Diary of an Overacheiver

By Sarah Smit

Tim Thomas has had many titles in his life; full time student at Murdoch, part time minion at Stefen’s Books, and curator of an extensive collection of waistcoats. Currently he’s a Murdoch graduate and the owner of Dymocks Subiaco. Metior caught up with Tim to discuss his most miraculous achievement; working in his field after graduating.

So Tim, you’ve done things with your life. How did that happen?

I worked out pretty early on that I was heading towards small business ownership and that I actually really like retail, unlike every other sane human. So I set about working out what skills I would need to run a small business. Not just ‘I love books! I’ll be a bookseller!’ But: ‘What skills do I need to be a successful bookseller?’ I did a bit of management for other bookstores, but I realised that wasn’t going to cut it, so I looped through at Murdoch and did a business degree. While I was doing that, I was running my own small business on the side.
As for Subiaco, I was working there anyway as a part time job  when the owner said ‘I’m selling, so you might all be out of a job shortly.’ I was like, ‘Well, I’m looking to buy…” They went ‘You can’t afford it,’ and I was like ‘No, really, I can afford it,’ and they went, ‘We know what you’re getting paid, you can’t afford this.’ ‘Here’s my bank account, I can afford this…’ At which point they were like; ‘Oh… Yes you can. Lets talk.’

So you were studying at Murdoch, and running your own small business, working a part time job as well and running a book club at the same time? So tell me, did you sacrifice a goat to the gods of time management? Are you a freak from the planet Productivity?

Easily bored. Easily bored, and I like getting shit done. I like being able to go out and do things, coz you missed out that I was also volunteering with save the children. I was running the loading dock for their annual sale, so that was about 54 tonnes of books, working for Stefen[‘s books], running my own [bookstall], full time uni, save the children, and I did a little bit of foreign travel while I was at it. I also played a lot of video games.

And read libraries and libraries of speculative fiction at the same time.

Yep. Honestly the study and the work synched up nicely, because by the time my exams or assessments came around, I would have as much as three months worth of experience [at my small business] in that field. Being able to call on that experience base as opposed to just the theoretical knowledge everyone else gets was a pretty massive leg up.

So if we looked at your exam scores, would we all just feel very bad about ourselves?

Oh, no, some of them were terrible. There was at least one exam where I completely blanked out, where I actually walked up to the lecturer [to hand my paper in]and said, ‘I’ve failed the exam, and it’s going to be badly, can we schedule the appointment to talk about how badly I failed the exam, right now?’ He was like ‘nah, you’ll be fine, you’re a good student.” It wasn’t. I got 17 out of 100.

What? You’re not perfect?

Not all the time, no, but I got through every unit that I ever entered. Some of them by the skin of my teeth. I think for me, the big motivator was that I was paying in cash up front. I have no HECS debt. The money I was earning at my business was being used to pay for my next semester’s courses. And if I failed them, I’d have to pay for them again. It’s a good idea, because you’re avoiding that moral hazard of being insulated from your failure. If you fail you know exactly what it’s cost you and what it will cost you again.

What would you suggest for new students who might not naturally have the unimaginable willpower that you do?

Have your goal before you start uni. That’s the one thing I found between myself, the mature age students, and the people coming straight out of high school; the ones who knew exactly what they wanted, and what they needed to get from where they were to where they wanted to be, those were the ones who did really well. They were motivated, they had that personal enfranchisement in what they were doing.  The ones who were just coming I because they thought it would be cool to study this, or their parents made them, or because they were just drifting at that point in life? They had fun, but they didn’t pass uni.

Yeah, that really resonates with my experience. Comparing the units I’ve abysmally failed and the ones where I’ve come top of the class, it’s the units where you care about it and you’re excited to learn what you’re going to learn, because you want to impress your tutor, those are the ones that you don’t fail.

Or the ones where you’ve taken the theory, and you’ve done something with it, it’s taken your eyebrows off and you’re like, ‘Right I fucked up horribly, how did I fuck up? TELL MEEEE! Here is the Facebook feed marketing, how did I break it?’ I mean, you have to actually go in with that kind of hard data [to your lecturers] and go ‘Here’s what I did. It was horrible! How did I go wrong?’ Cause you know it’s going to come up in the exam, and you can be like, I’ve done that. I know exactly what to do, I’ve done that already.

So practical application massively helped you.

Yep. Uni and work rolled from one into the other. What I was practising at work I was essentially studying for uni, and anything new I learned for uni would roll into work, and I could improve that, and the whole thing just snowballed into each other. There’s a reason I wound the stall down pretty much the moment I graduated. That feedback loop had ended, so…

There was no point anymore.

Move on to the next thing.

So would you recommend Murdoch’s business unit these days, because they’re a bit different, right?

