to plan for every contingency. I don't arrive at the airport 12 hours early, no-one plans for a 15% rate increase - reasonably care needs to be taken knowing that a super-freak event would be catastrophic for everyone! (how many people are genuinely prepared for a zombie apocalypse!
Luck = opportunity + skills
Our driver, Sean from Ireland, was on holiday hanging at home when the call came in.
He told me, as we stopped for a 3 minute toilet break somewhere outside Birmingham, that he wasn't going to answer the phone and how lucky that he did.
I am puzzled by the notion of luck.
I consider myself immensely lucky to have been born into my family, in the right country in the right century. That is the most "not in my control" event in my entire life. If I'd been born in Sub-Saharan Africa I likely would never have had the opportunities or the privilege to have done some of the things I had done, met the people I know, or achieve what I have so far.
Your birth is down to luck
(Almost) everything else that happens you have a part in.
Opportunities appear, and present themselves, all the time but as the old saying goes they are usually dressed up as work and so ignored by many. Sean could have seen the call and ignored it thinking "I'm watching the game, and it's my day off". And he would have lost out on the £600 he made that evening.
Sean's kids may have heard Sean take the call and heard that he was going to make £600 and thought "he's so lucky" not realising that if they were presented with the same opportunity they wouldn't be able to take advantage because they lack the skills needed to make it happen.
Takeaway: We get luckier the harder we work. Opportunities are everywhere, we just need to seek them out and have the relevant skills to take advantage. 21st century education is increasingly not just about diplomas, and degrees, but about continuing and self-directed growth. There are so many opportunities to develop new skills, build a greater network, try new things and test your strengths. Take advantage!
Life is filled with the unexpected events. We can't control what happens to us but we can control how we react to them and how we survive them. Create, innovate, collaborate and continue to evolve and watch how your "luck" changes.
PS: For the record I did make my flight and checked through security 47 minutes before the plane doors closed!
[written 23rd Feb]