I was on the Future Phone just now, talking to Future Me. We want to get some clarity on how we should be allocating our time. Future Self informs me that it’s solid common sense to assume we’re going to live a long life, and plan accordingly.
Let’s spend a minute going over the gamble here. Where are the risks? Future Self’s Wager is like Pascal’s Wager, except not religious. There are two bets.
One, you assume you’ll die at X age and you actually die sooner. Two, you assume you’ll die at X age and you live longer.
If you die sooner than you expected, you potentially miss out on opportunities and leave things unsaid.
If you live longer than you expected, on the other hand, things get complicated. You run out of money. You don’t carry the appropriate long-term disability insurance or long-term care insurance. Your house, appliances, and vehicle start to depreciate, and you can’t afford to repair or replace them. Inflation comes for your assets. The last sixty years of your exercise and nutrition habits catch up with you. You live out the effects of all your strained and broken relationships. You feel the pangs of regret for all the opportunities you never pursued, all the things you never learned, all the places you never went, all the apologies you never made, and the legacy you never created. You realize that you always had plenty of time for everything you ever wanted to do, yet you squandered it.
To me, it’s quite obvious that assuming you’ll die sooner is a much worse gamble than assuming you’ll live longer. If you’re wrong and you DO live much longer, you won’t have the relationships, the mindset, the physical stamina, the skills, or the material assets that you’ll need.
Also, we might be talking a very, very long amount of time. Say you assume you’re going to be gone by, um, sixty-seven? But you actually live to be eighty-six. That’s NINETEEN YEARS of “Oops, I never thought this would happen.” What if you then live even longer than that? What if you live past the point when YOUR KIDS are eighty-six?
Most people will instinctively reject this idea. Seriously, though! The average lifespan has roughly DOUBLED in the last century. Advances in sanitation, epidemiology, nutrition, surgery, pharmaceuticals, gerontology, and just general medical knowledge are going to continue to accelerate. Financial planners are telling people to plan to live to be ninety-six right now, just to be on the safe side.
Again, the risk of planning to be ninety-six and then dying sooner is that you have enough resources, and you wind up not needing them after all. You can then leave it all to your kids, your mate, your capybara, and/or your favorite charity.
You think it’s pessimistic to assume you’ll die young. Think again. It’s much more pessimistic to assume you’ll outlive your money, your health, and your relationships by thirty years or more.
It’s basically fortune cookie wisdom to ask, “What would you do if you found out you’d die tomorrow?” Or six months from now, or a year from now? I’ve found it much more interesting to ask, “What would you do if you knew you’d live past one hundred?”
The other day, I was taking a class in situational combatives, part of my martial arts training. It occurred to me that if fortune favors me, I could train hard for another twenty-five years. That would put me at age sixty-eight. My partner in that class happened to be seventy-eight and he’s still going strong, so it’s not an unreasonable gamble. What could I do in twenty-five years? I could be a sixth-degree black belt, that’s what!
That gave me pause. I could probably attain a black belt in a shorter span than that, maybe even less than half that time. Wait. Waiiiit a minute. What ELSE could I do in twenty-five active years besides getting a black belt in a martial art?
Get several black belts?
Suddenly it felt as though I had such a long time to fill, so many long decades that could instead be filled with boredom and dissatisfaction. I’d look back on my young, dumb forty-three-year-old self and wonder why I hadn’t made better use of my time.
Past Me! Why u so lazy??
Not only physical pursuits, but other kinds of disciplines caught my attention. What could I study in twenty-five years? Music? Painting? Small engine repair? Esperanto?
One of the benefits of middle age is that you start to understand how to shape longer-term goals and projects. Another is that you have the time and resources to pursue them. Among the best is that you have the patience and self-discipline you never could find as a teenager or young adult. You have to start to wonder how much your focus and dedication could improve, given decades of additional practice.
Already I’ve done something. I’ve put this thought out there in the world. What if we have more time than we think? Much, much more time? What scale of project would you consider if you knew you had thirty years to work on it? Now, if I’ve gambled poorly and I’m wrong about Future Self’s wager, I’ll still have done something worthwhile. If I’ve gambled well, only time will tell what sort of amazing things I might still have in me.
“There are plenty of good things to look forward to as you grow older. So accept the aging process, and don’t waste years in the gym.” - Barbara Ehrenreich
“Who says going to the gym is a waste?” - Me
Buckle up, because I’ve got a rant coming out of me and it’s going to move pretty fast.
