BE RIDICULOUS was my quest for the year, and the most ridiculous thing about that is that I didn't give much thought to the many ways the Universe would interpret this command. Every single thing I planned to do with my brand-new, freshly minted 2017 has already been completely upended. Our lives have been in total upheaval every single day of the year so far. I keep talking about the desire for transformation, and now I'm going to stop that for a while and talk about the desire for tranquility!
There are certain things I don't talk about on this blog, namely personal, familial, and health events. Suffice to say that we got hit with two of the three, plus a bonus veterinary crisis. It's been...interesting. Eliding over a trillion details, my husband got an offer for his dream job, and we suddenly found that we had twelve days to move to a new city. Cut to us packing up our house in between giving our dog eye drops three times a day while he can't get his Cone of Shame through the dog door and needs to be let out constantly. Most of First Quarter 2017 was an epic disaster for us, but hey! Now we live at the beach and my husband is working in the space industry!
Unconnected to any of the above, we decided to get rid of our car and try being car-free. It's been three weeks. My husband has been taking the bus to work, and he just ordered a little scooter (toy kind, not internal-combustion kind) to get around between bus stops. Our new place is within less than half a mile of almost everything we need or want, so it's been an easy transition.
My major personal goal for the year was to "follow a set schedule." I choose a counterintuitive, uncomfortable goal that is contrary to doing what comes naturally for me. That's where the juicy stuff is hidden, in the radical change of perception. I used to hate running, and then I pushed myself, fell in love with it, and ran a marathon. I used to have an abiding dread of public speaking, and then (last year) I pushed myself, and started winning ribbons and learning to work a crowd. I thought, heck, what's left on the list of things I hate and also suck at? Then our life went crazy and a schedule was the least of my worries. Then the unexpected happened. Even though our new bedroom window faces west, (my parrot and) I have been waking up around 7 AM every day. We're not quite done unpacking yet, but I'm already moving toward a more natural-feeling, biologically appropriate daily rhythm. Ridiculous.
My career goal has somehow been moving forward, despite everything, mostly because my business partner is a person of great dedication and industry. Sometimes just not saying no is enough to maintain momentum.
My physical goals of doing P90X and running five miles have not happened yet. What has happened is that I've spent the last three weeks lifting and moving heavy objects. Moving is moving! The other thing that's happened is exactly what always happens when we move, which is that I rapidly gain five pounds from eating convenience foods. Now that we're in an apartment, the dog needs to go out at least three times a day, and we're also car-free, meaning I am walking to the grocery store about 5 out of 7 days. At this rate, I can lose five pounds in roughly... three months. [(3500 calories per pound x 5 pounds)/65 calories per mile]/3 miles per day] = not quite 90 days. Or just quit eating my stress and get more sleep.
My home goal was to "digitize, downsize, minimize." I will call that a SUCCESS+. All I was planning to do was to clean out the garage! Now we don't even have a garage. Or a car. Or a yard. Or a... Our new place is awesome, but it's smaller than our tiny house, with significantly less storage. We're still getting rid of things after a yard sale and something like six carloads of donations.
We haven't done our couples goals yet, which are both summertime things. Shared adversity will either drive you apart or bring you closer, and in our case it's closer. We're feeling pretty smug about living in this tiny shoebox apartment; it's like living our twenties all over again, even though we could almost be the parents of most of our neighbors.
I haven't done my stop goal, my lifestyle upgrades, or my wish yet. I will say that my lifestyle has been massively upgraded anyway. Looking at the tiny postage-stamp sized square of ocean we can see from our balcony while wild parrots fly overhead definitely does not suck.
My "Do the Obvious" goal for the year was to transform my appearance. I am also going to call this one an early SUCCESS. Speaking of my quest to BE RIDICULOUS, I got this wild idea to apply to be on a game show, and I actually got a screen test! Of course I didn't get selected, because I am not in the least bit telegenic. But I did go out and get my hair blown out and have my makeup done beforehand. I couldn't believe the results. Suddenly I looked both younger and smarter. My husband absolutely couldn't take his eyes off me. He took me out to dinner, and I think he spent more time making eye contact with me than he did at our actual wedding. All righty then! I learned how to straighten my hair, and astonishingly, it only takes me ten minutes. I finally have the answer to my depressingly unmanageable hair, which has been the plague of my existence for 35 years. If I'd learned to do this when I was 14, I would have had a completely different life. Now I'm 41 and I already have a completely different, completely different life.
2017 has been a very weird, whirlwind year for us so far. Topsy turvy and all that. Now we're starting Second Quarter and it's like we're the ensemble cast of a TV series that just went into a new season, like American Horror Story with slightly less horror. Now I've gone off on a mental tangent, trying to figure out whether there has ever been a TV show much like our life, but there really aren't any sitcoms about engineers, and someone else would have to play me anyway.
