Clothes piled on the bed, shoes kicked across the floor, already late for the event, and still you feel: I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO WEAR! Relatable? This is a very common issue. Uncertainty about what to wear on different occasions leads directly to accumulating more clothes, which only makes the situation more complicated next time. Let’s get into what we’re signaling with our wardrobes, and how we can feel more confident in our choices.
We’re most likely to get spun up about what to wear when we’re going to meet unfamiliar people, in an unfamiliar setting, and perhaps at an unfamiliar type of event. Why, though? If these are people we aren’t going to see often, a place we might never visit again, or a type of event we don’t usually attend, then why would it matter? We allow ourselves to fret about WHAT THEY’LL THINK (whoever ‘they’ are) because only after the event is over will we know how we fit in.
I once attended an evening wedding in New York. It had ice sculptures. I dressed up, making my best effort in a floral-print linen sundress with sandals. As soon as I walked in, I understood that I’d gotten it wrong, because the other women were in evening looks with satin dresses and heels. I had no idea what a blowout was, nor was I wearing makeup. What happened? I shared a table with my date and a nice couple who kept us laughing all night. The bride and groom are still my close friends, and we’ve been on vacation together a couple times. (In fact even my date has been out to visit, because we’re still in touch). As far as I know, I never saw any of the other guests again.
I walked away with a pretty clear image of how to dress for a formal evening occasion. I knew right away that I could have picked up an appropriate dress at Goodwill for $15, and nobody would have known. In fact, I can repeat a special-occasion outfit at multiple events, because my husband doesn’t care and nobody else will notice.
The longer we take to get ready, the less satisfied we are with our appearance. That’s what research says, anyway. It makes sense to me. It takes me about ten minutes to “get ready” and leave the house, half an hour if I’m doing the full Las-Vegas-nights routine. If someone doesn’t like how I look, then great! Someone that shallow and superficial will stay clear of me, leaving me free to have interesting conversations with people who have their priorities straight. People value my company for my sense of humor, storytelling, and ability to be a good listener. None of those qualities has anything to do with physical appearance. On the contrary. If I looked too polished, maybe nobody would believe I could be a good listener or a funny storyteller.
What are we signaling with our clothing choices?
Friendly / aloof?
Relaxed / fussy?
Competent / wacky?
Professional / casual?
Married / single?
Stressed / happy?
It seems like one of the strongest style statements that many people make with their casual wardrobe is what type of music they’re into. Rocker, country, punk, skater, raver, goth, and I’m sure many others I’m too tragically unhip to recognize. We know who we are when we put on casual clothes. We’re only wearing the stuff we trust to fit and be comfortable. We’re signaling a bit about ourselves, enough that someone who’s into the same style might approach us and strike up a conversation. That’s how I met a guy at the cafe who was willing to answer a few questions about jiu jitsu for me - his t-shirt advertised it. Maybe it doesn’t matter at all what you wear on casual days; I’ve seen people out in public wearing everything from pajamas to bikinis to, a couple times, nothing at all.
We feel more out of our depth when we’ve been invited to a wedding, party, or job interview, am I right?
This is what people do to make their clothing choices more difficult.
Keep everything, even when it doesn’t fit
Keep everything, even though it NEVER fit and the tags are still on it
Keep everything, no matter how old it is
Keep everything, even if it’s stained or full of holes and the unworn clothes aren’t
Keep everything, even if it’s scratchy or uncomfortable
Keep everything, even if it doesn’t go with a single other item and there’s no way to wear it
Keep shoes that cause blisters and actual bleeding
Buy things because of their price, not how they fit or how they look
Buy things out of obligation or guilt, not wanting to disappoint the sales clerk
Decide on garments individually, not on how they play into the wardrobe as a whole
Having hundreds of garments in every cut, style, color, and print, and several sizes, can only send inconsistent signals. Wearing clothes that don’t fit, or combining items that are too tight and too loose, doesn’t send a clear signal, except maybe [does not use a full-length mirror]. Limping from impractical shoes, tugging things into place over and over, makes people worry if you’re okay. Showing up late because of one too many head-to-toe outfit changes makes you look, at best, frazzled, and at worst, inconsiderate. All you really need is something clean and a warm smile.
My entire wardrobe fits into two suitcases. This is because I only feel like I need a few changes of clothes for each of my different roles. Casual summer, casual winter. Business casual summer, business casual winter. Workout summer, workout winter. Camping clothes. A few cocktail dresses. Boom, done. When I get tired of something or it gets worn out, I replace it with something else. I had to replace my entire wardrobe when I reached my goal weight, and since I’ve settled into one clothing size, I’ve been able to figure out how a capsule wardrobe works. Every single thing I own:
Works with at least three other items
Can be machine-washed and, mostly, machine-dried
This is why I’m confident when I walk out the door. I’ve made my choices in advance, and I’m wearing things I’ve worn many times. I also choose where I go or don’t go, and it’s very rare that I would feel obligated to go somewhere where I wasn’t sure how I fit in. Mostly, I feel confident enough in my social skills (now) that people are a lot more likely to remember what I said than how I looked.
I’m trying to send a few clear messages with my wardrobe
OMG A GUY JUST LEANED OVER AND TOLD ME: “YOU LOOK GREAT”
(I’m married, and not looking for male attention, but it was funny that it happened while I was writing about clothes and appearance).
I’m trying to send a few clear messages with my wardrobe, namely: Married, friendly, competent, smart, entrepreneurial. There are other signals I can’t do much about, such as: middle-aged, fit, Western, distractible, more eccentric than I wish I were. When I decide whether to buy new clothes, I can ask, Does this send the message I want to send?
