Expendable, or expandable? Most people somehow find themselves surrounded by more and more stuff every year. As the amount of stuff expands, it fills up the home. Eventually, either the place is hoarded or the family has to move to a bigger place with more capacity. What, do you think everyone with a three-car garage is filling it with... cars? That’s the difference with minimalism. We focus on our lifestyle. No single item rates above our experience of living in our home. What’s more, nothing we own has more clout than our strategic position.
Clutter means it’s getting in the way.
This is a concept that most people really, really don’t grasp. It doesn’t matter what emotion you feel while you’re holding an object. What the heck does that have to do with anything, unless it’s your engagement ring?
This is how we decide what to keep:
Are we in the optimal job?
If we’re in the optimal job, are we in the optimal home?
If we’re in the optimal home near the optimal job, can we do the things we need to do?
Do we actually use this thing?
See how these questions are radically different than our feelings about an object? Oh, how much did it cost? What color is it? Does it work with my interior design philosophy? Does it make me feel all sparkly inside? Getting emotionally caught up in small-scale objects like a book or a shirt is totally beside the point when we’re making decisions based on career path, financial independence, or domestic contentment.
These are the questions.
If a better job came along in another city, would we or would we not go after it? Our kid is already in college, we don’t own a house, and we can’t live near family due to my husband’s specialized profession. Since it’s just us and our stuff, why not?
Since we’re moving, what are we taking with us? What are the rents like in our new city? We realized several years ago that if we busted down from a full-size, 3BR/2B suburban house with a two-car garage and a yard, we could save a fortune. Was it really worth the extra tens of thousands of dollars in rent and the extra hours of weekend maintenance to keep up that lifestyle? We reconsidered and realized that in many ways, living in an apartment would be a lifestyle upgrade. No more yard work, lower utility bills, less housework, and access to a pool, hot tub, and gym!
At that point, the question becomes how we fit our household into a cute little apartment. Due to where we live, there simply are no larger places in our neighborhood. Even the multi-million dollar houses are really small. Requiring a larger place also requires a longer commute, which is the exact reason most people tolerate a long commute. Where else would we put all our stuff???
Now we crunch the numbers. We have to calculate rental cost per square foot. We have to calculate utility costs per square foot. We have to include incidental costs, like a larger moving van, more gas, and more boxes. We have to include the extra furniture that people buy for their extra stuff, like bookshelves and cabinets and vanities and entertainment centers and desks and armoires and filing cabinets. All of it costs, and much of it has extra carrying costs as well. That’s before you even calculate the cost of buying it on credit.
Due to our income tax bracket and the sales tax in our state, every dollar we spend basically costs us two dollars. It would be more if we carried a balance on our credit cards.
In our complex, a two-bedroom apartment that is barely bigger than our one-bedroom costs $4000 a month. If we’d insisted on keeping all our sparkly cute lovely things, we would definitely have needed that extra bedroom to store them in. But how would we have afforded that rent? It’s not like our stuff is going to go out and get a job and start contributing to earn its keep...
Actually, in rare instances, stuff does pay the rent. We rented a storage unit for about a week and a half during our last move. The manager told us that a few of the tenants used their units to store their work equipment. Landscapers, painters, contractors, people who needed somewhere to store their bulky equipment to earn a living. You can’t exactly keep a lawn mower on the carpet in your second-floor apartment. Or, I guess you can, but you’re probably paying to have that carpet replaced when you move out!
Our first consideration, when we decide what to keep, is what we need to do our jobs. Even if we went full nomad and lived out of hotels, we would keep our electronics. My husband has some active reference textbooks that he would keep. Obviously we would maintain our professional wardrobes, or what would fit in two suitcases, anyway. That’s pretty much it. Virtually nothing else that we own is directly related to our ability to earn money.
In my opening list of strategic questions was a hint about something. Can we do the things we need to do? What I mean by this is that we need to be able to sleep in the bedroom, cook in the kitchen, bathe in the bathroom, eat at the table, work at our desks, and live in the living room. That means that absolutely nothing gets to be in a stack or a pile. We value our space and the use of that space more than any amount of stuff. It doesn’t matter where it came from, how much it’s “worth,” who gave it to us, or how we feel about it. Even if it’s holding its little inanimate arms out and asking for a hug. If it’s in the way, it’s out the door.
Do we actually use our stuff? This question means that we focus on our enjoyment of the things that we do have. We invested in the most comfortable bed we could find when we were newlyweds. It’s kinda romantic that we’ve been together almost long enough to need to replace it! We also comfort-tested our couch. When you buy or keep very few possessions, you can afford to spend more and to put in a little more effort making sure that you really like something before you bring it home.