This is the short version of my 2017 goals, resolutions, quests, wishes, etc.:
Personal: Follow a set schedule
Physical: P90X, run five miles
Home: Digitize, downsize, minimize
Couples: WDS, homemade pickles
Stop goal: Stop being the last person to pack up my tent
Lifestyle upgrades: Phone and work bag, tent
Do the Obvious: Transform my appearance
Quest: BE RIDICULOUS
Wish: Pay off my student loan.
This story might sound familiar. A broken-hearted Australian man puts his entire life up for sale on eBay. Do you remember? I saw it in the news when it was going on. What an amazing idea! I knew as soon as I saw it that I had to read A Life Sold: What Ever Happened to That Guy Who Sold His Whole Life... on eBay?. Spoiler alert: Ian Usher went out and did what most of us don't even dare to dream, which was to make a "bucket list" and then go out and try to accomplish all his goals.
One of the most interesting things about this book is that Usher shares the whole picture, not just the cute-selfie parts. He can't stop thinking about his ex. He's sad and lonely sometimes, even as he makes tons of new friends. Some of his goals don't work out. He gets lost, swindled, injured, stuck in bad weather, and disappointed in various ways. Somehow, it all serves to make his achievements more remarkable. Almost everything that can go wrong does go wrong, and yet, he still pulls off some truly amazing goals. At the outset, he's in his mid-forties, and it is instructive to compare his plans with other people we might know in that age group.
It's also very interesting that Usher made the money to fund his travels and outrageous goals by working a dangerous, physically demanding job with specialized training, selling his house, and spending years saving money at an unusually high rate. Three out of three of those actions are actions that average people are not willing to take.
What I can't stop thinking about is the highly personal nature of the 100 goals. I read through the list, and I had done ten of them myself, including riding on a dog sled. Pretty good goals! But most of the others I would not be brave enough to do. It's a very Australian list, full of derring-do and physical challenges. This makes the book rather special. It's impossible not to start wondering what 100 items you would put on your own list, while clearly seeing that someone else's list is too idiosyncratic and personal to just... copy. It also raises questions of why certain goals that might seem obvious to someone else weren't on Usher's list. Why go to six continents when you could also go to Antarctica, for instance? Why isn't that goal on the list? Well, because it just wasn't, that's why. We're all fully entitled to have our own crazy quests and wild dreams.
A lesson from the book is that goals aren't fun when they feel like checking something off a list. They must be personally meaningful, or what's the point? The magic comes with the feeling that "I can't believe I'm finally getting a chance to do this!" The world could certainly use more of this. What would happen if more people realized that the only things holding them back from living their wildest dreams were their personal possessions and uninspiring jobs?
I insist on being a heretic and taking New Year's Eve seriously as a magical time for inventing Future Me 2017. This is why I'm sharing my New Year's strategic planning process. The more I refine this process and check in throughout the year, the more I do awesome things and the less often I annoy myself.
The first step is to review the prior year. Where were my pain points? What were the most difficult events, who and what annoyed me the most, what would I gladly erase and forget ever happened? Where were my successes? What went well through pure serendipity? What unplanned awesomeness showed up on my doorstep? Where did I stick to my vision for the year and how did that work out? I want less of the bad (especially if it was my fault) and more of the awesome. For instance, one of the dumbest things I did in 2016 was to get a second-degree sunburn on my legs from uneven sunscreen application. I'm still blotchy five months later. I also pitched my tent on a fire ant nest, so now... now I know what fire ants look like. And feel like. One of the best things that happened was that a monkey jumped on my head, which could have been very not-awesome but which was a serendipitous peak experience.
Next, I want to pick something specific to work on for each area of my life. I define these areas as Personal, Physical, Couples, Home, and Career. 'Personal' includes my end of relationships with my husband, family, and friends, as well as inner growth and fun projects. 'Physical' includes health and fitness. 'Couples' goals are choices that my husband and I agree on together, like going on a trip or expanding the garden. (No fair choosing a "couples" goal and springing it on your partner). 'Home' has to do with both the physical infrastructure of where we live, interior and exterior, and the more abstract areas of routines and systems. 'Career' has to do with my work, income, and further professional development. Most years, one of these areas will be running smoothly and one will be somewhat in the tank. I want to do a little in each area, while putting the majority of my focus where it is needed the most.
I also have bonus areas: A quest, a wish, a lifestyle upgrade, a 'stop' goal, and Do the Obvious.
