Posted by: patenttranslator | February 18, 2015

The Well-Balanced Lifestyle of a Self-Employed Professional


When I lived in Prague, I used take tram No. 20 at around 8:20 AM, Monday through Friday, to Hradčanská metro station to change there to the metro which took me straight to my job at Václavské naměstí (Venceslaus Square). It was not a bad commute. For about 30 minutes I was lost in my daydream until I emerged safely from the metro. One day, the tram driver whose job it was also to announce the stops – this was Anno Domini 1980 – said (in Czech): “Ladies and Gentlemen, the next stop is Vořechovka, your tram driver today is Prof. Dr. so and so, CsC” (candidate of sciences). People were laughing and looking at each other with an odd expression on their faces.

A lot of former university professors were washing windows and driving trams in communist Czechoslovakia in the eighties after they got fired from their original jobs for “anti-social attitudes”. I never heard Professor’s funny announcement again. Either he was prevented by management from performing his morning comedy, or, more likely, he got fired even from this job.

For many years I used to have a recurring dream that I was still riding the tram No. 20 to Hradčanská metro station. Fortunately, I have not had this dream for quite a few years now.

When I lived in San Francisco, I used to take the N-Judah metro train to my job in downtown on Market Street at Powell. These tram drivers too had to personally announce every stop. They were often black, a lot of black women among them who probably were not university professors. There is a lot of comedic material surrounding commuters on public transport in San Francisco that the drivers could have commented on, for instance by cracking a joke about whatever happened to hippies at the Parnassus stop near Haight street, but I never had the pleasure of riding a tram driven by a Whoopi Goldberg on the N-Judah line. The trip was quite pleasant and it took again about 30 minutes.

When I lived in Tokyo, I had to take a bus first to Oizumi Gakuen train station, then the Seibu train line to Yamanote line in downtown Tokyo where I had to transfer one more time and get off at Shiba Daimon train station. The train was so crowded that I had to start positioning myself closer to the exit from the car two stops ahead of my stop. The trip took 90 minutes, which was about the average time for commuting in Tokyo. By the time I got to the office where I worked, I was already exhausted.


In addition to long, harrowing commutes such as the one I still remember vividly from the time when I was a salaryman in Tokyo, the imbalance in the daily life of most employees includes also many other seemingly obligatory workplace ingredients, such as an idiotic boss who must be pleased or at least placated, silly office politics, constant backstabbing among fellow employees and the like.

In contrast, the lifestyle of a self-employed professional can be much more peaceful if it is well designed so that it is properly balanced. First of all, you can commute to work in your pajamas if you so choose and nobody has any right to criticize you for that, with the possible exception of your spouse. (But who cares about that!)

If you have children, that again tends to complicate things. Since children always get in the way no matter what you do, renting an office may be advisable for a period of time to try to maintain the proper balance in your life. I was renting an office, first in San Francisco for two years and then in the Wine Country for 8 years, until my children were in their early teens. Once they are teenagers, all children naturally lose any and all interest they used to have in everything and anything having to do with their father. This means that it is finally safe again to move your office back home.

When your children eventually move out of your house, and thanks God they eventually do that although it takes them almost two decades, you should probably have a pet in your home office, preferably a dog, when you are finally allowed to join the happy ranks of fellow empty nesters.

Unlike children, dogs are not in the least disruptive, they let you work as much as you need to, or read or watch TV, or waste time on the Internet as much as you want to without asking you silly questions, messing with your computers and making unreasonable demands on your time.

Once in a while your dog will bark when another dog is being walked by your house to let the other dog know that this house is already occupied and managed by a mighty and crafty canine.

Otherwise, your dog can stay perfectly still for hours even when he is not sleeping. And he usually is sleeping, or keeping a careful eye on things while half asleep. Only a dog can do that! All you have to do is feed your quiet, considerate friend and walk him three times a day. This is easy enough to schedule around your working hours and it incidentally also helps to keep you fit.

Employees must commute to their workplace regardless of the valuable time lost in this manner and the cost involved. How many years of my life would have been needlessly lost to commuting, at three hours a day, five days a week, had I been living over the last 28 years the life of an employee in Japan? That’s 15 hours a week x 52 weeks x 28 years = 21,840 hours, or 910 days, or almost 3 years.

You can’t have a well-balanced life when you have to live like that simply to pay the bills.

Since self-employed professionals get to choose the apartment or house in which they live and work, they can do so while paying attention to the principles of feng shui, the Chinese philosophical system for living a well-balanced life in harmony with the world and the universe.