There’s this sick myth out there that the only reason a woman goes to the gym is vanity, that she cares about her external physical appearance, and that this is wrong and should be stopped. Personally, I think that if vain people want to make changes to their appearance, that’s their right, but it’s a moot point! We don’t begrudge people wearing the clothes they prefer, teetering in impractical shoes, dyeing their hair literally every color of the rainbow, getting professional mani/pedis, bleaching their teeth, spending thousands on orthodontia, removing moles, having full-body tattoos or piercings or henna treatments. Why, then, would bodybuilding be excluded from this catalog of personal expression?
Back to what I said about it being a moot point.
I don’t know anyone who works out for appearance reasons, and that includes men. Which, are we judging men and women by the same standards here? Because we should be, or at least we should if we believe that all humans have full bodily autonomy.
Why do people work out?
I work out because I want to avoid or delay getting Alzheimer’s disease, and also because a cancer scare and a fibromyalgia diagnosis at age 23 were, shall we say, inspirational. I work out because I’m physically frail and I see it as my only option to stay mobile. If that isn’t true for you, I’m so, so happy for you, but do not DARE to come at me for prioritizing my health and independence.
Why do other people besides me work out?
My friend is training to be an FBI special agent fighting human trafficking. She wants to pass the physical.
My friend is training to get into the Air Force because she wants to become a pilot.
My friend is training to get into the Navy, like the previous four generations of her family.
My friend is training because he’s 78 and he wants to keep active. He can still get on the floor and do pushups.
My friend is training because he was choked against a wall and he wants to be able to defend himself.
My friend is training to set an example for her little daughter. So is her best friend, who has a daughter about the same age.
My friends are training because they’re married and it’s something they enjoy doing as a couple.
My friend is training because she’s been fascinated with martial arts all her life, and she eventually wants to master every form.
My friend is training because she was a college athlete, and she craved something else when she could no longer play soccer.
My friend is training because she and her sister run marathons together.
My friend is training because he wants to apply to the police academy.
My friend is training because it helps manage her depression.
My friend is training because she lost 100 pounds, and now she can.
My friend is training because she does roller derby with her daughter.
My brother is training because he fractured his spine in three places in a construction accident, and being able to run is a celebration of life.
Can someone explain to me why “accepting the aging process” somehow implies being completely sedentary? Why sitting elegantly in a chair is somehow proof of deep wisdom, and anyone who has the temerity to join a gym is foolish?
I have a gym membership BECAUSE I accept the aging process. I believe I am very likely to live to be ninety, and I have a significant chance of living past one hundred, because I stay current in gerontology and because my relatives tend to be very long-lived. This is not an optimistic viewpoint. On the contrary! Outliving my meager savings by decades is scary, deeply scary. I’ve watched several of the women in my extended family retire into poverty, frailty, and economic catastrophe. Being forced to quit working due to health issues and then running out of money well before I die is a near certainty, unless I plan carefully to avoid it. Being poor, ill, and dependent on others is pretty much the opposite of aging gracefully. Agreed?
I wasn’t able to have children. There won’t be anyone who is somehow obligated to care for me. That means financially and also physically. What will happen if I let my health decline to the point that I can’t get out of a chair on my own? Who will come over if I fall or if I’m bedridden, too weak to phone for help? I’m forty-three and it’s by no means too early to make contingency plans. High on that list is the physical training to fall properly.
I love working out with my senior friend, and I hope I’ll celebrate his eightieth birthday with him at our gym. He’s a lovely person, and he’s also an excellent reminder of what I want for myself, just thirty-five years into my own future. We do “sprawls” (falling forward) and “breakfalls” (falling backward) several times per class, and each and every time, I think, “I’m doing this for Future Me.” Today is my last opportunity to build muscle and bone density for Old Me, and I’ll tell myself the same thing tomorrow morning.
Yes, aging is a natural process of accruing wisdom, valuing friends and family, and celebrating one’s legacy. All of that is ever so much easier to do with vitality, high energy, and physical stamina. I didn’t have those assets in my teens or twenties, but I do now, and that’s because I’ve “wasted” so many years in the gym. Not only do I intend to waste many more, but I also plan to open my own gym when I’m sixty. I’d like to set the example for younger people that it’s never too late, and also demonstrate that there are forms of wisdom that can only be accessed through action and physicality.
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.
Nostalgia is a mystery to me. What’s so great about the past? I say this while waving my history degree over my head. There is no past era that I’d prefer to live in. There is no time, not even the 2000s, that I’d prefer to today. Throwback Thursday is wasted on me; I liked the music of the 1980s but not much else. From my perspective, every year that I’ve lived has involved more innovation, more books and music and movies, and better-quality food. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve benefited from getting my head straight and being less susceptible to emotional drama. I have more skills and I’m a better cook. These things are also true about my family and friends. Life is harder in most ways when you’re young. The future seems like an extremely exciting place to me and I can’t wait to see it unfold. This is a basic optimism that is the key to a happier life.