When I'm done with my planning process, I sum it all up on a slide and put it on my lock screen, where I can see it several times a day. I go back and edit the image whenever I accomplish something, so I can see how close I've come. I do a quarterly review at each solstice and equinox. This has been working really well, and now I'm adding a monthly review period as well. I made some slides with my photography in the background, which was fun, and I love how they look.
This is a summary of my 2016 projects:
Personal: Join Toastmasters and conquer fear of public speaking. SUCCESS+
Career: Order business cards, start newsletter. COMPLETE
Physical: Cross-training, micronutrient blood test, hopefully start running again. SUCCESS
Home: Interior design, plant garden. SUCCESS
Couples: Set a dinnertime, do quarterly review. SUCCESS
Stop goal: Stop beating myself up on stuff, stop rage-crying in TSA secondary screening. SUCCESS
Lifestyle upgrades: Use patio more for meals and writing area. SUCCESS
Do the Obvious: Earn more money. SUCCESS
Quest: Go to World Domination Summit, be a polyglot. SUCCESS
Wish: To make a new friend. SUCCESS
Making ambitious goals can have one of two effects. It can make us try harder, bringing out our inner strivers. Or it can cause us to fall into self-delusion, a trance state of fantasy in which we block out any and all external evidence of reality. When we occasionally snap out of it, we can feel so crushed by the failure of the goal to magically appear that we rewrite our self-image as that of 'loser' or 'failure.' The only things that truly matter are 'works' and 'doesn't work.' 'Action' and 'inaction.' 'Results' and 'no results.' When I give to charity, I'm charitable. When I listen to someone, I'm a good listener. When I eat vegetables, I'm taking care of myself. The human mind can only pretend to believe labels and descriptions without the accompanying behavior for a limited amount of time. Talk the walk, but then make sure to walk the talk.
What I try to do each year is to choose actions that I believe I can and will take, and then judge myself by whether I did take the actions. The results may go beyond what I predicted, or they may fizzle. It's a testing lab and I'm the test subject. If something doesn't turn out as planned, then I have more years to tackle it in other ways, or to change my perception of the issue. Last year, I was ambitious, and this resulted in exceeding my goals. I didn't just crush my fear of public speaking, I started doing stand-up comedy. I didn't just get business cards made and make more money, I started a new business, got a product in stores, and made an agreement with my husband that we would work toward becoming financially independent.
Now it's time to work out what I'll do for 2017.
Personal: My biggest personal area right now is my free-floating schedule. Sometimes I wind up on the elliptical at 11 PM, or writing at 2 AM. This never works out well, because sometimes I find myself still awake at 4 or 5 AM, and then the ubiquitous landscaper sound effects start up at 8 AM. The greatest change in my life right now would probably come from adjusting to more of a set, diurnal schedule. When I ask myself, "What feels the most unnatural, least palatable, that I most resist?" this is that thing. What I resist is most likely where the power is hidden. It worked with running and it worked with my diet and it worked with public speaking. Will it work with a clock?
Career: File papers to create LLC.
Physical: I'm finally healed from two years of ankle injury, open wound, and missing toenail. I CAN RUN AGAIN! I want to complete P90X and run five miles injury-free. I want to run a 50-mile ultra marathon for my 50th birthday and I still have 8 years to train.
Home: It's time to clean out the garage. In this smaller house, it's become obvious that we still have excess stuff we don't use. Time to finish digitizing and minimizing, especially books.
Couples: Go to World Domination Summit for the second time. Find source of pickling cucumbers and can more pickles.
Stop goal: Stop being the last person to pack up my tent. I plan to go backpacking at least twice a year, and no matter whether I'm one of two or one of six, I'm always the last to get ready. I'm pretty sure that this is related to being cold and waiting until the last minute to get out of my sleeping bag, so I'm going to get a second base layer and more hand warmers.
Lifestyle upgrades: In November it will be three years since my last phone upgrade, and I plan to upgrade again. I need to upgrade my worn-out work bag. I also need to fix my tent, since a raccoon tore open a mesh window. (Thanks jerk)
Do the Obvious: Work on my appearance. Now that I've been working on public speaking, I've started to realize that certain circumstances demand preparation. People look different in photographs, on video, and under a spotlight. I've been realizing that one of the major factors holding me back from various pursuits is my extreme reluctance to be captured on film. I even avoid being in pictures with friends and family because I only want to look at them, not myself. I'm going to try to reframe everything about how I think of external appearance, my negativity about fashion and cosmetics, and my perception of others' self-presentation. I'm starting by trying to look at it as a professional costume, something that will help my audience to trust my competence. Do I look like someone who can inspire, inform, and entertain? Do I look like I belong here and that I'm the appropriate person to be doing this job?
