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One of my friends remarked that I'm really obsessed with value. It's true. I love spending money on things that are great value and I hate spending money on things that are a bad value. I thought I'd share a few examples of ways I've spent money that feel like good and bad values.
Island -- Good
The island may be the best money I've ever spent. I'm here now, bugbitten, sunburned, and happy. It's a pretty untamed forest that my friends and I constantly hack away at and build in, and that opportunity is what makes it a great value. Maybe some day we'll come here a relaxing getaway, but for now it's just work and connection with nature.
Fancy Meals -- Bad
Just about any time I spend over $30 for a meal, it feels like a colossal waste to me. Chipotle costs me about $13 and is a perfect meal, so I hate spending more than that. I really appreciate the craft of cooking and high quality ingredients, just not enough to pay more than $30 (and even that much is very rare).
Art -- Good
I bought my first painting thinking while simultaneously thinking that I was an idiot for buying it. But I was surprised at how good it made me feel to look at the painting and how it deepened my appreciation for art. I also like that other people can come over and see my little museum and hopefully also benefit from it, like I do when I see other peoples' art.
Bentley -- Bad to Neutral
I bought the Bentley knowing that it was in some ways an incredible value (lots of extremely high quality engineering and materials at way below cost), but in others a terrible value. I bring this one up because it provides a ton of value that doesn't mean all that much to me. If I cared more about projecting a powerful image, maybe because I had clients of some sort, it could be an incredible value. All that said, I'm glad I bought it because it gives me perspective and is really fun, so I think it's probably neutral for me. Good in some ways, bad in others.
Tea -- Good
I've found that money spent on high quality tea is a good value for me. It's an interesting one because it provides many types of subtle value rather than one main thrust. It makes me a little healthier, gives me a little time to think, allows me to nerd out about something, and promotes social activity. The one to four bucks per pot to make it at home or ten to twenty at a teahouse always feels worth it to me, even if I find out I've spent hundreds on tea in a month.
Travel -- Neutral to Good
I love travel and have gained tremendously from it in my life, but have noticed that not all travel is the same. At first I got a lot of value out of any travel, simply because I was somewhere other than home and was experiencing the world. Now I've found that it's only a really good value if it's to visit a friend or travel with a friend.
Learning -- Bad to Good
Learning is one of my favorite things in life, but it's only a good value if the cost makes sense. The couple years I spent in college were primarily worth it because of a few friends that I made. The learning was worth a pitiful fraction of what was paid. On the other hand, I just signed up for pottery lessons and I think it's a great deal. Same with one-on-one instruction like I've had for violin and Chinese. Books are also an incredible value (which is part of why I write them to).
Value is an interesting concept and is entirely subjective, which is why you need to think about what's a good and bad value for you, and determine how much of your money is being spent in each category. I find that most people don't do that, and end up spending a lot of their money on really bad values. The tragedy of that isn't the lost money, it's the lost potentially good values they could have spent on.
Photo is the marshy area of the island. I'm currently here building my own little cabin! It's going to mostly be a tearoom and an office and have a bed.
The glamorous side of productivity and self improvement is the big changes. You put your stake in the ground, decide to make a change, and you do it. You start a new set of habits or a new project. These are positive things, but we sometimes forget about the other side of forward progress.
Throughout our lives we are constantly introducing chaos and friction. A new business might mean a new bank account, IRS forms, email address, and a new web site to maintain. A new relationship can disrupt your regular routine. A new set of habits adds more obligation to your day.
The less glamorous side is systematically reducing friction. Sometimes we forget to do this because reducing friction doesn't look like forward progress. It looks like janitorial work, and that's not very exciting.
But reducing friction is what helps you get the most out of each stroke. It makes it so that you can sustain your progress and do more each day with the same amount of effort.
In 2003, Rick Rubin offered me a ride in his Bentley Arnage. I declined because I thought the place we were going was within walking distance, and only after he drove off did I realize that I was thinking of the wrong place and had missed a chance to ride in what I still believe is the most beautiful car ever built.
Ten years later I was reading an article of the top ten most depreciated cars, and the journey from number ten to number one ended in that very car, the Bentley Arnage. Bentleys retail for $250,000 or more, but at the time of the article the Arnage could be had for $30,000. That was still more than I would spend, but it brought the idea to earth at least.
I'm not really a car guy. I have a soft spot for Mercedes, coupes in particular, but I'm mostly interested in getting from point A to point B. I've never financed a car, and when I bought my last car the only three categories I'd consider were Japanese minivan, barest-bones econobox, or 90s era Mercedes. I ended up buying a 1996 Mercedes C220 for $1600 and spending $900 to get a couple problems fixed up. It shifted with a bit of a thud and the AC was cool, but not quite cold. I figured it would last a year or so, but it's still going strong two years later.
A few months ago I decided to see if Bentleys had depreciated further. Sure enough, they had. Some could be had as cheaply as $20k. The Mercedes was still clunking along, but at that price I couldn't help but do a little research. What I found whipped me into a bit of a frenzy.
Six months ago I began accepting coaching clients beyond my one initial client. I had this plan that after six months I'd collect a bunch of testimonials, write about coaching, and sign up a new batch of people. But the truth is that my schedule is pretty full, so I'm not really trying to sign up new people. The coaching process has been much more interesting and lesson-filled than expected, though, so I still have a lot to share about it.