I look like myself, just like you probably look like yourself. (Unless you’re trapped in a work uniform). Sooner or later, the people around us will figure out what we’re like. Core personality shines through eventually. We should focus more on what kind of friendship we can offer and what roles we’d like to play in life, and less on WHAT THEY’LL THINK about how we look.
I don’t invest in gold. This seems like such an obvious stance that it doesn’t bear mentioning, at least to me. I’ve started to realize, though, that it’s pretty heavily marketed, and that the marketing actually works on people. Might as well toss my opinion out there. All I wonder is whether it makes me contrarian or not.
Now, I don’t dislike gold as an element or anything. I’ve been wearing a(n ethically sourced) gold wedding ring on my hand for nine years and I’ve never taken it off. In that sense, I have more of a personal relationship with gold than with any other metal. I can also see the point of having my own personal gold brick, keeping it in my safe and occasionally opening the door to simply look at it. I mean, I wouldn’t turn one down. It’s more that I wouldn’t regard it as an “investment,” in that form or any other.
I think there are smart, rich people out there making fat wads of cash off convincing other people to invest in gold. The same can be said about other things, like penny stocks or real estate, but those are targeted to, I think, different demographics.
What’s the rationale behind this? There’s more than one, but let’s just go straight to the EOTWAWKI argument, shall we? (End Of The World As We Know It, which, one day maybe we’ll go deeper on this but technically it could indicate... an improvement!).
It’s the Walking Dead future as opposed to the Star Trek future. “The grid” goes down, permanently, and we’re quickly plunged into an apocalyptic nightmare of anarchy and chaos, kind of like Black Friday but with more cannibalism.
In this grim, nihilistic vision, people quit trusting currency, and suddenly gold becomes a more viable means of trade.
Okay, so here is where I flag the operator and climb out of the roller coaster. I know too much about history and material culture to buy into this.
I don’t disbelieve in the premise of a failed state, with anarchy, bread lines, and riots. That’s a fairly constant thesis topic in my field, after all. My posture is based on the idea that gold ain’t going to help in that scenario.
What’s really going to be valuable in a state of total technological collapse? Trade, of course, will continue on forever, because it’s an innate part of how we understand the world. Even animals like crows and apes understand concepts of trade and fairness to an extent. The deal is that we want what is scarce, and in this dark version of the world, gold wouldn’t be all that scarce. It isn’t now, so why would it be in a world of fewer people and less or no law enforcement?
What people would actually want: Coffee. Chocolate. Insulin. Tylenol. Antibiotics. Birth control. Batteries. Nicotine. Any other mind-altering drug that can’t be grown locally or produced in a camp kitchen.
What’s gold going to do in a scenario where everyone has a pounding caffeine-withdrawal headache and there’s no coffee to be had?
Gold is for trade, right? Why use anything at all for trade, unless there’s a trade good that you want but don’t have and can’t get unless you trade for it?
Does that sound dumb? Hold on.
We’re at Peak Stuff as a society, or at least we are here in the great old U. S. of A. Name me an article of clothing, camping gear, construction materials, medical supplies, or anything else you can’t find by the container-shipload. We have more of these material goods right now than we know what to do with, and that would be even more the case if there were some massive apocalyptic die-off. There’s an idea that comes up all the time in post-apocalyptic novels that people would quickly run out of clothes, and that has always seemed comical to me, because I’ve been in a lot of Goodwills. I don’t think we’d even really have to worry about food supplies for quite a long time, barring climate change effects, which only ever seem to bother us in our scary fiction.
Anyway, let’s say we survive TEOTWAWKI and we need... a thing. A necessary object. Are we going to trade for it, are we going to loot it, do we probably already have five of them out in the garage, or do we understand that we need to learn a sustainable, long-term means of manufacture? Where does gold factor into this? Why would I use gold to buy something like, say, a pair of boots or a first aid kit, when I know where to find and scavenge them on my own?
I don’t scoff at preparedness, not in the slightest. It seems to me that any pragmatic person would dedicate serious time and effort to building health and physical stamina, prioritizing dentistry, staying off medication, and learning first aid skills, tool skills, leadership and communication and negotiation skills, and of course self-defense skills. I was practicing guard escapes all last week. “All we’re missing is gravel!” Gold isn’t going to buy me the ability to get out of a chokehold, not in today’s society nor in one with zombies in it.
Gold as a... market investment? Like, buying it and keeping it in your portfolio? Don’t make me laugh. If this vision of the world ever came to pass, how on earth would I mobilize and get anything out of my accounts? The preparedness mindset that imagines life-or-death fisticuffs with one’s next door neighbor surely has to adjust to the concept that one’s portfolio, home, job, status, and worldly goods have just become expendable or irrelevant.
“If you would have bought gold in the Seventies, it would have barely kept up with inflation.” - My husband.
The world is changing, and changing quickly. It’s changing in atrocious ways in some areas, and in fantastic, exciting ways in others. Undeniably, at least parts of it will be barely recognizable twenty years from now. In what way, though? Is total transformation always scary? Or how much of it is fiction, like most marketing materials? Let me get back to you after I finish gazing at my nice gold brick.
Volcanic Momentum is the sort of motivational book that you don’t put back on the shelf when you’re done. You leave it out where you can see the cover, because just reading the words VOLCANIC MOMENTUM puts you in the right frame of mind. Jordan Ring has ‘it,’ ‘it’ being the mysterious factor that can transform a self-described overweight, broke gamer into a veritable productivity machine.