Quest: I'm going on a quest to test out every single project, game, or stunt I ever thought I'd do, bought the equipment for, and then put aside. This includes juggling, riding a unicycle, and making my own pasta, among other things. I'm turning 42 in July so I might as well get some RIDICULOUS out of my system. (Or into it). My quest to BE RIDICULOUS should help me to reframe my appearance-related goal as well. I can commit without taking myself too seriously.
Wish: I wish to pay off my student loan.
This is the summary that will go on my lock screen:
Personal: Follow a set schedule
Physical: P90X, run five miles
Home: Digitize, downsize, minimize
Couples: WDS, homemade pickles
Stop goal: Stop being the last person to pack up my tent
Lifestyle upgrades: Phone and work bag, tent
Do the Obvious: Transform my appearance
Quest: BE RIDICULOUS
Wish: Pay off my student loan.
This book is the ultimate in possibility thinking. The story of One Red Paperclip made international news back in 2006, so it may ring a bell. Kyle MacDonald is a young slacker who has the bright idea to trade "bigger and better," starting with a paperclip and working his way up to a house. The intricacies are fascinating in their own right, as MacDonald stumbles into the media limelight and starts meeting celebrities. What I like best about the book is his irrepressibly positive attitude. It could be a textbook for the skill of possibility thinking. Cockeyed optimism does actually work from time to time!
I'm a slacker, too. I bought this book at least five years ago and I just now got around to reading it. The world works in mysterious ways, however, and the Hollywood Reporter just reported that MGM is "in talks" to make One Red Paperclip into a movie. I hope it happens, because the world needs this story.
Possibility thinking does not overlap completely with optimism. MacDonald is motivated by guilt that he's unemployed and that his girlfriend is paying their rent. He has frequent bouts of discouragement, feeling lazy and like this is a stupid idea. He keeps reminding himself that he's on a quest, though, and that he might as well see it through. Part of what makes this endearing is that he focuses on making trades that are meaningful to all parties, rather than chasing financial value alone.
What I would love to see happen is for the Bigger and Better game to become commonplace. Due to my professional work with clutter and hoarding, I have a pretty good idea that most households are hanging onto all sorts of unused objects. A few of these are special and could find new life in a new home, where they would actually fulfill their purpose as useful things. SO MANY art supplies, musical instruments, and tubs of camping gear and other sports equipment, just moping in a corner like the Isle of Misfit Toys. SO MUCH monetary value, locked away and doing no good to anyone. We feel so poor and we feel that we CAN'T AFFORD so many things, even as we're knee-deep in stuff. What would we do if we could swap it all for our true heart's desire?
If you knew you could start with a random object that was sitting around your house, and trade for the most amazing thing you could think of, what would it be? What would you give up and what would you ask for?
We're a couple of days into our first juice fast. I'm going along in solidarity with my husband. This project is what I refer to as a Fact Finding Mission; it's one of many that I've undertaken out of a spirit of curiosity. I prefer to find out what something is like for myself, based on direct experience, rather than my inner sense of resistance. I'm not a true believer, not yet anyway. I thought our experiment might provide useful information to both skeptics and the hesitant.
The first thing to share is that in no way could I have guessed what fasting felt like from observation. We've both been on diets, generally not at the same time, and it's similar. It's similar to other ordeals, such as Finals Week or caffeine withdrawal, which may have been undergone and then largely forgotten. It's a human failing not to have much sympathy for others, whether they're suffering something we have suffered and overcome or something with which we're unfamiliar. Doing this fast together helps us to remember that we're both struggling.
The second thing to share is that it's not really as bad as all that. We're hungry but functioning. The big thing is to remember to start preparing the next juice, soup, or salad on schedule, because delaying by an hour or more turns into crashing. We're doing about double the food prep that we do for ordinary meals. My husband has to make his next day's pitcher of juice after dinner, as well as packing up his breakfast and lunch, so the first day was front-loaded with extra effort.
I used to have a second-hand juicer, which I eventually gave to a friend. It created a great deal of pulp. We went out and bought a high-end blender, which is technically a different beast. It is about ten times easier to clean than the juicer and there's no pulp afterward. This was a good decision.
The juice itself tends to look scary and taste fine. This may be because it IS fine, or it may be because we eat a lot of cruciferous vegetables already. I'm really not sure whether a picky eater who hates vegetables could get behind this. It's not just the juicing part but also the vast salads and the vegetable soups. You're literally eating nothing but fruit, vegetables, herbs, and a little salt and oil, so if you hate those things, it probably won't work out. (But then, consider whether your default is working out...)
On the second day, I walked five miles, went grocery shopping, did three loads of laundry, moved some furniture, and made four separate dishes. This surprised me somewhat. When I went on a strict calorie-cutting diet, eating the same number of calories as on the juice fast, I felt lethargic and mopey. There is definitely something to be said for ingesting massive amounts of micronutrients and fiber, as opposed to subsisting on tiny portions of more ordinary fare. (A packet of oatmeal, a tiny sandwich, a single piece of fruit, and a dinner salad or other measured, minute quantity).
