Eat Sleep Work Repeat is a pretty solid description of a lot of our workdays, even during stay-at-home orders. The only correction I would make is that I’m probably not alone in often eating while I work. When I quit my day job in 2010, I lost 15 pounds the first year just from not snacking at my desk. Anyway. Bruce Daisley is here to show us all how to replace the negative factors of our work lives with something nice. Yes, all of them!
Personally, I have it made. I can work from home, barefoot, next to an open window. This was literally my dream when I was 24. All the things that used to bother me about work are, at least temporarily, gone: The commute, getting up early to fuss with my hair, the dress code, wearing a badge, the burnt popcorn in the break room, and, worst of all, freezing all day most days. Now I can wrap up in a blanket when I need to and nobody even knows.
Isn’t it weird how the things we dislike about “work” usually aren’t related to the work itself? It’s the conditions that get us - that, or the friction of human interactions.
This book is arranged in short sections that are focused on specific, easily manageable changes. Some examples would be taking an actual lunch break, or banning phones from meetings. Much of the book deals with ways that colleagues can help each other create a better work environment that is both more efficient and more fun. Eat Sleep Work Repeat is the rare sort of business book that can be shared at work and embraced by anyone who picks it up. Let’s all try to spread the word about some of these cultural changes so they become the norm... whenever we go back to having a norm.
Is it reasonable to expect to enjoy your job?
We’re overwhelmed with demands and expectations placed on us by others, but we have come to accept it all because we assume that’s the way it is and has to be.
Quite simply, when we laugh we’re willing to show our truest selves to others and be more open to the quirkiness of others.
I may be one of the only Mensans on Earth who scored in the 55th percentile in math. It’s unusual for a smart person to be that bad at something - usually people’s abilities are pretty level across the board. I’m starting to want to challenge my image of myself as someone who Is Bad At Math. This means confronting my math anxiety.
Does math make me anxious because I’m bad at it, or am I bad about it because I psych myself out?
A woman engineer math-splained to me once that I must have formally decided, as a middle school girl, to quit being good at math in order to impress boys. This was not her opinion, it was FACT. We had known each other for 15 minutes.
On the contrary, I wanted to tell her, I had always assumed I was good at math and always would be. I thought it just went along with being a kid in the talented and gifted program. My mom was good at math and her mom was a bookkeeper. Why would I not follow in their footsteps?
I started having issues in Intro to Algebra in 7th grade. By Geometry in 9th grade, I knew I was in trouble.
The problem was that I might do well in one section that I understood, and then do poorly in another section that was over my head. As long as my grades were Bs and Cs, I kept getting moved along. Then a new section would come along that built on something else, usually something that I had not mastered, and of course I would get even more confused. The further along I got, the worse it got, and the harder it would be to identify the source of the problem.
My emotional reactions to struggling with this material were probably pretty standard. Shame, guilt, frustration, dread.
Someone who is good at doing something, but not good at teaching, will often react in disbelief. WHY are you not getting this? What’s your problem? But of course you don’t know what you don’t know. If you could explain what it was that you didn’t understand, you would understand it.
I did extra work. I did the practice tests. I tried the extra credit problems. I stayed after with my kind-hearted Santa of a math teacher, who gave up many an afternoon to try to teach me proofs. I asked my friends. I even got my high school boyfriend to tutor me. (He now has a PhD and academic publications to his name).
None of this got me far. Grit, unfortunately, is not always the answer to every problem.
One of my issues was making minor arithmetic errors while solving the main problem. I would often write down numerals in the wrong order, something that still confounds me as an adult when I’m tired. I have no idea how to resolve this or whether it will always be a stumbling block.
As an adult, I think the structure of math classes is fundamentally damaging for the majority. Each student should simply keep working on one section until it’s easy. We should never be pushed along the continuum without mastering something. This could easily be done with software, or a self-paced course with a workbook. In a traditional classroom setting, students like me are always going to be left further and further behind.
Let me pause to say that I am a Mensan who was identified as ‘talented and gifted’ at age 8. I can read six writing systems, including Japanese, Greek, and Cyrillic. I can write with my right hand while using chopsticks with my left hand. I’m... not average.
When someone like me, a smug little bookworm, a kid whom other kids called ‘Brainiac’ - when someone like me hits an academic wall by age 12, then it’s possible there might be an issue with the pedagogy and not just the student.
This is how I start to rebuild my fragile image as a math student. I pull on other parts of my identity that are stronger. I am a grind. I am good at parking my butt and hitting the books. I am willing to do practice tests over and over again until I improve my score.
The reason all this is coming up is that I decided I want to go to grad school, and grad school probably means taking the GRE. That’s the standardized test that gets you in. I knew enough to know that the GRE has a math section. Logically, then, if I want to go to grad school then I need to do some remedial math. I haven’t taken a math class since 1993 and it would be very surprising to just waltz in and get a passing score.
I did some basic web searching, and in a few minutes I had the basic facts put together. You can take the GRE any day of the year, either proctored or online. Yes, you can do practice exams, take prep courses, and/or hire a tutor. As a young student, the cost of this stuff would have made my eyes roll back in my head. As a mature business professional, I barely batted an eye.
Then I sat down and looked at some practice questions. I had no idea how to tackle any of them, not even the first one.
