Seven in ten Americans don't have a thousands dollars in savings. I keep seeing this figure in various personal finance articles. The way the poll was structured, it makes it hard to tell: did all of these people seriously not have $1000 to their name, or did they just not keep it specifically in a savings account? Either way, it's a question that is definitely worth exploring.
$1000 sounds like a fortune when you're broke and in debt. In an era when prices are what they are, it's actually attainable in a fairly short time period. A time will come when you will keep an extra $1000 in the bottom of your checking account and almost never give it a second thought.
$1000 is important because there is always going to be an "emergency" need for quick cash, and almost all people are going to go $1000 into debt by putting those expenses on their credit cards instead. That means you're paying interest on top of that grand, and over time, it will cost you significantly more.
Money isn't the money you think it is. Meaning, it hits you in several ways.
Your real hourly income. Take what you earn after taxes and other deductions. Then remove anything you spend purely because of that job, such as gas for your commute, bridge tolls, or clothing you wouldn't wear as a retiree. Like, you know, pants. Then divide by the true number of hours dedicated to your job, including your commute and breaks. The first time I did this, my real hourly wage was like $3.75. When you spend a dollar, you're spending a certain amount of life energy, as detailed in the book Your Money or Your Life.
Sales tax. Whatever you bought costs slightly more than you thought, especially if you pay for a disposable shopping bag.
Interest, fines, and fees. Add in the interest on your credit card, any late charges, foreign transaction fees, etc.
The price of your time spent shopping or handling transactions like booking tickets.
Price per square foot of the place you are storing stuff, whether your home or a storage unit.
Cost of fuel or shipping to transport items. Include parking fees and your trash bill for all that packaging.
To summarize, we carry a lot of maintenance expenses for both earning and spending money, and we don't generally connect them to the personal infrastructure of our working or shopping behaviors.
Okay, back to the $1000, a figure I will be repeating over and over again until it becomes a subliminal fixation in your mind.
$1000 can be carved out of daily expenses over a short timeframe, almost instantaneously for some people. Some methods are simple, others are radical and dramatic. $1000 can also be gained by selling items, or earned through a combination of side hustles or a job upgrade. Diving the amount into smaller chunks could mean we're trying to cut $300 from our expenses, sell $300 worth of stuff we don't need as much as we need emergency savings, $300 in income from side gigs, and that leaves just $100 we could try to get from a raise, bonus, promotion, or new and improved day job.
If you are serious about getting your finances in order and you have a storage unit or cable TV, your problem is solved. Get rid of them. That $1000 emergency savings buffer will magically appear within a few months. Ah, but I know nobody engages in that kind of tomfoolery but me. Why other people choose to spend their vacation money on television and a room of stuff they never use is beyond me, but hey. To each his own.
As an alternative, it's also pretty straightforward to cut $300 in utility bills, food, liquor, dining out, beauty treatments, and entertainment for most people. It turns out that people in every quintile of income distribution spend the same percentage of their income on entertainment! (If you're already so broke that you never spend extra money on those things, focus on getting training for a better job. You have internet access or you wouldn't be reading this, so your situation isn't hopeless). You might not be able to cut $300 in one month, but surely you can do it in six.
How do you come up with $300 from selling your stuff? It depends on what you have. Sometimes it can be done in one shot, by selling a game system or a redundant piece of electronics or a large piece of furniture. Many people who are renting a storage unit can get it by selling off everything in the unit, which is a double whammy because it also eliminates that expense. Used books and (possibly) textbooks. Collectibles. Musical instruments that aren't getting played. Fashionable clothes and accessories can go to a consignment shop. Items with the tags still on can sometimes still be returned. Coin jars can be cashed in, and so can gift cards. A lot of our consumer debt tends to come from buying stuff we couldn't really afford, which then fills up our homes. We can reverse this tide by selling some of it off and using the proceeds to build financial security.
How do you earn $300 in side hustles? Get thirty people to pay you ten bucks. Or get ten people to pay you thirty bucks. Or, get one person to pay you $300 or more. It depends on what you know how to do and how useful you are. I used to charge $10 to clean a bathroom when I was a college student, and if I needed ten bucks that bad, I always found a taker. If you have virtually no skills, you can still convince people to pay you small amounts of money for menial tasks like clearing junk or dog poop out of their yard or pet-sitting over the weekend. Once you make yourself available for odd jobs, word will get out, and people will sometimes approach you with offers you wouldn't have thought of. You don't have to do it forever; the goal is just to build up that $1000 savings cushion.
How do you round out that $1000 by earning an extra $100 at your day job? Even a ten-cent raise will achieve this over time. Honestly, though, if you're broke, it's time to think about a real career. What could you put up with doing for several years that would pay considerably better than what you earn now? After I graduated from college, I earned double the money doing what I considered the same type of work. The degree paid for itself in the first year. The more I've been paid, the easier the work has been and the less hard I have felt I had to work. We tend to talk ourselves out of the best ideas, having long lists of reasons why certain things won't work for us. All we need is one thing that WILL work and one reason TO do it.
