How to Think

I see the end now. My plan is to be out of this hideous neo-slavery by the middle of September; the end of the year at the very latest.

No pay raise in the four years. No benefits added, despite something called the “Affordable Care Act” requiring employers like my own to provide health insurance. No improvement in work conditions. No anything except continuing child-like management and capricious oversight.

Not a pretty recipe.

But I am staying until the time is right for another reason, which is that I am writing a book. What I do night-to-night is sufficiently out of the mainstream – but likely of interest to a lot of people – that I am sure it has an audience. My competitive advantage is that I doubt that anyone with the wherewithal to write 100,000 cogent words has ever had my job.

That is a mixed reflection on me if ever there was.

Let’s not look back. I am writing 250 words a day. The shape of the book is coming into focus. And I have finally come to see how one needs to think about projects like this. But that’s for another post. Gotta head off and shackle myself for my gruel again.

Whither Happiness?

Amid the perfidy, you and I need to live our lives. Corruption, vested interests and outright criminality taint much of public life, but for the most part, what we do day-to-day isn’t that much affected.

It will in the long-run alter everything we do, but unless you take an enormously long-lens view, this afternoon is the same as every other. Yes, the media’s splashy stories grab our attention, purporting to make them relevant to everyone. But that’s not the case. Presidential politics is at best badly written soap opera; celebrity is court jesters pandering to the crowd; economics is dazzling magic tricks that make no sense.

Nope, none of these things change today.

Here is the inevitable truth: that we all somehow can only find happiness and satisfaction in the everyday. Locating ourselves in a circumstance we’d be okay repeating tomorrow remains as clear-cut – and elusive – as ever. Being in charge of your own orbit is challenging, subtle, empowering and sweet simultaneously. All that remains is to choose to make it so.

Through the Looking Glass

Your job is your most valuable asset. I stole that from Dave Ramsey, but figure that an attribution will make it okay. Your job, as Dave might say, creates the boundaries of your life, not in a spiritual way, but in most practical ways.

For instance, if you spend more than you make, you’ll have to make up the difference with borrowing or sale of assets. Borrowed money removes the control you have over that part of your income you need to pay the interest, thereby reducing the value of your job. Every hour you work then becomes less your own, and more someone else’s. Banks and payday lenders and car dealerships happily encourage you to spend much of your working day working for them.

Your life boundaries get a little tighter with every reduction of your income.

On the other hand, spending less than you make expands your life’s boundaries. Money saved or invested is a down-payment on freedom. Let’s think about a job as being a tactic to get where you want to be in life. The idea is to make the job optional.

This theme is important to me at the moment because I am pretty much obliged to work every weekend for a while. When you’re already working 55 hours a week, the additional eight or ten raise questions, like ‘Is this Sunday night really worth the one-off increase in my pay check? Wouldn’t I be better creating something that pays me when I’m NOT working?’

Of course I would. When you work for an hourly wage or even a yearly salary, you only get ahead to the extent that you can save and invest. It’s a (frightening) example of diminishing returns, because we all have only limited time. This extra hundred bucks needs to be re-earned every weekend, hour-by-hour.

There is be a better way. There is a way to expand my income with every hour spent, not limit the ratio to 1:1.

I plan to walk through that looking glass into a much smarter world.

Talking to a Stranger

Java skill, obtained
Java skill, obtained

 

It is true. Entering one’s sixth decade coincides with more thought of death. The rate of change towards our last breath remains the same, it merely seems faster. The fact is the same with or without the nuance; no matter how you think about it, death is closer that it was yesterday. Our time in this body is limited, and becoming more so.

The natural partner of our personal deathwatch is wonder at how to approach what’s left. I want to make each day count now, avoid dead-ends and pare back the fluff. Here, though, the paradox. Life consists of dead-ends and fluff. No sane individual expects their life to be one big highlight. Not every day can be a winner. The unspoken let-down of life is that it’s mostly about mowing the lawn and getting your hair cut. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the iPhone every day; you’re not going to either. In fact, I haven’t the time, I have to pick up my car after its oil change.

I reserve the right to change my thinking on this, but I think one big key to satisfaction in life is attaining competence in new things. Little things even. I’m lucky, I’ve seen more of the world than most people, and more of people than most people. People talk about the stuff that they’ve done right, that they know and like. They’ll tell you how they took an amazing underwater photograph, or learned how to sell insurance, or that they finally built the house of their dreams. In these and almost every other case I can think of, success at the new thing was the thing.

Squint close enough at this idea and you’ll see the whole history of our species. We’re not satisfied with stuff for long. The new, the challenge, the improved, the different, the what we don’t have gets us up in the morning. It’s the Jobs thing, but on a smaller scale. He made stuff that was new to all of us, but what’s new to us individually is quite good enough.

Although I need not say it I shall: Money won’t make you happy. It will make your misery more comfortable, for sure, and the theme of this blog is all about finding your way to financial independence. I want to make it clear that the ‘independence’ part is the important part. Two points about that. One, you cannot survive without money, but the less you have to do for it the more time you have for Two, the wonderful challenges at which you can succeed and be therefore fulfilled.

A better way of saying this might be that once you no longer need to spend your days grinding for money, it becomes less worthy of your attention. At that point life ceases to be about mowing your lawn and begins to be about learning how the German railway system works, or getting that guitar riff down or finding the nirvana of that yoga pose you enjoy most.

Namaste, independent achievers.