My eyes teared up. My husband asked me to read him one.
“I don’t want to.”
“I don’t want you to realize how much trouble I’m in because you would... pity me.”
Let me pause to say that my husband is an aerospace engineer who uses calculus every day in his work.
Another person would look at this scenario and wonder, what’s the problem? You mean you want to crush the GRE and you can just ask your husband to tutor you for free? It’ll be easy for him. His incentive would be for you to get an advanced degree and then increase your earning potential accordingly.
From inside the scenario, it feels like being in an arena with a man-eating lion and no spear. Just me and my shame down here. No big deal, it’s only me confronting my single largest self-esteem issue, one that seems arbitrarily placed between me and something I really really want.
Chances are, I may still be able to figure out a hack that gets me accepted into grad school without taking the GRE. I got my bachelor’s without taking a single math class. If anyone can figure out a way around this, if anyone has enough motivation to try, it’s me.
The question is really whether I intend to go through life letting this one single thing kick me around. Am I willing to let my math anxiety continue to control what I do and what I don’t do? Do I end my days letting it win? Or do I pick myself up and prepare to fight?
During our WDS weekend, we learned a bit more about chronotypes and how they affect our energy level. This information changed how we look at our sleep schedules and how we structure our days, especially now that we are in isolation for the foreseeable future.
The first thing we did was take a quiz: http://www.thepowerofwhenquiz.com/.
Before this, I would have said that I’m a night owl and my husband is a lark. It didn’t occur to me that there would be more than two types of sleepers. I always figured that most people don’t get enough sleep for situational reasons, such as long commutes or intervening opportunities like the internet.
It took just a couple of minutes to find out that my hubby and our friend, like the majority of people, are Bears, while I’m a Dolphin.
This basically means that they have consistent energy levels throughout the day and, if they didn’t get enough sleep one night, they’ll just go to sleep earlier the next.
Being a Dolphin - the rare 10% - basically means any little thing will mess with my sleep, and as a result I feel tired most of the time.
This all felt true enough. What was surprising, and what I don’t particularly agree with, is that these sleep animals are supposed to go to bed and wake up at particular times. They gave Bears 11 pm to 7 am, and Dolphins like me midnight to 6 am.
If I only slept six hours a night, I would be a walking disaster. I know because I’ve had to do it. The biggest issue I have always had with sleep is that I can’t necessarily fall asleep just because I’m tired. If I have a set schedule that involves being somewhere early in the morning most days of the week, it can take months to adjust.
I just started a new job, and since we work at home, I can roll out of bed at 7:30 and still be early for 8 am meetings. The first couple of weeks were exhausting. Now, in the third month, I can sometimes wake up naturally before my alarm goes off. There have been days, though, when I could barely make it and crawled off to take a nap immediately after clocking out.
Sleep is always the #1 factor in my mood and energy level. It also seems to have a huge effect on my immune system; when I’ve been sleeping poorly I seem to get every cold and flu that comes through.
Being a Dolphin married to a Bear is lucky for me and doesn’t seem to matter all that much to him. He sleeps so soundly that, over the years, it seems to have entrained me to sleep better too. Sometimes he even sleeps through my night terrors. One night I woke up screaming and he just reached over and patted me a few times and went back to sleep.
We’ve had two issues where my significant sleep problems have required his involvement.
One, the case of the loud upstairs neighbors. I asked him to intervene with the property manager a couple of times when I felt I wasn’t being heard. I asked him to help me figure out something for noise cancellation, an engineering solution perhaps? Finally we just relocated, which we wouldn’t have done for at least a few more years if my sleep problems hadn’t gotten completely out of control.
Sometimes the alarm would go off in the morning and I would burst into tears because I hadn’t slept all night.
The second issue was more personal. Just as we would be winding down for the night, my hubby would read something in the news that got him agitated, and he would want to talk to me about it. It was like tossing a ball. He would throw it and I would catch it. He would then peacefully drop off to sleep and I would like awake until 2 am.
I brought it up. I begged. I pleaded. I set a reminder on our shared list that went off every night at 9 pm. This was the “nothing but puppies, kittens, and rainbows” alarm.
Honestly it took about five years for this pattern to finally sink in.
It’s not that we can’t talk about current events, or have passionate discussions and disagreement about various philosophical points. It’s just that I have to hit pause at 9:00 if I want to be able to drop off to sleep.
I have no problem setting this boundary with other people if we happen to be up that late. Everyone I know is guaranteed to be worn out from hearing about my parasomnia disorder, so it’s better for everyone if they agree to my demands quickly.
I have a contrarian opinion about stress and anxiety. I understand that this opinion is not mainstream, but the more I read and the longer I live, the more I think I’m right and everyone else has things upside down.
The prevailing opinion seems to be that “stress” causes almost all illness, and that factors of mood and attitude drive disease.
Okay, but why would “stress” branch out and cause a hundred thousand completely different types of illness?
Doesn’t it make more sense that illness arises in the physical body, and that the person then starts to feel stress *as a result*? That stress is a natural, universal reaction to maybe even a sub-clinical stage of any of a hundred thousand physical causes?
This is why I think my parasomnia problem is neurochemical. I bet better and more widespread brain scanning would reveal more patterns like this. It makes perfect sense to me that the 10% of “Dolphins” who have trouble sleeping have more in common than some kind of personality trait. Part of why I can say this is that my Bear husband has at least as much stress in his life as I do, and he seems to sleep just fine.