Optimism is a learned trait.
What is there to look forward to? Don’t you read the news? Oh, it’s awful, it’s awful.
I agree, there is all sorts of truly terrible stuff in the news every day. There always has been, because it’s much simpler to tell stories about terrible events day by day. The photographs are much more dramatic. How do you tell a story about the decline in extreme poverty with a photo? Take a picture of an ordinary, well-fed child who is studying in a classroom? How do you tell a story about the incredible decline in casualties from war? Take a picture of an ordinary town where people are working at their jobs?
That’s the thing about having a degree in history. I know too much. Our chances of dying from almost everything were much higher at any point in the past. Most people, statistically, would have died as infants. Epidemic disease, lack of sanitation, malnutrition, constant warfare, sieges, an extremely high murder rate, brigands, even attacks by various wild animals. We can only possibly feel glum about the present day if we try to compare our conditions with some imagined glory days from the twentieth century.
I grew up in a tenement apartment and I still had a lot of things that the Emperor Charlemagne did not have, that he could not buy at any price. Central heat. Ice cubes on demand. Legible penmanship. A public library and a fire department. Paved sidewalks. Electricity, including lightbulbs, a stove, and a refrigerator. Potable water flowing out of the faucet. A telephone and a television. My mattress and pillow undoubtedly kicked butt over his. Granted, I didn’t feel anywhere near as grateful for these modern comforts as Charlemagne would have. That’s because historical progress is driven by envy and dissatisfaction.
I say this is great. There’s no reason to envy someone if you can study what they’re doing and imitate it. This is obvious if you have a growth mindset! Assume that the envied person had to acquire that trait somehow. Also, you have to envy the complete package, not one thing in isolation. That means you can’t envy a celebrity without including the paparazzi and the haters. You can’t envy any individual person without including their entire personal history, their relationships, and their behaviors. Maybe their fitness level, financial success, or emotional intelligence would come easier to you than it did for them. Observing someone else means you can skip anything they tried that didn’t work. Let envy make you a better person.
We seem to be allergic to thinking about the future. Research shows that we think of our own future selves in the same way we think about total strangers. I think a lot of us are mean to Future Us. We set ourselves up in ways we wouldn’t treat our worst enemies. Hey, Future Me! Have fun trying to survive on the tiny fixed income I’m sending you. I hope you enjoy paying off our debts. Oh, and good luck burning off this slab of cake I’m eating. Maybe you can get rid of some of those calories while you clean out this garage I’m piling with stuff. And by the way, wash my dishes.
The most commonly procrastinated goals are planning for the future and dealing with health issues. In both cases, it would be easy for us if we realized that Future Me is the same person as Today Me.
Unfortunately, most of us are captivated by Past Self. We just see ourselves as cuter when we were younger. We think we had more fun and that life was better. We don’t like looking forward, because it seems depressing, but when we do, we’re oppressed by the idea that we “should” be planning, saving money, eating better, and being more active. Walking backward, facing the past, we’re going to bump into the future and feel it as a frustrating obstacle.
This is part of why people hang on to clutter. We haven’t spent any time thinking about what we’ll want or need just a few years into the future. We have this anxious sense of What If, while never spending any time gaming it out. Get specific about those What Ifs and plan around them! What If I turn into a bag lady? Well, what would need to happen to avoid that sad destiny? (Build relationships, build career skills, learn about financial planning, save money). What If my house burns down? (Get insurance, test your smoke detectors, make an emergency response plan). What If I need this later? Well, that decision is up to you. You’re creating your response to your stuff and your home. You’re creating your response to your money. You’re creating your response to food and to how it feels to live in your body. You’re creating your friendships and conversations. What your personal future looks like depends almost entirely on how you think and what you do about it, today.
The future is an opportunity. Even an hour from now: later today is the future! There’s always still time to call someone and say the things you haven’t said, like “I miss you” and “I’m sorry” and “I love you.” There’s always still time to learn new things, to travel, to try new foods and dance to new music. There’s always still time to try to be a better person, a better listener, more patient and forgiving. There’s even time to clean out the garage. Pick any single goal or any single square foot in your personal space, and do something today that will make it more awesome for Tomorrow You. The future can be whatever you wish it to be.
A cocktail dress makes a certain impression, and never so much as when you wear it in the mat room at the gym. We’re having a special training week at my martial arts academy, when we’re encouraged to wear street clothes and practice fighting in real-world conditions. I take this seriously. It’s when I’m wearing evening clothes that I feel the most vulnerable. Exposed skin, tight skirts, and truly stupid shoes: this is stuff I only really feel safe wearing in the company of a group. I figure it will be good for me to train in something a little less comfortable.