Fasting has a gendered aspect. A big, hockey-playing, chainsaw-wielding man such as my husband, who has an advanced degree, can go on a strict fringe diet and make it look like little more than an interesting athletic challenge. Such stamina, such dedication! A small-framed, delicate flower of femininity such as myself sends more of a message of insanity, body dysmorphia, or narcissism. All I can say is that I know my own mind. I've done all sorts of things out of curiosity, from riding a mechanical bull to jumping over open flames. What I've found is that my own physical limitations have yet to be reached. Every time I try to do something, it turns out that I can do it. That includes running a marathon.
Concern in our culture over excessive weight loss is so strong as to approach hysteria. Perhaps this is because 70% of us are overweight now, and even 25 pounds overweight looks small. Perhaps this is because most of us don't like contemplating at what age we will develop diabetes, if we don't have it already, and so we turn our focus toward health problems at the opposite end of the spectrum. This taboo aspect of physical transformation is part of the fascination for me. So few people know about the experience of being not-fat now that it's become alien and alarming. Perhaps a bit of reassurance is in order. According to the charts, I would have to lose a full 15 pounds to be underweight, and that's not happening in such a brief time period. Even if I did drop a dramatic amount of weight, say from food poisoning, I can gain a pound a day without even trying. This is not a project that is likely to result in permanent harm, or even short-term harm. My goal is not to lose weight or to look a certain way, but rather to share an experience with my husband. Although, when my goal was to lose weight, I did it and have maintained it for two and a half years. No crazy was gone.
Athletes do it all the time. Actors do it all the time. Spiritual practitioners from most, maybe all, religious traditions do it all the time. Pre-Industrial people of every culture did it every winter, and do it still, in an unbroken chain that goes back before human history, before human prehistory, and undoubtedly all the way back to the beginning. Animals in the wild cannot rely on steady access to a standard amount of calories every day, in all seasons. Occasional, unintentional fasting is the way of the world for all life forms. Occasional, voluntary fasting is a common cultural trait.
Both of us are over forty. We look around and see that almost everyone we know in our age range relies on pharmaceuticals to live. We have a dozen friends who rely on medical appliances, either for diabetes or for sleep apnea. There always seems to be someone we know who is going into surgery or recuperating from it. This is nervous-making. My husband just filled out a questionnaire for his health insurance at work, and it included the question, "How many medications are you on?" There was an option for "5+." Neither of us have been prescribed anything. Our blood work has come back in the healthy range the entire time we've been together. Deviating from the Standard American Lifestyle seems to be working out pretty well for us so far. The older we get, the more we start looking for healthy role models who are rocking it at our age or older, and the more willing we are to make habit changes.
Our initial commitment to this juice fast is for ten days. I will of course report back on the results.
Designing Your Life permanently changed my outlook. I studied history, which is more or less the exact opposite of the design field, so its impact may have been unusual in my case. There were several points that arrested my attention with their insight into decision-making. I found myself doing the exercises with real vigor.
The first thing that caught my attention was the finding that 80% of people don't know what their passion is. Thus, the idea that we're supposed to follow our passions leaves almost everyone feeling like a failure right out of the gate. Failure is good, though, in the design world. It provides information about what is supposed to be only one iteration among many. That's why one of the exercises is to imagine three completely distinct versions of your own life over the next five years. When I did this exercise, I discovered to my surprise that one iteration felt both slightly distasteful to me, yet simultaneously more in line with my core values, than another.
The book distinguishes between two types of problems: gravity problems and anchor problems. Gravity problems include the fact that it's hard to get rich as a poet. Anchor problems happen when we attach ourselves to only one acceptable solution, a solution that is not possible in the current situation. This was such a transformative concept to me. I was also struck by the distinction between failures that are screw-ups versus problems of weakness. Was it a simple mistake or did it come from a character flaw? That is going to blast a lot of excuses out of my head, let me tell you.
The indecisive among us should pay close attention to the material on decisions. This is because "if you have too many options, you actually have none at all." Analysis paralysis means none of the options are being chosen, and thus none of them are becoming a reality in your life. As a very decisive person, this makes perfect sense to me. If every choice seems equally attractive, then it truly doesn't matter what you pick, and hesitating is just drawing out the frustration of not being able to decide.
Another concept was the distinction between finite and infinite games. A finite game has an ending, like planning a wedding or losing weight. An infinite game goes on forever, like developing your personal ethical code or doing laundry. This is a really helpful idea. It can help us resign ourselves to the perpetual choreness of life, while also indicating that certain projects can be gotten out of the way more quickly if we focus more.
