Now for something new and different. I’ve got some serious stuff going on in my life right now, so instead of the usual book review, here’s a list of podcasts that I follow. These are the shows that keep me occupied while I walk six miles a day, cook, fold laundry, clean house, delete spam email, and all the other daily maintenance. If you don’t currently listen to podcasts, maybe spend a few minutes trying one of these and find out what you’ve been missing!
In no particular order:
Happier with Gretchen Rubin
This is Actually Happening
The Memory Palace
The Science of Happiness
Smart People Podcast
Side Hustle School
Crime Writers On...
Robot or Not?
Tribe of Mentors
The Becoming Superhuman Podcast
The iProcrastinate Podcast
Judge John Hodgman
My Brother, My Brother, and Me
Be Wealthy & Smart
Here Be Monsters
The Black Tapes
Welcome to Night Vale
Truth and Justice
Someone Knows Something
In the Dark
The RFK Tapes
Some of these are finite projects, while some have been posting for years. Some have a regular schedule, and some will surprise you with sudden updates. Episodes range in length from two minutes to two hours, depending on the show.
This is a freakishly long list, and it’s not even complete... I wouldn’t recommend every show I’ve tried! I am current in many of these, while others I hoard for special occasions. Starting a podcast episode is one of the first things I do when I wake up every morning, and it’s often one of the last things I do at night before I go to sleep. This is a new medium for a new era. Why not try out a new show today?
Life is an endless tidal wave of BS. Accepting that is a great starting place. It certainly makes Stoic philosophy feel more relevant. There’s this other point, about the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, which I explain thus:
Sometimes, pain (trauma, drama, difficulty, suffering) comes in the form of natural disasters or external events of vast scale. We cope as well as we can. Usually, though, difficulty comes from within, from our expectations and assumptions. We cause ourselves significant grief by setting up a lot of demands and rules that other people and the world in general never seem to quite meet. This is part of how we convince ourselves to believe in difficulty.
It’s difficult when we want people to behave in a certain way, and they won’t.
It’s difficult when we expect certain actions to lead to certain results, and they don’t.
It’s difficult when we expect change to come on its own, in a form we find acceptable, and it doesn’t.
It’s difficult when we insist on getting the results without the effort, and we can’t.
What if, instead, we believed in ease? What if we believed that really, things are simple and straightforward?
Nobody is quite as good at overcomplicating and overthinking things as I am. See? I’ve claimed this extravagant level of difficulty for myself. I buy into it as a part of my identity. I’m proud of it in a way. Look at me! I’m an insomniac! I’m a stress case! I’m tightly wound! I have a thin skin, too! I pledge allegiance to my difficulties.
I got curious about all of this, and started wondering what would happen if I just tried to Do the Obvious instead. Whenever I wanted to try something new, I would first ask, what is the most obvious advice that anyone would give to a beginner? What’s the checklist? What are the obvious first steps? Is there a FAQ? Is there a manual?
It got even better when I started asking whether there were basic checklists for things I was already doing. What if I just looked at my daily life and tried making it as easy as possible?
That question led to the systematic application of minimalism to every part of my life. More love, less of whatever else this is. Wherever I can get rid of stress or self-imposed obstacles, that’s a place where I can let more love in and breathe more love out.
In a way, belief in difficulty is a belief in fate, in evil, and in hopelessness. Let’s throw our hands in the air and collectively sigh OH WELL. Nothing could be done. Well, that sucked.
I claim that with free will and determination, we can do anything. We can’t always stop every bad thing from happening, like a hurricane, but then not every natural disaster is “bad.” Is it bad when there’s a giant storm on the planet Jupiter? Is it bad when there’s a hurricane in the middle of the sea if it never reaches land? If we define something as “bad” only when it causes human suffering, then can’t we do more to eliminate the human suffering that we can affect today?
Starting with our own?
The thing about belief in difficulty is that it restricts us. When we feel caught up in stress and drama of the ordinary sort, we feel too burned out and powerless to do anything to change our own situation, much less anyone else’s. We can easily slip into a position where we’re making our problems INTO someone else’s. Our desire to vent and complain becomes someone else’s headache. Our refusal to address our own problems until they reach breaking point can become an urgent crisis for someone else. When we feel that we have no free will, then we feel like our actions don’t matter. As if that were possible. As if it were possible to even exist without making an impact on the world!
As an example, I had a bad breakup once, many years ago. Looking back, the immediate cause was that I got sucked into a lot of negativity and drama on an internet listserv. This was long before we had a pop culture understanding of trolling or flame wars. I didn’t have the perspective to see that the hours I spent reading and responding to these threads was a complete waste of time that did nothing to serve me or anyone else. My boyfriend was the one person I thought I could talk to, the one place where I went to process all this junk. He tried. He asked me why I was talking to these people and made a few suggestions, which I took to mean that he didn’t understand and wasn’t being a good listener. I bought into a reality in which an email list was more important than my romantic partner’s companionship. In retrospect, I never would have spent five minutes on this activity. Think of all the good books I could have read instead.
Life is easier for middle-aged people in so many ways. I’d never want to be that young again, or at least not without all my hard-won experience.