Here is the math concept behind why we say that our possessions are expendable. We know roughly how much it would cost to replace every single thing we own. If we ever took a job overseas, it would literally cost more to ship our stuff there than it would to give it all away and buy new furniture and appliances. (Plus we wouldn’t have the use of it for the two months of the voyage. If we can go two months without it, do we need it at all?). Renters insurance is mandatory in our apartment complex, and the minimum policy covers $10,000 worth of belongings. That’s WAY more than all of our stuff is worth! If something happened to destroy all our possessions, like the upstairs neighbor leaving the tub on until the ceiling collapsed, or whatever, it would be kind of amusing. Since all our photos are saved to the cloud, there isn’t anything in our home that we’d be devastated to lose. We’d wind up going on the biggest, craziest shopping spree of all time. I don’t even know how we would spend $10k on furniture, clothes, and housewares.
So many people spend more than that on their stuff, though. I have a friend who has spent more than $10,000 on a storage unit. No joke. She would have been financially better off just throwing all that stuff in the trash. Or she could have sold some of it and made a little folding money. The saddest thing in the world to me is that people pay to store stuff that doesn’t even have a resale value. I know because I’ve seen it. Boxes of school papers. Boxes of sentimental but grubby and worn-out dolls and stuffed animals. Garbage bags full of outdated old clothes. Worn-out mattresses and box springs. Boxes of paperback books. Boxes of funky old plastic storage containers with mismatched lids. Why would someone spend thousands of dollars to store stuff they never use?
They do it because they think their stuff is actually worth something. They value their belongings over their quality of life or their financial stability.
Possessions are expendable. As soon as you start to see that, you start to look around at all your stuff with new perspective. Hey, stuff, what have you done for me lately?
Ryan Holiday has done it again. The title of Perennial Seller is almost meta, almost a joke, because this book is guaranteed to be, indeed, a perennial seller. Holiday is an accomplished prose stylist, and this book ranks right up there with classic writing manuals such as How Fiction Works. It’s also a good idea to listen to anything the author has to say about marketing, considering that he has had several best-sellers with hundreds of thousands of copies sold.
The main premise of Perennial Seller is that if a work is well-crafted and aimed at a specific audience, it has the potential to sell even better in following years than it did when it was first released. Creatives who begin with the intention of making something that will still be relevant ten years from now will be more successful than those who want instant fame and fortune.
Half of the book focuses on what goes into producing a perennial seller; the other half focuses on the importance of marketing. Holiday emphasizes that this does not mean one should spend half of one’s time on marketing. Rather, many authors and other artists want to wave away the necessity of marketing. Isn’t it unfair to your potential audience to deprive them of a chance to hear about your work? Think of your lonely fans, staring at the ceiling and sighing, wishing they had something as cool as your book/album/comic/whatever to entertain them. You can delegate if you don’t want to do it yourself, but you can’t get out of the necessity of marketing, no matter your opinion of that trade. Holiday himself began as a marketing phenom, and this book will educate you and most likely change your mind.
Perennial Seller has a broad range of examples of talented people whose works became perennial sellers. This includes everyone from the band Iron Maiden to the movie The Shawshank Redemption. Considering Holiday’s published work on Stoicism, one might almost expect the list to include more of the classics (by which I mean, Classics), so it’s fascinating to see how many obscure corners of pop culture are hiding perennially successful artists. This is a great read, suitable for long-term study, and essential for those who want to produce an artistic legacy.
Getting what you want is to be distinguished from doing what you want. Often it’s possible to have both; the things we want to have and the things we want to do aren’t always related. Other times, though, doing what you want actively prevents you from getting what you want. Sometimes the reverse is true, when getting what you want gets in the way of doing what you want. All of that is a moot point if you don’t actually know what you want in the first place.
Figuring out what you want has to be specific, or you won’t know when you have it. For instance, if you want “shoes,” do you want to wear them? If so, then you have to ask for your size. Are we talking any and every pair of shoes in your size? Probably not. The more detailed your vision, the more likely you’re going to find yourself walking away in some great new shoes. Too broad, and you may find yourself knee-deep in a closet catastrophe, with piles of shoes that are pretty but too uncomfortable to ever actually wear. This is the first pitfall, of thinking you want something only to realize that the request was too broad. Getting what you want - the cute shoes - interferes with doing what you want, presumably walking or dancing or making it through the night without carrying them like a small dog.
Is it the shoes that you really wanted, though? Or was it the excitement of a new purchase? The desire to feel attractive to others, to draw admiration? Maybe it was something negative like insecurity, boredom, or envy? A feeling of obligation to buy something after spending time at that store? Every object serves both a practical and an emotional need. Acknowledgment of the emotional need tends to lead to much faster results.
Getting what you want works better when you think in terms beyond the material. Physical objects are so easy to come by in our culture that it’s usually harder to get rid of them than it is to bring them home. What are things you want that aren’t physical things?
Peace of mind
Time in nature
Being in “the zone” or a “flow state”
Maybe some things that are tangible while not being objects:
A safe neighborhood
Being “organized” and orderly
Physical strength and stamina
Doing what you want is usually interpreted as “feeling like it” or being “in the mood.” You’re doing what you want when nobody else is telling you what to do. You’re choosing how you spend your time and what you do, in what order. That’s the feeling of autonomy and agency that many of us aren’t finding at our jobs. We put so much importance on doing what we want in our free time because we’re quite tired of being ordered around and having to follow someone else’s schedule during the workday. Some of us come home to the extra job of managing a romantic partner, kids, and a home environment that reflects a lot of attempts at getting what we thought we wanted.
