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Most of us, especially people like you who have come to read this blog, value freedom. And not the corndog and bald eagle variety, but the ability to make a wide range of decisions that affect the outcome of one's life.
Freedom may not be everything; the single billionaire can do almost anything he likes, but can still be unhappy. It is something, though, and it's a big part of a good life.
Debt is the opposite of freedom. It binds, controls, and looms. It's the monster standing between you and freedom, growing slightly bigger every day thanks to the wonders of compounding interest. It's easy to think of debt as "just money", but I've seen how it affects people. Its reach extends beyond the ledger.
There are two types of debt that are often worth taking on. One is operational debt. You have an opportunity that's going to make you $1000, but you need $500 more to make it happen. So you borrow the money, make your profit, and pay it back. That's a simple and unlikely example, but more complicated versions of this are common in business.
I'm a natural maximizer. Whenever I do something, my natural inclination is to go all the way. For example, I travel comfortably and productively with just one bag that weighs less than ten pounds. My RV has become almost comical, with marble and wood floors, gold leaf, and advanced security and automation systems.
The pitfall of being a maximizer, though, is that you're unlikely to have the time or resources to maximize everything.
I'm in the process of buying a condo in Vegas right now. I could tell you exactly what I'm looking for, because I found it. There was a perfect condo that had the exact type of layout I wanted, was the right size, and had the right parking. I rushed to get an agent and told him I wanted to make a full price offer during our first conversation.
Since I was in Vienna at the time, he visited the property for me and told me the bad news. There was a ton of water damage and an accepted offer came in an hour or two prior anyway.
Sometimes I would be in my own little world. I remember, as a kid, helping my dad with projects, and he would say that I was oblivious to what was going on around me. He'd be waiting for me to hand him a hammer, but I'd be staring off at something else. And then, around that same time, I took scuba diving lessons. My instructor cautioned me that I was so unaware of my surroundings that I might get into a dangerous situation.
That's when I became aware that I was oblivious. All that I perceived wasn't necessarily all that there was. I became more introspective and determined to be more aware of what was going around me. Eventually that pursuit of awareness extended to myself. That was the hard part. It's easy to make a habit of looking around to see what others are doing and intuit what they need, but it's a lot harder to become self-aware. The shadow of our egos can hide a lot.
It's hard to know how you're perceived, because a true mirror doesn't exist in others. Their feedback comes warped like a circus mirror, hiding some deficiencies and strengths, while highlighting others. Not being aware of strengths is a handicap, but not being aware of faults is critically dangerous. I've seen plenty of people who have no good friends, and it's all because of how they act. Not integral parts of who they are, but unconscious mannerisms and habits that drive others away.
I once read somewhere that we criticize in others those deficiencies which we share. If I think someone's annoying and hogs the spotlight, maybe it's because they're diverting that spotlight from me. If I don't like how someone is sarcastic, maybe it's my own sarcasm that they're reflecting back.
A while back I watched some of the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, a firmly entrenched creationist. The debate was mostly hilarious and mind-boggling, but one question really stood out to me. Someone asked each of them, what, if anything, could change their mind. Bill Nye said anything-- any shred of evidence that "divine" creation may have occurred. Ken said nothing. He admitted that there was no possible way he would ever change his mind.
Whether you believe the insanity of creation or not, it should alarm you that he had a belief he was not willing to change under any circumstances. It's one thing to have a lot of confidence and admit that the bar of proof would have to be very high, but it's another to openly admit that you would choose to ignore reason.
That made me think a lot about how we approach life outside religion. There are some things that we are very willing to change our minds on, some that we'd be reluctant to, and in some cases, some that we would almost never change our minds on.
For example, I think that Chipotle makes a great burrito bowl. I'm crazy about Chipotle. But if you told me that the place next door is even better, I'd be totally open to trying it and quite possibly conceding that it's better.
I think that gratitude is an essential part of a good life. If you don't appreciate the people, places, and things that make up your life, you don't have much motivation do anything. I feel the weight of gratitude every day. Many times a day I think of how fortunate I am to be where I am, and how so much of that is due to other people. I can't write that post every day, but I think I can get away with it on Thanksgiving.
I'm most thankful for my family and friends. The two categories of people are intertwined because I feel like I'm best friends with many of my family members, and that many of my friends are so close they may as well be family. Genetics make clear lines, but in real life they're one big group of people I love.
I traveled with a lot of friends this year, and I'm particularly grateful for that. Sharing my favorite places around the world and discovering new ones with friends are among my favorite things in the world. I'm very fortunate to be able to do a lot of that.
I made only a few new friends this year, but I feel like I became closer with a lot of friends, often as a result of traveling together.
