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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
The glamorous side of productivity and self improvement is the big changes. You put your stake in the ground, decide to make a change, and you do it. You start a new set of habits or a new project. These are positive things, but we sometimes forget about the other side of forward progress.
Throughout our lives we are constantly introducing chaos and friction. A new business might mean a new bank account, IRS forms, email address, and a new web site to maintain. A new relationship can disrupt your regular routine. A new set of habits adds more obligation to your day.
The less glamorous side is systematically reducing friction. Sometimes we forget to do this because reducing friction doesn't look like forward progress. It looks like janitorial work, and that's not very exciting.
But reducing friction is what helps you get the most out of each stroke. It makes it so that you can sustain your progress and do more each day with the same amount of effort.
In 2003, Rick Rubin offered me a ride in his Bentley Arnage. I declined because I thought the place we were going was within walking distance, and only after he drove off did I realize that I was thinking of the wrong place and had missed a chance to ride in what I still believe is the most beautiful car ever built.
Ten years later I was reading an article of the top ten most depreciated cars, and the journey from number ten to number one ended in that very car, the Bentley Arnage. Bentleys retail for $250,000 or more, but at the time of the article the Arnage could be had for $30,000. That was still more than I would spend, but it brought the idea to earth at least.
I'm not really a car guy. I have a soft spot for Mercedes, coupes in particular, but I'm mostly interested in getting from point A to point B. I've never financed a car, and when I bought my last car the only three categories I'd consider were Japanese minivan, barest-bones econobox, or 90s era Mercedes. I ended up buying a 1996 Mercedes C220 for $1600 and spending $900 to get a couple problems fixed up. It shifted with a bit of a thud and the AC was cool, but not quite cold. I figured it would last a year or so, but it's still going strong two years later.
A few months ago I decided to see if Bentleys had depreciated further. Sure enough, they had. Some could be had as cheaply as $20k. The Mercedes was still clunking along, but at that price I couldn't help but do a little research. What I found whipped me into a bit of a frenzy.
Six months ago I began accepting coaching clients beyond my one initial client. I had this plan that after six months I'd collect a bunch of testimonials, write about coaching, and sign up a new batch of people. But the truth is that my schedule is pretty full, so I'm not really trying to sign up new people. The coaching process has been much more interesting and lesson-filled than expected, though, so I still have a lot to share about it.
I have around twenty people that I coach now. What's surprising to me is how much I like all of them. I guess it makes sense that the people who would sign up would be those with whom I had a lot in common. Most of them are working on projects or life changes that are exciting to me, so every month when we have our call I really enjoy hearing about their challenges and successes.
My initial worry was that these calls would be draining, but it turns out that most of the time I find them energizing because I've spent an hour or so talking about exciting stuff. Sometimes the initial calls are draining because I put a lot of pressure on myself to understand the person and find some immediate action steps they can take that well result in real progress, but the ongoing ones are really enjoyable for me.
The only parts I didn't like about coaching were scheduling and keeping track of payments, so I made a fully automated system that shows my schedule, takes bookings, checks for payments, sends reminders, and adds appointments to my personal calendar. All I have to do is check my phone and show up for the call. Removing the administrative parts of the business allows me to focus all of my energy on my clients and eliminates almost all of the stress.
I wouldn't say that my younger cousin and I are competitive, but let's just say that when she got good at crossword puzzles, I felt that I had little choice but to also get good at crossword puzzles. So for the past few months I've averaged probably 2-4 crossword puzzles per day.
Crossword puzzles, to me, are the ideal diversion. They're fun enough to kill time in line or on an airplane, but difficult enough that you're not going to spend all day doing them. They obviously aren't useful like doing actual work, but I like how they make me think about words.
New York Times crossword puzzles are the gold standard of puzzles. Mondays are so easy that just about anyone can do them, while Saturdays are very difficult. Sundays are mixed difficulty and are always very big.
For a while I could do Tuesdays and Wednesdays consistently but could never do Thursdays. Thursdays have much more abstract and tricky questions than Wednesdays. For example, "Hebrew leader?" is "ALEPH", as that's the first letter in Hebrew. It took me a while to get a handle on those.
I have to admit that I never thought that I'd write a blog post on how to relate to others. For most of my life I realized that I wasn't particularly empathetic but didn't prioritize changing that.
Then I met a very empathetic friend (she wrote The Charisma Myth) and she just point blank told me that I should work on being empathetic. So I did.
I'm sure I still have plenty of work to do, but even though I'm not an expert, I have a lot of ideas to share on how to relate to people, maybe because it's something I had to consciously work on.
Maybe the biggest change I made is in how I judge other people. I can be pretty judgmental by nature, but that's changed a lot for a few reasons. I now have a process I go through to try to be more positive and understanding towards people.
Once in a while I do something that threatens my status as a minimalist. It was pretty clear cut when I traveled the world with nothing but a backpack and had nothing back home, but now it's not so clear. I wear the same shirt every day, but I have real estate in a few different places with my friends.
Identities are comfortable because they give us a way to describe ourselves to the world. We can say a lot about ourselves in just a few words, and we also have some assurance that even if our identity is an unusual one, it will be accepted.
This is true even of negative identities. There are people whose main identity is "likable unlucky guy" and those people will actually feel more comfortable when things don't work out for them than when things do.
The fundamental problem with identities is that they are constraining. Because it's uncomfortable to do things that don't fall within the sphere of your stereotype, you'll be less likely to branch out, even if it's best for you.