This is where doing what you want sometimes precludes getting what you want. The same leisure time that could be spent finding a more satisfying job or going on adventures tends to disappear somehow. So much of that precious free time tends to go to relatively unsatisfying time sucks like social media, games, or binge-watching something or other. On the list of Things You Want That Aren’t Things, is this activity leading toward any of them?
Power is not given; it’s taken. That’s agency. Initiative comes from within. It’s only when you decide that you’re going after something like a skill or a character trait or a credential or a job opening that you ever get to have it. Nobody comes knocking, asking, “Say, would you like to feel more competent today?” (People do come knocking to offer a few things, namely friendship, adventure, and romance, but only when you already seem like the kind of person who’d be up for it). The result of taking initiative and following through is that you expand your circle of influence. More people trust and rely on you to do more things. The more you take on, the more you execute well, the more it tends to turn into leverage. Money and autonomy! This is when going after what you want leads to doing what you want.
Self-discipline is freedom. That sounds like it came straight out of 1984 - it’s been a while since I read it; I’d have to check. What it means is that the more you create your own structures and guidelines, the more likely you are to get what you want. Since you’ve chosen it for yourself, it starts to feel more like you’re doing what you want, as well.
Pay off your consumer debt, and two things happen. Your credit improves, and the money you used to pay toward interest and finance charges is suddenly available for you to spend. The temporary self-discipline of restricting spending results in greater financial freedom and options.
Get fit, and all kinds of things happen. Your energy level goes up, your sleep improves, your posture improves, you don’t get sick as often, and all these weird little mystery aches and pains disappear. You stop having cravings for certain foods and start wanting more water. Suddenly you find that you have energy left over at the end of the day. You’re ready, willing, and able to do all sorts of interesting things you wouldn’t have been into in the past.
Master a character flaw, and everything happens. You stop annoying yourself. Your relationships improve. You start being the beneficiary of greater kindness and respect. You realize that self-control makes your life easier, and that this ripples outward.
Getting what you want tends to be the result of applied persistence. It takes learning the rules. How do people go about getting this? This job, this personality trait, this skill, this series of adventures and experiences? What do you have to do differently if you want this for yourself, whatever it is? Doing what you’ve been doing is getting you whatever you’re getting. Doing slightly less of what you want in the short term may be all that’s necessary to get what you want, and then go back to doing what you want, too.
They never tell you why you’re not moving forward. They can’t. Telling the truth about why certain people get hired or promoted and others don’t would inevitably invite a raft of lawsuits. I started to learn some of these things during a temp assignment at an employment agency. I picked up more of them as support staff at various companies in various industries. This is painful, because my ignorance of these unwritten rules held me back and kept me poor for years.
Working hard and doing a good job has very little to do with anything. Being the smartest person in the room is actually a negative, not a positive; it’s a clear sign that you’re on the wrong track. Being smarter than your boss is far more likely to be a hindrance than a help. Believe me. My IQ is in the 99th percentile, so statistically speaking, I can say with certitude that I’ve been at least a little smarter than every boss I’ve ever had. Not that that’s ever done me a whit of good. I didn’t understand that the question is not “Am I the best at this?” The question is, “How do I make my boss’s life easier every day?”
Work on the priorities the boss has assigned, even if you disagree. Get everything done on time. Fill out the forms, send the updates, do the busywork. Show up a few minutes early and leave a few minutes late. It sounds ridiculously simple, and it should be, but surprisingly, many of us feel like our boss’s requests are unreasonable distractions from our real work. We want to choose our own priorities, and this paycheck-signing boss-person just keeps getting in the way. We have to remember that we were hired to do this person’s bidding.
Hiring a new person is a demanding process. The reason there’s an opening is that things have gotten too busy for the existing staff. They have to add reading resumes to the list of stuff they’re already too busy to do. Their primary goal is to eliminate as many applications as they can, as quickly as they can, so that they only really have to decide between a half dozen instead of five hundred. This is why even a single typo can do you in. They’re genuinely looking for even the tiniest excuse to exclude someone from the stack. Not following the instructions to the letter is the second obvious way to exclude someone, because it makes the applicant look sloppy, defiant, or dumb. I still laugh about the marine biologist who hand-delivered his resume so he could explain to me, the humble office assistant, why he was the obvious choice for this new mechanical engineering position. (Incorrect).
Interviews are astonishing. I saw a man show up for a panel interview for a six-figure position wearing a track suit and a stocking cap. Another man brought his mom and had the entire panel come out to the lobby to meet her. A woman once left her office door open during an interview so we could all hear (and laugh at) the applicant swearing up a storm, dropping F-bombs and classics such as “I need a F-ing job.” These were mature adults with at least some advanced education. Nobody ever told them that there are rules for these things.