A lot of motivation and productivity books speak in the abstract. An example would be a single person giving parenting advice, or someone who has always been athletic offering diet advice. We believe Jordan when he talks about the “sugar dragon” or procrastination or wasting time because it’s clear he’s been there. He is us.
The heart of Volcanic Momentum is its deep focus on meaning and purpose. Why are we doing what we are doing, and who are we doing it for? This is part of what makes the book stand out. That, and it somehow feels lived-in. Some of the productivity advice is a little quirky, like having whiteboards in the living room, but we can believe that it actually works. It would make a particularly great companion for an active journal-keeper, as it provides pages of excellent journal prompts.
This book busted me up. There were several points where I snorted, laughed out loud, and at one point couldn’t stop giggling through two pages. Something to do with eating a pizza over the sink like a rat. Jordan Ring has a gift for highly relatable and somehow stealthy humor. Volcanic Momentum is approachable, surprisingly comprehensive for its length, and, best of all, really fun to read.
What we do in this life really matters.
There’s no harm in asking, other than hurt pride and a few wasted minutes.
Admit that you are probably not living out your maximum potential right now.
Everyone is called to do more than they already are.
The Cabin bus from Santa Monica to San Francisco caught my attention before it even began operations. As a startup idea, I thought it was brilliant. All I needed was an excuse to visit someone in the Bay Area. Any opportunity to indulge my fixation on alternative travel would suffice.
The adventure began when I lucked into an empty berth with only a day’s notice. There wasn’t another available spot for ten days, so I used reward miles and booked a flight for the return trip. This sort of arrangement involves a certain amount of planning what to pack, in what sort of bag, because there are things that can be brought on a bus that can’t go through TSA, and also things that fit in a suitcase that you don’t necessarily want in your bed, especially a narrow one. This is foreshadowing.
I took a Lyft from my home to the pickup location, which is scenic and convenient as can be. Unfortunately, when I got out, I wound up on the wrong side of the street, facing the wrong direction. All I could see were city buses. My driver took off. I checked the street address of the nearest building, realized I was in the wrong spot and had no data reception, and freaked out. Where am I?? Where is my bus?? Then I turned around and saw it parked a block away, the lights of the pier behind it. Derp.
Onboarding couldn’t have been simpler. I walked up, showed the hostess my confirmation email, and left my bag with her. I stepped inside, climbed the stairs, and took an empty bunk at the back of the bus.
Getting into the bunk proved a bit complicated, possibly the hardest part for people regardless of size. Slightly above waist height, I couldn’t just lie down or throw myself onto the bed. I had to hoist myself. I’m 5’4” so this would probably be harder for a shorter person. On the other hand, a taller person might have more trouble kneeling or crouching to get into the lower berths. My compact frame was definitely an asset when it came to spending eight hours in a confined space, a space I later jokingly referred to as a ‘ComfyCoffin.’
The bedding on these things is first-rate. Probably the most comfortable pillow I’ve ever used, I’m sorry I forgot to take a picture of the tag so I could order one for myself later. I also really loved the sheets and the duvet. I am a chilly sleeper, so I was a bit paranoid about being too cold. Not a problem.
What was a problem was that it’s impossible to sit up in the berth. There’s nowhere to use a restroom or change clothes before boarding the bus (except at home, of course), and if I tried it again in future, I would definitely brush my teeth and all that before departure. One bus restroom for twenty-plus people isn’t really enough for everyone’s bedtime routine. It would have been nice to have a curtained changing room on board, or popped up on the sidewalk at the bus stop for that matter.
I managed to wrestle myself out of my clothes and into my pajamas. I waited about forty minutes from departure for an opportunity to use the restroom before trying to sleep.
The fact that I was able to sleep on this bus speaks volumes for its overall comfort. I have a major parasomnia disorder and sleep is what I do worst. Out of the eight-hour trip, I think I slept about six hours, which is amazing. I’ve slept worse in my own bed at home. I took 10 mg of melatonin, double my usual dose, but then I’ve done that at home too and it hasn’t always worked.
The passengers were, as a rule, quiet and professional. The one exception was the gentleman who claimed the upper berth opposite mine. He coughed throughout the night, waking me up several times, and evidently also giving me his cold, because I wound up being really sick for over a week. Thanks, jerk. I don’t care WHAT is going on in your life, do not leave your house and cough on people when you are ill. We really need to get some sort of fishbowl for folks to wear on their heads. Especially when they are sleeping three feet away from someone else’s face.
The disadvantage of arriving half an hour early is that you claim dibs first, and then later arrivals set up camp around you. If I’d heard coughing I would have known to go to the other end and stay away.
Enough about that; back to the foreshadowing. Something funny happened. I was having a vivid dream about a horrid black millipede crawling on my foot. It felt like something was physically crawling on me and tickling me, and I woke up nearly screaming, shaking my foot. In the morning, guess what I saw? A weird little black beetle on the curtain, right next to my foot! It was easy to see what happened: my shoe bag with my boots on the left, leaning against my bare feet in the middle, with the curtain a couple of inches away on the right, making a direct path. Obviously I carried the creepy-crawly in on my own footwear. The moral of the story is to never bring your shoes into bed without thoroughly inspecting them first.
That’s one of the major drawbacks of this form of transit. Anything you want with you while undressing, sleeping, or dressing is going to have to spend the night on the mattress with you. There are no shelves or cabinets, just a little mesh pocket. If I’d understood this better, I would have probably taken off my boots and changed into flip-flops outside when I handed over my suitcase.