One chapter is entitled "Failure Immunity." This scans with the concept of "obstacle immunity" from Spartan Up!. Apparently this is a thing. We're just going to have to start toughening up and changing our outlook on problems.
My only issue with the book was that it started out by offering to answer questions such as how to find a job you like and how to balance career with family... but then said it couldn't answer the question, "How can I be thin, sexy, and fabulously rich?" Well, gee, why ever not??
Favorite quote: "Designing something changes the future that is possible."
I LOVED this book! This is a keeper. The Desire Map is a perfect book for goal setting, one that I will use when I do my planning at the New Year. What I like so much about Danielle LaPorte's book is her twist on the usual visioning process. How do we want to feel when we've reached this goal?
The Desire Map is divided into two sections: The Theory and The Workbook. The theory section is all about the difference between external and internal goals and how to make more empowered choices. Anyone who has trouble figuring out such questions as "what do I actually want?" or "what is my purpose?" or "do I even have any goals?" can find some clarity here.
The question of desire itself is addressed. LaPorte goes so far as to write a letter to a Tibetan Buddhist lama, asking, "What is the "right" energy of desiring enlightenment?" Can we desire anything without attachment or clinging? Should we try? Basically, are we allowed to want things? It's a nuanced, thought-provoking discussion. The section on feelings and emotions is also intriguing and clarifying.
What I've learned from coaching is that many people are very poor at making wishes or allowing themselves to want things. Even wishing for something like restful sleep, more energy, or better communication feels like too much. It's impossible to have a better life without feeling like such a thing is possible. It's impossible to reach a goal if you have none. If you don't know what you want, how would you recognize it when you had it? LaPorte's insight about aiming for particular emotional states rather than specific achievements is a powerful one. One person might want contentment, another might want vigor, and these will turn into different approaches toward life. The Desire Map includes lists of random answers from various workshop participants, which include a dazzling array of possibilities. At least some of them may trigger a desire for the same for ourselves. "Free spiders"? "Get just the right font spacing"? Why not?
"You can make your life better. Daily. Practically." This is a slogan I can get behind.
I'm working through the workbook section of The Desire Map meticulously. It feels significant. I'm enjoying the process; it makes me feel like I'm getting an extra New Year! I can't get enough out of this book right now.
We spent almost none of our discretionary income in the month of September. This is a simple matter for a single person, but it's not so straightforward for a married couple. Negotiations commence about what is a necessity and what is a luxury. If we're doing this at all, why this month? If you're counting my special personal expenditure, do I get to count yours? Money is a minefield for a lot of couples. Even arching your eyebrow like you're thinking about talking about it can come across as confrontational. The only way you can gain any ground with your finances is if you can both agree to have strategic, no-fault discussions.
We've decided to work toward financial independence. This is a goal that we both find exciting. Neither of us needs convincing that it's a good idea. Most people default to "I can't deprive myself," which is why most people have issues with the trifecta of debt, clutter, and body fat. It only feels like deprivation if you let it. We think of our future selves and we don't want to deprive ourselves then. Poor Future Me, tiny, frail, and too old to work. I want her to have plenty of money so she won't be afraid of what will happen to her. As for the two of us, we both want to be free to enjoy ourselves while we're young enough to do it. None of our small, ordinary splurges can really compete with our knowledge of how much we love travel.
We're pretty frugal in daily life. We live in a 728-square-foot house. You know your house is small when your friends in their 20s come over and tell you it's smaller than their apartments. We don't have cable, we don't drink alcohol, and both of us hate shopping. Our money mostly goes to travel, foo-foo groceries, and spoiling our pets. Where were we going to cut back?
Well, obviously we're never going to quit spoiling our pets. What's left?
We had fallen into the habit of going to the movie theater every weekend, sometimes twice, and on rare occasions, even three times. Tickets are expensive there, but the real issue was popcorn. Not for the cost as much as for the calories. The main reason we cut back on restaurants several years ago was that we couldn't maintain our weight if we went out more than two meals a week. Popcorn falls into that category. Sometimes we would go out for cocoa the same night, and that was an anchor our waistlines couldn't afford. We decided that for our low-spend month, we would skip the movies, go to the gym more often, and do an online course together.
