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When standing on the precipice of making a big decision, it's natural to wonder whether or not you're making a mistake. It's easy to imagine that each imaginary path through our future leads to an entirely different place, and that by following one the other disappears completely.
But that's not really how it works. Big decisions do obviously matter, but the following hundreds of decisions matter a lot more, and will ultimately dictate whether that original decision was the "correct" one or not.
Let's say you're moving to a new city. That's a scary thing that you might really deliberate on. Is it the right move?
Well, if you go to the city and sit around waiting for your good decision to pay off, it may or it may not. But if you go out and take the opportunity to make a great new group of friends and take advantage of the strengths of that city, it will probably be an excellent decision, whether it's Toledo or Las Vegas.
Another great example is relationships. Sure it's great to find someone with whom you're compatible, but it won't mean much if you don't put effort into the relationship to make them the right person for you.
And, of course, career. If you switch careers and put everything into it, chances are you'll look back at that as a great decision. If you don't do much with it, you might not.
In general I have a policy of making sure that every big decision I make is a great decision. I don't do that by deliberating forever (in fact, many of my biggest wins have come from simply making quicker decisions than others), but rather by making everything work out by force of will.
In 2013 nine friends and I bought an island. It was just five acres of undeveloped forest out in the outskirts of Halifax. Nothing about that decision guaranteed success. The last owner bought a generator, cleared some land, and then sold it for a loss (I believe). That may still have been a good decision overall for him if he had a good time there, but I suspect it wasn't.
But we've pushed and pushed to make the island an amazing place. We hand carried materials to build a 900 square foot yurt and a 400 square foot cabin over there. To have a nice dock we (my friend Brian, really) have to wade through cold North Atlantic water to move it with the seasons. We slept a lot of nights in tents in hurricanes. But because we've put in the effort and made good subsequent decisions, a bunch of us feel that it's the best money we've ever spent. Many people told us it would be the biggest mistake we'd ever make.
I'm getting married in a few months (surprise!). I'm marrying a really fantastic girl, but I know that the decision to get married will only be an excellent one of we both make it an excellent one. Luckily she knows that, too.
A few years ago I bought one of the cheapest homes available in Las Vegas. It wasn't a nice apartment, so it could have easily become a situation where I lived in a crappy apartment in a somewhat dangerous neighborhood. Instead I remodeled my place (mostly myself) and convinced 6 other friends to buy up the units around me. Now we have our own neighborhood that feels like the best combination of dorm life and normal apartment living. It took a lot of convincing and footwork to get everyone on board, but we all love it.
Give good thought to the big decisions in life, but don't expect any results from them. Use them as new environments in which you can do you best and make each decision the right decision in retrospect, even if it wasn't actually the right decision in the moment.
Photo is sunrise from my cabin! I just left today, after (hopefully) fully waterproofing it. Can't wait to get back in the spring or summer.
I've referenced my potential low monthly burn rate a few times, and people keep asking me questions about it, so I'm going to go into more detail using real life numbers.
It's important to note that I don't actually spend this little every month, most months, or really even any months. The point is that I could if I ever needed to, and also that by having as little as possible mandatory spending every month, I'm able to direct my money towards investments or discretionary purchases. You could correctly say, "Well, I couldn't do this because of _____" and it would be true. I'm only writing this because people always ask about it and because looking at the financial decisions I've made my be interesting.
Most of the reason I can have such a good burn rate is because I've put up a lot of money in advance to buy things that most people rent. I like doing that because it's very easy for me to determine what I can afford now, and not as easy for me to determine what I'll be able to afford later.
I've realized that I prioritize in a pretty different way than others. I don't know that my way is the best way for everyone, but by sharing it I think I may at least expose a few ideas that will be useful for others.
One of my very top priorities is self sufficiency. Not in the prepper sort of way, but just that I want to make sure I can completely take care of all of my needs without imposing upon anyone else. By doing this I can ensure that I have a good life and also that I have the maximum capacity to direct my attention towards other people.
The obvious expression of this is having developed a very satisfying yet extremely inexpensive lifestyle (even with the "luxuries" in my life, I can easily live under $1000/mo) as well as enough effort-independent income to cover those costs permanently. But it also extends beyond finance. I am completely emotionally stable and happy without anyone else. That's not to say that I don't benefit from being around others, only that I don't lean on them for my own well being.
After self-sufficiency, my next priority is probably great relationships with great people. Three of my favorite people were all in Tokyo for the same two days, mostly by coincidence, so I went out for the weekend. Sometimes I fly to San Francisco for just a day or two to see my friends there. Even when I have very important work to do, I'll put it aside to have tea with my friends.