Glamor is silly. It’s never ceased to amaze me that people fall for the trick where the plain girl takes off her glasses, shakes out her hair, and suddenly looks gorgeous. Can’t you see her? This is just a costume change. She’s still the same person under all that. Do people really only see cosmetics, clothes, and coiffures? Apparently so. I train with these particular people every day, barefoot, in yoga pants and a t-shirt. I walk in wearing a Lycra dress and a bib necklace, having spent five minutes flat-ironing my hair, and suddenly everyone is flustered. Rather than feeling nervous and constrained by this get-up, I start to feel more confident and stronger.
I’m new at Krav Maga, see. I’m used to being the slowest, clumsiest, and least experienced. Standing in the mat room in my workout clothes, I’m below average. Standing there in my Vegas clothes, I’m elevated into some kind of sultry Bond villain.
We train. Our warmup is twice as long as usual. I do pushups, my necklace clattering on the floor. I do sit-ups, my bike shorts doing exactly what they’d do if I wore them with a shirt instead of a dress. I jog around the room. I jump rope. A large rhinestone flies off. I stuff it down my top, to the consternation of the instructor.
“Or that’ll work,” he says.
What I realize, as I look around the room, is that I’m having an easier time than the students who wore jeans. Men and women both are constantly yanking at their waistlines. Jeans tend to be tight in some places and loose in others, yet not in any ways that are compatible with much jogging, kicking, or rolling around on the floor.
I get a male partner. I feel privileged by this, because we usually self-sort by gender. I’m in the room to learn not to be flustered or triggered by full-body contact, specifically from males. My partner shows his respect by treating me exactly like any other opponent. We straddle each other in full mount and take turns throwing each other around. “Now if you get attacked by anyone who weighs a buck and a quarter, you’ll be prepared.”
Training with men is great, actually. I’ve found it the same in the weight room, on the trail, and now in martial arts. The vast majority of male athletes are delighted to train with women.
I wish my mom
I wish my sister
I hope my daughter
Many men carry a ‘white knight’ image deep inside themselves. They’ve been waiting their entire lives to come to the rescue of a woman in peril. The idea of another man inflicting physical violence on a female is one of the worst things they can think of, something that fills them with intense loathing and disgust. This is why they’re so pleased when we train to defend ourselves. (I’m just as interested in defending myself against an attack from a wild animal, but). When we train together it’s a mutual triumph.
This is part of why I wasn’t surprised when I talked to my husband about my training. I asked him how he felt about me studying martial arts. “Relieved,” he said. RELIEVED. He travels on business, and every time, he worries about me sleeping alone. We practiced together a little, and it was funny to see how he lit up when he realized how quickly I’m improving, especially when I almost kicked him in the forehead. “That was a good one.” I’m just barely good enough that I aimed to miss, and missed. If he’d caught me a week earlier it might not have gone so well.
It’s already working. I’m learning that I can skin my knuckles and not feel it all that much. I’m learning that I can be tossed on the ground and jump back up, giggling and ready for more. I’m learning to stand still and hold the foam targets and brace myself against dozens of kicks and punches. I’m learning to boil away the part of me that freezes in fear. I’m learning to walk tall, knowing that the element of surprise is on my side. Already, if someone comes for me, I’ll have at least a few seconds to create a different destiny for myself. Not today, buddy, not today.
The next time I walk down the street in this particular cocktail dress, I’ll remember how I wore it today. Fifty snap kicks, a hundred palm strikes. Inside the dress I’ll know I still have full range of motion. Now all I have to do is reattach a few rhinestones.
I used to have a bookcase that covered an entire wall of my bedroom. It was made out of wooden crates, boards, and concrete blocks. In earthquake country, it wouldn’t do at all. Most of that bookcase contained books I hadn’t read; I just accumulated them. I bought sacks of books at library book sales. I bought books for a nickel at Goodwill. I brought them home and put them on my rickety shelves, feeling somehow safer and more satisfied to have them there. I would tell people that I felt like something was going to happen, and I was saving these books in case of some unspecified calamity. I never realized that these books wouldn’t save me.
Stuff won’t save you in general.
My people are chronically disorganized. They are almost always compulsive accumulators, bringing stuff home, feeling the impulse first and conjuring a justification afterward. Not all of my people feel a serious emotional attachment to particular objects; there’s just something they get out of the selection process and they prefer the aesthetics of jumble. Getting rid of stuff, any stuff, is a problem because the thought of loss makes them profoundly anxious.
What if I need it? WHAT IF? WHAT IF I NEED IT?
One of the greatest delights for a hoarder is to prove other people wrong about the uselessness of their hoard. If they can, even one time, pull out the perfect object and solve even the most minor problem with it, then the entire collection is vital and necessary. Justification!