I no longer believe in the difficulty of feeding trolls. I no longer believe in the difficulty of reading the comments or engaging with naysayers.
I no longer believe in the difficulty of the chronic pain and fatigue that I suffered as a young person. This might sound cruel or flippant to someone who is currently living that reality. I only mention it because every source I consulted when I was ill affirmed that I always would be, and there was nothing I could ever do about it. This is patently false. I got better, and probably other people could, too.
I no longer believe in the difficulty of poverty, and again, see above. It wasn’t instant, but I eventually learned how to earn more and get a job with benefits. There is plenty for everyone in this world, and it’s only our belief in scarcity that restricts that natural abundance. We feel threatened by the very idea of having to share, and that’s the first sign.
I no longer believe in the difficulty of poor body image. That comes from strong self-efficacy. I have it within me to learn how to do anything, to eventually reach any goal I set for myself, to hold myself accountable, and to go after what I want. I’m allowed to build muscle, get sweaty and muddy, explore the world, expand my abilities, and look however I want. If someone else has a problem with that, why should I care? My body isn’t about you.
There are difficulties that still captivate my attention. As I recognize them, I work on them. I simply question myself, Is that really true? Do I want it to be?
Wherever I have a difficulty, it’s certainly a smaller, less significant one than someone else’s. If it’s difficulty that bothers me, then logically I should care about the worst difficulties, not just those that affect me. Injustice where it’s worst, not injustice that I feel personally. Crisis where it’s worst, not just mine.
There’s a guy sitting two tables from me who is wearing glasses with broken frames. One arm is completely missing and they’re sitting catty-whampus across his nose. He’s tilting his head to the side so they don’t fall off. This is a guy who believes in difficulty! Surely there are several charities that could help him, or maybe someone would be willing to fix his glasses for free if he asked nicely. Maybe he could buy another pair at Goodwill and scavenge an arm, or fit his existing lenses in different frames. Maybe he could find a twig or a piece of cardboard and tape it into place. A thousand things would be easier than what he’s doing right now. He’s playing with his smartphone, so I somehow wonder whether money is the problem?
Looking for a demonstration of a principle, evidence is usually close to hand. I feel lucky that I happened to be writing about this topic as this guy with the one-armed glasses sits nearby. Well, that was easy! I turn my attention to areas of life where everything is effortless and easy. I always have the opportunity to focus on my breathing. I always have the opportunity to appreciate my loved ones. I always have the opportunity to let go of my past hurts. I always have the opportunity to look to my own behavior, change my own perspective, and improve my own attitude.
“My body” is not one single unchanging entity. If it were, the day I was born would have been a lot tougher for my mom, considering I’m taller than she is. It continually astonishes me how deeply rooted our beliefs about the body can be. Our bodies change every day, every minute! All our cells are continually in a process of renewal, down to and including our bone tissue and our brain cells. This is why I’ve been thinking lately of this thing I call “body polymorphia,” or the perception that the body has the potential to shift between many possible forms.
We believe this when we contemplate hairstyles or piercings or tattoos, sure. Tanning, yeah, why not. Corrective eye surgery. In fact, I cut my eyeball on a bird-of-paradise plant last year, temporarily damaging my vision, and it healed perfectly. The idea that a cut can heal without leaving a scar is really stunning, yet somehow we’re able to make it through the day without giving it much thought. We believe that broken bones can knit, that people can wake up from comas, that it’s possible to survive a stroke or a heart attack or a broken neck.
In spite of all this, somehow, some of us believe that there’s nothing within our power or control that we can do about body composition.
Why would we cling to the demonstrably false superstition that Nothing Can Be Done about adipose tissue?
It’s a simple fixed-mindset belief. Even though I grew almost visibly from infancy through adolescence, my body stalled out and I became like unto a tree, adding rings around my trunk each year. That’s what happened, right?
They say having kids causes weight gain, but I never had kids, so why did I gain weight?
They say aging causes weight gain, but I weigh less at forty-three than I did at twenty-two, so why was I overweight then but not now?
What we really want is to be let off the hook when we feel judged by external forces. Personally, I feel more judged by gravity! Why would I care what other people think about my physical appearance when they can’t park straight or drive in their own lane? What should be most important is whether we feel like we have enough energy to do everything we want to do.
This is what I’ve taken upon myself.
First, I decided that I wanted to be fitter each year than I was the year before. I want to take good care of Old Me. I want to open my own gym when I’m sixty, and impress younger people with all the stuff that a progressively aging person can do. This is already starting to happen. I enjoy wowing kids in their teens and twenties when I tell them my age.
I thought about it and realized that what I really want to give to Old Me is a set of tangible, physically measurable gifts. She’s getting more muscle, more bone density, healthy blood pressure, and a lower resting heart rate. She’s going to have better posture, more visible muscle definition, greater agility, and better balance.
There are seventeen years between now and my sixtieth birthday. With seventeen years of daily practice, how many yoga poses can I master? Could I work to do the splits, a handstand, a cartwheel, a muscle-up? The only way to find out is to find out.