[For instance: I just saw a tweet from a woman who tagged her husband’s employer to complain about his paycheck, complete with cursing. That’s a twofer, a workplace fail AND a marriage fail!]
I knew how to copy-edit my resume and fill out applications like an A student. I knew, or at least I thought I knew, how to dress for a job interview. While I wasn’t making any glaring mistakes like the egregious examples above, I had no idea that my problems had nothing to do with these perfectionistic details.
My main problem was that I was being too vague. I wanted “a better job.” I didn’t have a particular career in mind. Due to this, I had no idea what additional credentials or training I should get. I didn’t see myself as a professional anything. I saw myself as a broke person who was trying as hard as she could. I didn’t understand that I’d already leveled out. With the education and training and experience and wardrobe that I had, I had already gotten as far as I was going to go. All I could do was to be an office assistant for a company with a comparatively better or worse corporate culture.
I went back for my degree. By the time I graduated, I had figured out a few things about my wardrobe. I had also figured out a few things about answering interview questions more strategically. Better, I had figured out some of the workplace mysteries that had been so puzzling to me before.
Venting to coworkers. In any contest of loyalty between you and the person who signs their paychecks, your coworkers are going to make the obvious choice. Coworkers are not friends. They are not your friends. They cannot be your friends. Make everyone’s life easier and just be a robot when you’re at work, a friendly and reliable robot. Even if you think you’re complaining discreetly, word gets around. More importantly, when you’re disgruntled, you’re not saying the correct things that a dedicated person does say. A person who is venting is not thinking, “How can I make my boss’s life easier?”
Making excuses. Never complain, never explain. A total-accountability person will be clearly identifiable, often within minutes of meeting. Almost nobody falls into this category. Most people who practice total accountability wind up being someone’s boss, and they recognize one another on sight. A standard-issue person can make a single fleeting facial expression or emit a single syllable and be instantly outed. We don’t even realize we’ve just exposed ourselves. An excuse says, “Let me tell you about me.” It does not say, “Tell me how I can make my boss’s life easier.”
Failing to follow through. This is a huge issue for total-accountability people, who are indeed rating and judging the rest of us every minute of the day on this issue. It appears in various disguises. Missing deadlines, being late, making mistakes, forgetting a commitment, losing track of anything... all look like things a conscientious person would not do.
The key problem here will not have been missed by keen readers, and that problem is, “What if I hate my boss and my boss is a terrible person?” Well, duh. Get out of there and work for a person and a mission that you can respect. If you can’t find one, start a side hustle, build a business, and be your own boss. There are tons of terrible, incompetent people in management. There are also a few gems, and every single one of them has had at least one person who couldn’t stand working under them. That’s because most of us simply hate having a boss and being told what to do. It helps to ask, “Do I hate this boss, or just bosses? Do I hate this job, or just all jobs? Or do I just hate working?”
I work much harder for myself than I ever did for someone else. I work on vacation, I work on weekends, I work late at night, I work on holidays, often I work before breakfast. I have worked on the bathroom floor in hotel rooms. I work on the bus and on the treadmill. One of the things they never tell you is that you’ll probably make far more money working far fewer hours if you can tolerate a boss and a day job.
They say to do what you love. I say to do something the world needs, and keep getting better at it. The love comes later, like an arranged marriage. Choose something specific, the more specific the better. Figure out what it takes to get into a job like that, then do every single thing on that list. Talk to people who have that job and ask them to heckle you until you get it right. Work is a way of making the world a better place, or at least a more efficient place. When you find something that feels like a meaningful contribution to you, it won’t matter as much what kind of boss you have.
I’m writing this on the treadmill at our apartment gym. This gym was one of the top three reasons we were willing to downsize from a house with a garage. I figure, if I don’t use it as much as possible, then we’re not getting full value from our rent. It has a much nicer view with its floor-to-ceiling windows than our apartment, which looks onto the parking garage of the neighboring building. It has no fewer than three big-screen TVs, one of which is hanging directly in front of me. I’m ignoring it, though, because it’s always tuned to a news channel. I’m here for entertainment.
Let the truth be known: I hate working out. It’s boring as all get out. If I had to run on a treadmill with nothing to stimulate my brain, I’d quit in about four minutes. In fact, I did quit. I quit the gym we had four years ago because I hated running on the treadmill and they kept playing “Teenage Dream” every single time I was there. What gets me through my workouts is that I anchor exercise to entertainment. There are certain fun things I do that I only allow myself to do when I’m doing cardio.
It started before the days of smartphones and tablets. I joined the gym across the street from my work, and I would do my workout while I waited for traffic to die down. This meant I had the delayed reward of a breezy freeway commute, often as the only car visible on the road. Ah, but that was dessert. The immediate reward was the pot-boiler. I would have a book I couldn’t stop thinking about, and I only allowed myself to touch it if I was actually on the treadmill. It just lived in my gym bag. Not only did this work, but the suspense tended to make me move faster. I graduated from 2 mph on the treadmill to 4.5 mph on an incline. Then I upgraded to the bike, then the elliptical. I lost 15 pounds at that gym.
