Minimalism has been on my mind for a few reasons recently. First, I bought a motorcycle. If minimalism were a religion, I'd probably be excommunicated for having more motorized vehicles than I have pairs of socks (RV, motorcycle, folding scooter, and electric skateboard vs. two pairs of socks). Second, I had a long conversation with Leo Babauta about minimalism, which brought it from the background of my life to a concept actually examined and discussed. And last, Erica twittered a video about minimalism that's clearly a parody, but makes some valid points along the way.
I sat at a poker table for a few hours tonight and got the coldest run of cards I've had since I can remember. I didn't lose a lot, I just sat there and folded everything. All that time that I WASN'T spending outfoxing my opponents and pulling down monster pots was spent thinking about why I became a minimalist, why I've stayed a minimalist, and what the point of it all is.
I became a minimalist on a lark, which, for better or worse, is why I do a lot of things. I bought an RV, thinking I'd take road trips in it, and from that point on I never slept in my condo again, and I started selling everything. Momentum kept pushing me, and before I knew it I didn't own anything that didn't fit in my 28 liter backpack.
A new friend asked me how I save money for travel. I get this question a lot, in different forms: how did I buy a Ducati? How can I afford not to work (people assume that because I don't have a job that I don't work)? How do I travel constantly?
These questions stab at the situation, but don't quite skewer the meat of the issue. A more useful question would be: "How do you manage your finances such that you're able to do whatever you want?"
The reason this question is a lot more meaningful is because it takes into account both sides of the invisible see-saw. People notice the things that I spend money on, but it's easy to ignore the things I don't spend money on. Let's dig into a few:
If you paid me fifty times what I make now to work at a regular job, I wouldn't do it.
Over the past few weeks I've informally asked some of my other entrepreneur friends how much they'd have to be paid to work a normal job in their industry. None of them quoted any reasonable figure. Some of them didn't want to answer the question because it was so uncomfortable to think about.
When Justin Frankel, creator of Winamp, quit AOL, he was offered a job by Microsoft. They asked what he needed to work there, and he responded with a written offer. In his list of necessities were things like a private jet, the ability to work remotely 100% of the time, and all boat rental fees to be reimbursed. It was a joke, but he sent it to them anyway. That's how abhorrent the idea of a real job was to him.
They say that we overestimate what we can do in the short term, and underestimate what we can do in the long term. As someone who's had his share of overstuffed todo lists, I believe that this is true.
You might find it to be useful to think two years in advance. There's some magic to that number-- it's not so far off that you can't imagine it. If you're thirty, for example, turning forty might seem so abstract as to be impossible, but certainly you can imagine thirty two.
And, as part of that imagining, you can also imagine what you might like to be different in those two years. After all, your needs and preferences will likely be about the same.
Although two years is short enough to visualize, it's also long enough to do just about anything. The idea of one's life changing in a day is a fairy tale, but changing completely in two years isn't even all that glamorous or dramatic.
(Yeah, I should have taken a picture of the meal, but I forgot about a photo until after I finished.)
I have no plans to make this blog into the cooking channel, but ever since writing about the MaxDiet, I get a lot of comments about how hard it is to cook healthily and questions about what sorts of dishes to make. Today I did an experiment to see if I could cook a delicious, well balanced, healthy meal in just one pot.
My basic formula for a well balanced meal is this:
When offering advice, I try really hard to actually give advice that's suited for the person I'm giving it to. I make an extra effort to do this, because I know that I have a tendency to think that my way is the best way for everyone, and to just advocate my way of doing things. But that effort to tailor advice goes out the window when I'm giving suggestions on where to travel to. My answer is almost always Japan.
I was thinking about this a couple days ago, as I found myself recommending Japan for the billionth time, and I realized that there are some interesting properties of Japan that make it a really ideal place to travel to, especially for people who want something more than a typical vacation, but don't know where to go.
1. It's Extraordinarily Interesting
Of all the places I've been, Japan is one of the most interesting. What makes Japan so interesting is that it's very different from anywhere else, mostly because it's so resistant to direct outside influence. If some external trend or business makes it to Japan, it doesn't arrive unscathed; it's first transformed into a thoroughly Japanese experience.