Right now I’m working on my headstand. It took two weeks of trying every night, and I finally got it the night before my birthday. I couldn’t do it as an eight-year-old or a fifteen-year-old. Why quit, though? Why buy into this madness that the body thickens up, stiffens, solidifies, and quits working quite right? IT IS B.S.! A year ago it hadn’t occurred to me to find out, “Am I too old for this?” Now I ritually stand on my head in front of the bathroom door every night while I get ready for bed. I’m getting faster and I’m able to hold the pose longer.
I can feel it activating my midriff.
This is what I’m feeling these days. I’m feeling that the long, sleek, supple muscles of my torso are desiring to be flexed and stretched. Temporarily I’m also feeling that I have a bit of a muffin top, but hey. Underneath the variable, ever-morphing top coat that is my external layer, there is this sinewy level. I know it’s there because 1. I can feel it and 2. I believe in an empirical reality that can be observed, tested, and verified by SCIENCE. Scientifically I know that I can build muscle tissue, grow thicker, denser bones, change my blood sugar and blood pressure, and even *drumroll* burn off excess reserves of adipose tissue, commonly referred to as body fat.
My body composition has changed over the years, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. My ring size has changed, my bra size has changed, and weirdly, even my shoe size has changed! My feet got a half-size bigger after my marathon, which I thought was permanent, until I went in for a new pair of Birkenstocks after six months of kickboxing. Now my feet are a full European size smaller than they were *before* the marathon. If my feet can change size, what else can? I’ve worn eight different clothing sizes in my adult life. Now I’m calling forth the fascinating, mysterious, even adorable specialty muscles that lay hidden in my arms, shoulders, and back. What are you like, my dears? Where ya been? Do you have friends over there in the abdominal area?
I believe that every part of my body is capable of change and growth. I know it to be true. I believe that I have the power and the emotional strength to learn more, to do more, and to ask myself why I struggle when I struggle. Why shouldn’t I go through each day in a body that can turn cartwheels? The joy in my heart is a transmogrification ray. As I play and experiment, I change my body, this amazingly polymorphic body that I have the pleasure to call my own.
The problem with this whole idea of Getting Organized is that it feels like work. It’s all about duties, responsibilities, aversive tasks, and backlogs. What fun is that? For chronically disorganized people, it’s hard to imagine how nice it will feel to have more mental bandwidth, to be able to relax while knowing there’s nothing else we “should” be doing. It all just feels like a giant boring chore. This is why I think we should link chores to fun stuff. Every day, let it be something fun and something done.
How does this work?
Let’s start with folding laundry. This is my most personally loathed chore. I often use a stopwatch to gamify my housework and fit it in between other things, and that’s how I learned that it takes about twelve minutes to fold and put away one load of laundry. That’s almost as long as it takes to clean my entire bathroom! I use that time to listen to podcasts. Sometimes I also find new combinations of outfits through the serendipity of everything being swirled together in the basket.
Email is another chore that really gets on my nerves. Every single day, I find that I have to unsubscribe from several unwanted, unasked-for lists and process a bunch of junk mail. There also tends to be stuff that deserves a considered reply, and the moment it appears is usually not the moment to write back. I deal with this by subscribing to several newsletters that I really enjoy! Every day there’s something I really look forward to reading, so that my email is about half fun stuff. I tend to go through it at breakfast and lunch, and I can bang out replies to important stuff while riding that swell of enjoyment.
Errands are outings. Any time I “have” to go somewhere, I make sure to do at least one fun thing on the same trip. That’s because we got rid of our car and it saves a lot of time to combine things in the same area. For instance, I often stop by the library on the way to or from the grocery store. Not my jam, but I notice a lot of people out there still playing Pokémon Go, and you can hatch a lot of eggs by walking around town. Riding a bicycle also has its way of making any trip feel like fun.
Kitchen cleanup is something I do while fixing meals. Most kitchen chores can be done in one or two minutes, if they’re done regularly. I might scrub the sink or wipe down the fridge door while waiting for the microwave. We were just given a countertop dishwasher, and I unload it while I’ve got stuff cooking on the stove. The anticipation of hot food on the way helps make these quick tasks feel like part of the game.
Cooking is something I’ve learned to enjoy, although I used to hate it. Knowing how to cook means you can make your favorite foods, exactly the way you like them, any time you want. Why wouldn’t anyone want to be able to do that? I think the major reasons why people don’t enjoy cooking are when they’re expected to do it by ingrates, and when the kitchen is so cluttered and gross that it has to be cleaned both before and after making a meal. 1. Don’t cook for ingrates; make them do it. 2. Get rid of half your kitchen stuff and just eat the backup food from the pantry until it’s used up. Or donate it to the food bank. Cooking can feel exciting if you let it.
Sometimes something pops up that isn’t fun at all, but can’t be avoided, like surprise tax correspondence or an unpleasant doctor visit. I try to have that be the only chore-like thing I do that day, my one-and-done. The last time one of these doctor visits came up, we went across the street to the park and watched ducks swimming in the pond for a while, then went out to lunch.
One of my all-time worst, most procrastinated tasks is making business calls. I just kinda have to force myself to do it. If I’m going to have to wait on hold for a while, I use that time to look at cute animal photos or read an article. If I’m calling for information about something, I’ll use that same block to check movie times, reserve a library book, or download an app or a podcast episode.
