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I love when readers suggest posts, because it takes away the part of my job where I try to guess what would be most interesting or useful. A couple weeks ago a reader named Wolfgang said: "I'd love the read a post about reconciling adventure and productivity sometime."
One of my good friends nudged me about the suggestion saying that he'd like to read that post as well, so here we go.
I should start by saying that one of my very favorite things about life is that we can all have our own goals and make our own decisions and simultaneously coexist. So this post reflects my own goals, which may be very different from yours. If anything in the post is universally applicable, it's the process by which I come to my decisions, not the decisions themselves.
When I think about my life so far, the parts that stick out are the quality time I've spent with friends and family and the work I've done that I feel is useful or important. That's really about it. Of course I remember movies I've seen, food I've eaten, and things I've bought, but those are hills compared to the two mountains of quality time and good work.
I had the strange and fortunate experience of having a lot of money young. Shortly after dropping out of college I made six figures for years through gambling. One day around 90% of my money was seized by the gambling equivalent of PayPal and I found myself with a much lower net worth and no income.
And I didn't really care.
It was such a weird experience. I still remember going to dinner with my friends that night, keenly aware that I was much happier than I would have expected I'd be. When you're climbing the ladder for the first time you always wonder what the view would look like from the top, but once you've been up there once you already know.
To be clear, I really like money. I like spending it on good things, I like earning it, I like the security and freedom it gives me. I have a reasonable amount and I hope to someday have an unreasonable amount. But I've also had the experience of diminishing returns and know that it's not the greatest thing in the world.
And what would I do if I had a lot more money? I'd orchestrate more quality time with my friends and family. I already have enough that I can just work on whatever I want to work on, and it seems unlikely anything I could do would change that.
Efficiency is really important to me. One of my past girlfriends once said, "You know, Tynan, not everything has to be efficient." And I thought, "What? Yes it does..."
I go through phases where all I want to do is work. I wake up with a solution to a problem and sometimes I forget to eat because I'm so in the zone. That's a very efficient use of time. Sometimes when I'm in that mode I spend time with friends but find myself wishing I could be back at work.
Other times I'm more focused on friends and family and I barely feel like working at all. That's also an efficient use of time because I'm able to be fully present and engaged. I don't beat myself up about this because I know that I'll feel like working later on.
Of course, I have the incredibly luxury of not having to work. I've systematically lowered my expenses to virtually nothing while ratcheting up my permanent quality of life, and I've written enough books and built a fairly automated business (CruiseSheet) that I could probably never work again. On top of that I've started my coaching business which I'm intentionally keeping small so that I can stay highly engaged and keep my free time.
That luxury came because I did a lot of work and careful consideration, so I don't mean to suggest that anyone can just divert their time however they want from the beginning and expect everything to work.
But now that I am where I am, I have near full control over my time. Both my finances and my friendships are at good levels, but I know that finances have diminishing returns whereas friendships don't, so I prioritize friendships. If a good friend wants to go on a trip, I'm very biased towards going. If I was planning on working but someone wants to sit around and have tea all day, I'll generally put off the work.
Wolfgang asked the question specifically about me doing 20 escape rooms within six weeks. Escape games are literally my favorite activity because I do them with friends, we get to work together, and they're really mentally challenging, so I prioritize them.
I did the escape rooms in Budapest. Over the six weeks I was here, seven people visited me. One great way to spend time with someone is to experience a new city together (hence around 50% of the value of travel), or to show them your city. Escape rooms were invented in Budapest, so it's a perfect activity.
That's the long way around to arrive at a short answer: I generally just do whatever I want.
Preparation is always 90% of everything, though, and I've done a lot of preparation to both be able to do whatever I want, and to make sure that my preferences align with my long term goals. I've built the right skills, created a body of work, and done enough introspection, learning, and habit building.
Sometimes I need adjustments, too. If I find that "whatever I want" isn't getting me closer to my goals, I will force myself to do something else for a while, or I'll do some planning and strategizing. I'd say that happens once every year or so. Near the end of last year I felt like I had gotten too complacent about money while simultaneously taking on too many obligations, so I recalibrated.