I packed a protein bar and a bottle of iced green tea for my breakfast. There are coffee and hot tea, for those who like them, but the bus doesn’t arrive all that near civilization and I like to eat the moment I wake up. That was 5:55 AM, incidentally, when the bus started to approach the city and the rhythm of the road changed. This gave me plenty of time to use the restroom before anyone else and then get dressed and packed before arrival.
Overall, I liked this style of travel, and I’d do it again. I’d especially do it now that I know how nice the bedding is, how quiet it is, and how to organize my stuff and my routine for the most streamlined trip. I’d take some extra vitamin C for a couple of days ahead of time. (A wise precaution before traveling anywhere, by any means). I’m just not sure I’d take my husband, who is 6’2” and who I can’t really picture fitting into one of these bunks. Finally, there’s one area of life where it pays to be a short person.
What day is it? What time is it? Were we going to do anything today?
One of the common traits of my people is the ability to live completely outside the Time Dimension. This is of course a good thing, as long as we can move back into the Time Dimension on demand. Most of my people struggle with this. As a result, we miss out on a lot. Too late, brunch is no longer being served. Too late to get seats together. Too late, sold out. Too late, already closed for the day. All of that can seem like a fair tradeoff if the reward is the perpetual and endless morning.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the endless morning is that it can be declared and perpetuated by an unlimited number of people. A single person living along can do it forever. An entire household of roommates can string it along from [early] to [late]. What’s more, a Time Dimension-oriented person is usually powerless to disrupt an endless morning. You can’t even do it with hand clapping or banging a spoon on a pot.
How do you do it? How do you create an endless morning?
The first step is to make it unclear whether you are up for the day or not. It is vital to maintain the possibility that some or all of the people present may be going back to bed at any time. It’s best when these sleeping segments are staggered. For instance, one person gets out of bed while someone else is asleep. Someone else gets up, and someone else goes back to bed. At some later point, when the last person gets up, the first person should be heading back for a nap.
Showering is another aspect of the endless morning, or, rather, the scheduling thereof. Everyone involved has an interior trigger that is programmed to wait to bathe until someone else bathes first. Thus, everyone is wearing pajamas, which is of course necessary to set up the infinite back-to-bed/nap loop.
Then there’s ‘breakfast’ or facsimile thereof. What do you call a meal if there are multiple people eating different foods at different time slots? What’s more relevant, the type of food or the time of day? Is it ‘breakfast’ if it’s French toast at 10 PM, or is it ‘breakfast’ if it’s cold pizza at 10 AM?
Also key to the endless morning is that time of day, meals, showers, and plans should be left as vague as possible. Nobody is to broach the topic or risk puncturing the endless morning.
I’m down for this, by the way. I have a pretty cozy, dozy image of myself dressed in squirrel pajamas and snuggled up with my phone for the duration. Far be it from me to be the ender of the previously endless morning.
As a frequent traveler, I encounter every type of household. Both my parents and my in-laws are early birds. My FIL has been retired for many years, yet he gets up at 5 AM, seven days a week, to have coffee with his friends at the grocery store cafe. When I visit this sort of home, I make sure to shower and dress as soon as I get up, because I’m usually last and everyone is waiting on me. I’m most likely to cook dinner in an early-bird home.
At the other extreme are my many endless morning friends. These are the homes where I’m more likely to be the one cooking breakfast. I like a big, fancy breakfast, and I’ll fix one for myself, but it takes a crowd before I’ll bother to do certain things like pancakes or desserts. To my way of thinking, if you’re the first one up on a weekend, you have three options. 1. Entertain yourself very quietly until others start to stir; 2. Wait until a decent hour and then cook breakfast, the aroma of which will wake everyone; or 3. Leave silently and come back at noon. At least one day a week of completely unstructured time is, I believe, a basic human right.
Endless mornings are great, am I right?
There’s a time and a place for everything, though. For instance, we don’t do endless mornings on vacation, because, well, we can do them for free at home. What’s the point of hanging around in a hotel room all day? We’re more likely to sleep in a bit, get a late breakfast, and then have endless pool time. I’m also a big fan of the two-hour vacation dinner.
Some of my friends have an endless morning basically every day. There are some telltale signs that go with this. Chronic sleep issues. Weight gain. Clutter. Why do they go together? After many years of investigating my own parasomnia disorder, I’m pretty sure that it has to do with hormone regulation. Not having a regular and predictable meal schedule disrupts hormones. This, in turn, disrupts sleep patterns, which is a vicious spiral. Lack of sleep and meal patterns means less predictable exposure to natural sunlight out of doors. That again contributes to further hormone disruption. My people tend to eat very late at night, especially right before bedtime, and this alone will lead to weight gain. The clutter, of course, comes from lack of systems in general. How do you know when it’s ‘time’ to do something (vacuum, laundry, meal prep, dishes) when there is no real ‘time’ for anything?
I’m writing this midway through a bad cold. In some ways, being sick is an endless morning, because you’re in bed in your pajamas. In other ways, it isn’t. My pets still need care, and believe me, nobody around here is going to let a mealtime pass by unnoticed. Having a dog brings a certain amount of natural daylight into the routine. I’m not going to punish Future Me, who is recovering nicely, with a pile of trash and laundry and dirty dishes. I can certainly still put dishes in the dishwasher and garbage in the trash can. The day I can’t manage five minutes of basic daily chores is the day I call the nurse hotline. More importantly, I’m still on the same meal schedule as any other day, and going to bed at the same time, even though I’m napping a lot. I put years of effort into syncing up all my physical systems, and I’m not letting that go without a fight. Mealtimes and bedtimes mean I can do my life without constant disruption from migraine and sleep problems.