In the background of almost all my chores and dreaded tasks, I’ve got a podcast or audio book playing in my ears. Sure, sometimes I get stuck doing something really gross, like cleaning gum out of the treads of my shoes or dragging soapy hair out of the shower drain. I also have a parrot, and I’d rather not talk about what it’s like to regularly clean a bird cage. (She’s worth it, but). It’s not like pairing something fun with something unfun really takes away the inherent ick factor. It just helps to make it more bearable.
We’re talking about two things right now. One is the strategy of anchoring. Socks and shoes, peanut butter and jelly, burgers and fries, chores and games. Doing one thing helps you remember to do the other thing you’ve anchored to it, like flossing before you brush your teeth, or putting the heartworm pills next to the dog food. Anchoring chores to a favorite music playlist or errands to a favorite shop can help make the boring stuff more upbeat.
The other thing is that life can and should be more fun. Add more celebration, gratitude, and delight wherever you can. Why ever not? Life is 80% maintenance. Without the routine errands and chores and hygiene and repair and maintenance, we’d soon find that we couldn’t really even do the 20% of things that are more fun and meaningful. Let’s do whatever we can to keep things running smoothly. Something fun, something done.
I don’t drink coffee, but I am sitting in a legendary coffeehouse wasting time and money. At least that’s what they’d have you think. Of course it’s nonsense to think that a $5 daily habit can make or break whether someone buys a house or funds a retirement portfolio. Easy to say, when someone making six figures wants to chastise someone living on a third of that. Easy to say, coming from someone with a predictable schedule, benefits, paid holidays and sick time, who wants to lecture someone with none of those perquisites. Let me set down my steaming cup of tea long enough to share my thoughts on that whole latte budget thing.
I don’t own a house. It’s not because I can’t, but because for a lot of people in a lot of cities, home ownership is a very poor, even nonsensical use of money. Whether we spend a bunch of money in coffee shops is a moot point. There is no one-size-fits-all financial advice, and that applies to real estate more than to most investments.
Nah. If we’re going to talk about lattes or beverage equivalent, we should be comparing that to other options that represent roughly the same cash flow. So, if I’m spending maybe $25-30 a week at Starbase, what else could I get with the same money, and would it be more or less valuable to me?
$25 a week is ROUGHLY $100 a month, and that’s roughly $1200 a year. That’s about enough to buy a round-trip plane ticket to almost anywhere in the world. Therefore, if you have the vacation time and the ability and desire to travel, it could be said that you’re weighing a latte habit against an international plane ticket.
This is complicated by externalities, such as the fact that you’d also need lodging, ground transport, food, money for museum admissions and tours, an emergency savings cushion, travel insurance, and anything else that makes the difference between a ‘trip’ and a ‘vacation.’ You’re also factoring in expenses at home, such as pet boarding or childcare. Are you bringing someone else? Then this extra person would also need to trade off a $25/week habit for a year in order to come with you.
Maybe this latte IS my vacation. 30 minutes per beverage, five days a week, is a lot of mini-breaks.
I should state for the record that my husband and I save 40% of our income. We’re maxing out our retirement contributions. Because we pay ourselves first, and because we save so much money on our largest expense categories, we feel perfectly justified in wasting our disposable income however we see fit. If we’re gonna spend it on tea, we’re gonna spend it on tea.
We choose to live in a studio apartment, paying about 20% of our income toward rent, because we like the location. We’re minimalists, so we can fit. We’re strategically using the time to get a year ahead on our retirement plan. We also decided to quit owning a car. We don’t drink alcohol, we don’t pay for cable, and we can’t shop recreationally because there’s nowhere to put anything. We don’t really spend money in the ways that most people do. The way we live is radical, but it works for us. At this point we’re used to it.
We DO spend a lot of money on travel, our pets, my gym, the movie theater, and our cafe habit. When we go to the local Starbase, all we have to do is set down our Thermos cups. Everyone knows us by name, and they even know that the chai goes in the blue cup and the green tea goes in the orange cup. It’s a foolish indulgence, but a pleasurable one, unlike commuting in a car and making the associated payments.
That’s what this whole latte budget thing is all about. Leisure and pleasure! We’re *supposed* to be putting our noses to the grindstone, working long hours, stressing ourselves out, denying ourselves sleep, and demonstrating our 24/7 dedication to being Productive Economic Units around the clock. The way we actually live, it’s... it’s cheating!
We’re not supposed to live in an apartment cheaper than we can afford. What would happen to the economy if everyone did??
We’re not supposed to be debt-free. That means we have no shackles to saw off, and that’s almost like we’re economic free agents. Oh dear, that sounds like trouble.
We’re not supposed to have F.U. money. THAT would put us in the position of being able to turn down sub-optimal job offers or negotiate for a better compensation package, and, what??
We’re not supposed to be uninterested in passive entertainment or recreational eating and shopping. That makes us basically immune to advertisements or social comparison, which strongly implies that we’ll still be free birds ten years from now. Where is our hook?
We’re certainly not supposed to sleep 8 hours a night, hang out in the hot tub, take naps, or lounge around the coffee shop. Where is our appropriate sense of urgency?