Like most people who are not Chinese, for a long time I thought that feng shui was a bunch of silly superstitions. But one day about twenty years ago when I was translating a Japanese technical paper on the influence of micro-magnetic fields on the resolution of powerful electron microscopes, I realized that feng shui is addressing basically the same phenomena as the scientific article that I was translating. Just like focused beams of electrons are influenced by micro-magnetic fields generated by the design of the microscope and ambient conditions, universal energy called “chi” in Chinese, which is flowing through our house and our world, is influenced by macro-magnetic fields created by heavenly bodies, mountains, tall buildings, and the design of our house and the things in our house.

Although the Chinese figured out all of that already about 3,500 years ago, most people in the West ignore the delicate science of living in harmony with the world at their own peril.

You don’t have to carefully study feng shui to make sure that the universal energy (and your life force) is allowed to flow freely through your sumptuous mansion or modest abode, while your life force is not allowed to unnecessarily escape from your house, because the basic principles are quite simple.

You can use your cell phone to make sure that the main entrance to your house is oriented toward the South, that the entrance is not facing directly the main stairs (universal energy does not like that), and your own eyes to make sure that your house is not directly intersected by a tall church spire or a tower that can be seen from your windows.

The last requirement may be difficult to satisfy if you live in Paris near the Eiffel tower, or in central Prague, which is said to have a hundred towers. But then again, most self-employed professionals do not live in Paris or Prague, and those of us who do can consult an experienced feng shui practitioner who will gladly advise us for a modest fee on how to place strategic objects in our house to maintain a free flow of universal energy through our working environment and thus deflect detrimental influences that can block positive developments in our life.

A well balanced living and working environment is of course only one part of what a self-employed professional needs to live in harmony with the world and the universe.

The people who we allow to live in our world, willy-nilly at times, are the second important component of our life and work. We often do not have as much control over this component as we think we do.

The clients who we decide to work for are the third important component of our work, and to most self-employed professionals, their work is their life.

But that would be a subject for another post.


  1. Also, one of us parents are usually home when our children are home. Being self employed has another benefit, sort of; I make the decisions and then face the consequences.
    My dog however is a serious problem. Every time I sit on the sofa with my laptop or IPad he sits on my lap. I am so very thankful for the undo key!

    Thanks for sharing that Steve.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 風水 (wind and water) is feng shui in pinyin transcription. I used to take the tram to work from Braník to Malostranské náměstí. Such a delight in winter to have the heater under the seat.


  3. Water is “sui” in Japanese, hence my mistake.

    I will fix it.


  4. Well, in the past I used to wake up at 04:30, have breakfast and head to work at 05:30, get there are 06:30 to really start at 07:00. Lunch was only one hour and I would stop at 17:30. I got back (home) to a hotel at 18:30 and I did it for 14 years. What did I gain from that time? Many friends, colleagues and a deep practical knowledge in my fields. Thank God now I now ‘can commute to work in my pyjamas’. I don’t have kids; I am spending some time with a friend (the work is so flexible, trips, working from home, on vacation, etc) and her cute Lady Dog called Baby is sleeping right beside me, while I am typing this reply. However, I still find it hard to balance everything. Sometimes too much work, gym, family to visit, friends, happy hour, dating, etc.
    Surely, I would choose the same career again. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Sir, I have been following your posts for a year or two. First as a patent translator and second out of curiosity. This is just for you to know you are having a reader who either shares your ideas or totally rejects them.


  6. Good to know.


  7. “The trip took 90 minutes, which was about the average time for commuting in Tokyo. By the time I got to the office where I worked, I was already exhausted.”

    Well, you had arrived and the gate to your later self-employment was opened. You never knew what the commuting was good for.


  8. @Wenjer

    As in whatever does not kill you makes you stronger, right?


  9. Well, Steve, for some people one million dollars would kill them, while for some others even some more million dollars wouldn’t disturb their inner peace at all.

    Dalai Lama is in some extent right about happiness, inner peace and money. But there is no correlation between happiness and money or between inner peace and money.

    More money, more jeaslosy? Not always the case. Prof. Helmut Schoeck pointed out that envy or jealosy depends on “social vincinity.” Envy or jealosy is utterly subjective.

    Every sentient being has to experience such sufferings, anyway. But sufferings do not kill. People just die at some time. Sufferings may strengthen one’s will to live or just let die.

    Looking back to the commuting days, we are happy that we didn’t die on those days. But weren’t there happy times during those days? One was in apprenticeship and journey years, so that one finally becomes a Master Confusious. Isn’t it wonderful? Think of those less lucky ones, whom one saw during the journey years going down the drain.

    Sufferings kill some people. Sufferings make some people stronger. We are lucky to have withstood sufferings, but we are not suffering-resistent. There come new generations of apprentices who learn how to withstand sufferings and who learn quite differently. The profession of translators is changing. The new generations of translators will suffer differently as we did, but some of them will come out masters as some of us have done.

    What a wonderful life a translator like you must have gone through all those journey years to become a master!

    “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is only one of all the ways to describe such a life. Yes.


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