A sneaky way to get that $1000 in savings together is to avoid ways of generating emergency expenses. For instance, don't get a speeding ticket or a DUI. Don't procrastinate on dental care. Don't put off repairs, especially car repairs or plumbing problems. A lot of crisis situations are the aftereffects of minor annoyances that were left to fester. This tends to happen when we're broke and feeling like we "can't afford" maintenance expenses. We never have time to do it right the first time, and we never have the money either.
Those of us known as "savers" may or may not have $1000 in a "savings account." We may keep it in checking. We may have it in a fireproof safe in the office. We may keep it in a money market account. We may be generating so much passive income from rentals, dividends, royalties, etc that we wouldn't bat an eye over a sudden $1000 expense. We may have many times that amount in our portfolios or retirement accounts. Sadly, though, the majority of us probably don't even realize that most of those savings vehicles exist. Broke we may be, but when we keep telling ourselves the story of broke-ness, it's hard to break free and stop being broke. An extra $1000 is a great place to start.
Nobody starts out knowing anything about money. We all start out as tiny little helpless babies, and if we've survived and become literate, then we did it in a world of astonishingly magnificent abundance. Adults gave us food even when all we gave them in exchange was bodily fluids. Adults gave us shelter even when we kept waking them up all night long. Adults clothed us even when we spat up on them. Adults carried us from place to place and taught us to speak. By the time we learned to read, we had already accrued years of debt from unearned altruism. Part of the job of being an adult creature, of any species, is to repay that debt to future generations, to help them survive in the way that we were helped to survive. We pass it on.
We contribute to the world in one way or another. If we're meerkats, we do that by taking our turn at sentinel duty. If we're ravens, we alert the flock to the presence of a moose carcass. If we're humans (which I assume you are, but if you are a literate non-human, please, by all means PM me), we contribute to the economy in some way. It is virtually impossible to step outside of that constraint. I would argue that it IS impossible to step outside the economy, because if you save up and buy property to live off grid, you just lost the game, and that's assuming you didn't bring any supplies or materials produced by anyone else. Anyway. Whether we think money is involved or not, whether we think a job is involved or not, we're in the game. The better we get at understanding the rules of the game, the better a job we can do in participating. A meerkat should be a good meerkat. A raven should be good at being a raven, which may be different from being a "good raven." A human should be a good human, and contributing to the world is part of that.
We start to think in terms of net contribution. Am I smiling at others as often as they smile at me? Am I listening at least as much as I am talking? Am I helping at least as much as I am being helped? Am I producing as much as I am consuming? Am I providing value or extracting it?
Money is simply an abstract way of exchanging energy. We can use it to buy goods or services from anyone in the world, helping them to provide for their families, which we can only do in person if we live near them. We can use it to support performing artists who can't possibly visit every area where their fans live. We can use money to help people in charitable ways that we couldn't do even if they were our neighbors, lacking the skills or physical abilities they might need. Money can help us to act like incredibly fast and loudly cawing ravens or incredibly tall meerkats, helping the rest of our flock or band even when we've never met them.
We start to think of money as a way to give back to the world. Money is a way to share. Money is a way to make other people's lives better, and our own. We start to think that work at our maximum capacity for contribution is a great gift we can give.
When we're working at a level lower than we know we can, we're taking up someone else's spot. Someone else who can, at least right now, do no better than the job that we currently have. We have to get out of their way. We have to advance and make room. We probably have no idea whatsoever how much we can really do, but we do at least know that we have more to offer than the current job is using. This is like the wolf bringing home a shrew for her cubs while the owl's owlets wait in vain. Animals do better at adulthood than we do. They wake up and go straight to work because their survival is on the line. Not just theirs, but the future of their species. They don't have snooze buttons. They also don't have debt.
It would be nice to think that most of our contribution to the world is not fundamentally economic in nature. This may be true for parents of young children. The rest of us have something to prove. Are we really spending the majority of our free time comforting the sorrowful and caring for the sick and elderly? Are we spending our spare time teaching adult literacy? I know I'm not. My contributions are limited to the occasional surreptitious sandwich handoff, my pro bono work, a check to the soup kitchen, or my monthly auto-payment for the student I'm sponsoring in Zambia. Oops. Economic contributions again. Must work on that. Alas. Even if I give my time, I'm making an economic contribution, because what I'm really giving is labor. There is no escape!
I like thinking of myself as a leader, a giver, a maker, and a builder. I have all kinds of practical skills and I will readily teach them whenever I am asked. Or sometimes when I am not asked! I love mentoring young people. I love pushing my close friends to chase their dreams and get their passion projects into reality. These are much nicer feelings than the feelings of helplessness and futility and despair I felt when I was broke and constantly in need of rides, meals, loans, and sometimes places to sleep. Now I can give what I used to need. I give because I feel the need to give. I feel an internal pressure that never relents. I also feel that money is merely one aspect of a fountain of energy that I can tap at will. It's a shortcut. It's a force multiplier. I can give money to far more causes and purposes than I can give of my personal presence and personal attention. The more I earn, the more I can share and give, and the more natural it feels to do so.
