I love when readers suggest posts, because it takes away the part of my job where I try to guess what would be most interesting or useful. A couple weeks ago a reader named Wolfgang said: “I’d love the read a post about reconciling adventure and productivity sometime.”
One of my good friends nudged me about the suggestion saying that he’d like to read that post as well, so here we go.
I should start by saying that one of my very favorite things about life is that we can all have our own goals and make our own decisions and simultaneously coexist. So this post reflects my own goals, which may be very different from yours. If anything in the post is universally applicable, it’s the process by which I come to my decisions, not the decisions themselves.
When I think about my life so far, the parts that stick out are the quality time I’ve spent with friends and family and the work I’ve done that I feel is useful or important. That’s really about it. Of course I remember movies I’ve seen, food I’ve eaten, and things I’ve bought, but those are hills compared to the two mountains of quality time and good work.
I had the strange and fortunate experience of having a lot of money young. Shortly after dropping out of college I made six figures for years through gambling. One day around 90% of my money was seized by the gambling equivalent of PayPal and I found myself with a much lower net worth and no income.
And I didn’t really care.
It was such a weird experience. I still remember going to dinner with my friends that night, keenly aware that I was much happier than I would have expected I’d be. When you’re climbing the ladder for the first time you always wonder what the view would look like from the top, but once you’ve been up there once you already know.
To be clear, I really like money. I like spending it on good things, I like earning it, I like the security and freedom it gives me. I have a reasonable amount and I hope to someday have an unreasonable amount. But I’ve also had the experience of diminishing returns and know that it’s not the greatest thing in the world.
And what would I do if I had a lot more money? I’d orchestrate more quality time with my friends and family. I already have enough that I can just work on whatever I want to work on, and it seems unlikely anything I could do would change that.
Efficiency is really important to me. One of my past girlfriends once said, “You know, Tynan, not everything has to be efficient.” And I thought, “What? Yes it does…”
I go through phases where all I want to do is work. I wake up with a solution to a problem and sometimes I forget to eat because I’m so in the zone. That’s a very efficient use of time. Sometimes when I’m in that mode I spend time with friends but find myself wishing I could be back at work.
Other times I’m more focused on friends and family and I barely feel like working at all. That’s also an efficient use of time because I’m able to be fully present and engaged. I don’t beat myself up about this because I know that I’ll feel like working later on.
Of course, I have the incredibly luxury of not having to work. I’ve systematically lowered my expenses to virtually nothing while ratcheting up my permanent quality of life, and I’ve written enough books and built a fairly automated business (CruiseSheet) that I could probably never work again. On top of that I’ve started my coaching business which I’m intentionally keeping small so that I can stay highly engaged and keep my free time.
That luxury came because I did a lot of work and careful consideration, so I don’t mean to suggest that anyone can just divert their time however they want from the beginning and expect everything to work.
But now that I am where I am, I have near full control over my time. Both my finances and my friendships are at good levels, but I know that finances have diminishing returns whereas friendships don’t, so I prioritize friendships. If a good friend wants to go on a trip, I’m very biased towards going. If I was planning on working but someone wants to sit around and have tea all day, I’ll generally put off the work.
Wolfgang asked the question specifically about me doing 20 escape rooms within six weeks. Escape games are literally my favorite activity because I do them with friends, we get to work together, and they’re really mentally challenging, so I prioritize them.
I did the escape rooms in Budapest. Over the six weeks I was here, seven people visited me. One great way to spend time with someone is to experience a new city together (hence around 50% of the value of travel), or to show them your city. Escape rooms were invented in Budapest, so it’s a perfect activity.
That’s the long way around to arrive at a short answer: I generally just do whatever I want.
Preparation is always 90% of everything, though, and I’ve done a lot of preparation to both be able to do whatever I want, and to make sure that my preferences align with my long term goals. I’ve built the right skills, created a body of work, and done enough introspection, learning, and habit building.
Sometimes I need adjustments, too. If I find that “whatever I want” isn’t getting me closer to my goals, I will force myself to do something else for a while, or I’ll do some planning and strategizing. I’d say that happens once every year or so. Near the end of last year I felt like I had gotten too complacent about money while simultaneously taking on too many obligations, so I recalibrated.
If you aren’t usually doing whatever you want, I think that you have some work to do. The problem can be attacked from two sides— becoming more engaged with what you’re doing and finding joy in the mundane, or by changing what you’re doing.
No matter what your job is, there is someone who loves that job. Think about that. I’ve met people who love working fast food. What’s so different about them? Just their attitude, and you can change your own. When you are engaged in your work you do a better job and require less outside stimulation (which often costs money). If you “have” to work a job that’s not your dream job, why not work on making it your dream job?
You might say, “That’s great that what you want to do often involves work, but I just want to sit around and play video games and smoke pot, and I’ll go broke if I do that”, and I’d agree. But don’t act like you can’t change that. People make huge inspiring changes every day, and you could certainly do the same and change your attitude so that what you want to do is what you should be doing.
Question why you want things. Many people, especially men, prioritize money over everything else because it becomes a scoreboard, not for its actual utility. Why do you want the things you want to buy with all that money you have to make? Is it because they’ll serve your goals, or because you want to impress someone?
This post ended up being a lot longer than I expected, probably because this is a topic I’m really into and it’s one of those things I don’t think most people do very well. Do whatever you want, but do it because you’ve organized your life such that your short term wants align with your long term wants, and expect that it may take years to mentally and logistically be set up to do that. And try an escape game when you have the chance. I like Real Escape (US and Japan) and Locked.hu (Budapest).
Photo is the Chain Bridge in Budapest. Did one escape game since getting here, lots of tea, and today mostly work.
Thanks for reading.