My stepfather was talking today about a friend of his who is a competitive arm-wrestler. That reminded me of something I'd tell people, back in high school: that I'd only won two arm-wrestling matches in my life, and both were against girls. The implication was that I was very weak.
I took a weird sense of pride in saying that, and I can't really imagine why. Maybe it was a sour-grapes variety of defense mechanism.
I've noticed that I still do this today with my sense of direction. The truth is that I don't have a very good sense of direction, but I find that I bring it up at times where it's not necessary. Why? I don't really know. It's like self-deprecating humor that isn't that funny.
Making these sorts of comments implies that it's cool to be bad at things. Kids in school pretend to be bad at math, because they think that's cool. I don't think it's cool to be bad at anything. It's okay to be bad at things, but it's perverse to take a sense of pride in that.
My friend Leo suggested once that I write a post about how I make decisions. Since then I've been waiting for the right moment, one where I made a large decision in a very short amount of time. That happened today, when I decided to move to Las Vegas.
From time to time I check real estate prices in Detroit or Las Vegas. They're the two major US cities I'm aware of that were disproportionately crippled by the housing crash. Detroit more so, but it's cold up there and I've never been, so buying a house there isn't just fantasy.
On the other hand, I go to Vegas all the time, so I'm familiar with it. I like to play poker there, I have a handful of friends there, and I've been frequently enough that I have a bunch of favorite haunts. The Ethiopian restaurants are amazing.
Last night, after work, I spent half an hour looking at condos and townhouses for sale. In case you don't have this particular hobby, there are lots of condos in Las Vegas that are under $75k. The mortgage on one of these things would be less than $300.
There's a concept called Radical Honesty that was made popular by a book with the same name. The idea was that you were to be not only completely honest, but also completely forthcoming. If you met someone and they reminded you of Jabba the Hut, you'd be obliged to tell them so immediately.
It may not surprise you that this hasn't caught on. Besides being unpleasant for just about everyone, it's incredibly scary and difficult to do. I considered trying it, but balked. That's not to say that everything is bad about it, though. Telling the truth is the right thing to do in nearly every case, and there's something to be said for being forthcoming.
And there's something universally appealing about that sort of social freedom, even if not taken to its unpleasant extreme. How many among us haven't had to suppress the urge to tell someone just how heads-over-heels we are way before that's an appropriate thing to say?
A friend and I were talking about this recently. She told me a story about a guy she was involved with. She would text him a dozen times in a row and receive only a short response in return. They would make plans, and he would break them. I thought that I was going to have to deliver the whole, "he's just not that into you" speech, when she hit me with a surprise. When they finally did meet up, she told me, he was going on and on about how much he liked her and how glad he was that she was part of his life.
When you write a blog that has a fair number of readers, you get a lot of comments on your writing. I just did a quick query, and I've had over 18,000 comments here, nearly all of which I've read. Most are positive and constructive, some are contrary but still constructive, and some are malicious.
I'd guess I have less than a hundred malicious comments (which is a huge testament to my awesome readers), but they do come once in a while. They don't affect me emotionally because, frankly, pickup gave me a really thick skin, and I have enough positive feedback from people whose opinions I respect.
That doesn't stop me from thinking about the comments, though. I actually find them really fascinating. I mean-- for me to leave even a positive comment, I have to really engage with a post. I can't fathom what would cause me to leave a negative post. What's the point?
There was a comment today about how my carbon footprint is huge, how going to see MMA fights is stupid, how people who fight are stupid, and how America is stupid for hosting such fights.
I spent the weekend in Hong Kong, which sounds a lot more extravagant than it actually was. Early last year there was a flight deal that offered a round trip flight to Hong Kong cheaply enough that the miles earned in the process were worth the price of the ticket, and the flight alone was very nearly enough to earn Platinum status on American Airlines. In other words, the flight was such a good deal that it was worth going for just two days.
And besides, I had unfinished business in Hong Kong, or rather, in Macau. Todd and I came here six years ago, and only when it was too late did we find out that the world's tallest bungie jump was in Macau. I've never bungie jumped before, and I knew I had to wait until I was back. Why jump if it's not the tallest one out there?
So yesterday we went to Macau. We bought our ferry tickets from a slightly sketchy tout who sold us first class tickets for less than coach price. Both of them said that they were only valid when used by "Hoi Pang", but we must both look like Hoi, because no one batted an eye.
Macau is essentially the Las Vegas of Asia. At the ferry terminal we saw a free shuttle bus to the Wynn, and figured we may as well use it to get to where everything is. We walked around the Wynn, which is extremely similar to the one in Vegas, except that all of the signage is also in Chinese. Starving, we ate at Red Eight, which was so good and cheap that we double checked the conversion rates on our phones.