It's always better to look at actions than words. If someone says that they're committed to being healthy, but then they order a fat stack of pancakes... well, maybe they're not so committed after all. Recently I've been thinking about this truism in terms of goals and priorities. Your priorities are what they look like.
When you ask someone what his goals are, especially a young person, you'll probably end up hearing a bunch of talk about making money, traveling the world, getting healthy, learning some big skill, or contributing to the world in some way. Great goals. But if we examine people's actions, do they line up with these goals? Sometimes, but very often they're directly contrary to their goals.
The average person eats unhealthy food, spends a lot of time at a job he doesn't like, engages in junk entertainment like TV or video games, maybe drinks some alcohol, and then goes to sleep. Is he getting closer to his goals? Is he getting farther away from them? What can we conclude about the intent behind his goals?
Maybe the most interesting question would be: what goals is he moving towards? I'd say that he's moving towards comfort. Not decadent comfort like a hammock on a pristine beach, but the comfort of not having to think or exert himself. The comfort of mediocrity. And to be clear-- if someone says that comfort is his only goal, I'd have no criticism of these actions. I have different goals, but even I'm not arrogant enough to judge someone by my own goals rather than his own.
The first example I can remember was when my friends and I, nineteen at the time, bought a forty foot long school bus. The idea was so absurd and without precedent, that it seemed impossible. It was like being at a zoo, where you know that you're standing two feet away from a fully grown lion, but the invisible glass separating you prevents it from feeling real. We were ready to hand over cash and sign papers, but it seemed impossible that we would actually own this huge bus. It seemed as though some authority figure would appear out of nowhere and say, "Come on guys, this is ridiculous. Go back to school."
We bought the bus, and the world didn't come crashing down on us. In fact, the normalcy of the transaction, handing over cash for a title and some keys, was striking. What seemed like a big deal really wasn't. Buying the bus turned out to be a fantastic decision, despite everyone else thinking it would be otherwise.
We're a species that thrives on patterns, which is mostly a good thing, but it sometimes prevents us from looking outside society's canon of acceptable patterns. We all fantasize about things that we'd like to do, but then accept that they must be bad ideas because others aren't doing them. We mistake things that aren't being done for things that can't be done or shouldn't be done.
That school bus was a huge lesson for me, and not just because of what we had to learn to remodel it into a road trip vehicle. I learned something more fundamental and important, which has largely guided my life since then. My friends and I had an idea, it was derided as crazy by everyone else, but we did it and it worked out perfectly. For the first time I realized that I could do whatever I wanted to do, and it would be okay.
One of the fundamental pillars of being someone who executes (does executioner sound too extreme?) is trusting yourself completely. Only when you have that trust can you reliably reach goals over the mid and long terms.
By trusting yourself completely, I mean that if you decide internally that you are going to do something, you will almost certainly make it happen, and if it doesn't, the excuse will be really good.
For example, I decided 112 days ago that I was going to do a language tape every day until I ran through every Pimsleur method series for all of the major languages. Because I trust myself, I knew without any doubt that I would follow through and do the tapes. I did miss one day, because I got food poisoning, passed out, and smashed my face on the toilet. Even then I didn't mean to skip the tape, but I was so dizzy that I took a nap that ended up lasting until the next day. I accepted that excuse.
A good way to put "complete self trust" into context, is to think of how you relate with a trustworthy person. For example, I trust my friend and cofounder, Todd, completely. If he says he's going to do something, I have no tangible doubt that it will get done. If he's responsible for something, he will follow through.
We sat in the tiny passageway, exhausted. Our muscles were fatigued from overuse. We were over a mile deep into the cave, hours away from the surface, hours away from food, and hours away from water. Had our curiousity finally gotten the best of us? For the first time ever, I was worried for my life. I couldn't imagine dying, but making it out of the cave seemed even less likely.
It started months ago. After exploring the small caves at Enchanted Rock, we were eager to tackle something a bit more challenging. A search on the internet led us quickly to Airman's Cave - perhaps the most well known cave in Austin. What we didn't know at the time was that it was also an advanced level cave. Few members of the caving community in Austin would attempt the cave. With an average ceiling of 18", Airman's cave was a full 2.5 miles long. But we didn't really know that either. In fact, we knew nothing of caves or caving.
To access the cave, we had to take a hike down a dry creekbed and search for it. After wandering around for a while we spotted a large opening on the hill. That was it.