Due to somewhat bungled plans and a cheap flight available to Halifax, I randomly decided to go to the island for a week by myself. Even though the bones of the cabin were pretty much finished by the last time I left, it wasn't fully bug or water proof, so I was eager to go fix those problems.
I had stayed on the island twice by myself, both times because other people's flights left one night, and mine left the next morning. Each time it was less than twenty-four hours and not all that fun because I mostly spent time cleaning up and putting things away. I wasn't sure if I'd like going to the island myself or not, but there was work to be done and it was worth finding out.
I drove the boat over and stepped off on the dock. I was surprised at how quiet it was, because usually we're all talking when we first get there. One of the first things I do whenever I go is just check on things. I see what plants are growing, whether water has gotten into any of the structures, how the dock is holding up, etc. So I walked the trails myself with nothing in the background but birds chirping.
I'll never forget the first moment I stepped foot on our island. We hadn't actually bought it yet, but the seller had agreed to let us camp on it the night before to "test it out". As soon as we saw the island from the boat I knew it was a done deal.
But the specific feeling I had when I stepped on shore was, "Why isn't anyone trying to stop me from doing this?"
It wasn't that I thought it was a bad idea to buy the island and that somebody ought to stop me, or that it was controversial enough that someone would want to oppose the purchase. It was a lingering echo from my days as a student where someone was always there to stop you if you were going to do something unusual.
I've done a lot of things that fall into this bucket. If you read my blog you're probably familiar with some of the bigger ones, like putting a swimming pool in my living room, getting into pickup, selling everything and traveling, living in an RV, buying various properties, and buying a Bentley as my daily driver.
A lot of people don't reach their true potential not because they aren't capable of it, but because they keep using their actions to go into the wrong directions. Or, even worse, directions that are sort of like the right direction, but just enough degrees off that they won't ever get there.
We tend to spend a lot of time working towards our goals, but significantly less time thinking about what those goals should be. My personal theory on this is that it feels so good working towards a goal that we don't really care all that much if it's the right one. Short term it doesn't really matter, and our instincts tend to serve the short term.
Think about where you want your life to be in three to five years. Imagine it clearly, so that it feels like you're actually there. How do you spend your time? Who is around you? Where are you? What are your plans for the week?
Some people find this exercise easy, but most don't. It's hard projecting in the future, so take your time with it. If you think about details and they don't fit, rewrite the future. Sometimes just living the fantasy in your mind is enough to realize it's not actually what you want.
I visited my girlfriend's new apartment this week and after one night there insisted on getting her cotton sheets to replace the poly-blend sheets she already had. I think she thought I was a little bit nuts, but materials matter a lot to me.
And because I'm more obsessed with these things than the average person, I'm in a good position to talk about materials and why they matter. At the same time, I'm not really an expert in materials, so I can talk about them in general but not specifically. I don't really know the pros and cons of most types of wood or metal, for example.
It's indisputable that life is better than ever for humans overall, and a lot of that is due to advances in materials. Better metal alloys, better glass, and plastics have totally changed our lives. Items that were out of the reach to all but nobility can now be bought at dime stores. We can package food and water with an efficiency we couldn't dream of in the 1800s.
The downside, though, is that plastic is so comparatively cheap that we tend to use it even when it's one of the worst material choices available.
I always look forward to the first of the month, and ironically it's because there's a bit of work that I do every first that I really look forward to. I write a couple monthly reviews.
One of them is for CruiseSheet, but another is just for life in general. I send it to two friends who usually send me monthly reviews back.
If you feel like you're getting a lot done on a daily basis, that's great. Or maybe it's not. A very common trap, one I've spend a bit of time in myself, is immersing oneself in work that feels important and keeps one busy, but doesn't actually produce anything. This applies to work beyond career — it could also be said about working out, learning, social life, or anything else.
Longer periods of time don't have the same paradox. If you look back at your year and can list all of the things you accomplished that year, they're probably all important. Busy work gets forgotten by the end of the year. A month is similar to a year in this regard. Looking back at a month is usually a pretty good reflection of your progress in life in general.
I had intended to come back to the island once more before building the cabin, but the timing didn't work out. I nervously climbed up the hill to check the spot that I had decided to build on. Was it as clear as I remembered it? I forgot to take pictures.
At first it looked fine, but when I brought the tape measure out, I realized that the area wasn't nearly big enough to build the cabin. The builders were coming the next day.
I went back to the yurt, the main structure on the island, to get the loppers to continue clearing. But before I left the yurt, rain started to pour down. A few minutes later I also realized that the yurt roof was leaking badly.
Then the lumber company called me, told me that some of my special order items were running late, and that due to a complicated situation involving the credit card preauthorization, they couldn't get me any materials at all for a couple days at least.
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