Assessments like these animal chronotypes are a good idea for helping people to be considerate and accommodating of each other’s needs. This is even more important when the people involved share a roof or, especially, a bed. Let’s all be kind to each other and try to help each other get enough rest every night.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m getting a bit bored, cooped up here in our 650-square-foot apartment. I’m dangerous when I’m bored. It gives me wild ideas, like Knife Fighting (2018) or Let’s Get Jobs in Antarctica (2016) or I’m Running a Marathon (2014) or My Telekinetic Powers Work on Slot Machines (2005). Track record: Not perfect.
This time, it’s: Grad School, Why Not?
The first thing I do is to start asking around. “I’m thinking about X project. Do you know anything about it?”
First I asked a colleague in the field where I want to study. She immediately replied with the top four schools in our field.
The nearest person I know who has been to grad school happens to be my husband. I asked him. He asked why I wanted to go. Then he told me I might as well go straight into a doctoral program: “A master’s degree is a side effect of getting a PhD.”
He also said I should 1. Try to get a fellowship; 2. See if I could get recommendation letters from professional colleagues, rather than professors; 3. Call the school and ask if they would admit me without having to take the GRE.
I haven’t been in the classroom since 2004, and I haven’t taken math since 1993, which makes me a non-traditional student. The rules may be different for a returning student like me than they are for a fresh-faced kid.
I take all these ideas under advisement. My starting assumption is that I will need to go the traditional route. Since it’s already July, I “won’t be going to school in academic year 2021.” If I need to study remedial math in order to pass the GRE, then I will probably need at least a year to prepare.
Hubby says, “Why? It might be easier to get in for winter term anyway.” He still doesn’t see why I think I’ll probably have to take the GRE, just because most people do.
Again, he might be right, and I have to keep readjusting my expectations.
When I started running, it was not with the goal of completing a marathon. It was with the goal of running a specific route, 2 1/4 miles with a 200’ elevation gain. I thought it would take me a full year, adding one sidewalk square at a time. My hubby was like, No way is that going to take you all year. I was like, Why are you pressuring me?? This is hard! He was right, of course; by the end of the year I could easily do 4x my original goal. It only took me four years to reach marathon distance.
I did it again when I decided to work on my fear of public speaking. I joined Toastmasters, not knowing anything about the program, and four years later I got my DTM.
My experience has consistently been that four years is long enough to accomplish most standard goals, even when I go in with a completely blank beginner’s mind. Even when I start with considerable obstacles, like a phobia or poor baseline fitness, four years is a pretty long time!
It’s hard to imagine going after a goal that can be completed in a shorter timeframe.
Wait, you mean I could be enrolled by (checks dates)... it’s a semester system so... I could be enrolled by January if I get my application in by September 1?
But that’s in like 5 minutes!
Now I have two projects that run on parallel tracks.
I have the default, usually known as Plan A. Working backward, I get a PhD by enrolling in grad school by passing the GRE by taking practice tests and improving my math competencies. Using this formulation, I have framed my math anxiety as the major obstacle between me and my stated goal. I work on my fixed mindset issue and I get some math apps.
Then I have an alternate path, Plan B, derived from conversation with a subject matter expert. What did this person actually do to reach the goal that I want?
In this case, his new boss at his first job out of college asked him, at his first one-on-one, When are you going to grad school? He was like, Uh, I don’t even want to do that because I just graduated and I could use a break. They were like DO EET and they paid him to go, but he had to do grad school while holding down a full-time job, working overtime, with a new baby.
He passed the GRE by flipping through a prep book before the exam.
Does my consulting subject matter expert’s experience map with mine?
Well, ah, yes and no. He went to grad school because his boss made him, because it was directly related to his work. I want to go just for the experience of being back in school. I just need an excuse.
There’s something I’ve noticed since I entered the rarefied world of aerospace. There are noticeable differences between people with advanced degrees and everyone else. They solve problems differently. This is what I’m after, the secret of whatever initiation rites they passed during post-grad. Whether it ever turns into a different job one day, or not, is somewhat irrelevant to my purposes.
I want to be where the action is. I want to satisfy this itch that I have to go back to school. I want a way to keep busy while we wait out the pandemic. I also have a deep curiosity about my field, and I see this as a chance not just to learn more, but to hang out with other people who share this interest.
I have the motivation and I have the time.
The next questions are a routine part of my inquiry flowchart. 1. What’s the least expensive way to do this? 2. How many of these requirements can I skip or test out of? 3. Can I actually get paid to do this?
I keep pushing the marble down the track. When tackling a big project, you don’t have to know all the steps, or even most of the steps. Just come up with a micro-step and then take action as quickly as possible. I’ve found out where I would go and what the annual deadlines are. I’ve found out about the GRE, where and when I could take it and how much it costs.
Next steps: Contact someone in the admissions office and ask for advice. Contact the department at my work that handles tuition reimbursement and ask them for advice, too. Find an online math placement test and figure out where I stand.
After all this, maybe I’ll wind up going, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll graduate, maybe I won’t. The only adverse outcomes would be boring myself or going into debt, which at least in this case I would be able to foresee in advance and avoid. Therefore the worst case scenario is that I learn a lot about the process of applying to grad school as a returning student, and I can then share that information with someone else.