The funny thing about all of this is that my husband and I do both work long hours. He’s just submitted the paperwork for his second patent this year, and I’ve got my own stuff going on. We work because we’re interested in things, and because most of the other options are boring. We’re just not going to do it out of a sense of financial instability or existential dread. We happen to share the opinion that it’s better for employers and clients when we work out of passion and fascination, rather than obligation or anxiety.
There are a few things that are smarter than a latte budget, for those who are still in struggle. If the wiggle room can’t come from rent or transportation or utilities or entertainment, here are a few ideas:
Enough for cab fare or a ride share to a place of safety
Enough for a week’s groceries
Enough for the top-end cold medicine
Enough for a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher
Enough for an extra month’s rent
Enough for a moving van and 100 boxes
Enough to replace an appliance or a set of tires
Enough for a new mattress and bedding
Enough for an entire month’s expenses
A thousand dollars can make a huge difference in someone’s life, if it’s carefully nurtured and tended. What can make a bigger difference is a feeling of empowerment, confidence, and self-efficacy. I HAVE THE POWER. Earning more, changing careers, advancing one’s education, running a profitable side hustle, or starting a business can certainly create more additional income than someone could save in nickels and dimes. That whole latte budget thing could be an insignificant line item at a higher earning level. Maybe that life-changing resume or application or admissions essay or business plan happens over a happy cup of caffeine in an overpriced cafe near you. Cheers to you, and may your endeavors be successful.
Is there really such a thing as a “midlife crisis”? Jonathan Rauch explores this cultural concept in The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50. Encore adulthood is a better name for this stage of life. Understanding that the midlife happiness slump is nearly universal and that it eventually gets better is a vision that we need for the reality of vastly increased longevity.
I’m forty-three, and my husband just turned fifty, so this is a timely perspective for us. Something really seemed to change for him around his milestone birthday. He fell in love with his career in a way I don’t think he ever had before. He seems lit up. His forties were more like I’m experiencing mine so far. Preoccupation with financial security, realization that the body is changing, wondering whether one’s life’s work will make an impact of any kind, and of course, constant depressing news that one’s friends and contemporaries are ill or dying. Add to that the bittersweet position of watching one’s child grow into adulthood and independence, leaving an empty chair at the table. These are the kinds of reasons why it can be hard to find gratitude and satisfaction, even when objectively life is pretty great.
It helps to know that people on average report feeling happier at seventy than they do at thirty, and happier at eighty-five than they do at twenty.
What provides life satisfaction, according to research? Social support, generosity, trust, freedom, income per capita, and healthy life expectancy account for three-fourths of reported wellbeing. Almost none of that has to do with material comfort or career success.
The Happiness Curve is absorbing, backed by research, and full of insights that would be valuable to readers of any age over maybe, say, twenty-five. I feel lucky that it was published in time for me to read it in my early forties.
We are in the process of adding perhaps two decades to the most satisfying and pro-social period of life.
I did not have a mood disorder. I had a contentment disorder.
“Happiness and mental health rise in an approximately dose-response way with the number of daily portions of fruit and vegetables”—all the way up to seven daily portions, which is about as much fruit and vegetable matter as anyone can ingest.
Is there a “One”? Is there one true romantic partner, a specific someone you’re supposed to meet? There is a nuanced difference between this and the question of whether you believe in love at first sight.
What if there is a “One” but you’re only able to recognize it over a long period of time?
What if love at first sight is real but it can happen with multiple people?
What if both are true, we’ll know our One True Love at First Sight, and we should thus be celibate until that lightning-bolt moment?
What if neither are true, and the only way to be happy with a love is to be casual friends first?
What if one or another of these modalities is true for some people but not others?
These questions are something like wondering about the afterlife, if there is one, because both determine our outlook and behavior to an extent. I think it’s something of a moot point whether there’s an afterlife or not, because wouldn’t you want to be a good person and get the maximum out of life no matter what? What are the arguments in favor of unkindness or playing small?
Our beliefs about romance, though, very much impact what kind of partners we choose. Who are we noticing? Are we open to certain approaches and not others? Is what we’re asking for really what will ultimately make us happy?
Soulmates. There’s a concept for you. It always seemed so restrictive and unimaginative. Why would there only be one soulmate? Why would it only be a romantic partner? What if there really was a karmic relationship between two people, but it was meant to be teacher/student or artist/muse or parent/child or neighbor/neighbor? Why not business partners? This kissy-kissy thing can only go so far.
The trouble with this idea of the One True Love is that it’s a fixed mindset concept. There’s you, and there’s this other person, and you meet, and sparkles shoot out, and you live happily ever after. Nobody ever has a bad day or a headache or food poisoning, and nobody ever leaves dishes in the sink or gets snappy or has any annoying relatives. Theeee End.
Look, real love takes effort, just like real friendship. Human frailty! The hidden flaw in the idea of the One True Love is that there’s this person who will love me as I am, think of me as delightful and perfect, and yet somehow never do any of the exact same annoying things that I do on my worst days. I’m supposed to be able to behave like a one or two, you’re supposed to love that kind of treatment at an eight or nine, and your own behavior should always, always be a ten.