The other area where we were spending more than we wanted was specifically at Starbucks. We both like doing work there, and we'd monopolize a table for two or three hours. This was the area that took a bit of negotiating back in August. We decided to look at the low-spend month as an experiment. The plan was to test out "better than Starbucks" recipes for our preferred beverages and see if we could find any we liked. We stopped at the first iteration. I got a little battery-powered frother for my birthday, and it's been fun making our own foam. The other thing we did was to make fancy breakfasts on the weekends, which we like about 3x more than the oatmeal we were getting at SB. Upshot: we saved money having a nicer breakfast at home, not looking for parking, not waiting for a table, not wiping up someone else's spills, and not accidentally touching the used gum someone else stuck under the table. I prefer the image of myself as a Starbucks investor rather than a Starbucks customer, although if everyone thought that way, my stock wouldn't be worth that much.
I was a little nervous in August, thinking that 30 days seemed like an eternity. I was worried that our pent-up desire to spend on something like a new parrot toy or an enticing new release movie would drive us crazy within two weeks. The truth is that there was no drama whatsoever. We just did our class, made our breakfasts, listened to a bunch of financial independence podcasts, and cleaned out the garage. My husband lost five pounds. At our age, a month really isn't a very long time.
Pitfalls abound. Most people remain confused and spacey about their finances. Some flip out the minute there's any talk of budgeting (which we did not do; budgets aren't really necessary) and feel like they're suffocating, so they run out and want to spend more right away. Anyone who watches TV commercials or flips through checkstand magazines is constantly exposed to advertisements that make us want a lifestyle an order of magnitude more expensive than what we can afford. Pinterest is another time suck that exposes us to aspirational lifestyles. The easiest way to do it is to focus on gratitude for what you have right now. None of the best stuff costs money at all.
What's fun to do that doesn't cost money? Napping. Going to bed early. Snuggling your pets. Learning new things. Building muscle. Reading. Sitting around talking. Planning for the future. Experimenting on recipes. Walking around the neighborhood. Feeling like you're in a better place this month than you were last month.
People are always looking for something new to read.
Millions of people have published a book, or several, and lived to tell the tale.
It creates jobs for publishers, editors, graphic designers, marketers, bookstore clerks, printers, warehouse stockers, truck drivers, and on and on.
Who are you to deprive the world of your work?
The worst case scenario is that nobody will read it, and that's HAPPENING NOW.
Another negative scenario is that someone will criticize it, but you can be criticized anywhere on the Internet or walking down the street for no reason. If it happens, at least it happened because you did something.
Is your unfinished manuscript really what you want to be thinking about on your deathbed?
Aren't you curious what happens in the last chapter?
You can always write it and then choose not to publish it.
You can always write another draft.
You can always publish it under a pen name.
The writing process makes you smarter and improves your writing skills.
Publishing a book is an opportunity to meet new people, people who like books.
Publishing a book is also a great excuse to lock yourself up like a hermit.
Compare it to training for a marathon. If you want an impressive achievement under your belt, which one is easier?
Writing is a much more interesting default behavior than most of the alternatives, such as watching TV or wandering around a shopping mall.
Get it out of the way so you can move forward. Maybe you choose never to write another book, or maybe you love it and you start another one right away. At least you're not stuck in the doorway wondering anymore.
You wouldn't even be thinking about writing a book if you didn't have a story somewhere inside you.
Your story deserves to be told. Your words want to be free.
You are not entitled to be the judge and jury of whether your story should be available to people. It belongs to the world. How dare you lock it away and leave your audience with nothing better to do than to watch reality television?
You are killing literature! You selfish non-writer, you. Where is it? Give it to me!
Start typing because we're out here waiting to find out what you have to say.
This is not just a World Domination Summit question, although we'll get to that. A question that came up during our academy today has really gotten to me, and I'm sure I'll be processing it for a while. There was a thinking exercise during the Be a Money Boss academy:
"Imagine that your doctor shocks you with the news that you only have 24 hours to live. Notice what feelings arise as you confront your very real mortality. Ask yourself: What did you miss? Who did you not get to be? What did you not get to do?"
This about knocked me down. What did I miss? I missed having any kind of real career. I never got to make any kind of mark on the world. I have nothing to show for my time on this earth. I mean, I have strong relationships with my husband, family, and a few close friends, but I have no legacy. There are no projects that will outlast me. I felt like a tidal wave of potential rose up inside me, and that it would die with me, and that I never worked hard enough to let any of it out.
I was surprised, and also very pleased, when my husband said that he hadn't really missed anything. The difference between us is probably that he's a father and that he's always been fulfilled by his chosen career. It was interesting that the same question affected each of us in profoundly different ways. For him, it was a validation, a good place to be for a man of 48. For me, it was a devastating blow, feeling like I had been lazy and sloppy with the time I have been given.
The real question is whether I'll have anything close to enough time to get out all of the projects that are currently locked away inside of me.