If I were a goose, I'd want to be a fast goose, so a slower or older goose could fly behind me in formation and feel less wind resistance. Animals cooperate for the greater good of their species all the time. All I can do as a human person is to work. I can do a lot for my family and close friends, but it's finite. I'm not called upon for all that much hair-stroking and hand-holding. What I can do by working is to provide value through my work, and then take the money I earn and use it to provide value again. It's not perfect, but it is a pretty interesting form of cooperation, in the context of what can be done by members of the animal kingdom. We are the money animals.
Pay off debts - and then what? What comes next? What number comes after zero? (Answer: infinite rational numbers). Paying off debt is exactly like clearing clutter or losing weight. We tend to make much faster progress when we realize that these goals are not ends in themselves. They are states of being. They are introductory goals. Paying off debt, like these other minor goals, is a new baseline. It becomes the new normal. What we do when we're planning for Future Self is to imagine that we've already reached the new baseline, and then to choose what our goals will be from that starting point. When we're climbing the stairs, we know what floor we're trying to reach; when we drive, we look up the road more than a few yards. We need to know where we're trying to go if we ever want to get there.
Financial education has three problems. First, what we learn from our parents, relatives, neighbors, and friends may be the opposite of helpful. Second, even if we're taught personal finance in school, we learn it at an age when it doesn't feel relevant. Third, almost all of the financial advice we receive as adults comes from marketing for products that benefit the seller, not necessarily the buyer. Whose advice are we supposed to take? We can choose from a bunch of people who don't know what they're doing, earnest educators who earn a teacher's salary, or predatory professionals who want a piece of our assets. This is why finance is exactly like fitness. It's like trying to sort advice from our fellow fat people, the gym teacher, or manufacturers of snake-oil weight loss pills.
Start with what you want. Not what someone else wants. Not everyone wants or needs to plan to buy a house or start a family. People who live alone with no dependents don't need life insurance. Some people would rather have job security, while others would rather live on the edge and be their own bosses. Some people love school and want advanced education, while others find it irrelevant. Some of us are ambitious and know we'll never be satisfied, because there's always more to learn and more to do, so how can there ever be an end goal?
What if your first problem is just knowing where your grocery money is coming from by the end of the week? Been there, done that, tried to sell the shirt at the consignment shop. Being hungry makes it really hard to concentrate on stuff like retirement planning. It also makes it hard to get through a job interview without your hands shaking. Getting a good job takes confidence that it's really hard to summon up when you're in dire straits. It takes faith that you have the power to work hard, contribute at a higher level, earn more, and get your feet back under you.
Since I've been there, let me share the rungs of the ladder, from flat broke to financially savvy.
1. Stockpiling a few days' worth of food. You have to learn to cook and how to bulk shop. For the cost of a Big Mac, I can make a pot of split pea soup and a loaf of homemade bread that will feed four people. Or I can buy five pounds of potatoes.
2. Building your reputation as a reliable worker. If you show up on time and work hard, people will set you up with opportunities to earn extra money. I was always able to find someone who would pay me ten bucks to clean their bathroom. I babysat, house sat, sewed buttons and did mending, hemmed pants, painted, and at least half a dozen other odd jobs and side hustles throughout my twenties.
3. Educating yourself. Everything I ever learned about finance, I learned from reading library books and personal finance websites. If you want better results than other people have, you have to know more than they do.
4. Getting ahead. First a week ahead, then a paycheck ahead, then a month ahead. This means you put money aside before your bills are due, instead of trying to pay after the statement comes. When I got my first job after I graduated from college, I slept on an air mattress for two months. When I got my first apartment, my living room was empty for two months while I saved for a couch. This is because I put my financial goals before physical comfort, much less entertainment or leisure. I wouldn't call this savings. It's just operational expenses. This money sits in your checking account, where the goal is never to go below the minimum balance.
5. Sock money. Cash that you hide in your house. Never tell anyone where it is, or look at it or touch it while someone can see you. Pretend you don't have it and that it doesn't exist. This is the money you rely on when you're really, really in trouble, for groceries or a cab to get the heck out of there. I have a jar of pennies I found on the street that now has over fifty bucks in it. That's separate from what I keep in my go bag for evacuating from natural disasters.
6. Emergency savings. An emergency savings account will most likely be depleted over and over again. That's why it's there. It's a buffer that keeps you from needing to put surprise expenses on a credit card. (Automotive repair, plane tickets for a funeral, co-pay on a root canal, etc). The only reason to use a credit card is to get reward points, but it's cheaper to buy the "rewards" directly than to carry a balance on a credit card. Emergency savings is not the same thing as retirement savings. Keep it in a regular savings account where you can withdraw it quickly if you need to.
7.Discretionary savings. This is not the same thing as emergency savings, and it's also not counted toward retirement. This is where you save for something like a new vehicle, furniture, orthodontia, or the deposit on a new apartment. Discretionary savings can go in a CD or "holiday and taxes" account that earns a little interest, but makes you wait before you can make withdrawals.