The main value of a romantic partner is that you have someone to call you on your BS. Unlike family members, your lover is with you by choice, and hopefully has more affection and desire for your company. This person will eventually know you better than you know yourself, and can thus step in as an advisor in ways that nobody else can. This is the fast track to personal growth. It’s not that your partner loves you as you are, but that they see both your best and worst self.
Understanding your craving for revenge, but coaxing you not to waste time indulging it. Sympathizing with the keen terror you feel at applying for that promotion, while knowing you’ll be great and that you’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t go for it. Hearing you out while you vent about your friends or family, and then talking you through some better boundaries. Being your mirror, seeing you the way you see yourself, yet also seeing more.
It’s being well loved that teaches you how to love better. It takes realistic expectations, a strong sense of humor, the ability to generously blow off the occasional bad day, knowing how to forgive and how to give a precise apology. It takes a backbone. Love takes strength and courage as much as it takes softness and tenderness.
The idea of a One True Love is bad writing that encourages laziness. It also kills a lot of opportunities, when what could have been great love stories never get started because they don’t look cute and they don’t fit some checklist of perfection. On the other hand, the idea of One True Love is great when you gradually realize that you feel that way about your long-term partner.
Speaking from experience, the person who feels like the Love of Your Life doesn’t start out that way. At least, if it does for some people, it didn’t for me. We were both still flinching from rotten divorces, and we were cynical about the prospect of dating, much less marriage. We were both obese, in debt, and not having all that much fun. Our general crankiness helped us bond as lunch buddies. When we realized we were becoming real friends, we were both surprised, but not as surprised as we were when those romantic feelings started bubbling up. We argued about it. We still don’t agree about whether there’s such a thing as a soulmate or not.
Yeah, I believe there’s a One. At least, there’s one in my life now. After twelve years with one person, there’s really no one else who could compare. That hypothetical person would have to have more intrinsically great traits, be in a better situation in life, AND somehow have so many positives that it more than made up for the twelve years of trust, memories, and inside jokes that I have with my husband. Having met thousands of people in my life, there’s just no way that an ordinary human being would ever be “worth” blowing up my life and throwing over my best friend. The point is that what makes that One True Love is the buildup over time.
I call it “the gauntlet.” Every time I set out to do something athletic, there’s a voice inside me that pipes up, insistently telling me to quit. It’s gotten smarter over the years. This voice that says QUIT has tried science, philosophy, common sense, attention to minor physical twinges, and every manner of rhetorical technique to get me to turn around, go home, and get back in bed. The voice that says QUIT lasts at least ten minutes, sometimes closer to twenty.
Beating this voice is a good enough reason to keep going, all by itself, because I can count on this voice to try to ruin every interesting thing I ever set out to do.
The voice that says QUIT was after me when I started running, when I only set out to do a half-mile because that was all I had. The same voice was still coming for me the day I ran my first marathon.
The voice that says QUIT was after me on our first serious backpacking trip. This voice asked for a helicopter evacuation. Fortunately my frugality voice was also in attendance, and this voice carries a strong veto.
The voice that says QUIT seems to have a speaker installed in my martial arts bag. I hear from it on my way to class all the time. Oh, no, not today. You can skip class today, it’s okay. Nobody wants you there anyway.
These are the sorts of things the voice says when it wants me to quit:
You’ll hurt yourself
You didn’t hydrate enough
You deserve a rest day
You should eat another snack and try again in an hour
It doesn’t matter
You’ve done so much already, treat yourself!
Eh, you’ll be better next year, so today is just a drop in the bucket
Isn’t that a pain in your knee?
You’re going to get a headache
You’re just going to have to pee in a few minutes, might as well wait
What are you thinking? You’re too old for this anyway.
The voice that says QUIT was definitely up to its old tricks in the mat room during my Muay Thai belt promotion. We were only about 45 minutes in to what promised to be 3-4 hours of physical and psychological stress. I had a gauntlet moment. Imagine this:
It’s a hot, humid afternoon in mid-July. There are fifty people crammed into a room that’s about 20 by 30 feet. You’ve just spent half an hour doing 150 pushups, 50 squats, and a bunch of mountain climbers. There is grit, floor dirt, and anonymous hair stuck to your skin. Now you’re trying to execute a series of roundhouse kicks while your feet are slipping in a pool of someone else’s sweat that is nearly two feet across. Other people keep accidentally kicking and stepping on you.
An instructor comes over and corrects your form in such a way that you wonder, what on earth have I been doing for the last six months that nobody ever noticed this before?
You’re supposed to throw fifty punches, but because the instructor came over, you’ve started late. Every single other person in the room is already done. They start clapping and calling your name in what is meant to be encouragement - you’ve done it yourself for others - but which comes across as burning humiliation. I’m not slow! I’m not!
This is when the voice pipes up. Hey, it says. I noticed you aren’t enjoying yourself right now. Remember how you’ve only trained about one week out of the past month? Your stomach is bothering you, I can tell. You, you’re really just not up to this. Aww, poor dear. Why don’t you just tap out? You could just pack it in and try again in two months. Let them keep the $50. It’s not a big deal. Think how much easier it would be if you just quit now and train more for a few weeks? Don’t embarrass yourself. It’s fine. You can
I pulled myself together. Everything the voice says when it wants me to QUIT is technically true. Every time. It’s simply the voice of anxiety and it keeps careful records. It sometimes gets reinforcement from external sources, other people who heed that voice and who have the uncanny ability to echo its message.