I’m still a big respecter of the endless morning. I did one recently with a fancy breakfast for all. Then, when the nap dominoes started to topple, I had some nice private time to finish reading a novel and then play with my phone. It’s like living in a parallel universe, where you can see everyone else but they can’t see you. Being able to step in and out of the Time Dimension on demand is a minor and underrated super power.
‘Radioactive’ is definitely how I would describe my inbox some days. You know when you’re trying to get caught up, and every time you delete something, the window refreshes and three more messages come in behind it? It’s metastasizing! I set a date to fight my way back to Inbox Zero, and this image came to me. In the endless search for a form of novelty that will inspire me through another day of drudgery, I came up with a little game.
Look at the total number of messages in your inbox. Write it down.
Vow that you’ll cut that number in half over the next hour. What will that number be?
In the next hour, you’ll cut it in half again.
In the next hour, you’ll cut it in half yet again.
(My husband points out that with a half-life, you never really get to zero, but let’s call it close enough).
Start with the easy stuff, just like you answer the easy questions first on a timed test. Gradually work your way through the middle, and save the complicated stuff for last. The easiest decisions get the least time, and the tougher stuff that needs your full concentration gets the most.
The logic behind this is that not all messages are equally salient, even though they look like they are. One of the worst features of email is that everything gets an identical line, no matter how long the message is, who it’s from, how important it is, how many attachments it has, or how long it’s been hanging around. It’s not obvious which messages are most deserving of our attention. The bulk junk buries the valuable stuff, just like junk paper mail can pile up and obscure our bills, checks, and gift cards.
The half-life method presumes that the more messages you have, the more likely the majority of them are relatively unimportant. If they really were both important and urgent, the senders would have found another way to track you down, either by phone, certified mail, or Men in Black knocking on your door.
Let me pause and say that it’s pretty common these days for people to have thousands of unopened emails. I’ve heard numbers above ten thousand from several people. Not only that, but those with the largest backlog tend to have extra accounts which are also filling up. It’s like maxing out a credit card and opening a new one.
Back in the Nineties, if you had more than a certain amount of email in your inbox, it would FILL UP. Anyone who sent you anything would get a message that it had bounced back. Two things fixed that problem: social media, and the advent of ludicrous amounts of free storage. You can have a gigabyte of mail now, no problem. That was technologically impossible twenty years ago.
Also back in the Nineties, if you got email at all, it was almost guaranteed to be from a personal friend. You looked forward to it. Maybe, every now and then, there might even be an attached digital photo, just for you.
Now, almost all mail is bulk junk. Every possible brand wants you to sign up at every possible transaction. They try to bribe you with a discount or a coupon. Then, each and every one of them sends you at least one message, each and every day.
The worst are the political lists that will send fundraising email as often as three to five times a day.
Everyone is battling for the top spot in your mental bandwidth, trying to flag down your attention, not realizing that they’re contributing to the problem. It’s like when one person stands up at the stadium and blocks the view of everyone in the back.
Here’s how to blast through the detritus:
If you can’t bring yourself to unsubscribe or delete thousands of messages, you can move them to a folder for “later.”
An overflowing inbox is solid proof that you’re receiving more than you can process.
I do my daily unsubscribe while paying attention to something else, generally an audio book or podcast. Along with that, I get several news roundups. I go through those by clicking the links and bookmarking the relevant articles, then deleting the email.
This is where the second round of processing starts. The easiest layer to eliminate is stuff that’s expired. In my inbox, that’s coupons from Lyft and a couple of restaurants, notifications of upcoming concerts, and invitations to other events that I won’t be attending. Next are things that are relevant and interesting, but don’t need a response. Usually we’re saving them because we need to record a piece of information.
See that it takes slightly longer to do this administrative stuff, but it often can be done while doing something entertaining in the background.
After this second layer, there will start to be messages that deserve a response. They can be complicated for several reasons. It can actually help to sort these by WHY they need more time and effort:
Often, with the difficult under-layer, it can help to switch channels. Just because a message came through email does not mean an email response is required. Much of the time, it can be easier to pick up the phone and have a discussion. What might have taken half an hour by email, resulting in half a dozen messages back and forth, could often be resolved with a three-minute phone call. Of course, many of us dread business calls even more than we dread email. The impending threat of a phone call, in this case, may be enough to motivate us to type out a reply. Anything to avoid voice contact, or, worse, a voicemail.
When I don’t know what to do or how to handle a question, like in a stuck plot point, I will write a list of what I don’t know. What piece of information would make this clear? It’s totally fair to reply to a confusing message with a question, or even a bullet-pointed list of questions.
It’s also legit to dash off a quick reply to someone, saying, “I miss you. Sorry I haven’t written back.” If you have a social email from someone you want to stay in better touch with, maybe write back in a format that you prefer. Text message? Chat? Meet in person? Remember that “the phone works both ways” and if this person has been content to wait weeks, months, or years without hearing from you, then maybe they haven’t been sobbing through a roll of paper towels awaiting your reply. Lower the emotional bar if that makes it easier.
The last-ditch method for dealing with an out-of-control inbox is to tell someone. Find a buddy. Agree that you and your accomplice will sit together and blast through your backlogs together. Maybe you can even switch seats and write some of each other’s replies, or help identify obsolete stuff.