8. Investing. When I started investing for retirement, I had a quarter-time job and I was living in a dorm. It just happened. My job classification was suddenly eligible for retirement contributions. The money came out of my checks before taxes. It was a hard emotional choice, but whenever I would get a new job, I would immediately fill out the HR paperwork and make the maximum contribution eligible for the company match. I would put aside the maximum even if there wasn't a match. Future Self always got her chunk. I was still quite broke for the first five years after I started investing.
9. F.U. Money. "Forget yoU." This is when you have enough financial security that you can exit a dissatisfying situation. Quit a bad job, move away from a cruddy neighborhood, break a lease, leave an unhealthy relationship. If I had had F.U. money in my early 20s, I wouldn't have married my first husband in the first place, much less stayed with him. It's sad to realize that.
10. Planning for financial independence, or FI. Eff Eye. Being financially independent means that you have enough money coming in to afford your lifestyle without a paycheck. It's roughly equivalent to retirement, except that not everyone who "retires" is financially independent, and not everyone who is FI quits working. This can be achieved in several different ways. Most people have a mix, because it's safer and easier to diversify. There might be rents from properties like a rental house or apartment building. There might be dividends or interest from a portfolio of stocks and bonds. There might be passive income from one or more businesses, website ads, etc. There might be royalties from books, music, or recorded performances like TV commercials. There might be income from a family trust. Note that none of these means of earning income are taught in high school personal finance classes. Also, there is no specific amount of money required for financial independence; it depends on where you live and what your expenses are. Some people would rather quit working as soon as possible and live marginally, while others would rather keep going and live abundantly.
Note that I did not include a category for paying off debt. That's because debt is unnecessary - and irrationally expensive. Yes, it's hard to get an advanced education without debt, but it can be done. Yes, it's hard to buy a house without debt, but it can be done, too. For instance, my husband got his BS, and then the company that hired him paid for his Master's. I worked full-time during my freshman year while taking a full course load of 14 credit-hours, and I paid cash for my tuition and books each term. I was on the Dean's List, too. As for housing, more and more people are building tiny houses without a home loan, and there are distressed areas of the US where it's currently still possible to buy a house for one dollar. The debt we're talking about generally means consumer debt, and we like to be defense lawyers for ourselves when it comes to how necessary our credit card expenses really were. Consumer debt means we didn't have enough in our emergency funds and we didn't put away enough in discretionary savings, either.
The fastest, easiest way to reach financial goals is to earn more money. This usually means paying out of pocket and spending nights and weekends to earn credentials for a new career. Sometimes it means working 80-hour weeks for several years to start your own business, which may or may not succeed. Most people either don't realize there's another way, don't have the desire or energy to try any other ways, or simply lack the imagination to see more intriguing possibilities. We do what everyone else does, which is to live out the status quo and then feel extremely surprised and disappointed when we reach our sixties and understand what "retirement" really looks like.
Setting financial goals past the point of "debt free" involves doing unfamiliar things that the majority are not doing. This makes it uncomfortable, confusing, and sometimes scary. It takes faith. It can be like hiking a mountain trail in the dark with just a flashlight, climbing and climbing, twisting and turning, only able to see a few feet ahead of you, but believing that this trail leads somewhere. Then, suddenly, you find yourself at a higher elevation, and the sun rises on a new day with a vantage point you can't believe you're really seeing. With planning and preparation and training and effort, you got there.
Jason Navallo's book, American Dream: Interviews with Industry-Leading Professionals, is an ideal inspirational read for the ambitious person who is looking for direction. Due to the interview format, the book takes on a conversational tone. The industry-leading professionals selected are not household names, just a diverse group of people in various fields who happen to be multi-millionaires through their own effort. It starts to seem as though any ordinary person really could create a successful career out of modest beginnings. All it takes is an idea and the will to succeed.
A part of American Dream that I found compelling was the question, "Do you believe in the Law of Attraction?" The six people featured all gave very different answers. In this way, success is like longevity. There's more than one way to achieve it. What these successful people do have in common is that they've clearly spent a lot of time thinking about it and planning around it. In some ways, some individuals agree that there was a certain amount of luck involved in what they are doing, but that has mostly to do with choosing a field. In all cases, they most likely would have worked just as hard at anything they had chosen.
There are many parts to the entrepreneurial mindset. Reading a collection of interviews like this helps to make the commonalities stand out. Thinking like an entrepreneur is a mental skill set. You're looking for opportunities that others have missed. You're looking for something you can create that customers may not even realize they want yet. You're finding ways to get financing when the banks tell you no. You're building different kinds of networks and relationships outside of the traditional business community, because they don't understand what you're doing yet. You have a personal connection to your enterprise, and you feel sure that nobody else can supply this need to the market in the way that you can. You're so obsessed with doing the best possible job that you work around the clock for years on end if necessary.
American Dream was a really inspiring and fascinating book. It made me feel that I have at least one idea that has the potential to turn into a solid business. It also made me feel that if I do this thing, I could potentially create hundreds of jobs for other people. There is a lot of power in this idea, that anyone with the dedication can learn how to start and run a successful business. Read it, share it with your spouse, and give it to your ambitious young people.