There is never a wrong time for a great idea. The trouble is, great ideas usually come across as bad ideas. This is why most people will make incremental changes - or none at all - at crisis points, even when a radical change is the only real solution to the problem.
Example: evacuation. Nobody ever *wants* to evacuate. Even though we all know what wildfires and hurricanes and floods are, we don’t want to believe that this is our movie now. There are always stubborn holdouts, and then there are the last of the procrastinators who always think we have more time than we do. Groups with different motives and different emotional reactions can still wind up with the same sad outcomes.
Making decisions is hard. There are consequences for being wrong that tend to look more likely than the consequences of what probably feels unrealistic. (The category five storm, the ashes that used to be a house, the empty retirement account, the foreclosure, whatever is the name of the new living nightmare). Not me, nope! Not going to happen!
This is why it’s easier to plan for these eventualities, game them out and prepare. Then it doesn’t feel as much like a ‘decision’ as simply following a policy.
This is why we have go bags, and it’s why we have emergency savings, and it’s why we have advance care directives, and it’s why we occasionally do a bit of theoretical modeling of threat scenarios. Put a plan in place, and those couple of hours of forecasting can translate to peace of mind that lasts for years.
Ironically, we worry more when we have no plan than we do in the process of making a plan.
Some of the toughest plans to make are the financial plans. It’s not uncommon for a couple to know exactly who they would want to take their kids if something happened to both of them. That is an incredibly depressing scenario! Yet everyone involved feels better if there’s a plan, because those kids really, really matter.
Why and how would it be scarier or more depressing to talk about various financial outcomes than it would the prospect of orphaned children?
Simple: The orphan scenario will probably never happen, but the financial situation is happening right now.
Troubleshooting is a process of root cause analysis. Without professional training, it can feel like someone is looking for someone else to blame. Default reaction here is always going to be defensiveness. “Me?!? What about YOU?!?”
That’s the thing about radical change, though. It doesn’t matter what happened before. What matters is that from now on, the entire nature of the game is going to be different. We’re just starting fresh.
We’re going to sit together, and we’re going to learn what we don’t know, and we’re going to figure out a plan that actually works.
No matter what anybody else thinks.
My husband and I are living a radical lifestyle that is wildly divergent from the values we were both taught as kids, which are basically:
Live near where you grew up, where you know everyone and you have a network of people to trade favors. Buy a house there so it will grow in value. Have two cars for maximum freedom.
Neither of us has any plans to do any of these things, and we’ve had to explain ourselves to family, friends, and colleagues several times. My husband will even get out a calculator and go through the math to show that we’ve done our due diligence. Our financial policy is pretty unpopular.
Buying a house is a bad idea in many cities, and it’s always a bad idea if you live there less than five years. Owning one car (much less two or more) is unnecessary, expensive, and even dangerous. Relocate strategically for your career. Live on only half your income at most.
Granted, most couples are not going to do what we do, and that’s perfectly fine. Be normal, be happy. You do you.
Just because you don’t want to do what we’re doing, though, doesn’t mean that your current plan is working for you. It’s not an either/or choice. It’s a false dilemma to hold up something extreme as the only possible alternative to what you’re doing now.
The questions are:
Is your current plan working for everyone involved?
What does everyone involved want to be doing in five years, and do you have a plan to get there?
“Working” means that it’s sustainable indefinitely. The schedule is manageable, everyone involved carries a fair load and has high quality leisure time, everyone involved is living their most cherished values and working toward their purpose. Income is higher than expenses. If there is debt, it’s trending downward, not plateauing or increasing.
Note that this probably does not describe the majority of American households.
The way to initiate a radical reassessment conversation with your partner is to be willing to go first. Come to the table with some ideas of what you specifically want - that helps - but also try to outline something that your partner wants. If you lead with how making a change will help get them what they want, you can start the conversation on a high note and skip right past all the blame and recriminations.
It can really help to bring a story, an example of someone else who has done what you want to do. Fortunately, there are couples in the FIRE community of all ages who share their personal stories of financial independence. You can share ours:
We radically downsized to 1/4 the living space and got rid of over 80% of our stuff. Now we live in a nice apartment less than a mile from the beach, working our dream jobs, and we invest over half our income. We’re debt-free, of course - we don’t even have a mortgage. We haven’t argued about money for many years.
It’s a pretty basic formula. If you’re in financial trouble, you can either increase your income, cut your living expenses, or both. You can make a temporary change, like moving to a much cheaper home or selling a vehicle, and agree to reinflate your lifestyle at a designated point. You can choose to approach your situation with good humor and excitement at how relieved you will be when all this stress is gone.
Look each other in the eye and commit: We’re a team. We can do this together.
“It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine,” we used to sing, back in the early Nineties. Everyone in Generation X knew this was coming, and that’s why we spent so much time cooped up in our rooms.
We had no idea how great things would be when we would find ourselves doing it all over again at some near-future point.
When we were young, we had to pay $16 for an album, or $1.99 for a cassette single, or try to record stuff off the radio. There was none of this free streaming on demand business. We had to go to the video rental store if we wanted to watch a movie or an old TV show - assuming they were available - and if someone else was watching it, we had to wait until next time.