There are so many arguments against this, arguments that will fall on deaf ears. The goal and purpose is to be surrounded by stuff. Interacting with stuff fills the hours that would just be stressful if instead one were interacting with people. Churn it, shuffle it, sort it, stroke it, stare at it, tell stories about it, collect it, get more of it. Never let it go.
The thing about my looming sense of approaching catastrophe was that having a bunch of used books couldn’t possibly help. I had this image of myself contentedly reading my way through an apocalypse. Yeah, but... How was this going to help? I couldn’t eat books. I couldn’t use books for transportation. I couldn’t trade books for tools, food, a water filter, or anything else I might need. If there really were some kind of apocalypse, presumably I could loot books on demand. Maybe reading books on disaster preparedness might help, but only if I knew the information cold. Knowledge might help me, but thrift store novels would not.
In most crises, what really helps is money. My people are so deep in scarcity mindset that they tend to believe stuff is more valuable than money. Nobody can take your stuff from you (nor would they want to!) but money seems to go out faster than it comes in. Money goes to your landlord, the auto mechanic, the heat bill, the emergency vet clinic, anywhere other than into an emergency fund. This is part of why broke people sometimes spend money on silly stuff.
The saddest thing is when anxiety plus compulsive accumulation turns into a dangerous firetrap of a home. It’s so common for people to be trapped in their hoarded homes that emergency responders have names for it. People get seriously injured when trying to climb through mountains of stuff to get someone onto a stretcher and into an ambulance. The guilt and shame that this image inspires will tend to cause someone to dig further in, rather than to decide to clear a wider path. The stuff they feel is so integral to their lives, so much a part of their identity, sometimes simply kills them. Crushed, suffocated, burned. Logically, the stuff has to go. Emotionally, the stuff has to stay.
My people tend to be the most deeply attached to clothes, books, holiday decorations, and fabric and craft supplies. Explain to me how a single one of these items could help someone in an emergency? Oh, sure, maybe a raincoat or some thermal underwear. More than fifty shirts, though? A tub of yarn?
Food hoarding is another common problem, a cultural issue that affects even mainstream homes. Food is so cheap and plentiful that most Americans can afford to stack up cases of it. Unfortunately, the cheapest food is also the most useless in a crisis. Cases of soda, chips and snacks, pastry, cookies, candy, breakfast cereal, crackers... We often feel a sense of security from being surrounded by food, not realizing that what would really get us through a crisis would be hot, hearty meals. Dinners. Not snacks. Entire pantries and freezers might be filled with only a few hundred calories of foods like cans of green beans or jars of salsa. We can harness the inner drive to have a burgeoning, full pantry by planning and rotating our food stores more practically.
There are a few material objects that might, in fact, actually save someone. My people almost never own these things, or if they do, they won’t be able to find them. They may never have taken the time to learn to use them or make sure they are still usable, because shopping and churning are always the main goals. Buy it, pet it, stack it. The useful things we can never find are first aid kits, fire extinguishers, and go bags. Whenever I talk about go bags, someone always asks, Tell me what to buy. This isn’t a good enough response. Buying something is never the safest response. It’s information that will save you. It’s running scenarios and teaching yourself how to troubleshoot in an emergency. It’s having a plan and understanding how to adjust it when Plan A fails.
Sometimes, what saves you is no more complicated than a clear path through a room.
The New Superpower for Women, as Steve Kardian would have us know, is intuition. This is a self-defense book, and it’s a particularly good one. The central message is that we are empowered when we can anticipate and avoid crime before it happens. According to the book, one in four women will be assaulted in her lifetime, and I am one of that group. I can vouch for the information in The New Superpower for Women. We need to know this stuff.
Thinking about being assaulted seems like it would be depressing and scary. In reality, it’s a lot like defensive driving. You hope you never need it, and then one night you find yourself skidding sideways in the ice. Time seems to come to a standstill as you pump your brakes and steer into the skid. All the information you ever took in about what to do in that situation suddenly just springs up. Your body takes over. Looking back, you aren’t even sure how you did what you just did, but clearly, you did. Same thing if you’re ever attacked.
It’s not strength or speed, or at least it hasn’t been for me. It’s emotional intelligence. What we’re able to do so well is to read other people’s facial expressions, body language, speech patterns, and behavior. We read these cues and anticipate their mood and intentions. Then, usually, we talk ourselves out of our intuitive sense that something is off, something is wrong. Only later do we remind ourselves that there were several signs, clear signals, if only we had been paying attention. If only we had trusted our own judgment. That’s what Kardian is here to remind us to do.