There’s also always “email bankruptcy.” Just delete everything and email everyone you know, asking to re-send anything that was truly important. Many of us feel like we could never get away with that, but honestly, is it worse for your reputation than ignoring unopened messages entirely?
My rough bottom-of-the-barrel day started with sixteen messages. Using the half-life method, that would be eight in the first hour, four in the second hour, and two in the third. About eight minutes per message in the first round, fifteen minutes per message in the second round, and half an hour for the last two. Considering that these messages included forms, polls, spreadsheets, slide shows, meeting invites, and a list of phone calls, it worked out that this was a pretty solid estimate.
If only I hadn’t received eleven more messages during that time slot...
What do you do when you get diametrically opposed advice from two sources you respect? In this case, I’m examining an ongoing debate between Suze Orman and the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) community.
Think for yourself, I say, although it’s also good to know when you lack the relevant credentials or expertise. Ultimately you’re responsible for your own actions. You can find mutually exclusive advice in any area. What workout should you do? Is chocolate/wine/coffee good for you or not? Should you use Comic Sans on your resume? How should you allocate your investments?
Dithering can be an excuse for maintaining the status quo, for neglecting to take any action. Being confused is not a good reason to abdicate responsibility for your life. Keep reading, keep asking questions, keep checking sources.
The main tenet of the FIRE community is that by living frugally and investing carefully, an average family can become financially independent. The basic numbers that we toss around are a 4% annual withdrawal on a nest egg of $2 million, resulting in an annual income of $80,000.
Suze Orman says that this is disastrous advice, that it will cause young families to quit working decades too soon and leave them defenseless against inflation, disability, caretaking responsibilities, taxes, and other unforeseen cataclysmic expenses. Keep going, she says, and if you want to quit when you have $5 or $10 million, then maybe.
Where am I on this? I think both sides are right, both are wrong, both are leaning at least a little on the arts of rhetoric, and that exposure to more of both sides should be motivational and supportive for most readers.
Suze Orman saved me from poverty. I’ve read all her books, paid to see her on tour, and met her in person. Her message that “if a waitress like me can become wealthy after growing up in poverty, then anyone can” was completely unique in my experience. She personally, she herself, is the reason I’m debt-free, the reason I paid cash for my wedding. I can’t say enough good things about how gracious and brilliant she is and how much I value her legacy. One hundred million, why not? If you say so, Suze. Save a seat for me, I’m going as fast as I can.
On the other hand, it was Mr. Money Mustache who caught my husband’s attention. We’d talked quite a bit about money and frugality and Your Money or Your Life. It wasn’t until he heard MMM speak and saw THE SPREADSHEET that the real possibility of financial independence clicked into place for him. He caught FIRE. We radically changed our lifestyle almost overnight. Two years and a couple pay raises later, we had paid off my student loan and were saving 40% of our income.
Most people probably start out in a similar mindset. We “know” but we don’t ACT because common knowledge is not common action. Information is not motivation. We hear “oh, save money save money” and we grunt and move on, the same as we do when we think about drinking more water or going to bed earlier. It takes the lightning bolt of a clear and personal visualization to make it feel real.
I read Suze and thought, “if a waitress, then an office temp.”
My husband heard Mr. Money Mustache and thought, “if one engineer and a spreadsheet, then another engineer.”
Suze Orman became who she is one step at a time. She seized initiative and took charge of her own life. The further she went, the stronger she became, and the more agency she developed, the richer she got. That approach works.
The young families in the FIRE community who have retired early did it one step, one conversation at a time. They learned basic personal finance and frugality techniques one at a time. They talked it out and tugged each other forward. That process doesn’t stop.
The more you learn about money, the more you build your financial base. The more stable you feel about your finances, the more curious you become about how much more you could do if you try. The more you focus on financial independence, the more opportunities and possibilities you see.
It’s also true that most people are, well, kinda delusional about how much they’re saving, how much their earning power will increase, and how long they’ll stay healthy. Likewise, it’s true that people in the financial services industry have a responsibility to make people nervous so they’ll be more likely to prepare themselves for disaster. That’s why everyone in the conversation is both right and wrong.
My personal plan is based on the assumption that I’ll live to be quite, quite old and that for the last several years, I’ll also be frail and isolated. If I imagine Old Me at 85, childless, perhaps widowed, and reliant on others who only come over for pay, I must think, “Old Me sure would appreciate more money. Let me send her a check.” If I imagine Old Me at 85, a wealthy spitfire with tons of friends of all ages, I grin and start shopping for lavender wigs.
I don’t see the point of “retiring early” at all, actually. Retiring implies a withdrawal from life. My desire is to open a gym when I turn sixty, so I can stay active and inspire young women in their twenties to do the same. I see a vision of Old Me teaching classes and workshops, writing books and traveling around the world to give talks. Maybe it will never happen, but it gives me a good reason to keep stretching and trying to do the splits.
Likewise, my husband is an aerospace engineer. One of the major perks of his job is that he’s called upon to mentor students, interns, and new engineers. He loves it. He’s doing what he’s wanted to do all his life, and he’s good at it, so why would he ever quit? There are “retired” engineers at his work in their eighties who still come into the office because they can’t stay away.
We have a shared vision of contributing to the world far into old age, not because we’re afraid and broke, but because we still have something important and valuable to offer. We save 40% of our income because financial security is so compelling in its own right. There are no good reasons to live on the financial razor’s edge.