I couldn't make it through this book. By the halfway mark, I had to put it away so that I could make my own art! Then, of course, I went right back to reading, because I couldn't get enough of Danielle Krysa. I loved this book so much that I'm completely freaking out. Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk, and mine is too.
Anyone who is anyone will get something out of this book. You don't have to be an artist. This needs to be said, because without the disclaimer, some of us will feel that we aren't allowed to read it. That's for Real Artists (TM). Not the likes of me. My constant yearning to look at art, read art books, buy or touch art supplies and materials, and hang out with Real Artists (TM) in no way indicates that there might be a shadow artist inside of me. Nuh-uh.
Every time I ever tried to sign up for an art class, it was full. I haven't had any formal training in visual arts or design since grade school. Perhaps this has helped me, because I've always thought my bad art was hilarious. I used to have a lovely roommate who had an MFA and had sold illustrations to national magazines. I showed her a sketch once and she literally laughed until she cried. I knew my drawing was naive and untutored, and I also knew that I have a certain gift for comedy, so this was a great result! I "can't" draw, just as I "can't" sing, but that doesn't stop me from drawing or singing when I feel the urge. If anything, it's a great way to troll my critics. Oh, does this bother you?? Perhaps I'll do it LOUDER!
(That, by the way, is the philosophy of my parrot when she feels she isn't getting enough attention).
Do what you want. It's harmless. Nobody but you knows a dang thing about your personal style. You are the authority on your own gift. Initiative comes from inside you, and the art wants to get out and live its life. Just let it out. You don't have to show it to anyone, or share it with anyone, or try to make money from it, and contrariwise, you have all the authority you need to put it on a billboard, declaim it from a megaphone, or put a ten million dollar price tag on it. There will always be a critic, just as there will always be a barking dog. If you can get criticized by random strangers just for existing within their field of awareness, might as well bring some of your work along, too.
I made this piece on my iPad with my index finger. I've never used it for that purpose before. (Either the device or the finger). I've also never done a work in color. It's a portrait from memory of my little cuppycake, who was unable to pose for me because she sleeps twelve hours a night. Noelie. I'm going to show it to her, and if past behavior is any indication, she'll kiss it with her beak. It's a work born of inspiration and true love, and it sucks, but I find it charming and I'll most likely do more. If you don't like it, blame it on Danielle Krysa and her partner-in-crime, illustrator Martha Rich.
This is more than a business productivity book. A key message is that we need to connect with others around us, giving our full attention to the people who are in the room with us. "We don't have the time to not listen." This can, of course, improve our business relationships, but more importantly, it can improve all everything. Culturally, it's become commonplace for people to look at their phones instead of making eye contact or holding a deep conversation. Time to look at this as a dumb, passing fad and return to true companionship.
The author is not immune from the tempting digital distractions of our age. She relates trying to edit her manuscript during yoga class, not just once, but for a few days! If I did this, my papers would quickly be ruined by all the sweat pouring off my forehead. Then I'm sure I would have toppled sideways. I am agog at the dedication this must have taken. What an astounding idea. It is surely a sign of our milieu that I am a bit impressed and almost want to try it myself. FIFTY MINUTES of singletasking? What are you, some swami?
Zack claims that singletasking makes us happier, more relaxed and focused, and more productive. I agree. I've worked at home for years now, setting my own schedule, and I alternate between deep dives and petty chores. When I spend time with people who still work traditional day jobs, it can be alarming. We don't notice the way that phone notifications constantly ruin our concentration. We don't realize that we're leaving people hanging when we break eye contact or are clearly dividing our attention. We don't notice how jangled we are on caffeine, either. Try the exercises in Singletasking, and take it from me: your daily life will feel more like you're on vacation, even as you get more done.
This book deserves to be an instant classic. It's snappy, funny, and short enough that even the most harried person can take it in. Read it in short bursts if you have to, but read it. If you can attend to even two pages without getting distracted, it will help gather your divided attention and start pulling your focus back together.
The second day of the World Domination Summit main stage event was at least equal to the first day. The standout presentation by Zach Anner stole the show. He's at least twice as funny as anyone else. His talk would have been amazing under any circumstances, but watching him carry on speaking with occasional tremors in his legs was deeply moving. Here's a guy with cerebral palsy, owning the audience from a wheelchair. It's impossible not to realize how few excuses we have for holding back on what we have to offer the world.
Zach took questions from the audience. One of them was, "What's the next step for you?" He replied, "Well, that would be my first step."
What can we do despite our limitations? What can we offer, even as our situations require us to receive?
We've met dozens of people during WDS, all of whom are burgeoning with ideas. We all have tremendous enthusiasm and high energy right now. Motivation tends to fade after an event like this, though, because the immediate physical presence of the community is gone. We go back to our accustomed environments and our tediously familiar routines. We start interacting with the usual naysayers in our lives again. The question becomes, What can we do to sustain any part of the energy we're feeling during the event? Can we find a way to create more of an inspiring, uplifting community in our home environments?