If you aren't usually doing whatever you want, I think that you have some work to do. The problem can be attacked from two sides— becoming more engaged with what you're doing and finding joy in the mundane, or by changing what you're doing.
No matter what your job is, there is someone who loves that job. Think about that. I've met people who love working fast food. What's so different about them? Just their attitude, and you can change your own. When you are engaged in your work you do a better job and require less outside stimulation (which often costs money). If you "have" to work a job that's not your dream job, why not work on making it your dream job?
You might say, "That's great that what you want to do often involves work, but I just want to sit around and play video games and smoke pot, and I'll go broke if I do that", and I'd agree. But don't act like you can't change that. People make huge inspiring changes every day, and you could certainly do the same and change your attitude so that what you want to do is what you should be doing.
Question why you want things. Many people, especially men, prioritize money over everything else because it becomes a scoreboard, not for its actual utility. Why do you want the things you want to buy with all that money you have to make? Is it because they'll serve your goals, or because you want to impress someone?
This post ended up being a lot longer than I expected, probably because this is a topic I'm really into and it's one of those things I don't think most people do very well. Do whatever you want, but do it because you've organized your life such that your short term wants align with your long term wants, and expect that it may take years to mentally and logistically be set up to do that. And try an escape game when you have the chance. I like Real Escape (US and Japan) and Locked.hu (Budapest).
Photo is the Chain Bridge in Budapest. Did one escape game since getting here, lots of tea, and today mostly work.
Thanks for reading.
As I've written before, I think that one of the most important skills one can have is basic competence. It doesn't sound as appealing as programming, writing, or engineering, but it's a rarer skill, and thus more valuable.
Most skills are clearly defined and can be easily taught, which makes them easy to commoditize. Competence, like social skills, is something that's less easy to define and teach. It's more of a personal exploration.
I define competence at the ability to get an undefined task done in an efficient manner. The skills that go into that are primarily time management and ability to learn. Someone who is very competent can take a random task in a field in which he's not an expert, figure out how to get it done, and then complete it. He won't be able to do it as well or as quickly as an expert, but that's not the point. The point is to not be totally helpless when working outside of your comfort zone.
So what does it take to be competent?
Now that I spend so much time in Budapest I get a lot of requests for things to do there. I'm not always the best at replying quickly, so I figured I'd write a blog post with an exhaustive list of all of my favorite places.
If you're not going to Budapest, you might think this list doesn't apply to you. But Budapest is the Best Place in Europe, so you should read it to understand why, and book a trip there!
Around half of these recommendations came from my friend Mark Webster, a friend-of-a-friend I was introduced to when I came to Budapest this summer. He gave me a big list of places to go and 90% of them became my favorites.
If you've been reading my blog for a long time, you may have noticed that I have some common traits with adrenalin junkies. I've climbed cranes and towers, jumped freight trains, bungie jumped, ridden a motorcycle etc.
I think that these activities, some more than others, are valuable. I remember climbing "the most dangerous trail in the world" in China and thinking hard about how I was literally one step away from death I was standing, without any safety equipment, on an eight inch wide board nailed into the side of a mountain. One step and that would be it.
In facing death so closely you gain an appreciation for life. You think about how fragile it is and how lucky you are to have it. There's a difference, though, between appreciating those sorts of experiences and needing them.
There are enough holes in my claim to being a minimalist that I think the label is up for debate, but a lot of the philosophy appeals to me and has been integrated into my own life. One of my favorite parts of it is the quest to require as little as possible. I have a lot of things I like in my life, but I could also be good without any of them.
The thing about investing money is that it's pretty hard for an individual to do much better than 5-15% per year consistently, depending on your risk tolerance and connections (my best investments have been putting money to work with friends' businesses). Five to fifteen percent is pretty good, but it's inside-the-box thinking to stop there. What else can we do with our money?
As a disclaimer, I have a good portion of my money in investments that make a return like that. It's good to grow your cash and I'm not saying you shouldn't. But what if you diversify your portfolio beyond earning a financial return?
After all, the point of money is utility, so why aren't we thinking one step further and thinking about how we can earn the most utility on money?