WE HAD NO INTERNET
If we wanted to use the phone, we had to do it in the living room or the kitchen, where the entire family could overhear us and would often chime in on the conversation. Nobody could tell who was calling, so anyone might answer the phone. I recall an old roommate telling me, two days after the fact, that “some lady” had called for me... about a job posting...
Nobody had seen grocery delivery since, like, the Fifties. The only hot food you could really get delivered was pizza. Avocados were fairly expensive. If you ordered any kind of “stuff,” like from the Sears catalogue, everyone knew it took 6-8 weeks for delivery.
Okay, I hope I can get away with saying what I’m going to say next, because I’m a COVID-19 survivor, and I can claim that it seems to have warped my brain a bit.
If this is The End of the World as We Know It, it... isn’t as bad as it could be?
I’ve been comparing notes with some of my friends on what year would be the worst possible year in their life for COVID to happen. For me, it would have been either 1982 or 1999. Both of those were tough years anyway, but adding a pandemic to the scenario would have been devastating.
So far, everyone I’ve talked to has agreed that this is not the worst possible year for their personal timeline that this could have happened. The year of the divorce. The year of the cancer diagnosis. The year one of their parents died. Their brokest year, the year they had their worst roommate. All sorts of times that would have been harder.
Of course this isn’t going to feel true for everyone. A friend of mine lost her dad a couple months ago - he was a COVID doctor - and this is probably always going to be the worst year of her life.
Which brings me to an interesting, though somewhat taboo, point.
If this is the worst year of our lives...?
Does that not imply that if we get past it, at some future point, everything else will be at least a bit of a relief?
We’re at the midpoint of 2020, and this has been a truly rotten and terrible year in my life. I mean, bag it up and haul it out to the curb, right?
Still, I have to acknowledge, I did not die of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in December. My husband did not lose sight in his eye in February. I did not die of COVID-19 - I didn’t even have to check in to the hospital, and what’s more, I didn’t even have to pay for any of my treatment other than $10 for antibiotics.
This is the beginning of strategic adjustment, when we realize that hey, things could be worse.
It wasn’t all that long ago (two months, but who’s counting) when I was still feeling actively surprised each morning. Hey, I woke up! I don’t know how I would know if I didn’t? But I did notice and I did feel a sense of awe and wonder. For at least 45 seconds, before the day’s symptoms kicked into gear.
Nobody likes forced gratitude exercises, so let’s call it something else, something more hard-headed and practical. Let’s call it: inventory.
What is working? What is not a dripping bag of situational trash?
What resources do we have at our disposal? (Internet, literacy, running water and flush toilets, an education, pens with no caps, half a dozen USB cables, etc).
Example: I started saving all our cardboard for my little parrot, and built her a fort to keep her busy while we’re on work calls. She won’t play with a $15 bird toy from the pet store but she will play in her fort all day.
The other thing that is very important to consider is, what if dying is not the most pessimistic possible scenario? People forget to plan for this.
What if we live through all this, and in fact we live to be 90 years old, and because we assumed we’d die tragically young we didn’t save any money? Or wear sunblock or take care of our teeth?
For me, the most pessimistic baseline scenario is that I live to be 110 with no money, no house, no living family, and no friends. Whenever I think about future planning, whenever I’m at a choice point, I think of Very Old Me and what she would like me to do today.
There are two things I’m doing during this TEOTWAWKI-lite scenario. I’m working in my dream field and packing away money like a trembling hamster. I’m also scheming on how I can get paid to go to grad school for free. I figure the young ones are going to be more likely to put their educations on hold, because paying full fare for virtual classes is a giant rip-off. I’ll be 45+, though, and I don’t mind, so there will be less competition for slots. I have all the focus and self-discipline that I never did 20 years ago, and in fact I doubt there are very many young people who could beat me in that department.
This is TEOTWAWKI in lots of ways. A couple of them are probably good ways, and we won’t really have time to think about that until later. As long as I’m going to be cooped up indoors for what I assume will be the next three years, and I accept this depressing situation as my temporary reality, I am free to try to spin it in the most productive way that I can.
Is this the end of my world in its previous phase? Is it then the beginning of a new phase?
What a weird darn year, am I right? It went like this:
New Year’s Eve: ALL THE PLANS ALL THE THINGS
First Quarter: Guess what I have COVID
Second Quarter: Never mind, I got my dream job and I’m going to grad school
Also it looks like I might get a birthday this year after all!
I didn’t tell you all about this at the time, but the first weekend of January I put on an invitation-only workshop. I kept talking about “The Plot Twist.” I knew there was something coming, but I didn’t know what (obviously, or I would have tried to get to the ISS ASAP).
O hai plot twist
I’ve given up really trying to anticipate or plan in great specificity. It both does and does not work, as I’m sure you can all agree. What I said in my workshop was that the only way to make progress on the personal level is to somehow try to ignore the news and avoid letting current events mess with your plans. How possible is this, who knows, but I suppose we are all equally positioned to find out now.
This year I decided to do both annual and decade goals. My husband and I stumbled across some papers with our ten-year financial goals, and we had the funny realization that we had hit them on schedule with about a +1% margin. We were talking about making new goals for the next ten years literally the week before shutdown... and then I got deathly ill, and then the dream job opened up while I was still dissolving into the sofa. We still need to get back on that.