Back to the event itself. WDS is a choose-your-own-adventure kind of a deal. It's only possible to attend everything if you can bilocate, which is not currently on my list of skills. We went on a hike from 9 to noon, rode the funicular from OHSU, stopped for a food cart lunch, went downtown for our academy from 1:30 to 4:30, officially registered for the event, and then spent an hour at HugFest. After that, everyone went to the unofficial opening party, but we cut out early because they didn't have any vegan food. There is a superabundance of plant-based cuisine in Portland, though, so we were fine.
The first thing about WDS is that you can immediately turn to anyone standing near you, strike up a conversation, and within a couple of minutes someone will say, THAT'S AWESOME. This is like the rallying cry of positivity. It also turns out that everyone has something in common with everyone else. I think I talked to five marathon runners today. We also met a guy who had an abiding interest in Viking culture, and we were like, "Oh, you have no idea who you're dealing with." This event would be great even if it were nothing more than a series of video lectures, but the attendees are the real attraction. I've felt like I could stay up talking all night with every person I've met.
Our academy was presented by Mr. Money Mustache (his birth name, clearly) and J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly, two financially independent bloggers with thriving communities. They had a funny mock-tension regarding their differing philosophies, which mostly boiled down to whether you should try to save half your income, or 64% of your income. They were hilarious, extremely engaging, and very generous about answering audience questions. We came out effervescent with ideas and plans about our own savings, and happily, we both agreed.
The questions are a big part of why attending a live event can be so powerful. The audience questions reflected a range of mindsets and positions on the ladder of personal finance. Some people were clearly farther on the path to financial freedom than others. A few of the questions reflected a deeply held scarcity mindset, and this is the best place to start. Start by learning and asking questions from people who demonstrate more about abundance. Feeling poor and helpless can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It blocks creative ideas that might help solve the problem(s) at hand. One of the questions had to do with having zero idea of how to track spending, or what percentage of income went where. Bless that questioner, because beginners can so often feel ashamed to ask the question that is doubtless burning in the minds of many others. Another question had to do with whether someone making a six-figure salary (I am not making this up) could really afford to save money if they have children. Skeptical, I hear where you're coming from, and there's only one way to find out, which is to make a good-faith effort and try it for yourself. Another had to do with how to save enough money in case one partner had a catastrophic illness. Apparently that couple had spent a lot of time thinking and talking about that problem. My question would be, well, what if you both live long, uneventful lives and you stay strong and healthy? Did you spend much time thinking of that at all? (I hope so).
HugFest has been my favorite part of the event so far. I wore the custom FREE HUGS t-shirt my husband got me for my birthday last year. Everyone kept asking me if I organized the event. (No, but I wish I had!). This was a beautiful thing. You would basically make eye contact with someone and just hug. Good, long hugs, too. There is really something about women (about 2/3 female attendance) meeting, looking at one another, and hugging. I think we have this culturally ingrained tendency to size one another up and worry, Does she like me? And then to think, Hmm, probably not. Instead we can think, You're beautiful and you have a friendly smile. Let's hug. Mmm, your hair smells nice! I also love hugging men and feeling safe and platonic. Men have more to overcome in our culture in terms of initiating no-strings physical affection with one another. It's fun to watch them let their guards down.
Something happened. As soon as I start giving details, I'm sure you're going to know exactly where this is going. I set my bag down at the edge of the gathering, which was in a public park. It's my favorite airplane bag. I had put my phone in it, even though I usually have it in my pants pocket. It had my iPad and my Apple Pencil in it, as well as my brand-new event t-shirt. It had my wallet with my ID and all my debit and credit cards. It had my house keys. It had my bus pass. I mean, my life was in that bag. Here's the punchline. Exactly what you would expect happened when I left my bag unattended for an hour in the middle of downtown. It was still there, and nobody laid a finger on it. I picked it up and we left.
The whole point of something like a Free Hugs event is to build social trust. It's like trick-or-treating at Halloween, only much more so. A Dutch woman asked me why I gave free hugs, and I said, Well, first of all, I like hugging. Second, I feel that it's really important for us to be more trusting and to demonstrate that we are generally surrounded by nice people at all times. So much fear and paranoia. I opened my heart to a group of complete strangers. Nobody assaulted me and nobody stole from me. Did it make the nightly news? I somehow doubt it, but that doesn't mean it isn't true.
The party was held in a really cool event space. It has ping-pong and dartboards and shuffle boards and bowling and karaoke and who knows what else. The place was packed. People who obviously recognized each other kept crying out and running up and hugging each other. Probably half the people we talked to today had been to the event several years running, and some people said the main reason they keep coming back is to catch up with their WDS friends. I can definitely, definitely feel where that's coming from.
We are absolutely LIT UP with enthusiasm right now. Personally, I feel like this trip would have been worth it even if it was only one day. WE STILL HAVE FOUR DAYS LEFT!
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.