What’s the answer? Save two million or five million? Retire early or retire late? Who do you listen to? I say to save the first two million and then check back in. Saving even one thousand dollars is more than most Americans have done. Don’t let an internet argument distract from the core goal. Everyone agrees that financial stability is worth your focused attention.
Just thought I’d put that out there. I’m so inspired by the idea that There are No Overachievers that I just want to sing it right out. WOO!
WOO stands for ‘windows of opportunity.’ Brian D. Biro teaches how to recognize WOO and create more. This type of possibility thinking is uncommon, something that most people aren’t taught and do not naturally revert to. As a default state, it makes a massive difference between one person’s results and another’s. Why do some people seem to have it so easy? Because they understand the WOO.
There are a million things to love about this book. One that stood out to me is the concept of the ‘eager meter.’ What if, rather than being willing to do things, we actually felt eager to do them? I’m writing this one on my hand so I can see it all day.
Another concept that clicked with me was that Biro refers to ‘breakthrough targets’ where most of us would say ‘problems’ or ‘issues’ or ‘obstacles’ or ‘personal failings.’ One of mine is failing to respond to social connections. This has been making me feel like a bad person and a bad friend. When I thought of it in the sense of a breakthrough target, it was like the sun burst through the clouds. This could be a goal rather than a flaw! Goals I know how to handle, my personal failings not so much.
The premise that There are No Overachievers is that we’re all actually underachievers, that we have so much more potential within us. It’s only that we’re so tired and uninspired and conditioned to look for the risks and reasons to avoid things, that we don’t realize we could be living out our dreams. It’s terrifically motivating, a very upbeat book, and I won’t hesitate to say that I loved it.
You never know if the next idea that pops into your head or the next choice you make may change your life.
...Look for the WOO instead of the woe.
Be easy to impress and hard to offend.
Self-discipline has a bad rap. For one thing, it’s boring. There’s just nothing sexy about saving money, eating healthy, being organized, or going to bed early. (Well, maybe that last one). We tend to feel constrained by these external expectations, that the outside world is constantly pressuring us to quit having fun and give up our independence. There isn’t really a model showing self-discipline as an active, creative choice. We can choose self-discipline as a powerful means of personal and artistic expression. We can choose self-discipline as an endlessly regenerating act of love. Self-discipline is kindness, both to self and others.
It doesn’t take much time in the company of small children to realize that discipline usually comes in when kids are either doing something dangerous, or being mean to each other. Hey, no biting! Stop grabbing stuff from other people. Don’t chase the cat. Look out! I’ve had to run full speed after little kids who were about to walk into traffic, toddle into the ring during sports matches, or nearly stumble into a swimming pool or fire pit. Lack of discipline is hard to do without annoying other people or stressing them out. That’s because our actions don’t occur in a vacuum.
This is where we start to realize that our own lack of self-discipline and self-control makes life difficult for others around us. When we’re late and our coworkers have to cover for us. When we don’t pack lunch or a snack, and then get hangry and start snapping at people who have done nothing to deserve it - again. When we allow our standards to slip and drive distracted, endangering everyone around us.
Then there are people like the guy in my building who likes to get drunk in the afternoon, week after week, and sing along to the same The Police Greatest Hits album off his balcony. Live your best life, my dude, but could you do that maybe in the shower instead? Otherwise you’re setting yourself up for an uncredited appearance on my podcast.
I’ve had many, many roommates and neighbors over the years. Some of them have been legends for all the right reasons, and others for all the wrong ones. The ones who steal your leftovers or your laundry quarters. The ones who leave giant wads of hair in the shower drain. The ones who run up your phone bill, and then move out with no notice and no forwarding address. The ones who never, ever do a fair share of housekeeping, the ones who can’t seem to live a single hour with a dish-free kitchen sink. It all comes down to a basic disagreement about where the line ends between our behavior and other people’s rights. When my freedom interferes with yours, then it’s not my freedom any more; it’s my unfairness.
There are also all the ways that my lack of self-discipline is unfair to me, myself. Sometimes Today Me is very selfish and works hard to create problems for Future Me. Tomorrow Me is constantly being expected to pay my debts, sort my papers, and wash my dishes. Past Me, why you so lazy?? It takes a while to realize that if I take action right now, it’s faster and easier and costs less than if I dump it all on Future Me. I do all my housework on weekdays so that Saturday Me can lounge around, sleep late, and do nothing. I do forty pushups so that Next Month Me can do fifty, and so that Summer Me can have awesome-looking biceps. Gifts for Future Me, a Future Me who is hopefully feeling very smug right now.
When I look back at Twenties Me, I usually feel very aggravated. Twenties Me had almost every possible bad habit. She was late everywhere she went. Her bag always weighed ten pounds and she always had neck and shoulder pain because of it. Her desk was always covered with papers and unopened mail. She was always flat broke and devastated by money worries. She didn’t know how to cook, she was as much as thirty-five pounds overweight, and she had constant problems with migraines and chronic pain and fatigue. Forties Me sees almost all of these issues as a lack of self-discipline (although, more charitably, it was a lack of knowledge).
When I get plenty of sleep, it helps me to show up on time, keep my commitments, and treat others with patience and respect.
When I nourish my body with healthy food and plenty of exercise, it helps me to have a high energy level and physical strength and stamina. I’m able to contribute when it’s time to move furniture and do the heavy lifting. I’m more likely to help others in a crisis, when in the past I might have *been* the crisis.
