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I always mean to be clever and commemorate years of blogging on roughly the anniversary of me beginning blogging, but I never remember when it is, and then every year think, "Okay, Ill do it next year instead". But fifteen years is a long time, so rather than wait a year I'll just be a few months late.
I started blogging because I decided to do the polyphasic sleep schedule. I had tried twice before and failed, and all of that time was such a blur that I resolved on my third attempt to record it as it happened. I was successful, and the topic was rather trendy at the time, so about 100 people started following my blog.
After a while I gave up on polyphasic, but felt that I had an obligation to my readers. Luckily I had spent the first half of my twenties doing insane things like putting a swimming pool in my living room, climbing radio towers, breaking in to the tunnels under UT Austin, a exploring a cave, etc., so I had plenty of crazy stories.
The swimming pool post made it to the front of Digg, which was like reddit back then, and it remained one of the top ten stories on the site for a year or so. After that I had about a thousand people reading. I hate breaking streaks, and I never wanted to let readers down, so I just kept writing. I went through phases where I posted every day, two years where I wrote every single day (but posted once a week), and some phases where I didn't quite write every week. But I don't think in that time there's ever been a gap of more than two weeks, and for many years I haven't missed a single week.
As my topics switched from polyphasic sleep to crazy stories to pickup to self improvement I gained and lost a lot of readers. People would get really upset sometimes that they had grown attached to this blog about crazy stories and now I was telling them how to eat healthy food. Some people stuck around the whole time, which sort of blows my mind. Some of you have really watched me grow up over fifteen years.
Even as readers have come and gone, I've always felt like I had a big group of people distributed around the world who cared about me. It's a weird feeling, almost like having an imaginary friend. I know that any project I start will immediately have some level of success because I've built up trust over these fifteen years and readers will at least take a look at whatever I create.
I didn't meet readers for many years, mostly because I was worried that I wouldn't like my readers. I knew that if I didn't like and respect the people for whom I was writing, I would lose all motivation to write.
I had a few meetups in the early days, have run into a couple dozen people randomly over the years, and have met dozens of people through the live events I was hosting before COVID happened. My fears turned out to be completely unfounded and the people who read my blog turned out to be extremely high quality people. Every event I have leaves me totally humbled by the quality of person that cares what I have to say. That knowledge has kept me writing all these years, because I really do think it's a privilege and honor to have smart and kind people read my work.
The other big reason I keep writing is because it forces me to crystallize and challenge my thoughts and ideas. There have been a couple times that I've written something a little too hastily and tons of people have let me know that I was off the mark. Knowing that keeps me diligent.
I also like scrolling back a few years, because if I read a post I wrote back then I can immediately remember what my life was like then and what I was thinking about. It's like a mental time machine.
I'm not sure what the future of the blog will be. On one hand I can't imagine that I'll ever stop writing. It's always been a positive thing for me, and I also feel a debt of gratitude to my readers. You're the ones who bought my books and got the ball rolling on Amazon, and you're the ones who signed up for coaching and live events. I still benefit from those things today, so I feel like I should keep writing.
On the other hand, I no longer feel like I'm bursting at the seams with things to write. When I wrote 730 posts in two years I felt like I really got burnt out on coming up with post ideas. These days I feel like I sometimes rehash the same concepts over and over again, but then people write me and tell me they had an impact, so I think maybe that's ok. I've thought about taking a year off just to see what it feels like and to see if I recharge. I can't decide whether not having as many new ideas is a sign that I've settled on a winning formula or that I've stopped growing. Maybe it's the same thing.
I used to ask people to fill out a survey every year, but I stopped doing it ten years ago. I took the results very seriously and made big changes to the blog (even changing the name once), and it helped me understand my readers better.
I'd like to ask you to help me out by filling out a survey. Most of the questions are optional, but please help me by filling out as many as you can. I rarely fill out surveys because I don't care about being a tiny voice in a crowd, but I promise you my survey isn't like that. I read each one at least once and really try to take the answers to heart to understand you better.
Photo is the chair lift at Lee Canyon. Did you know you can ski in Vegas?
I accidentally upgraded to PHP 8.0 on my server and it messed up Sett and a bunch of it's dependencies. If you haven't been getting notifications, that's why (and if you didn't get one on this post but were expecting to, please let me know)
One of the best things about the rise of technology is that it has enabled us to connect with people all over the world. I thought about this today when I randomly came across an "over 50 makeup" YouTube personality who was talking about Superhuman by Habit. She was talking about some specific habits that had helped her, and I felt good about myself for being able to impact someone. How interesting to be able to benefit each other across the internet.