Sometimes I appease the voice. I tell it that if I still feel this way an hour from now, maybe I’ll quit then.
It’s funny how this voice that says QUIT has never spoken up when I felt trapped in a dead-end job. This voice has never once told me to QUIT eating junk food. It’s never told me to QUIT when I was dating someone who mistreated me or broke my heart. It doesn’t tell me to QUIT when I’m staying up too late or procrastinating. On the contrary. It seems like I have a very persuasive inner signal to KEEP GOING whenever it’s something bad for me or something that will lead to even near-term problems.
I ignored the voice. I kept going. Moments later, it was time to trade places, and all I had to do was hold the pads for my partner. Then I had a long break while the people doing higher belt levels sparred with the instructors. Then my husband showed up - I told him to go ahead and skip the boring first half. That stupid voice that stupidly says to QUIT could have cost me this opportunity, all because of a few stressful minutes out of three hours.
I got that orange belt. It’s not about the belt, not really. The belt is just the key to advanced classes. Doing this ceremonial workout enabled me to get my schedule back on track, after a month where I was only eligible for classes on two specific weekdays. Quitting would have led to some serious annoyances and extended that weird month to three. I would have missed two months’ worth of opportunities to train in the advanced classes, hindering my physical conditioning and certainly not making it any easier “next time.”
The voice that says QUIT is persistent and persuasive. It says stuff like, “NOPE, nope nope nope. This isn’t for me. This just isn’t how I roll. I don’t need this. Screw this. I’m outta here. No, really, I mean it this time.” The way I ignore it is by reminding myself that I’ve made an informed, conscious choice based on my personal values. I’ve set goals along a timeline, and I’ve planned ahead to make sure I’ll be prepared. In most cases, I’ve already survived near-identical physical tests, and I can trust that I truly am ready. Since the voice that says QUIT never quits, I never do either.
If I had it all to do over again, I’m not sure I would. That would mean having to live through my teens and twenties again. If I woke up in the body I had at age 29, I’d burst into tears. Give me middle age any time. I can beat Young Me in every respect. I have more skills, more discipline, more patience, better credit, and definitely more physical stamina. Today Me could basically lift Past Me off the ground and toss us across the room. When I think back on all of the bad, short-sighted, selfish decisions that Past Me made for our life, I want to kick her lazy butt. It all starts with Past Self’s schedule.
I wake up at 7 AM without an alarm. Past Me stays up as late as 3 AM, sleeps until noon on the weekend, and sometimes oversleeps the alarm.
I’m fit, strong, and active. Past Me is almost 100% sedentary.
I stay in one clothing size year in, year out. Past Me has no fewer than six sizes of clothing in her closet. At her most tired and ill, she’s seven sizes bigger than Today Me.
I drink water. Past Me doesn’t; she drinks cola.
I eat 2-4 cups of cruciferous vegetables every day. Past Me eats more volume than that in breakfast cereal, snacks, treats, chips, cookies, chocolate bars, and other baked goods and dessert foods.
I follow the two-minute rule of GTD (Getting Things Done). Past Me is a chronic procrastinator.
I eat four meals a day. Past Me eats whenever food is present and especially right before bed.
I’m in the gym four hours a week. Past Me spends four hours a day lounging on her bed.
I have a bedtime. Past Me has a parasomnia disorder.
I’m a minimalist. Past Me is sentimental and she saves everything.
I’m basically post-money. Past Me often cries herself to sleep about bills, debt, and cash flow.
I’m a world traveler. Past Me spends our vacation money on restaurant food, soda, junk food, movies, books, clothes, trivial physical objects, and fines, fees, and finance charges.
I’m an investor. Past Me can’t be bothered to learn how to set up an IRA, even though it only takes about 20 minutes, for which I will never forgive her.
I’m a good cook. Past Me seems to think that cooking is something like an astrological sign, or the shape of one’s earlobes; in other words, an inherited genetic trait.
I take the initiative. Past Me has not yet figured out that it’s up to us to chase down our own results.
It’s not that Past Me set out to be irresponsible or sloppy. Past Me had the same desire I do, to do a good job and be a good person. It would have crushed her to be perceived as unreliable. She would not have agreed with my retrospective analysis. I judge her for being a spendthrift and for lacking self-discipline. She reminds me that she was young and operating on the best information she had at the time. A young person can never compete with a mature person on the basis of self-discipline or life skills. All of that is true.
It’s true that I have Past Me to thank for being able to pass a background check, for getting us a passport and a drivers license and a bachelor’s degree and a FICO score over 800. Past Me took care of our teeth and made sure we had no substance abuse problems. Good job, honey, good job.
It’s also true that Past Me wasted a lot of time and missed a lot of opportunities. If we had learned to cook years earlier, we could have enjoyed hundreds more nice meals. If we had started investing a few years earlier, we’d have tens of thousands of dollars more in our portfolio. If we had started on foreign language study years earlier, we’d be fluent today. If we had believed it was possible, we could have gone back to school years earlier, saving thousands of dollars in tuition, and we could have lived overseas, too. Past Me just accepted that certain things were “impossible” for us, that certain things were out of our league or not for our kind of person. That’s the biggest difference between us: a lack of vision.