When I’m organized, I meet my deadlines and fulfill expectations. I even have a chance to exceed them, set higher standards, and build my reputation. I don’t waste other people’s time by being late, asking for extensions, needing other people to cover for me, or failing to follow through on what I said I would do. I can take my time and create something amazing.
When I feel like I am accountable for my life, it helps me to manage my commitments. I can pledge my time and attention, knowing I will show up and keep my agreements. I can rely on my resources and energy level because I know what I’m capable of. I never have to inflict my panic or burnout on others.
When I am in charge of myself, when I use self-discipline skillfully, then I know I can be fully present for others. I take care of my own needs and I have responsibility for my own enjoyment of life. Also, I have the room and the means to listen wisely and well. I have space in my life and my heart for those I care about the most. When others need me, I know I can be there. Self-discipline is kindness, to myself and others.
“Don’t overthink it.” This is something I hear in martial arts class all the time, maybe even as often as once per class. I understand why. That doesn’t really make it easier, because what’s happening is complicated, at least from my end. I’m trying to learn what other people have acquired naturally. From their perspective, it looks like I’m adding unnecessary layers of complexity to something easy. If I didn’t overthink it, I wouldn’t still be training.
Overthinking is my way of explaining something to myself that is otherwise confusing.
As the “last kid chosen for team sports,” small for my age and young for my grade, I was slow and awkward. This is automatically reinforcing. Those of us who felt humiliated and out of place in gym class tend to quit exercise for life. Our reluctance to be active in any way, shape, or form means that we deliberately miss out on the hundreds or thousands of instances when other, more active kids are practicing physical skills. We think they’re “natural” at it when really, they just put in 100x or 1000x more effort into this stuff, starting in early childhood.
As adults, when we set out to do something about this sorry state of affairs, we’re trying to build physical and athletic skills that a “natural” or “real” athlete might have mastered by the age of eight.
What kinds of skills?
Internalizing the rules of various games and sports
Vascularity, lung capacity, bone density, muscle strength
Eyes adjusted to bright sunlight
Stoicism as regarding bad weather
Tolerance of boredom and repetition
Linguistic adaptation to jock lingo
Awareness of altered states derived from athletic pursuits
Respect for achievements of athletes, both professional and amateur
Curiosity about one’s own athletic potential
I didn’t have much or any of that as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult. I had nothing but contempt for people who liked that sort of thing, having felt bullied by mean kids and gym teachers. I had nothing but disgust for the idea of getting all sweaty and dirty and somehow being absorbed into some sports cult. I had no idea what I was missing. Now, as an adult, I just really wish I had figured out a different approach.
All I can do now is to be patient with myself and keep trying. That’s why I’m still doing this thing they call “overthinking it.”
To an experienced athlete - I won’t say “natural” because I understand that this is something taught - every athletic pursuit is like dancing. They see and know what to do. If someone throws a ball, they can run toward it and catch it, because they’ve developed their proprioception and depth perception and all of that. They also feel a connection in those situations. If someone is throwing a ball, that is an invitation to a kind of party. My dog would agree. He doesn’t need to overthink anything involving a ball.
An athlete can watch someone go through a set of physical movements and then copy them. Actors are trained in this as well. I remember in grade school that a theater troupe visited and put on a show for us. They invited volunteers from the audience to walk across the stage, and then one of the actors would follow them and mimic their walk. It was hysterical, an innocent and playful trick that involves the same proprioception used by athletes and dancers.
For someone like me, a bookish and late-blooming middle-aged athlete, copying someone else’s movements is really, really confusing and challenging.
This happens in every class. I’ll watch a demonstration between the instructor and a partner, either another student or one of the other instructors. Then we’ll break into pairs and take turns going through the forms. My partner will usually get it right. I will somehow manage to combine the motions of both parties. I’ll strike with the opposite arm, step forward when I was supposed to step backward, step right when I should have stepped left, and on and on. One of my best tricks is to “bob and weave” directly into a punch instead of away from it.
Instructors are always rushing over to help. They can take one look at me - one single look! In one single split second! - and instantly see that once again, I’ve gotten myself all mixed up.
It was the same in ballroom dance. I was trying to learn the basic steps of the rumba. My dance teacher paused and asked what was going on, why I was struggling with this. I said, “My third leg keeps getting in the way.” “Your... third... leg? Your THIRD LEG?” He was incredulous. In my poor overthinking mind, it felt true. I did eventually get it, and in fact with tons of practice I became a pretty fair ballroom dancer. I just had to practice a lot more than most people. I practiced those three basic rumba steps at the bus stop, at work, in my kitchen, while brushing my teeth, hundreds and hundreds of times until it entered my body memory.
I’d do the same with boxing combos if only there weren’t so darn many of them...
I’m not so great at watching someone and copying them. I am pretty good, though, at talking to myself. I’m also good at communicating and asking questions, and I’m not ashamed or reluctant to do so. I can explain, “Oh, I see, I missed that step to the left and that’s why I was striking with the wrong arm” or whatever other blunder I just made. Thinking in text helps me to visualize and remind myself of what I should be doing. Also, I count, just like I did when I played clarinet in band class.
It isn’t hopeless. We’re never too old, or too clumsy, or too awkward, or too dorky. At least we aren’t if we believe we aren’t. We can draw upon our other strengths to help us learn to do these new things. As we keep at it, eventually we find that people think we are “natural” at it as well. Some time after that, maybe it even becomes true.
'CURATE YOUR STUFF' WORKBOOK NOW AVAILABLE!
Download on the Products tab today!
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.