I have around twenty people that I coach now. What's surprising to me is how much I like all of them. I guess it makes sense that the people who would sign up would be those with whom I had a lot in common. Most of them are working on projects or life changes that are exciting to me, so every month when we have our call I really enjoy hearing about their challenges and successes.
My initial worry was that these calls would be draining, but it turns out that most of the time I find them energizing because I've spent an hour or so talking about exciting stuff. Sometimes the initial calls are draining because I put a lot of pressure on myself to understand the person and find some immediate action steps they can take that well result in real progress, but the ongoing ones are really enjoyable for me.
The only parts I didn't like about coaching were scheduling and keeping track of payments, so I made a fully automated system that shows my schedule, takes bookings, checks for payments, sends reminders, and adds appointments to my personal calendar. All I have to do is check my phone and show up for the call. Removing the administrative parts of the business allows me to focus all of my energy on my clients and eliminates almost all of the stress.
I wouldn't say that my younger cousin and I are competitive, but let's just say that when she got good at crossword puzzles, I felt that I had little choice but to also get good at crossword puzzles. So for the past few months I've averaged probably 2-4 crossword puzzles per day.
Crossword puzzles, to me, are the ideal diversion. They're fun enough to kill time in line or on an airplane, but difficult enough that you're not going to spend all day doing them. They obviously aren't useful like doing actual work, but I like how they make me think about words.
New York Times crossword puzzles are the gold standard of puzzles. Mondays are so easy that just about anyone can do them, while Saturdays are very difficult. Sundays are mixed difficulty and are always very big.
For a while I could do Tuesdays and Wednesdays consistently but could never do Thursdays. Thursdays have much more abstract and tricky questions than Wednesdays. For example, "Hebrew leader?" is "ALEPH", as that's the first letter in Hebrew. It took me a while to get a handle on those.
I have to admit that I never thought that I'd write a blog post on how to relate to others. For most of my life I realized that I wasn't particularly empathetic but didn't prioritize changing that.
Then I met a very empathetic friend (she wrote The Charisma Myth) and she just point blank told me that I should work on being empathetic. So I did.
I'm sure I still have plenty of work to do, but even though I'm not an expert, I have a lot of ideas to share on how to relate to people, maybe because it's something I had to consciously work on.
Maybe the biggest change I made is in how I judge other people. I can be pretty judgmental by nature, but that's changed a lot for a few reasons. I now have a process I go through to try to be more positive and understanding towards people.
Once in a while I do something that threatens my status as a minimalist. It was pretty clear cut when I traveled the world with nothing but a backpack and had nothing back home, but now it's not so clear. I wear the same shirt every day, but I have real estate in a few different places with my friends.
Identities are comfortable because they give us a way to describe ourselves to the world. We can say a lot about ourselves in just a few words, and we also have some assurance that even if our identity is an unusual one, it will be accepted.
This is true even of negative identities. There are people whose main identity is "likable unlucky guy" and those people will actually feel more comfortable when things don't work out for them than when things do.
The fundamental problem with identities is that they are constraining. Because it's uncomfortable to do things that don't fall within the sphere of your stereotype, you'll be less likely to branch out, even if it's best for you.
My recent car purchase has been something of a disaster. That's why I haven't written about it yet (or, rather, posted the rather excited blog post I've already written). The car is currently back with the seller, who owns a shop that repairs these sorts of cars, and he's trying to figure out why it won't go over around 20mph and to fix it.
One of my friends asked if I was upset about it or if I regretted buying it. Not at all!
I did a lot of research before I bought the car. I knew that despite it being one of the most reliable cars the manufacturer has ever built, it was an older complicated car, and that things might go wrong with it. I didn't think they'd go wrong on day one, but it wasn't totally out of the realm of possibility.
I checked out the car in person and got to know the seller. He was obviously someone with a lot of integrity and we got along well, so I was confident that if something did happen right off the bat, he'd take care of it.
Yesterday, in a fit of inspiration, moved the furniture out of my bedroom and tore up half of the carpets. A few months ago I did the floors for the rest of my house, but I ran out of time and my bedroom threshhold was a natural stopping point. And then... there was no natural restarting point.
So for six months I've had a pile of flooring, two rolls of rubber underlayment, and an air compressor sitting on my floor.
My neighbors go to sleep early, so I didn't make much progress the first night. I just removed the carpet, scraped the floor of old glue, pulled off the baseboards and molding, and pulled extra staples.
The next day I got a late start because I had some other work to do, and when I was done with it, I just didn't feel like working. I moved at a snail's pace and before I knew it, my power tool curfew was past and I couldn't get anything more done. I really only got an hour of work done in three hours.
I went to a Roger Waters concert earlier tonight. I got a free ticket and I make it a habit to see anything or anyone who's supposed to be one of the best, even though I don't like rock music.
One of my first memories of music is listening to Another Brick in the Wall in my dad's car as a kid. I loved the song, not because of any musical aspect or because I really understood the song, but because of one line: "we don't need no education." Even then my enjoyment of the lyric wasn't very nuanced. I just didn't like doing homework, and leaving the kids alone sounded like a good idea to me.
The last song I saw tonight before I left at intermission was that one. Waters brought a bunch of kids on the stage who danced and sang the chorus. When they bowed at the end they were all a bit too enthusiastic about their contributions, just as I would have been at that age. That made me think about the first time I heard that song, probably when I was around their age.
My life always feels like it's short until I stop and think about all of the things that have happened in it. I thought back to the kid who didn't want to do homework and thought about how he'd never believe my life is as it is.