When I took up running outdoors, the treat was audio. Either podcasts or audio books. It got to where I had to pick out the longest books I could find, because on Fridays I would run for four hours and I didn’t want to have to mess with the app. I remember that I listened to all of Cloud Atlas while training for my marathon. My must-listen podcasts were for training days only.
This gym I’m in has seven cardio machines. Most of the time when I show up, I have the entire room to myself. I’ve been here at all hours between 6 AM and 8 PM. It’s predictably busier in the early morning, but even at its most crowded, at least three or four of these machines are available. To be considerate, I have fallback plans. I do different types of things depending on which machine I’m on. I’ve set my expectations so that I don’t have a “favorite” or a sense that “that’s MY” machine.
On the elliptical, I can only really use my three-year-old tablet, an obsolete yet indestructible beast that I got for free the last time I upgraded my phone. That’s where I try to catch up with my news queue. I have a couple of e-books downloaded on it. The elliptical is also where I read paper magazines.
On the recumbent bike, there’s nowhere to prop reading material. This is a tough machine for me right now, because I haven’t trained on a bike in many years, but it’s good for my hip flexors and quads and I need it for cross training. I’m trying to build up my tolerance gradually. This is where I read through email newsletters and articles with a lot of illustrations on my iPad.
On the treadmill, where I am now, I can actually prop up my iPad keyboard and type! I’m only going 2.4 mph. There’s a fan in the machine that blows on my face, which is quite nice. What I’ve done in this session has been to watch a 20-minute video, read a silly article about the Mayweather-McGregor match, and write this piece. I realized only today that this is a place where I can actually watch my endless queue of “Watch Later” YouTube videos. I can’t stop myself from saving them but I get too restless to watch them while sitting still. Anyone who was into that sort of thing could also watch TV episodes with a setup like this.
A friend of mine used to play video games on the recumbent bike. In those days, it was a game console. Now anyone could do this with a smartphone.
Do I worry about breaking my gadgets? Yes, very much so. That’s why I use the devices I do on the machines that I do. There’s no way I’d ever consider bringing my iPad onto the elliptical machine. It wouldn’t be possible for me to type on the recumbent bike due to its layout. I also wouldn’t do everything with the iPad on the treadmill, because it’s not nearly a hard enough workout. What I do is to dither around clearing tabs in my browser, doing a brain dump, and maybe scanning some email in a desultory fashion. Then I stop the treadmill and move over to another machine. Honestly, I haven’t broken a sweat.
I don’t think my treadmill entertainment “counts” as a workout. I might burn 100 calories, about equivalent to an apple. The thing is that I’m associating the habit of passive entertainment with physical activity. I’m also associating this habit with this location. Over time, my mind will expect that I “do this sort of thing” at the gym. I look forward to walking over here, because it’s when I can read police procedurals or mindless celebrity gossip or BuzzFeed articles. Before I know it, it’s time to hop on the elliptical and really get to work.
Oh crud! I’ve already been on here for 74 minutes! Bye!
Guess what? Chris Guillebeau has a new book coming out! I got an advance copy for attending World Domination Summit this year, which was quite gracious. It’s called Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days. If you’re a fan like I am, you already know that Chris started a daily podcast this year called Side Hustle School. While the podcast features brief profiles of successful side hustlers, the book is more of a handbook on how it’s done.
What I like best about the Guillebeau approach is that he focuses on the practical rather than the merely motivational. People are doing this, they’re doing it every single day, and it’s easier than we think. We just need to implement our ideas. “Inspiration is good, but inspiration with action is so much better.”
Side gigs are everywhere these days. Recently, I’ve paid side hustlers to drive me through Lyft, let me sleep at their house through AirBnB, and deliver my groceries through Instacart. We were just in Jackson, Wyoming, where we used a shuttle service run by a group of young Ukrainian guys who like to ski. It’s a double-edged sword; in one sense, it’s scary to think how little some of these gigs must pay, but in another sense, it’s also exciting to think how low the bar is for someone to just wake up one morning and decide to start bringing in more money. What Side Hustle can do is to teach someone to think of more and better ways to bring in more and better money.
I started babysitting when I was ten, and it didn’t occur to me that I could quit until I was in my mid-thirties. While I was in college, I also cleaned houses, took in mending from other students, edited papers (for trade), house-sat, took notes for a deaf student, did transcriptions, dealt in consignment clothes and used books, and of course I had a work-study job on top of my regular quarter-time job. I used to say I had five streams of income in school, and I just realized it was actually more! When you’re in the hustle mindset, you just step up and act on whatever money-making propositions cross your mind.
When you’re rich, they call it “multiple streams of income.” When you’re poor, it’s just your reality. I’ve learned that middle-class people are the only people who rely on one single job. That always felt precarious and threatening to me, the thought that if I got laid off, I wouldn’t be able to make my rent. Side hustles, as Chris frequently emphasizes, are a way to spread that risk and generate independence and security.