...or, do we? We’re making more than we ever have, either of us, and we’re also spending very little since we’re trapped in our dinky apartment. We’re living on probably less than half our income, not sure since we haven’t bothered to crunch those numbers yet. Maybe we just shrug and keep saving for a while.
This Is Strategy, my friends. Make a decision and GO. Refine as necessary.
Personal: This year I chose body transformation as my major personal goal. Should have been more specific. Can I have POSITIVE and USEFUL body transformation this time??
Career: Learn to do webinars. Whoa, was this ever on the nose. It seems like all of a sudden my entire life is webinars. My team suddenly had to learn to do virtual speech contests with less than a week’s notice, and we led the district in that effort on the technical side. I have now used every available web conferencing platform, and I have seen and heard probably every possible glitch and snafu, including accidentally overhearing people yell at their kids or use a toilet. The next step would be to host my own online workshops. We’ll see. My “career” goal seems to have been somewhat co-opted by my sudden acquisition of a traditional full-time job.
Physical: I survived COVID-19 and that’s about all I have on that subject right now.
Home: Automation project. This has new urgency, since we both are WFH now and we do a 9/80 schedule. Monday through Thursday are long days with barely the time to work out. Doing laundry and getting groceries are more complicated now than they were before. Plus we have had to find room for our extra food supplies in the second-smallest kitchen we’ve ever had.
Couples: Build an app together. Not sure if this will happen now that I’m working from home as well and my hubby just filed for his sixth patent. That’s okay, though, because our lives have changed so much during the pandemic. Last year, he was on travel over half the time and we hardly saw each other. Now we’re both working out of our living room and we’re together 99% of the time. App or no app, technically we *are* working together on a technology-related project, which is... our day jobs.
Stop goal: Stop procrastinating on text messages and voicemail. I was doing all right until I got sick. Now I have a backlog of DMs. Still focusing on this and trying to reframe it.
Lifestyle upgrades: Probably gum surgery. Let’s just say I am forming actual friendships with the people at my periodontist’s office. I have an appointment on 7/2 where I will find out the long-term strategy and next steps.
Do the Obvious: Plan around constant travel? Well, maybe. Travel has resumed at our work. The change here is that I may be the actual person booking the tickets for my hubby’s work trips now, which is ironic.
Ultralearning: Dutch language. I haven’t done much with this yet. I *have* suddenly found myself in the midst of an ultralearning situation, which is the fact that I need to get up to speed with several software titles for my new job. I am still very much in the “learn something new every day” phase. I’m also looking into grad school. If I want to learn Dutch, in other words, I’d better get started quickly.
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon! (2025). If this happens after COVID it will be a grade-A miracle.
Wish: Publishing deal! I literally just took a publishing workshop. I think I’ve figured out a new angle for my book proposal post-COVID. This is going to be challenging to do, now that I am working full-time again, but I haven’t written it off. Wishes are for wishing.
As for our ten-year goals, the financial aspects are probably more achievable than ever, but the travel/outdoor goals may be less so. We’ll just hope that these things can be back on the calendar within the decade.
How are you doing on your own goals? Are there any areas of your life that are going unexpectedly well right now? Are you as glad as I am not to have died of COVID-19?
Personal: Body transformation
Career: Learn how to do webinars
Physical: Weight at 125 lbs.
Home: Automation project
Couples: Build an app together
Stop goal: Stop procrastinating on text messages and voicemail
Lifestyle upgrades: Probably gum surgery
Do the Obvious: Plan around constant travel
Ultralearning: Dutch language
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon! (2025)
Wish: Publishing deal!
2030 - Ten Year Goals and Resolutions
Personal: Silver Fox project
Career: Published author
Physical: 50 for 50 ultramarathon!
Home: Buy a house to live in
Couples: Camping, hiking, backpacking, and bicycling together
Stop goal: Stop procrastinating in general
Lifestyle upgrades: A garden
Do the Obvious: Plan around constant travel
Ultralearning: Write screenplays
Quest: Visit Antarctica
There is something about being midway through a special event like World Domination Summit that makes it so fun to wake up. You have at least one previous day to mull over, and still at least one more day of exciting things to anticipate.
We got to sleep in a little, since the first event wasn’t until 10 am, and something funny happened right away.
I was doing “Laughter Yoga,” the purpose of which is to laugh even if you have to start out faking it. I was sitting at the dining table with my headphones on, clearly on a call, when my husband walked out into the living room after his shower. Au naturel. I knew he wasn’t visible on camera - but he didn’t! I don’t know if there is a yoga name for the physical motions that he did, but there definitely should be.
Let’s just say I didn’t have to fake laughing for the rest of the session.
After laughing yoga, QT picked us up, and we ordered lunch while we set up the big screen at her place.
Our first group session was Ben Allen’s workshop on Micro Books. We all took vigorous notes. He is an incredibly charismatic and fascinating presenter. His premise is that both readers and publishers are looking for books under 25,000 words. It’s much easier to test an idea with an audience if you can write and publish something quickly, while it’s still relevant. You can do a series on your topic that is more targeted to your readers’ needs, while also earning more and seeing results sooner.