One of the most interesting aspects of this book is the copious illustrations. We learn that criminals target victims by their stride, of all things, and there are illustrations demonstrating the types of gait that catch the wrong sort of attention. (Confident and aware is good, trudging and distracted is bad). The New Superpower covers scenarios from walking up to your car to running from an active shooter. This is the kind of thing that gives you an entirely new strategic mindset.
When I took my first self-defense class at age eighteen, the first exercise we all did was to shout “NO!” Would you believe it? None of us did it! Even in the safety of the classroom, even when we were all in A-student mode, not one of the women in the group actually dared to shout the word ‘no.’ Next it turned out that none of us knew how to make a proper fist, much less throw a punch. Those classes may have saved my life, not so much from the moves but because I learned how to evaluate scenarios and anticipate problems before they happened. Most importantly, I learned that it is my duty to incapacitate an attacker, because if he comes after me, he’s probably done it before and he’ll probably do it again to someone else.
What I liked best about this book was the way it addressed mindset. Kardian explains what happens when we put self-defense techniques into practice. He spends a chapter on the physiological responses that we feel in different levels of stressful situation, which basically means that certain moves work more or less well when we’re extremely freaked out. With imagination, we can visualize ourselves in these situations and mentally adjust. Hopefully, we never need any of this information, but when we start driving into that sideways skid on the ice...
We don’t have to be scared. Crime is pretty predictable, really. Walk confidently with your head up, make eye contact with people, and pay attention to your surroundings. (And read The New Superpower for Women, obviously). Even though I’ve been physically attacked, I still travel, even alone, even at night. With a phone and a camera in your hand, you’re more intimidating than you realize. The more of us who are out and about, the more witnesses there are and the safer this world is for everyone.
I didn’t get the flu shot, but my husband did. That year, I got the flu and he didn’t. It was that simple. That was four years ago, and now I get the flu shot every year.
It wasn’t fun. Getting the flu never is. Of course, that’s why so many people are too afraid to go get the shot. Like me, we’re afraid that the shot itself will make us sick. That winter I didn’t have to imagine it. I got to spend a week and a half flat on my back, feeling like I was dissolving into the couch, while my husband whistled a merry tune and went about his business. I felt like I might die and he obviously felt totally fine. It only took me about an hour of feeling genuinely ill before the free flu shot clinic at his work crossed my mind. Every day that went by I thought about it some more.
I get the tetanus shot. I’ve been immunized against everything, including hepatitis A and B from my social services days. I really never had a problem signing up for other vaccinations, so why was I dragging my feet over the flu vaccine?
Needle reaction. I’m a big baby about getting shots or having my blood drawn. I always have to cover my eyes and put my head down, and I get dizzy afterward. I know it’s pure, 100% anxiety. It’s still not fun having my amygdala hijacked, when I strongly prefer having my neocortex in charge. Anxiety always drives terrible decisions.
I’ve learned to deal with anxiety in these types of situations by planning my actions and responses ahead of time, when I can think straight and use my rational mind. I Get the Flu Shot Every Year. I Will Plan to Go As Soon As the Flu Shot Clinic Opens. I Will Not Run Screaming Out the Door Like That Little Boy Just Did.
On the way to the clinic, I told the Lyft driver where we were going. She replied that she didn’t get the flu shot. On the course of the drive, it was clear that this driver was a highly intelligent, educated intellectual; in fact, I would have liked to make friends and invite her out for tea. The trouble is that educated women of our age group are exactly the type of people who are so skeptical about vaccination that we resist it. I shared my story about getting sick the year that my hubby got inoculated and I didn’t. He was sitting right there, so look. See? It didn’t kill him!
The process only took a couple of minutes. We barely had time to sign the form before we were called up, one after the other. I warned the nurses that I get needle reaction, because it’s only fair to tell them. They suggested I think about something else, and chuckled while I described what I was thinking about: pot pie with peas and carrots and potatoes and ALL DONE! I hadn’t even gotten to the crust yet.
I’d like to say that I get the flu shot as a tribute to my beautiful mother-in-law, who was taken after her fifth bout with lymphoma. People going through cancer treatments have compromised immune systems, and they rely on healthy people to provide herd immunity. I’d also like to say that I get the flu shot because of all the little newborn babies who are too young to get their shots, babies who also rely on herd immunity. I probably wouldn’t have a seizure from the flu, but a baby might. The truth is that I’m a coward, a physical coward, and I know it. When it’s my amygdala talking, I don’t care about any darn cancer patients or newborn infants, I care about ME. What convinced me was those ten days of flu. He got the shot, I didn’t; I got sick, he didn’t. I’m sold.