The incipient, nebulous, partially-formed dream projects in our collective cloud-brain are really only a small part of the story. The draw is that being immersed in a fairly large group of committed creative people generates a continuous stream of new ideas. It feels so easy to hear someone else's idea, add an observation, and watch the AHA! as it instantly shifts, pivots, or transmogrifies into something bigger and better. We can do so much more together than we can do alone.
There are, or could be, 'next steps' to bring many of these projects into fruition. We start to see how simple and straightforward it really can be. We feel a sense of obligation to the group to produce what we described. We've made public commitments, and others have been hooked and felt an emotional stake in whether they ever come to be. In that sense, the 'next steps' are about how we pull closer, how we give and take energy and ideas and support. What's the next step we can take to develop real-world bonds, to be part of each other's lives?
I never post on weekends or holidays, but World Domination Summit is a special circumstance. One day feels like a week. There's so much going on, so much to think about, so much "homework," and mostly, so many fascinating new people to meet, that I have an intense desire to record it all in some way. Oh, and to share it, of course!
We've been riding the bus downtown from my parents' place, which is just under an hour each way, so we've been having early mornings and late evenings. We left our schedule open this morning, as it was the only opportunity we would have to go to Powell's Books. Everywhere we went downtown, we saw WDS attendees dressed in costumes. One guy was dressed like a shark, which is real commitment on a 95 degree day. That event made all of downtown feel like part of a festival, which is true right now. I arranged a small, informal lunch meet-up, and we all sat in the shady park and ate from the food carts while listening to live music. Since I work at home in a city where we haven't lived long, I don't have any lunch buddies yet. Eating lunch with someone other than my dog is a red letter day.
My husband and I were scheduled for diverging events all afternoon. We walked part of the way to our respective academies together. I took Stephanie Zito's class, Launchpad to the World: Travel Hack Your Way Around the Globe in 90 Days or Less. We've taken the CreativeLive class she did with Chris Guillebeau, Make Your Dream Trip a Reality. Travel hacking is like drinking from the fire hose. There are so many different ways to do it, and so many details to manage. After this class, I realized that we're only doing maybe 20% of what we could be doing. This is part of where "homework" originates, when we realize we want to sign up for a bunch of different services or websites or programs, and it's going to take the rest of next week to do it all. So much awesome. The big question is where we'll go next.
My husband took the academy on How to Create & Build a Hyper-Engaged Community, which is relevant to his interests. His brain is full, too. Now he's trying to nudge me a little about opening comments on my blog. Just leaving this here. I always figured if anyone took the trouble to email me and ask about it, I might do it, but until then, I prefer not having to manage or moderate commenters.
We each had an afternoon meet-up. I was torn, because I wanted to do both of them, but they were cross-scheduled. Lo and behold, both of our academies ran late, and we were both late to the opening of our meet-ups. Unfortunately, mine must have met in the designated spot and then gone elsewhere, because I wasn't able to find anyone. (It was an event on non-fiction book proposals, and it felt very consequential and important to me, but oh well). Another woman found herself in the same situation, and she suggested we go to the other event, which was two blocks away. Even though we weren't signed up, we were able to sit in, and they had just started.
This meet-up was about how to get clarity when you can't decide between multiple projects. One of the exercises involved touching base with how you would feel if you completed the project, and comparing that to how you would feel if you never completed the project. For some people and some projects, there's undoubtedly a rush of relief at the prospect of quitting and letting it go. The exercise I found most valuable was to work with a partner, share projects, and talk about how to break them into smaller pieces and schedule them. I realized that I could easily think of several ways to get through the block on mine.
My partner shared concerns about negativity from people in her life about changing her career direction. What I told her was that the closer people are to your inner circle, the more they will naysay you, because they will want to protect you from failing and getting hurt. That's if they're loving. If they're dysfunctional, they'll just actively sabotage you, but we didn't really need to go there. The key is: DON'T TELL ANYONE CLOSE TO YOU UNTIL YOU'RE DONE. Strangers on the street will tell you that your idea is awesome and offer to connect you with people in their acquaintance who could assist you. People who love you will look you in the eye and ask you what the heck you are thinking. You're not obligated to tell every single person in advance about your new book idea or business plan. If you write a business plan and show it to a loan officer at a bank, and that career professional deems it worthy of investment, then it is. If someone in your inner circle who has no credentials or relevant experience has an opinion about your project, smile, thank them, and tell them you'll "take that under advisement." The only thing you owe them is love.
In conversations throughout the event so far, I've noticed something interesting. When women share their ideas, they tend to preface them with an explanation of why they're ambivalent, or why it's a silly, dumb, or crazy idea. (More silly, dumb, and crazy ideas like these, please!) Then they'll come out with something that is obviously going to make money immediately. I'll ask, why on earth would you think that wouldn't succeed? You have to do this thing. If only I had an idea that good... Then another lady turned the tables on me. She asked me what project I was ambivalent about, and I told her, hemming and hawing just like all the other women have done so far. She told me the same thing I've been telling everyone else! "Of course that will sell, you have to do it!" It's a confidence gap, pure and simple. We can see it in others, but it's harder to see in ourselves.
