Check out my bestselling book on habits, Superhuman by Habit. .
I wasn't planning on writing about this because I don't think it's all that interesting, but so many people have been surprised and asked why we moved that I guess it warrants a post!
Five years ago I bought an apartment in Vegas. It cost $50k, was in a great location, and had two bedrooms. I didn't know what I was going to do with it, but it was just such a great deal that I figured it was impossible that I wouldn't find some good use for it, whether it was renting it out or using it as a crash pad (at the time I visited Vegas every month).
During the renovation I spent more time in Vegas than I ever had, and lived more like a local than a poker-playing tourist. Through that process I discovered that Vegas is the best place to live in the US (unless you need a local job or good public schools), and ended up moving into the apartment full time. Eventually I even sold my RV.
My apartment here was great. I assumed I'd keep it forever, so I went crazy with renovations, doing things like putting heated black marble floors into the bathroom and building a tea room. Once my wife and I decided to move in together, though, it became clear that it wasn't going to be enough space. Luckily the apartment next to us went up for sale, so we bought that one too.
I live in two "bad" neighborhoods. One is my apartment in Vegas, and the other is our shared apartment in Hawaii. The way I'd define both areas is that they're among the cheapest housing in their respective cities, and they're bad enough that when an Uber driver understands where you are going, they feel comfortable saying things like, "Oh wow, that's a really bad place". A guy in Vegas whose job is working with homeless people said encouragingly, "Don't worry... you'll make it out of there some day."
In both cases, my primary motivation was the location, and in both cases the apartments are a handful of blocks away from some of the nicest areas in the city. I've also found that "bad area" usually means "non white people who aren't rich live here" a lot more than it means that the place has problems. I'm sure that there are places I could live in other cities that would be actually dangerous or materially bad.
In both cases, there are a few neighbors that are disruptive. They're loud at night or they argue loudly or they crank their car stereos as they leave for their jobs in the morning. I tend to get along with them okay and have never had any sort of confrontation. Our old downstairs neighbor in Hawaii seemed to probably be on meth and argued pretty loudly with her boyfriend. She also grew a really nice garden that we could see from our window and was really nice to us, so it was more of a disregard or lack of awareness around social norms. Or maybe it's just drugs and alcohol.
There is probably also a slightly higher chance of being the victim of theft, though probably not any other crime. I think the actual chance of being a victim of these things is far lower than the perceived risk, though. The areas seem sketchy, but they tend to not be big targets since it's assumed that if you live there you're poor. The worst thing that happened was a few blocks away (in a much worse looking area) in Vegas an abandoned house became full of drug addict squatters and some subset of them launched a crime spree on our neighborhood. Our house was broken into, as were six others. According to the neighbors who had been there for decades, no one had been broken into there before. That isn't entirely true, though, because someone reached under my gate once and stole my shoes.
This year's gear post isn't all that different from last year's (can you guess why?) but there are enough new cool things that I think it's worth doing one. Hopefully travel becomes a little more normal in 2021 and I have the opportunity to test out some more gear.
Wool and Prince Button Down
I've talked about this button down for who knows how many years now, and I still love it just as much. I still haven't replaced the shirt that I bought two years ago, though a lack of travel this year definitely contributed to not needing to replace it.
Usually in my annual gratitude post I write about people in my life. My family and friends are an easy source of unending gratitude. This year, though, I want to write about something a little bit different.
This year I'm grateful for my country, the United States. This has somehow become a slightly polarizing sentiment and sometimes interpreted as being partisan, and it's become en vogue to bash our country and focus only on its faults. And, yes, our country has its faults, both at the highest levels in government down to all of us as individuals. But we can be grateful for something even if it isn't perfect.
I'm grateful that we live in a country where a good life is possible for most of the population. Opportunity may not be distributed as evenly as we could aspire to, but we have a country where people can visualize a life they'd like to live, whether urban or rural, frenetic or peaceful, tropical or in the desert, and can work towards getting that life. I like that we have so many states that are so different, and that we can window shop between them and choose the one best for us.
Congress has an abysmal approval rating, and our president's rating isn't too impressive either. And yet, government functions enough to keep us safe and stable. Often as Americans we take this for granted, but if you look at what entire populations in many people in other countries have to deal with, we have it quite good. I'm grateful for the system that we have which has held up remarkably well to the challenges of our current times, and to all the people who work in government, often in unseen positions, who are the gears that keep our society moving.
As far as I can tell, money has two valid uses: stability and utility. It has a lot of other uses as well, like signaling and scorekeeping, but these are poor uses of money and focusing on them will reduce your ability to use money for better uses. Most people do a fairly poor job maximizing for either of these things.