It's also interesting that we have specific identities to each other. To her I'm "the habit guy" and to me she's "the 50+ makeup lady". Hopefully there's a lot more to each of us than that, but the internet has made it so that we come across so many different people that we are forced to distill people down to an identity.
To some extent, I think these identities have always been there, but they've been internal. In high school I thought of myself as a slacker who did crazy things. If someone suggested doing a crazy thing, like climbing a construction crane or jumping on a moving train, I would go do it. I liked doing those things, but I also felt some sort of obligation to my identity. People liked me for who I was, so on some subconscious level I wanted to reaffirm that identity.
This was also true of negative habits like slacking off. Even if I had time to do some homework and really didn't mind doing it, I might be more likely to put it off and try to do it in the morning before class, because that's who I was.
My Bentley was delivered back to me recently. It came in a tow truck and the trim was removed from the dash and piled up in the trunk along with half of the trim of some random Mercedes. Half of the windows were stuck down and the dashboard lights looked like a disco when I turned the key. The company that repaired (and frankly did an amazing job) of the bodywork managed to get the alarm out of sync and took the whole thing apart trying to fix it. They then went bankrupt and shipped the car back to me. It's so sad to see the car in this condition that I no longer care about getting it working and will just sell it for parts or as a project.
I have a 15 year old minivan, but in the Bentley's absence I found myself driving my wife's Nissan more than the van, just because it gets better gas mileage and is newer and nicer. Upon realizing that I'd never drive the Bentley again, I decided to get another car.
At this point probably 90% of the people I know would only consider buying a Tesla. And to give credit where it's due, Teslas are truly incredible cars. They're very fast and fun to drive and they have excellent range. They also have the best charger network (though any EV can easily use those chargers too). I think Elon is a genius and I think it's pretty obvious that electric cars in general would be a decade behind if it weren't for him.
That said, I think Teslas are massively overhyped and (partially as a result) a poor value unless you really need the range (or really need to go 0-60 in 2 seconds). For most people's use cases there are much better values. For example, if you care about range, you can get a 2017 Chevy Bolt which gets ~240 miles on a charge for $13k.
Most people who come to me for advice are either working too hard or not hard enough. The latter group knows that there's a problem and want to fix it, but the former group always come under the guise of wanting to work on something else. No one, except maybe your family, will criticize you for working too hard, so it's not obvious that it's a problem.
I've gone through both phases in my life. Most of my twenties was spent working not nearly hard enough, and about half of my thirties was spent working too hard, so I've seen the pros and cons of each. Those pros and cons interact with different times in our lives in different ways, so there are times when it's appropriate to work "too hard", and other times when it's appropriate to barely work at all.
Hard workers are often driven by the metric of "what percentage of my time is being spent working?" and strive for 100%. This often leads to burnout, a very narrow area of expertise and experience, and poor results relative to time invested. I noticed some of this when I was working on Sett. I eventually got burnt out, but the biggest thing I noticed was that my prodigious output of work didn't always result in better results. Sometimes I spent a month or two working feverishly on a feature that ended up being useless.
If I had really stopped to think about what I was doing and why I was doing it, I may have realized that what I was working on didn't matter and could have saved weeks of time. I had no time to stop and think, though, as all I thought about were my tasks. Once I finished a task my goal was to start another one as soon as possible.
When I talk about buying properties with friends (we've bought an island, a flat in Budapest, an apartment in Tokyo, and an apartment in Hawaii), some people get it immediately. Others don't get the point, quickly do the math and realize that they'd save money and hassle if they just stuck with Airbnbs. It's hard to rebut that argument, because most of the benefits are hard to explain unless you've experienced them. But as I sit here in Honolulu Airport on my way back from a trip to Hilo, I think I can use this trip as an example to illustrate why it's worth buying properties with your friends.
First, the decision to do a trip at all was much easier. The three of us that went on the trip all own the property together, so it makes Hilo an obvious place to visit. There are also no logisticts to worry about. We can come or go on any days we want, don't have to check in or meet someone to get keys, and have our minivan parked out front. Imagine if we wanted to go to Maui. We'd need to rent cars, choose an airbnb, and all go on the same days because no one wants to pay for an Airbnb by themselves if others leave early.
And, of course, the marginal cost was totally insignificant. We had to buy plane tickets (or use miles, more realistically), but we had no lodging or car rental costs. Because of this we can go on trips whenever we want, so we tend to travel together much more often. Before owning a place in Hawaii I visited once every few years. Now I go once every few months, almost always with at least one of the other owners.