We wended our way over to the opening party, which took over most of the South Park Blocks. Live music, magicians, food, and hundreds of like-minded people waiting for a surprise. We got gift boxes full of all sorts of cool swag. We have assignments. Mine was to express gratitude to one of the volunteers, as though anything could ever have stopped me, and I was more than happy to do that again. My volunteer came around the table and hugged me when I was done. My husband's is to write an inspirational message and leave it somewhere downtown for someone to find it. Again, why stop at one? I invited my parents to contribute messages when we got home, and we'll have fun doing that.
Some inspirational messages can be really confusing to people, such as, "There is plenty for everyone in this world," or, "It's okay to have lots of money," or, "Strangers are trustworthy." I'm going to try to curate what we put out there and make sure it's broadly comprehensible.
Yesterday, we left the event bubbling over with ideas on how to revamp our spending. Today, we had to add to that yet more ideas on how to earn points for free travel, or rather, many many many more points than we have already been earning and using. That's how we got to the event this year; we paid $22.40 in tax on our combined trip. We'll have spent more than that on city bus tickets before we leave! What we'll do with our thoughts on the projects to cut or continue, and what we can do with a community-building mindset, remains to be seen. Somehow sharing ideas with all our new friends makes them start to feel like projects that are destined to come forth.
On the bus ride home, a young gentleman chatted with us, and then asked if he could please use my phone to make a couple of calls. Of course. Why not? I lend my phone out all the time. What are they going to do? Drop it? Run off with it? Pfft. People are probably more careful with a stranger's electronics than they would be with a live actual baby. In five years I'll be laughing at the comical obsolescence of this exact model. He made the calls, finishing both with "I love you." (Girlfriend and dad, I presume). Then the dad called back and I handed the phone over again. Twenty minutes later, the lad told another passenger that he had just got out of jail. I laughed inwardly. There is nothing to fear. There is nothing to be afraid of. The fact of this person's event timeline has nothing to do with his manners or general harmlessness, which anyone could see. Welcome back to civilization, my fine fellow, and I hope someone gives you a hot dinner and a nice dessert afterward. I felt that the spirit of WDS is by no means limited to the couple thousand people who knew of the event and could afford tickets. There are kind-hearted, friendly, bright, fascinating people everywhere you look, provided that you do look.
(In fact, after the "jailbird" got off the bus, another young man who had been in the conversation taught us how to make a smartphone projector out of a cardboard box and a magnifying glass. He was carrying materials with him and he played us an instructional video. He suggested we follow the Futurism group on Facebook. Talk to people, I'm just saying).
Two days of main-stage events and a few more meet-ups mean that this is going to be one busy weekend!
This book is going on my Top Ten list for productivity. It answered a lot of questions and made a lot of connections for me. It's obvious that Cal Newport knows how to achieve the state of deep work, and he's had the grace to put it all in a book so that the rest of us can figure it out, too. It may be of particular value to chronic procrastinators; that's where I found the most insight.
Newport talks about "shadow work," a term used by Steven Pressfield in a slightly different sense. Pressfield says we turn to shadow work when we cave in to Resistance and seek to avoid our true work. Newport defines shadow work as everything tangential to, but not essential to, our true work. Email and unproductive meetings are two of the major offenders. Ideally, our professional work aligns with our true calling in this world. Either way, shadow work is helpful neither in a practical nor in a metaphorical sense. Newport recommends that we offload it, negotiate our way out of it, delegate it, get it out of our job descriptions, or work on it only at unproductive times of day.
I wake up dopey and disoriented in the morning. I don't feel fully mentally alert until around 10 AM. Knowing this, I have learned to do undemanding tasks when I first wake up. That's when I start the laundry and read my email. Email for me is almost all newsletters, bank statements, and alerts for things like veterinary or dentist appointments. It's all busywork or information I can skim for the 20% that I find useful; I can blast through it and save for later anything that needs my full focus. It would be silly of me to use a time of high mental alertness to fold laundry. The reason I do it at all is because I focus better in an orderly environment. The reason I do it when I do is that I'm not going to get anything amazing done during that time of day, regardless.
Deep work is a potentially revolutionary concept for chronic procrastinators. I think Newport hits the nail on the head when he talks about deep work as a mental state; it's the elusive feeling that procrastinators want to be feeling when we are doing what we are supposed to be doing, i.e.: working. It really is a magical altered state. The thing is, we do feel this feeling of deep work, but we only tend to be absorbed in that manner when we are doing non-work things, like reading, playing games, or crafting. We know intuitively that we could be feeling it when we are doing real work, but it doesn't come automatically, and we don't know how to induce it. Newport explains how in Deep Work. He uses examples from highly productive, highly successful people, some of whom overcame the tendency toward procrastination. I loved this book, and it has had me doing some serious analysis of my work patterns. Most highly recommended.
I know why we surround ourselves with stuff. Because we’re bored.
We can’t think of any reasons to clean up that are interesting enough to actually get down and do it.
We’re totally okay with doing almost the exact same things almost every single day. We’re fine with having the same things to vent and complain about. We’re good with having the same unfinished projects, open loops, and procrastinated chores from one week to the next.
Wake up. Go to work. Come home. Eat. Get maximum amount of screen time. Lather, rinse, repeat.