In my typical week, I ride 8-10 buses. I go to the grocery store at least twice and the public library at least once. I go to two meetings with 30-40 other people. I go to a movie theater with 500 seats, usually full, and I go to a coffee shop and possibly three restaurants. Probably I go to a bookstore or other retail establishment. At the end of the day, I come home to my apartment complex, where I have 1500 neighbors, 80 of whom live in my building and share my front door. I use our gym seven days a week, sometimes the business center. I touch a lot of door handles, is what I’m saying. My decision whether to get the flu shot, like a good citizen, or procrastinate on it, like the big chicken I usually am, affects literally thousands of individual people in my community. One year, I was at an international airport when I realized I was coming down with the flu, and I rode on two planes and passed through two additional international airports before I made it home. It makes me cry to think of all the other people who must have picked up what I had that day.
Thousands of people die of influenza every year, vulnerable people who wouldn’t necessarily have been able to get the shot beforehand. It doesn’t have to be that way. Vaccination is a modern miracle, one that we’re quite lucky to have. Every time I do it, I try to think about how it’s proof that we’re living in the future. One of these years, they’ll find a way to vaccinate us against the common cold, and when they do, I’ll be first in line. Well, maybe second. I might need a minute to think about pot pie.
We knew it was going to happen, but that didn’t stop it from being annoying. The power company would be turning off our electricity from 6 PM to 6 AM on a weeknight. No electricity, no wi-fi, no internet - which, in our building, means no phone. No lights. My husband wouldn’t be home from work until after 6, and we wouldn’t even be able to cook dinner. No stove, no microwave, no dishwasher. No washing machine, no clothes dryer. In other words, we’d be doing a dry run of what hundreds of thousands of people are doing in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose. We might not have internet for a night, but at least we wouldn’t have to evacuate.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of emergency planning. If you have a plan and a few contingency plans, all you have to do is rehearse them occasionally and look for blind spots. If you have no plan, then you’re relying on the plans of others. Whenever there’s a natural disaster or a crisis, there will always be bright spots, incredible acts of heroism and generosity. There will also be devastating tragedies, many of which might have been avoided (who knows?) with some contingency plans and more resources. I like to think that we’re making our emergency plans as strong as possible so that we can find a place on the rescue squad and help those who can’t do it on their own.
If you have no phone and no internet, how will you know what to do and where to go?
If you live with others, and a natural disaster happens while you’re separated, how will you find each other if the phones don’t work?
If you have to evacuate your home and you’re separated from your family, how will you send each other messages?
If you have pets, what will you do with them? Can you get them out?
What information will you need if you lose your phone and wallet and your house is gone? How are you going to access that information?
I don’t have answers for you, by the way. How would I? The answers to those questions are personal to you and your situation.
These are horrible things to think about. Granted. So is death. How much more horrible if the disaster actually happens and you never bothered to spend five minutes thinking about it? Problem-solving is learned by solving problems. In crunch time, there won’t be any review sessions or time to go to the disaster survival textbook.
My husband and I live in a disaster-prone area. Earthquakes! Landslides! Wildfires! Flash floods! Riots! Our last house put us within walking distance of the territory of a real live (radio-collared) mountain lion. Our current apartment is on a marina, downhill a quarter mile from the typhoon warning signs. Things to think about.
Our Plan A is to hunker down at home and stay out of the way. A couple of weeks ago, there were wildfires very near our old house, close enough that a friend messaged me to ask if we were okay. Thirty miles, hon, we’re fine, thanks for asking. There were wildfires thirty miles from us and we didn’t even know! I have disaster alerts set up on my Watch and my phone, assuming they work. At least in an urban area, usually the best thing you can do is to stay home and give the emergency responders room to do their work.
Plan B, we know we need to evacuate and we have at least a few hours’ notice. Acquire transportation and depart for our planned destination. We’ve chosen somewhere a few hours away, in a different geographical area, assuming that if they also have a natural disaster, it won’t be the same one going on in our town. This is how my husband and his young family dealt with the aftereffects of the Northridge Earthquake. They drove out of the area for a few days until the water, power, and sewer were functional again.
Plan C, worst case scenario, something happens while my husband is at work and I’m at home with our pets. The phones don’t work, there’s no internet, and we don’t get a chance to touch base. Ugh, it gives me the chills just thinking about it! Plan B is for me to stay put and for him to get to us. His work is five miles away. Assuming he had to walk the whole way on technical terrain with weather complications, he could get home in 2 to 5 hours. (He thinks faster, but I know from technical terrain, and one mile an hour is plausible).
We plan around not having access to a vehicle because that’s what planning means. You have to assume that the weather is setting historical records, that you and someone else in your party are injured, that your supplies have been lost, that all the obvious routes home are blocked, that your vehicle has been destroyed, and that the roads are impassable anyway. THEN you get to start contingency planning.