Once we arrived in the apartment, everything was just as we left it. I changed into my linen Hawaiian shirt and board shorts, both of which sit in a plastic bin under one of the beds. I took out my set of sheets and made up one of the beds. Unlike an unfamiliar apartment or AirBnb, I feel like I'm home.
When I was a kid and something needed to be repaired or built, my father did it. He plumbed things, ran new lights and wires, built new walls, and even built new additions to our houses. Because everything you see as a child seems normal, this all seemed normal to me. It was just one of the jobs that dads had, along with teaching you to ride a bike and driving you to the museum every weekend.
It didn't occur to me that everyone didn't do things like this until one of my roommates hired a handyman to hang a single picture frame. My father was a carpenter and handyman, so like when you copy a copy in a xerox machine, I was a worse handyman. Now that we have a new old house and there are almost unlimited projects ahead of me, I think a lot about how lucky I am to have a father who taught me this stuff.
As I see others approach similar projects, I realize that although there is a skill gap, there are also some gaps in perception. Understanding a few things about construction and doing projects can make you feel much more comfortable and willing to try by yourself.
1. Almost anything can be fixed easily and cheaply, so you don't have to worry too much about messing things up. I recently wanted to see what was in the crawl space above the ceiling and there were no hatches, so I just cut a hole in the wall of a closet and peeked through. Once I saw that there was enough room for me to crawl around up there I expanded the hole to be just barely big enough for me to squeeze through. I don't mind doing this because I know that the small hole would be trivially easy to repair, and even a big one isn't all that hard.
I like writing about things that I used to be terrible at but am now good at, because I can be sure that those things could be learned by anyone. In the past I was unable to stick to anything. I went through various phases of convincing myself it didn't matter and accepting that I would probably never be able to stick to anything because it wasn't "who I am".
In particular I had a very tough time sticking with projects. I would start one project, get bored or frustrated or distracted, and switch to a different one. I was only able to change my behavior when I had a few key realizations:
1. If you always switch projects, you will never finish a project, and thus never receive the rewards of that project. This is incredibly obvious, but never comes to mind when we're thinking about giving up on a project. This doesn't mean that it's always best to stick with every project, but it does mean that you have to have some ability to finish a project.
2. When I want to quit a project, it's usually because I've experienced most of the downsides and none of the upsides. If I'm halfway through a programming project I've done a lot of work, have probably experienced a bunch of frustration, still have some outstanding issues to deal with, and haven't made a single customer happy or received a single penny. It's important to recognize that this is exactly the wrong position from which you should make a decision.
My very first "business" was buying and selling used Palm Pilots and Apple Newtons. I would negotiate back and forth over the smallest increments of money, both on the buying and selling side. When I first started, my inventory was one Apple Newton, so it was important that I get the best price possible.
After making a little bit of money buying and selling these things I had some savings and could start buying things for myself. As you might imagine, I used the same principles in buying those things and still tried to save the most amount of money possible.
I started all this in high school and college, and a lot of my peers were frugal, though often in different ways. I noticed that most frugal people care about absolute price rather than value, whereas I only ever cared about value.
As I grew up, though, I noticed that most of my peers stopped being frugal entirely. Frugality was a response to not having enough money, not to wanting money to buy them more utility. Once they had enough money to buy things, the frugality switch turned off.
I know many people are cursing 2020 and are glad that it's over, but the older I get the more I realize that any time is good time, and that what we do with what we're given is more important than what we are given. So I'll just come out and say it: 2020 was an amazing year, and while it was obviously significantly worse in many ways, it was still overall the best year of my life.
Last year I wrote that it felt like such a dense year, with almost every day being packed and accounted for. This year was mostly the opposite, with long stretches of empty time with not only nothing to do, but very little I could do.
While I wouldn't want every year to be this way, it was really refreshing to have such a big change and to take on the challenge of adapting to it.
As usual, here are the highlights of my year:
There are several different difficulty levels on which you can live your life. They are ascendingly difficult, though the difficulty is really mostly in switching to that method of living. Once you get to the next level it actually becomes far easier. An analog would be financial investing-- it's hard to save a lot of money when you don't have much, but doing so makes it easier for you to live later and also makes it easier for you to save more and invest better.
Most people will use a combined version of several of these levels, so you may not find that you are entirely described by just one.
The easiest level is to do the wrong thing. For example, if you eat garbage food, do drugs, and play video games all day, you never really have to challenge yourself. Most people are resourceful enough that they will figure out a way to survive in this situation, but they will probably not find that their lives become better over time.
The decision making process here is a simple and likely unconscious, "what would give me the least immediate pain?". Ironically the avoidance of immediate pain usually generates (with interest) future pain. Avoid the pain of being healthy now and you are likely to be plagued by disease for decades.