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I like writing my annual gratitude post, mostly because it's an easy one. I have a ton of things to be grateful for, and I like talking about those things.
Fairly frequently, often at night before I go to sleep, I make a mental account of the things for which I'm grateful. I never make it to the end, though, because there are so many things that I inevitably become distracted or fall asleep.
At the top of my list, always, are my friends and my family. Of all of the things in my life, my family is the one I feel most lucky about, since I had no hand in the selection process at all. I almost feel guilty, sometimes, knowing that I have such a great force in my life that I did nothing to earn. To make up for that I try to put a lot of effort into my family and make sure I strengthen those relationships.
And even with my friendships and my relationship, though I've obviously put in a lot of work to foster those connections, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for having met those people in the first place and having had the chance to become friends with them.
I think a lot about work life balance on cruises because all of the noise is stripped away from life when you're on the ship. There are no errands, few interruptions, and no chores. You're left with the resources to do whatever you want, from work to sitting at the pool all day.
When work life balance is typically talked about, it's talked about as if there is only one correct answer, which is somewhere right in the middle. Enough work to do a good job, and enough of everything else to fill the rest of the time.
I'm pretty deliberate with my work life balance and I've adjusted it everywhere from working almost none to doing nothing but work. I don't really think any particular point on that scale is right for everyone, and I further don't think that any particular point on the scale is right for any one person all of the time.
Before thinking about your own balance, think about what you need more of in your life. We all want more money, but money is obviously not always the most important goal for every single person. And we all want fulfillment, often achieved through good work, but it comes from other places as well.
What's the most important thing on which you could spend your time right now? Really think about it, don't just keep skimming. Maybe it's a work thing, maybe it's an errand, maybe it's spending time with someone important, maybe it's finally starting a new important habit. Or maybe you don't know?
It's not always obvious what you should be doing, especially when you consider multiple areas of life at once. How do you compare investing in a relationship to building your business?
Before you can know what your most important thing is, you must know what's important to you. That's not as easy as it sounds, because we've all been influenced so much by society that it's hard to know what we care about and what we're just expected to care about.
If you don't know what you actually want and why, it will not be motivating enough for you to get it, so there's no point in trying. For a long time I wanted to build a big company. Why? No idea, really. It's what you're supposed to do when you're in tech, but I had no personal connection with the goal, so it never happened.
As I help more people work through their sticking points through coaching, I've noticed that a surprisingly large factor in many peoples' lives is how others perceive them. This is largely a foreign experience to me, and I think that it's been a great advantage to me to not really care what other people think.
I would like to believe that it's some inner well of strength that allows me to overwhelmingly disregard what strangers think of me, but if I'm honest about it, I believe that it originates from not being very popular as a kid.
At some point I realized that I was just not going to be a traditionally "cool" person. I'm sure it stung a little bit to realize that, but it was also freeing in a way. If I wasn't going to win that game anyway, why try to play it?
At the same time, I grew confidence in what I was doing. I knew that I was weird and that my friends were geeky like I was, but I also thought that they were excellent people. I thought some of the popular people were good too, but I didn't think that partying and going to football games was all that great, so I didn't have much jealousy.
I think that there are few absolute black and white rules which should be followed by everyone. After all, we're all different with different priorities and resources. What's right for me may not be right for you, and, in fact, what was right for me ten years ago may not be right for me now.
But I find it useful to have a set of indicators to alert me when an area of my life could probably use some attention to make sure I'm still on the right track. And I think that those indicators are relatively universal. Certain things should raise some alarm bells in all of us, even if our responses to them may be different.
I think of these things as a background monitoring process. I generally assume that I'm on a good path and don't worry about much, but when one of these indicators comes up, I pause and use it as an opportunity to either recalibrate, or to confirm that I'm still on the right path.
What I'm primarily trying to avoid is a negative spiral. Those often start slowly and then accelerate so quickly that it takes a lot more effort to get back to where I was than it would have taken to just stay in a good place. An analog would be debt — the more money you're spending paying interest, the less you have for things that matter.
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.
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.