I love to find situations where my capital is preserved, grows a little, or is consumed very slowly, but which yields me a lot of utility as a result. For example, I bought my RV for $18k, plus probably $15k over its life in repairs, and maybe another $6k in improvements. I sold it last week for $30k, so I lost $9k over the eight years I owned it.
A little over a year ago a reader bought enough copies of Superhuman Social Skills to get a free one-hour coaching call. The call went well and I could tell that she was serious about making change. I hadn't considered doing coaching on an ongoing basis, but she asked and offered me enough to make it worth my while, so I agreed.
Since then it's been a really great arrangement. She's made tremendous progress so far, I feel invested in her life and enjoy seeing the results of a little bit advice mixed with a lot of diligence and commitment to her goals on her part.
So I'm going to take on two more clients. A good candidate would be someone who has read a lot of my blog and resonates with my way of thinking and my approach to life and is willing to put in the work. I think I have the greatest ability to help with habits, social skills, and living an authentic and satisfying life. If you feel stuck or plateaued or constrained by options, this may be for you.
Here's what my one current client has to say:
EDIT: The RV is sold, pending receipt of payment. If anything changes I will email everyone back and update this post, but I would assume it's not available. The new buyer also has a tricked out Rialta and I will share a link to if he decides to sell it.
I've kicked this decision down the road by a year or so because emotionally I don't want to part with my RV. I've put hundreds of hours into it, as well as a lot of money, but I'm spending so little time in San Francisco that it's about time I admit it doesn't make sense for me to keep it. So,time to take that leap into the next phase of my life and put it up for sale.
If you've been thinking about the RV lifestyle and want to live in the RV that started the Rialta craze, here's your chance. Or if you just want a cool RV or a pied-a-terre in San Francisco, this could be for you. I'm really hoping that a reader buys it because I'd like for it to "stay in the family", and maybe someone continues my work on it and takes it to the next level.
Living in the RV was one of the best decisions I ever made. I've saved tens of thousands of dollars by having it, it helped me appreciate minimalism, and it was a ton of fun. Many other people who have followed in my footsteps have said the same of their decision.
And just like that another year has passed! Every year of my life has been better than the last. I used to believe that this was a nearly universal experience, as every year you should become smarter, learn from your mistakes, build on your successes, deepen your relationships, etc. But I talked to some people who told me that their years are up and down. Very hard to comprehend, barring some major death or catastrophe.
Anyway, I like to write my annual wrap-up because it helps me get perspective on what I was able to do in a year, how I progressed, how I met or missed my goals, and it lets me set a little bit of direction for the next year.
I really fell in love with Budapest as I mentioned in my annual wrap-up post last year. In May I had the idea to buy a place there with friends (not so original, as I've already done things like this), and I went there in August. Within six weeks we had closed and moved into the new place!
I switched to Linux a few years ago. Four, I think. It wasn't my first time— I remember driving with my friend Phil to pick up a Slackware Linux CD in 1997, being very excited about how different it was, and then switching back to Windows a couple weeks later when I wanted my computer to be usable again.
That's not a knock against Linux, but it was a complicated process to get it running properly and I didn't persevere through the process.
This cycle repeated every year or two. Each time I was heartened by how far Linux had come, but would regress back to Windows after some period of time.
This time it stuck, though. I was surprised when I was still using it two, then six months later. I was surprised when after a year Windows felt foreign to me.
And now it's time for the one post per year about which people bug me for months: the 2017 gear post.
I realized that a lot of non-subscribers read this post every year, so I thought I'd drop a little background for context.
I've been more or less a nomad since 2008, and was one of the very first to really travel in a minimalist (one small backpack) way. I'm sure others came before me (and my friend Todd), but none I'm aware of who were writing about it.
I still travel for half to two-thirds of the year, exclusively with the gear I'll outline below. And even though I obviously have more items at home (cooking stuff, gym shoes), I don't have any additional clothes or warm-weather gear. In any given year I go to warm places in the summer as well as cold places in the winter. I work full time from my laptop both programming and writing. In other words— this is all of the gear I have, and I use it to do a lot of stuff.