This is an approachable, straightforward, well-tested book. Every step has an example of a real person or couple who did it, what the side business is, and how much money it made. There are examples ranging from a few hundred dollars a year to a hundred thousand or more. Side Hustle has something for everyone, and for those of us who want more, there’s the Side Hustle School podcast as a companion.
Side Hustle launches on September 19.
I saw Jeff Goins live in an academy at World Domination Summit, and he gave out copies of Real Artists Don’t Starve to all of the attendees. The list price of the hardcover was almost as much as the ticket price for the academy, making this an act of radical generosity. Either that, or it was a savvy marketing tool, as the book includes a flyer for… wait, what?? What was I just saying? I just looked at the website for Goins’s Tribe Conference and when I saw the lineup of speakers, I sort of lost my mind. Some of my totally favorite writers and artists will be there. Ryan Holiday, Leo Babauta, Marsha Shandur, Jon Acuff, Jonathan Fields, Tsh Oxenreider, I have the worst case of FoMO ever right now. I’m cross-scheduled or I would definitely be finagling to go to this event. Anyway, I started out with a review of Real Artists Don’t Starve, and that’s no time to be distracted thinking of all the successful, prosperous artists whose work I enjoy so much.
One of the main points of this book is that we don’t make art to make money, we make money to make art. The Starving Artist rejects money with a passionate hostility. (In fact, this doesn’t apply only to artists, but to most people with a scarcity mindset). The Thriving Artist understands that money allows for the creation of larger-scale projects. Pause for a moment and think of your favorite musicians, actors, writers, cartoonists, and other artists whom you admire. If they’re financially successful, why are they still working? Obviously it’s because making their art is the most interesting thing they can possibly think of to do with their time. The money means better equipment, higher quality supplies, bigger venues, more elaborate costumes, better sound systems, and the ability to reach a larger audience. We’re fans. This is what we want from our most beloved artists, right? Then why would we deny it to ourselves? We have to accept that it’s fair to bring in money in proportion to the value that we put out in the world.
Art is love. This is why we’re transfixed by it. It’s an outpouring of talent and skill and passion that could never be duplicated by anyone else. It is well and just that the creators of masterpieces, those who have dedicated their lives to their art, should accept as much as we want to give them. For some reason, though, we hesitate to think of ourselves in this context. Oh, sure, my favorite musician should be rich so she can go on tour and come to my city. But me? Sell out? Never.
My husband is an aerospace engineer. We’ve learned from each other that engineering and writing have everything in common: the continual urge to create, the equal need to edit and edit again, the frustration of hovering right at the edge of an insight and having no idea exactly when the missing thought wave will arrive. There are two differences. One, engineers actively seek out extremely critical peer review. Two, nobody ever asks an engineer to do anything for free. We’re pretty sure it never even crosses people’s minds. “Will you design this motor drive for me? It would be good exposure!”
Why isn’t it absurd to ask artists to work for free? Why?
Real Artists Don’t Starve. This is a terrific book by a man who knows whereof he speaks. If he gets his way, we’ll all start respecting our own work, thereby bringing dignity to the profession of working artist. I can’t recommend it enough. Now I need to go back to fantasizing about being at the Tribe Conference… sigh…
Being in debt drives me crazy. I never stop thinking about it. It’s the major motivator for me in earning money, in the same way that a trapped animal will chew its own foot off to get free. Anything, anything. I paid off the last of my consumer debt over a decade ago, and the interest rate on my remaining student loan is so low that it doesn’t really make fiscal sense to pay it off early. It’s a psychological thing. Debt is a shackle around my ankle and I’ll file it off with anything I can find.
The other night, I decided it was time to pay off the smaller chunk of my student loan. There’s a subsidized part and an unsubsidized part, and the latter is only about 7% of the total. I thought I’d just nuke it. As it turns out, the debt is structured so that I have to pay off the entire thing. I’m not allowed to pay off the smaller part early! It’s one of the million bajillion little tricks that lenders set up to bilk us of as much interest as possible. This is exactly the kind of thing that enrages me and incites me to ramp up my efforts. I WILL be free! I WILL saw off this shackle! Even if all I have is a nail file!
Most people’s reaction to debt is to wince and ignore it. People hate talking about money. Nobody I have ever worked with actually has a balance sheet or knows exactly how much they owe. Usually they don’t even know their net take-home pay; they seem to operate on a vague sense that they can actually spend their gross. Plus a little extra, because things happen. The two biggest areas of procrastination across the board are planning for the future (read: money) and taking care of health issues (read: planning for the future). If it came down to a contest between heavy-duty weight training and going on a debt-burndown program, most people would… well, most people would probably start Googling “fake own demise” or try to enter the witness protection program.
This is sad, because becoming physically stronger and becoming financially secure are both tremendously powerful, satisfying feelings. We so severely underestimate how great these states would feel. I know, because I’ve done both.