Past Me has the same twenty-four hours a day that I do. We just use them differently. Most of the things that I do today don’t seem to fit into a schedule as such; it’s a difference of policy, philosophy, and perspective. Past Me spends more time shopping, eating, and being entertained. She isn’t deciding not to go to the gym; she just isn’t deciding TO go, and thus she doesn’t realize how much gym time she is burning. She finds it an unacceptable tradeoff for reading time, not knowing that Today Me reads about triple as many books as she does. Everything that Today Me does just sounds like a lot of work. Too much effort.
Future Me, y u so mean??
Future Me wants even more out of me. She wants me to earn and save more money. She wants me to hit it harder at the gym. She wants me to make more friends, to make sure that we still have people to hang out with when we’re old. It wouldn’t do for us to grow up to be a bitter, grumpy, querulous, annoying old codger. Above all, she wants to make sure that I go out and get us some adventure, some material to dream on, some stories to tell to our fun young friends.
Q: What has eighteen legs and four wheels?
A: My family, sharing a rental car on vacation.
Frugality can be taught. It’s a pleasure hanging out with other people who get this, because you can enjoy each other’s company without feeling like you’re going broke. Most people seem to feel that peer pressure only works one way, that there’s this thing called “keeping up with the Joneses” that leads directly to spending. The answer to this is leadership. If you’re feeling broke, step up and become the frugality leader of your group.
The simplest and easiest way to become a frugality leader is to invite people to a gathering with low or zero cost.
The slightly more complicated way is to just be honest and say that you’re worried about money these days, and THEN invite people to do something inexpensive and fun.
When I had my first apartment, I could barely keep a roof over my head, but I was one of the few people in my friends group who had my own place. People would call and invite themselves over all the time. We’d just hang out and talk. Sometimes we’d sit on the floor and play cards for hours while lip-syncing to the radio. In college, I started a weekend card party that expanded to as many as seventeen people and went on for hours.
The difference between those days and now is that we have access to more types of card games and our friends all have dining tables.
We like potlucks. A potluck is a big improvement over a restaurant in many ways.
One night long ago, a large group of friends met at a cafe. There were about fourteen of us. We hung out for two hours, and then the engineer among us got out his calculator and carefully worked through the wad of bills and pile of coins to make sure we got the tip right. It took nearly fifteen minutes of making sure everyone had put in enough. As we were leaving, one of our two waitresses chased after us and yelled at us for stiffing them on the tip! We were pretty darn sure that her colleague had snagged the whole amount for herself, but it was also possible that a random loser had stolen it. This kind of thing does not happen when you stay home and host the party at your own table.
My feeling on “going out” is that it’s better for the economy when we go to higher-end places less often, rather than cheaper places more often.
It’s also true that I can cook for twenty people at home for what I might have spent on dinner for two at a restaurant.
When my husband and I first got married, we’d have an open house once or twice a week. I’d make a giant vat of soup or a couple of pans of lasagna, and we’d have a big bowl of salad and a couple of loaves of French bread. Sometimes we’d have pie and ice cream, or a cake, or a big fruit salad or a watermelon. I’d make a cake if someone brought in straight A’s, and they got to choose the flavor. This wasn’t terribly expensive for us, and it was arguably more fun than going to the movie theater or hanging out in front of the TV. Offering a hot meal meant our friends could “afford” to spend time with us as often as they wanted.
Except that sometimes, they were low on gas money! We had a running list of chores if anyone wanted to come over and earn $20 now and then. Having broke young friends means you always have someone to hire as a house sitter.
There are other ways to be a frugality leader besides hosting a potluck. These days, we couldn’t really do that because we live in a tiny studio apartment. We can, though, demonstrate that we aren’t competing with anyone through conspicuous consumption. We don’t own a car and I’m not a recreational shopper. I don’t color my hair, get manicures, or wear a diamond ring. We socialize with people who share our sense of humor, and that’s pretty much the baseline requirement.
If anything, what’s conspicuous about us is that we choose to highlight our frugality. We’d like our younger friends to know what we didn’t at their age, which is how quickly someone can become financially independent given the knowledge and focus. We’d like friends of our own age bracket to know that it’s not a big deal to dial back, downsize, and find some peace of mind around the concept of impending retirement. “We save 40% of our income” explains a lot about our lifestyle. It can also be really instructive to find out who else is into frugality and what they know that we don’t.
These are some of the things we have done for fun with our fellow frugal friends:
Go to book signings
Movie night with homemade popcorn
Hiking at the bird sanctuary
Teaching someone to use shop tools, the sewing machine, or a stock pot
Honestly, my model of hospitality is my grandma, who said that her friends would often come over and find themselves napping on her couch. Another delightful image is some characters from Anne Lamott’s Crooked Little Heart, who came over just to read quietly together. Friendship is best when it’s about talking, laughing, and hanging out, not silently burying ourselves in debt and social comparison. Those who disagree will take themselves and their big-spender ways elsewhere, and the rest of us can get down to chillaxing.
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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.