Using money for stability enables you to decouple your lifestyle from your income and expenses. If you make $1000 per month and require exactly $1000 per month to live, you probably have very little stability. Even one unpaid day off would throw your month into chaos, as would a small unexpected expense. Building up a buffer of savings allows you to be unaffected by such things, as does having an income that is several times greater than your expenses.
Utility is simply converting your money into something that provides a benefit. Buying food counts as utility as does giving a gift or renting a car.
If someone derives a lot of stability and utility from their money, they are set! These two elements alone create a good personal finance ecosystem. Focus on them when allocating your money.
Why are some people secure while others aren't? Is it because they deserve or don't deserve to be secure? There are enough obvious counter-examples to that idea to dismiss it immediately. Is it genetic? Maybe partially, but many people have switched from being secure to insecure or vice versa. I'd argue that being secure is a practice that anyone can implement.
A friend of mine once told me, as if the idea was an obvious one, that he constantly suspected that people didn't really like him very much and invited him around to be polite. This idea completely blew my mind, because he was one of the core members of our friend group and I'd never once heard anyone say anything bad about him. It made me realize that insecurity is usually an error of perception.
Pickup transformed me from a very insecure person, who basically thought that almost no woman would really want to get to know me, to a very secure person who now assumes that basically everyone will like me and see my value.
The biggest thing I learned is that people will like you for who you are. This sounds obvious and simple, but for years I just figured that there were one or two "very likeable" archetypes, and I wasn't one of them. Media and pop culture set this trap and it's an easy one for anyone to fall into.
If you've read my blog for a while, you might be surprised to see a post that's about video games. I've never written about video games before because I have never really played them. A couple years ago I had the idea that I should find a fun video game to play on airplanes just to pass the time when I'm too tired to work, but I couldn't find any that held my attention. In other words, I am not into video games at all.
However, I am REALLY into VR. Seven years ago I got to be one of the first hundred or so people to experience VR with full positional tracking, and it blew my mind.
For the past few years I've had a gaming PC and wired headset just for VR, but I haven't recommended it much because the cost of a gaming PC + headset are pretty steep for occasional VR use.
However, the Quest 2 from Oculus/Facebook changes all of that. I've had one since launch date last month and am absolutely blown away by it. I've pushed a bunch of friends to buy one and the universal reaction is something along the lines of: "Wow, I had no idea this sort of technology even existed."
Last summer I got to travel to Uzbekistan with some friends from the area, and we were randomly invited to visit the house of one of the five richest families in the country. However incredible you may imagine the house, I promise you it was even more amazing. The courtyard could have fit several tennis courts inside it, it had a museum in the basement, the foyer was bigger than several copies of my apartment in it, and the front door was made of inlaid metals and stood 30 feet tall.
It was easily the nicest house I had ever seen the inside of and yet... it had terrible light bulbs.
A year later and I'm still thinking about it. The house was incredible and the product of excellent taste, but no one noticed that the light bulbs were bad. The house would have literally felt twice as nice to be in if they had the right light bulbs.
Today I brought a new light bulb for the fixture in my tea teacher's tea room. People were stunned at how much better the room looked with the new bulb and asked for details so that they could get better bulbs.
One of the greatest luxuries in life is to not have to worry. This isn't possible for all people at all times, but there are things all of us can do to be more carefree, especially those of us who have only "first world problems".
Be very deliberate about taking on obligations. The obvious example is debt, which I talk about all the time. Most people make debt decisions based on their current situation, and not an evaluation of all reasonable outcomes over the term of the loan. Rather than worrying about the debt before they assume it, they are forced to worry about it over the term of the loan. And of course if something happens, it's even harder to be carefree.
Obligations extend beyond finances, though. Everything you purchase, especially large purchases, comes with some obligation. For example, with all of the properties I've bought with my friends, I'm essentially always on call to deal with them. More than once I've gotten an email from our Hungarian accountant saying, "You really need to come here by the end of the month to sign a document." Those obligations are worth it to me, and I can remain carefree and deal with them only because I've been judicious about taking on other obligations.
Don't totally avoid obligations, just make sure that the benefit accrued from them justifies the obligation.
I was one of the very lucky ones, though it took me a long time to understand just how lucky I was. I grew up with loving parents, siblings with whom I never fought, very involved grandparents, and a bunch of cousins who I count as close friends today. I made friends with incredible people as early as kindergarten (one of whom is still one of my closest friends), and continued to have really excellent people as friends for the rest of my life. I thought that this was totally normal and nearly universal for a very long time.
Like anyone I've had big challenges in my life, but none of those challenges came from any sort of childhood trauma. If anything, my childhood helped me get through them.
As time has passed, I've met more and more people with childhood issues that continue to affect their daily lives. This was very surprising to me at first, but when I thought about how I continue to benefit from a good childhood, it made sense that issues from childhood would continue to plague people.
Through coaching, as you might imagine, I've seen a lot more of this sort of thing and have gotten to explore it in depth.