I think the major reason that most people don’t go out and chase down better-paying jobs or launch their own side gigs is because they’re so discouraged by having a boss. Well, a bad boss - research shows that about two-thirds of managers are ineffective. It’s hard working for someone who is bad at their job, someone who is a bully or a bad listener or arrogant or afraid of confrontation or who has double standards. This doesn’t even address the frustrating coworkers and the let’s-not-go-there customers. It’s other people who make our jobs hard. Or at least it feels that way when we believe we have no power over our situation. And we feel like we have no power when we’re weak in the wallet. We think we need this job, this particular job, and that we have no other choice.
Most of us hate only one thing more than updating our resumes, and that’s going to a job interview.
Shouldn’t we hate the feeling of being broke even more?
When I still had debt, I laid it all out on a spreadsheet. I looked at it at least once a day. I was like Arya Stark, memorizing her list of names. I updated my balances every day. I estimated how long it would take me to pay off the next name on my hit list. I used to have a Perkins Loan, and I visualized it as a man, an odious man named Perkins. (Unfair to the real Perkins, I’m sure, but it worked for me at the time). He was a sniveling pencilneck who constantly shoved his glasses up his narrow nose and he spoke in a nasally voice. Every time I would make an extra payment, I’d punch the air and go: “Take that, Perkins!” When I paid off the entire balance six years early, I got a thank-you letter saying that now those funds could be made available to another student just like me. Which was nice, and also made me feel a little bad for my mean visualization games.
I’m not even going to share all the various things I muttered to myself about The Banks when I was paying off my credit card balances.
I had, I think, six personal debts, two credit cards, a car loan, and three separate student loans. It all added up to something like $34,000. Since I was making about $29k at the time, it felt pretty daunting! I’m a fighter, though. Anything that knocks me down just makes me mad. I used what could have been hopelessness, anxiety, or dread, and I turned it into a white-knuckled fury. I would not be a slave to interest payments, fines, and fees. I would be a FREE ELF! I made it my ambition to get every raise, promotion, and side opportunity I could find and turn it into silver bullets that I then fired at the monstrosity that was my debt.
I did get promotions and raises. I did pay off those debts, one by one, until all that was left standing was that last student loan. I moved from my rented room to my own apartment to my own little mini-house. I bought myself new furniture and I took myself on my first real vacation.
Along the way, my work buddy turned friend turned boyfriend started to get more and more interested in what I was doing. Only a few months after I moved into my mini-house, he proposed. I was the princess who saved herself, and that’s how I got my prince.
A whole lot of mixed metaphors in this story, but I told myself a lot of different stories over the years as I fought this grim, lonely battle. Little office temp versus mass global economic forces. Or, I guess, an elf-princess who fires silver bullets at debt-werewolves? Certainly that feels better than seeing myself as an animal gnawing off its own paw. Strength rather than desperation.
What they never tell us is that power is not given, it’s taken. Initiative and agency come from within. The decision to make your own plans and build your own financial security is something that you decide for yourself. Nobody can take it from you. Nobody will even try, not really, not unless you go around to all your naysayers and start telling them your plans… The important thing is only to ask for advice from people who demonstrably know what they’re doing. Most of our friends, acquaintances, and colleagues probably don’t.
Things change when you have money. There’s a big difference between walking into an interview with shaking hands because you NEED this job, and sauntering in knowing that you’d be doing them a huge favor by taking this job. The last time I went on an interview, they asked if there was anything else I wanted to say. I said, “It would be a good idea for you to hire me.” Fifteen minutes later, they called and offered me the position. That’s the confidence that comes from financial security.
The shackle I wear right now is really more of a length of twine. I could have taken it off some time ago. I no longer have the unstoppable, vein-pulsing intensity toward it that I did a decade ago, when I felt that the vastness of my debt was like a swallowing sea, undertow dragging me into an abyss. It’s just a little thing now. I’ll shake it loose with barely a pause in my stride.
This book is definitely for you if you read the full title and feel a little ping of intrigue. How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up. Emilie Wapnick gets it. The person who has one dream job, gets hired, and then does nothing else for an entire career is a rarity! (The only person I know who ever fit that description worked as a programmer in the games industry, but then he was promoted to technical director, so that may not count anymore). Most of us are going to fumble around, feeling at least somewhat adrift and dissatisfied. How to Be Everything is a handbook for all of us who know we have far more to offer than could ever fit in one ordinary job.
Wapnick introduces the concept of the multipotentialite. This is a person with multiple interests. For instance, Steve Martin is an actor, comedian, and author. I personally would not want him to stop doing any of these things, or focus on one to the exclusion of others. I wouldn’t even want him to focus his writing on just plays, novels, memoirs, or anything else he chooses to write. While there is only one Steve Martin, alas, the world can certainly use more multipotentialites like him.
What I love about the book is, first, its embrace of people like myself who could never settle on just one thing. I’ve been called a flake and a procrastinator. Close friends greeted my plans with skepticism, until I learned never to announce a project until it’s complete. I was useless and bored as an office assistant, a job that will quite soon be automated away by artificial intelligence and software anyway. Right now, I’m a coach, organizer, writer, and entrepreneur, with (currently unpaid) side interests in illustration, public speaking, and comedy. In a few years I’ll probably be describing myself in a different way. I find it amusing that a significant part of my income derives from royalties and dividends, rather than regular checks, although I sure like those, too.
