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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.
It begins with a basic acceptance that we will never really understand what's going on around us. We'll be wrong all the time, and oblivious even more frequently. It may feel as though we understand ourselves and our world around us, but the number of times we are wrong or surprised illustrates how little we actually know with certainty.
What do we do with this uncertainty?
We consider the facts that we accumulate, even though our perceptions on which those facts are based are often incorrect, and we fill in the gaps with assumptions that make sense. Then we turn those assumptions to fact with a magic wave of a mental wand.
This idea is uncomfortable for all of us, maybe even repulsive. It's hard to swallow the idea that the world is so big and complex that no one really understands with certainty much of what's going on.