There are thousands upon thousands of things we could be doing with the physical space that we’ve claimed with our clutter. We simply choose to leave it filled up with stuff because we don’t have any better ideas.
I’m a horrible snoop. When I walk around town, and someone’s garage door is up, I always take a peek. Here in the US, almost every garage looks about the same: full of boxes with a goat trail over to the washer and dryer. Sometimes there will be one that’s set up with a “bedroom” space or two. People sleep out there in the heat. That’s interesting, but maybe in a bad way?
What else do I see?
Surgically immaculate space with nothing but a car, a laundry area, and a rack of mops and brooms.
A woman’s kickboxing practice area. (I’d offer to make friends with her, but unfortunately we were already planning to move).
Various weightlifting gyms.
Various motorcycle and custom auto shops.
Various wood shops.
Ping-pong tables, pool tables, air hockey tables, foosball tables – open and actually in use.
The neighborhood social hub, with a dozen laughing people in their 20s and a couple of hookahs and bean bag chairs.
What I’ve noticed with the working garages is that they’re all really cool in their own unique way. The guys who run custom vehicle shops usually have a bunch of signs, neon, and often a mini fridge. The many gyms I see in use are clean, well-lit, and usually playing music. The dens of socializing tend to have chairs and party lights. It often seems like the garage is the center of the home, that at least one household member spends more time out there than the rest of the house put together.
The only thing they all have in common is that they’re not boring. They’ve all been carefully arranged for maximum use and enjoyment.
Patios can be the same way. Everyone in my 1930s-era suburban neighborhood has a back yard. Tiny SoCal yards, but yards all the same. Some people have a lot of yard parties and barbecues. Others don’t. Some have them filled with stacks of rubber tubs covered with tarps. We can thank whoever remodeled our rental house for putting in a covered patio with a ceiling fan and leaving behind a great outdoor dining table and chairs. It’s the first yard I’ve had that makes me want to be out there all the time. In fact, I like it so much that I took a picture of it and put it on the lock screen of my phone. There’s nothing out there but the table, the fan, and my parrot’s climbing tree, but it looks perfect to me. Noelle loves it so much that she resists every time it’s time to go back inside, even if it’s getting chilly and windy.
Why do we buy things we don’t need? I think it’s usually because we’d rather be at that particular store than back at home. Every store tends to be better organized, cleaner, and better lit than most people’s home living areas. It’s the same reason we like to go out to eat, even when the food is contributing to problems such as our rapidly expanding debt. We don’t have to fight over who does the dishes and we don’t have to clear counter space first. Home and hearth aren’t nurturing, relaxing spaces where we feel our most fulfilled. Our homes are instead places of irritation, resentment, frustration, and boredom.
When we got back from Spain, we realized that we physically hadn’t sat on a couch in three weeks. We had been everywhere in planes, trains, buses, ferries, funiculars, and taxis. We had slept either in sleeping bags or the beds of four-star hotels. We had climbed a few hundred flights of stairs. What we hadn’t done was to simply sit on a couch. It was a revelation! We wallowed in it. We were jet lagged, so we unapologetically lounged all over it with our dog. A month later, it had somehow transformed from Cushions of Wonder to plain old ordinary couch again.
We’re careful, though. We put our planning focus, after maxing out our retirement contributions for the year, on travel. That means whenever we pick up an object and think about buying it, we see the price tag in terms of what experience we’re trading off. The two of us took a day trip to Morocco for about $65. We could spend the same amount on an average Saturday by going out for breakfast, picking up Starbucks, going to a movie, and buying a bucket of popcorn. Or I could spend it on a single pair of shoes that were too uncomfortable to even wear. We could also fritter it away slowly on sodas and bags of chips. It’s the same money, but we’re more likely to notice the impact when we plan a peak experience versus letting it trickle out on dumb stuff over weeks or months.
We didn’t clean out any closets while we were in Spain. We didn’t clean out the garage, either. That’s because we didn’t have to. We have the money to go on cool trips every couple of years because we don’t spend it fighting everyday boredom the rest of the time. We don’t have to clean out closets all the time because we don’t fill them with stuff. These things are connected. We build our lives around activities other than shopping, screen time, and procrastination. I sometimes rush to work ahead a bit, because I like leaving an immaculate house before locking the door for a long trip. We keep the house clear because we’re paying for the smallest house we could find, and we physically don’t have the space to fill with anything we don’t actively need. Our version of a life worth living doesn’t include a bunch of extra physical possessions.
What could you do with your space that would be more interesting than the way it is now? Clear out a storage unit and use the money to take a class, or to free yourself from the shackle of debt? Clear out a “spare” room, scour the house top to bottom, and start renting the space on AirBnB? Have an empty room for dance or yoga? Have a home office and start seeing clients? (Bookkeeping, palmistry, or what-have-you). Clear out the garage and make a robotics laboratory? (Oh, that’s us). What’s the most interesting thing you can think of doing? If you’re not doing it, what could you do to make it happen? My guess is that it would include freeing up either space, money, time, or all three. What’s stopping you?
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.