Obviously I have a ton of ideas for micro books of my own. This feels like something I could manage while working full-time, especially since my 9/80 schedule allows for predictable three-day weekends.
We had a half-hour break before our next meetup, which we used to compare notes and talk about our book ideas. QT wants to do a book with her sister, who said Yes before the call was even finished, and doesn’t that make you cry??
Next we did a session called “The Anti-40-Hour Workweek.” The idea is how to build your income and work life around your chronotype, mental bandwidth, and physical energy levels. QT and my husband are both Bears and I’m a Dolphin - more on this in another post - and this sort of explains everything! We did breakout sessions and brainstorming direct actions we could take. I typed up a whole list of things I can do to support getting more sleep and freeing up more time on weekends. It’s a bummer, but as a COVID survivor I will just have to plan around my energy level more than I did in the past if I ever want to do anything cool.
We had a break before our next session, which we spent eating cake and watching a Masterclass. (Or, it’s on in the background while I multi-task, working on this blog and my tech newsletter).
Our next session was “Rewrite Your Future History.” We did three versions of our timeline for the next five years. First, whatever would be default mode if nothing changes. Second, what if everything quit working and you had to make a sudden change. Third, what you would do if money and time were no object.
This was a trippy experience for me, because my default position is actually great! I wasn’t particularly bothered by the prospect of everything collapsing and having to start over, because I’ve done it before several times and I always have at least Plans A through G. We’re already in TEOTWAKI-lite mode. At this point, I believe that I thrive on crisis, and it’s an opportunity for me to come out ahead while other people panic and make poor strategic decisions. What was alarming to me was actually the “if money and time were no object” scenario.
We did breakout sessions where we described our third timeline, working backward from the “I’m traveling the world after winning the lottery” scenario. This is hard for people! I found that it was easier for me to help other people come up with a more vivid and detailed vision for themselves than it was to concentrate on my own timeline. Hmm. That would make it more of a fun ideation exercise than serious inner work with an implied commitment, wouldn’t it?
This was a great session and we were all buzzing about our plans. Then we ordered dinner and got ready for our last session.
We ended the night with “10 Fun Games to Play on Zoom” with Caelan Huntress. We thought it would be a casual hangout, but it turns out that it was run by one of the most polished and professional presenters we’ve ever seen. He managed his hour so well that he made it look easy - which we know it isn’t - and not only ended on schedule, but actually managed to fit all ten games into one hour! It felt like a game, and also a game-within-a-game, as we took notes and focused on how we could use these games with our families and at work. We even learned some app features that we hadn’t seen yet, which is nuts since we’ve all been living on Zoom lately. If you’re doing a lot of Zoom stuff professionally, you should check him out.
One of the games was “Terrible Gifts,” in which one person pretends to give the other the worst present they can think of, and the other pretends to accept it with enthusiasm and gratitude. I “got” a porcupine that had been in an oil spill, and I said I would give him a forever home and take him into the bathtub with me. Then we decided I could replace his collar with one that I knit from my own hair. Should I call him Porky or Pokey?
This was a weekend that felt like a week! We got to catch up with old friends, laugh a lot, and learn some technical tricks that we will use right away at work. I think all three of us feel like we have redirected some of our goals and plans for the rest of the year. I’m getting out my hula hoop and reminding myself that another way of doing things is possible - well, lots of other ways - and probably the WDS way is the best way.
This is technically our fifth World Domination Summit, a placeholder until we can hopefully hold the 10th and final WDS next year. Our first event in 2016 completely changed our marriage and our life. Ever since then, we’ve done all our goal-planning around what has become the center of our year.
Since our first WDS, we paid off all our debt, radically downsized, started living on half our income, went car-free, packed up everything to move to the beach, we both have our dream job, my hubby has just filed for his sixth patent, and now I’m planning to go to grad school.
It’s hard to imagine where we’d be without WDS as an energetic recharge and such a big part of our strategic planning.
This year, rather than a full week including a family visit, running around Portland at all hours, going to Powell’s Books, and all that... we managed to condense the event into two days of volunteer-led Zoom calls.
Starting off the day at 9 am was a treat, a fascinating view into Chris Guillebeau’s living room. We also started seeing names and faces we recognized from previous years, and every time we’d be like HEY!!!
The next meetup I did was on the “Eight Play Personalities.” It started on a somewhat downbeat note, as people related about all the activities we can no longer do during the pandemic. We missed each other, we felt cheated to have to postpone WDS, some of us were very isolated indeed and not getting human contact.
Ahh, but THEN! WDS magic kicked in as everyone started sharing ways we played when we were kids. Instantly the mood swiveled to excitement and hilarity, especially as one person’s favorite childhood activity was ‘playing in the mud.’ We started remembering that once upon a time, we knew how to enjoy ourselves. We all had dozens of ways to bring those feelings back into our stressed adult lives, usually without spending money or having to leave the house. As we started brainstorming how we could fit more of these once-cherished frolics into our workaday lives, it seemed so simple.
Note that creativity, joy, curiosity, awe, and laughter can’t share the same space with stress, anxiety, dread, or boredom. Which one is going to be the default?
What did you do for fun as a kid? Are you still doing it sometimes? Are you making time for the things you enjoy now that you’re a grown-up? If not, what are you going to do and when?
I chose hula hooping as a break, something I can probably only do for a minute or two anyway right now.