Yeah, they changed them up massively just after I left, most of lecturers I had are gone. The economics school has the same crowd as when I was there, and they were bloody legendary. Loretta, if you’re listening, hiiiiii!

[…] I’ve been pretty much persistently doing paperwork all January, because I know what I’m like, I’m terrible at paperwork, it’s one of the things where there’s guaranteed to be stuff ups, I just need to go through and hunt for them, and it’s that point of being like ‘… ah. We forgot to pay that bill.’ *type type type type* and done! Two days before it’s due!

You know that’s actually not a bad technique for uni stuff as well. You’ve identified your strengths and weaknesses and you’re deliberately and intentionally targeting the weaknesses.

It’s what I try to do. There are definite points where it fails. I’m not a good mentor and I’m not a good teacher, so that’s one area where I persistently fail over and over again.

How do you deal with that kind of failure and not hate yourself?

Honestly, I go and ask for help and try again.

That’s such good advice. And I think that’s the advice that – you seem to have internalised it very early- but that’s the advice that we all need, and no one can hear, for some reason.  I never wanted to ask for advice for aaany thing, and the times where I hid myself away in my room and avoided talking to anyone about the problems  that I was having with study? Those are the times where I really crashed and burned. Trying to deal with stuff yourself often doesn’t work. Particularly when you’re 20 years old and have really, very few emotional or life resources to draw on to deal with the problems.

And most of the problems you come across are brand new.

Yes! Exactly! You’ve not encountered them before, and for some reason, — you probably didn’t, again because you internalised this early–  you think that they’re new problems, not just to you, but to the world. And it’s just not true. There are people out there who really want to help. If you’re reading this article, and you desperately need help with business stuff, call Tim! Or don’t, he may hate me now.

You’ve already got the best piece of advice I can give which is ask for help. The thing about that exam, I walked up to them and asked to get everything set up ahead of time, so when the horrible exam results came through, everyone was already prepared. They were like, alright, ‘Tim told us he was stuffing up, Tim did stuff up, how do  we get Tim to pass the unit? Even with the problems with training, even before I picked up the store, I’d actually gone to the people at Hay Street [Dymocks], and the manager there, Amber, is bloody excellent at training staff, I went up to her and was like, ‘what’s your secret, how do you do this?’ I’m not as good as her at it, but there’s someone who’s already invented the wheel, and you know, might as well copy what works. Same thing, with the store accounts, I’m not particularly good at paperwork, it’s always been something I’m weak at, so there’s been plenty of points where I’ve got to a situation, looked at it, and gone: ‘I have no clue what I’ve done wrong but I’ve broken it.’ And gone straight [to my accountant] ‘Annaliese, I’ve broken it, please help.’ The most recent email opened with ‘Tim did a thing. It was terrible.’

You’ve got your life together, but at times, it doesn’t feel like it.  


Will it ever feel like it?

I really don’t think so. Look at it this way; I went from being a bookseller to attaining the ultimate goal of having a bookstore, at which point the metric immediately changed from measuring myself against other booksellers to measuring myself against other book store owners. All of them were about 20 years older than me.

Do you feel like you’ve achieved something?

Yeah. We’ve got the store back up and running in the average band for a store in six months. The expected run time was 18.  When I took over Subiaco, we were at 5% stock capacity, and the confirmable worst Dymocks to exist. No one was as bad as us. We’re in the average band now, and still improving, we’re not even finished with the renovations.

Has anyone ever told you you’re an extra motherfucker?

A few people have mentioned it. Usually it’s about the waistcoats.

Speculative fiction. You know a bit about it. What are your top picks for this year, coming out, or recently released?

We’ve got the second Nevermoor [by Jessica Townsend] coming out at the end of the year, so that’s one I desperately want. Hypothetically we might be getting a new Seth Dickinson at the end of the year as well. Whether that’s real or not, I don’t know, because I’ve seen people who’ve claimed it’s both. We’ve got the new Kameron Hurley coming through, the final one in theMirror Empire series. Got my hands on the new Feist, that was good fun. Not his best though. He peaked early with Magician. It reads like it’s about 25 years old, like it’s some revenant from the 90s that’s just kind of surfaced out of nowhere.
Another one I really enjoyed recently was Stuart McBride. It’s dark and Scottish. It’s literally filled with Scottish people doing wee nasty things with Scottish people. I kid you not, A Dark So Deadly opens with them finding a bunch of corpses in a tip, and instead of being like ‘oh no, bodies in the tip!’ It’s like ‘Yep, it’s about time for the harvest. Murder, murder, murder, drug deal, someone lost a bunch of mummies from the museum. Hey, dump squad, find out which museum lost their mummies.’ That is literally how it opens, the most blasé ‘Oh look, the tip is full of corpses, it must be Tuesday.’

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