How to Be Everything is a manual for people who want to fit in more of their interests. There are several types of multipotentialites, each quite different, and the book includes profiles of many of them. We get windows into the ways other people have found to make a living around their various interests. I think I’m a Phoenix. [I’ve since changed my mind, or... have I???]. The book addresses issues common to creative types, like impostor syndrome, procrastination, burnout, and indecision. I highly recommend reading it right away.
I read this book and wrote this review before going to the World Domination Summit and taking Emilie’s academy. Now I love the book even more! That was one of the most highly charged rooms I’ve ever been in. Hundreds of us, chattering away, trading ideas, feeling like THIS IS A REAL THING. The most focused I’ve ever seen that many people was when we were directed to write a “master list” of all our interests. I have to say that meeting all these other multipotentialites and working through this material has changed my life and reorganized my brain. Thanks for that!
Going through an intensive learning experience with your spouse can result in some pretty interesting changes. This comes from new information, new perspectives, and the simple act of stepping away from your domestic routine for a week. Sometimes all it takes is to walk through your apartment door after some time away and realize that you’re ready to drop or add a habit. With something like the World Domination Summit, the changes can be radical indeed.
Last year, we went to WDS for the first time. On one hand was our shared experience. On the other hand was our shared decision that we would work together to become financially independent. Since then, we have sold our car and downsized to a tiny beach apartment, which means we’re currently a hair’s breadth from being completely debt-free. There were other major changes, but the relatively straightforward decision to focus on our finances wound up turning into a complete upending of our lifestyle. When we look back, it’s hard to remember how we ever wandered around without really attending to what is now such an obvious and important aspect of our marriage.
This year, one of our big takeaways was that it’s time to level up our fitness. We’re planning to shift from riding the bus and walking to riding our bikes. Since my husband’s job is six miles away, this could get interesting. I’ve been a bike commuter before, and it’s a very, very simple change. The point is that focusing on one specific area of life - money, fitness, communication - can be revolutionary. Usually the results tend to be unimaginable.
Our experience of WDS was different, and we realized that we were diverging more compared to last year’s experience. He has leaned more toward academies and meetups about communication and networking, which means he has met a lot more people than I have. He’s also had deeper conversations with them. It’s really cute to see how people light up when they see him. Meanwhile, I have leaned more toward informational stuff that has me typing notes at warp speed. Part of this has to do with our situations. He’s been in his dream career for decades, and he really has very little to learn about improving anything to do with work, productivity, sense of purpose, or increasing his income. I’m an empath, for whatever that’s worth, and I’ve flailed in areas where he is quite strong. It’s like we’re both doing a circuit in opposite directions and we’ll meet on the other side of the building. I’m excited to notice the changes in his communication style, and he’s intrigued with my upcoming (and secret) projects.
One takeaway we both had this year is that we have a lot to offer as teachers. I brought him in to do a section of my Curate Your Stuff meetup, and we were both pleased and surprised at the response to a topic he didn’t even realize he was going to introduce until he did it. (System 2 thinking and flow state). It felt easy and natural to share a speaking role. We’ve talked about it throughout the week, and there are a few topics we might do together, as well as things we would lead separately. Being in Toastmasters together has also led us to collaborate on our speaking skills, as we mentor and critique each other. That ability, that skill of constructive criticism in a professional manner, has its own ripple effect. We’re able to look at more of our plans objectively, taking in each other’s advice eagerly, feeling that it increases our regard for each other.
There’s a whole missing section here in my recap about all the machinations and projects that I have planned. Reason being, I made a firm commitment a few years ago not to share anything that’s still in the gestation stage. Anyone who wants to know what I’m up to can read it here on this blog, every business day at 9 AM. Unfinished projects and future plans? Those are for me. This has to do with my theory of building up The Steam, rather than dissipating it by talking about the project, rather than working on the project.
As a side note, I write about 10-20 pages a day 7 days a week, and about 4-7 pages of it shows up here in the blog 5 days a week.
When we meet other WDS attendees who have come back multiple years, we ask them what they’ve noticed has changed. They all, invariably, say that they’re here for the people and the community more than the content of the presentations. It starts to be more and more clear just why that is. The kindness, the instant connection, the curiosity and positivity, the way that people tend to excel at possibility thinking and brainstorming. The chasm between typical WDS behavior and crabby, uncivil civilian behavior. For instance, a guy moved out of his seat on our plane trip today, saying, “I don’t want to sit next to anyone.” Well, alrighty then… how heartbreaking that you would deprive us of the delight of your company… I am starting to think that some people think they are misanthropes or cynics simply due to the nature of their particular social circle.
This is the time when my husband and I start asking ourselves, “What do I want to get done by WDS next year?” It comes up quite a bit. It’s a surprisingly strong motivator. Level up and level up again. How is what we’ve learned going to show up in our behavior and our results?
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.