We ended on a high note, just in time for QT to pick us up, grab curbside lunch, and take us over to her place.
The first meetup we did as a quaranteam was “Celebrating Failure to Skyrocket Success.” At first we were trying to parse the title with the emphasis on “failure to skyrocket” - which seems like an issue common to overachievers and also something particularly relevant to the aerospace industry.
For an event on failure, the mood was mostly cheerful. The main theme seemed to be someone judging themselves extremely harshly for a personal standard that didn’t necessarily matter to anyone else. This is what makes fail stories so funny and relatable, because it reminds us of our own overreactions to our own petty mis-steps.
I shared how I accidentally unmuted myself at my new job while I was picking up my parrot. Roughly 35 people got to hear me saying, in cutesy pet voice: “Come here, baby” followed by smooching sounds. Including my new boss and my HR rep. Which is even funnier considering that everyone on the call knows that my husband and I both work at home, in the same department. I only just now realized they might have thought I was talking to him.
How would things be different if we focused more on our strengths and enjoying what we do well, rather than beating ourselves up for minor mistakes that other people might not even notice or care about?
Our next meetup was “Visioning for Leaders.” We did breakout sessions with a partner. We clicked so well with our partner, who lives on the East Coast, that we traded email addresses and she wrote back to us right away! Love this idea: a manager in the staid field of finance who wants her entire team to go paperless and have flexible schedules - because she wants to work on the beach! We were like, If you can do it in your industry, anyone can, and guess what, you are exactly the person with the power to shrug and say, Why the heck not.
What if *your* boss secretly wanted everyone to have desk independence and wasn’t sure if everyone would be on board?
We suggested that she start by telling her team about her vision of herself working from a beach chair, then ask everyone what their motivating image was. Now, how do we work backward from there, and can we do it by next year?
We didn’t have anything else between this meetup and the closing ceremony, so we hung out and talked about our goals.
Last week I was wrestling with impostor syndrome and feelings of inadequacy in my new job, perhaps exacerbated by the fact that I am now surrounded by people with doctorates, patents, and academic publications.
After just one day of World Domination Summit, I am reminded that I was hired for my considerable gifts in ideation, one of the things I find most fun and awesome in life. My job is literally a wish come true. I have tons of positivity that I should be bringing with me.
What are you best at? What do you enjoy the most? If you aren’t living your wish right now, what would that look and feel like?
Leading Without Authority is an automatic classic. This is not a motivational business book in the traditional sense. It’s more of a tell-it-like-it-is guide to why some people are really hard to work with, which can be so refreshing. Read the right way, Keith Ferrazzi’s book can help deal with not just frustrating people at work, but frustrating people at home, too.
What I love about this book is the concept of co-elevation, that improvement is a group project. I can’t become a better person without having a positive effect on others. Helping others, in turn, is a form of self-improvement. Any person at any level has the power to reach out and try to solve problems in the workplace, no matter how pernicious.
Try, anyway. Usually it’s the small stuff that rankles on us more. We can sort of learn to accept larger issues - like my first job at a mortgage bank, where I knew they sometimes foreclosed on people - but daily friction with our coworkers can become nearly intolerable. That’s usually why people quit, because there is that one person (or boss) they just can’t stand any more.
Part of the reason why is that we feel like we’re expected to pretend these interpersonal issues don’t happen. Meanwhile, the person who is bothering us - and possibly everyone - may have no idea! We only know how other people perceive us if they tell us.
Ferrazzi encourages us to approach the people we’ve written off and figure out a way to work with them. Leading Without Authority has a bunch of examples of how much this oogs people out, how they’d basically do anything to avoid this type of conversation, but then how they did it and managed to make a real connection.
I have tried this and I have to say, it does usually work. There are people out there who are unapologetic jerks, and it can be funny to have a conversation with them about their methods, because they have no problem admitting their part in things. Other times, the person everyone is whispering about is totally oblivious.
One of these successes involved the guy who always came to the potluck but never brought anything. I hate nothing more than when people talk smack about someone behind their back and refuse to confront them directly. I said to him mildly, “Usually when people come to a potluck they bring something, like a bag of chips or some paper plates.” “Oh?” he said. He was from Ukraine and, guess what? This was a completely new custom to him, so how was that his fault? From that point forward, he always made sure to bring a contribution.
Start with the assumption that people are nicer than you think they are.
Another occasion that went much better than I expected: I worked at a campus with limited parking. There weren’t enough parking permits to go around, and they only lasted a year. The person in charge issued new permits, and suddenly several people found out that their permits had arbitrarily been canceled with no notice. (!) Mass outrage. I suggested that at least a form letter should go out to tell people, if not some other systemic reforms, but nobody wanted to confront this infamous Revoker of Permits. I volunteered as tribute. I emailed her, and she literally invited me to her office for tea and cookies. She had an entire collection of beautiful teapots and an oak dining table she had brought from home, complete with cloth napkins. I made my suggestions, she instantly agreed, and then we just hung out and ate cookies together for a while. Not much of an ogre.
If you ever find yourself lying awake at night, going over a bad interaction at work or just dreading going in the next day, you need this book. Maybe everybody does. Leading Without Authority is most excellent, and I can vouch that its premise even works for lowly administrative assistants.
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.
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