Plan D: We’re separated, we have no means of communication, and I have to evacuate with our pets. There are index cards, markers, and masking tape in my go bag so I can try to leave him a note saying where we’ve gone. He’s going to have to assume we’re heading to higher ground, followed by the nearest Red Cross disaster shelter.
What if there isn’t one?
My husband and I both have years of experience in the outdoors. This is recreational, but it’s also practical. How far can we walk? How much can we carry? What do we do if we get blisters or minor injuries? How long can we exert very strenuous effort without food? What kind of climbing can we do? If we’re separated, well, he’s an emergency medical responder and an Eagle Scout, so he can take care of himself. For myself, I have to count on my inner reserves of grit and the physical strength I’ve built as a marathon runner and adventure racer. We spent three days off-grid in Iceland and got each other across a few thigh-deep river crossings. We’ve tested our ability to work together under arduous conditions, keeping our heads clear and solving problems together.
Like, for instance, the problem of having NO INTERNET FOR TWELVE HOURS! We couldn’t charge our devices or anything! *swoon* I know, I know. How did we survive??
I made sure the day’s laundry was out of the dryer well before the shutoff. We met for dinner at the burrito bar, where I had already checked to make sure they were out of the shutoff zone. That meant we wouldn’t have to open the fridge or freezer and our food could stay fresh. I had fresh batteries for the battery-powered lantern, plus candles and a headlamp, and the solar lantern was charged. The fire extinguisher was ready under the sink just in case. All our devices were charged to 100%. I even got us fresh new library books. We lounged around reading, went to bed early, and when we woke up in the morning, the power was back on.
If we’re lucky, this will be the toughest crisis of our year. There’s enough to do in trying to help with hurricane recovery efforts in any way we can.
What would you do if you knew you only had twenty-four hours to live? This question is right up there with “What would you do if you won the lottery?” and “If you could only bring one thing to a deserted island, what would it be?” What we should probably be asking are the opposites: “What would you do if you knew you would never have any money you didn’t earn at work?” and “If you could be happy with only one thing on a deserted island, why do you have so much stuff?” And, of course, “What would you do if you realized you were going to live to be at least 95-100 years old?” Suddenly the questions about money and possessions start to look less frivolous and more literally relevant. The 100-Year Life makes the extremely provocative case that human longevity has been stealthily increasing on us, and that we need to reckon on it in our future plans.
People do not want to believe that they will live to be very elderly. This seems surprising. We always complain that we don’t have enough time to do what we want. Yet my clients are all convinced that they’ll die young. They resist any suggestion to the contrary, refuting it by proclaiming the ages their various relatives were when they died. As The 100-Year Life makes abundantly clear, this is irrelevant. Lifespans are increasing across the board. An example of this is that in only the past decade, the number of UK citizens living to their 100th birthday increased 70%.
Oh, no no no. Surely this doesn’t apply to me. Why should I care? I am absolutely stone-cold certain that I’m not going to live past… Um… past… ?
We have to care about our extended lifespans because we have to plan on how we’re going to take care of ourselves when we’re too old to work. Generally people roll their eyes in resignation and “joke” that they’ll just have to keep working, but in reality, 55% of Americans quit working sooner than planned. Either our health collapses, or we aren’t able to find work. We pin our mental “retirement” age at 65, but if we actually live to be 95, that’s THIRTY YEARS of retirement we’ll need to fund. Surely we don’t think we’ll still have jobs at 90? If we hate what we do for income now, how much more are we going to like it after being in the workforce for seventy years or more?
The picture of advanced aging presented in The 100-Year Life is only bleak for those who have zero intention of either preserving their health and fitness or of saving money. (That’s what procrastination is for; the two most commonly procrastinated goals are saving money and getting healthier). A cool feature of the book is that it offers three separate models of aging, one for Boomers, one for GenXers, and one for Millennials. These models show a few pitfalls, yes; mostly, they envision lives with more time. Time for education, time for leisure, time for more interesting career arcs, time for more involved intergenerational family models.
The average 40-year-old has a 50/50 chance of living to be 95. I just turned 42 this summer, and I believe it would be foolhardy to assume I’m in the bottom half of that distribution. Sure, maybe I die later today, and that’s why I do my best to tell people I love them and avoid leaving loose ends in my life. The bigger risk is to outlive my expectations, my teeth, my health, and my money. Assuming we’ll live to be 100 isn’t optimistic (if anything, it might be pessimistic!). It’s simply an objective part of our baseline reality now.
This book is an incredible, fascinating, even mind-bending read. I really kind of want everyone I know to drop everything and read it as fast as possible, so we can start having a prolonged conversation about it.
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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.