Seeing as the main point of this blog is to document my thoughts and be able to reflect on how my ideas and ways of life have changed over time, it is probably not a good thing that I haven’t written anything in three months. Since a lot has changed since then, I will write this post in a series of topics instead of in one long, flowing piece.
On July 31, I sat in a seat in the sky, headed to Vancouver, British Columbia for a 9-day retreat from everything. I had left behind my laptop, my phone, my Facebook, my business, and most of my friends. It was just myself, a good friend, and a backpack’s worth of clothes, travel documents, and books in the bin overhead. Over the next 9 days, I rediscovered a little bit of myself that I think I had lost sight of during my normal daily rush: the simple me. And I liked it.
I realized how freeing it is to be more disconnected and alone. I realized that I didn’t need a lot of stuff or a ridiculously full schedule packed with a lot of unfulfilling experiences, and this has been kind of the overriding theme of my life for the past 6 weeks.
Probably the most important conscious decision I have made in the past month or so has been to stop buying crap. Even before I made this decision, I was pretty restrictive about what I bought, but this decision has simply made me more restrictive. Do I really need more clothes? No, I have a closet full of perfectly good clothes. Do I need to eat out today? No, I’m fully capable of making my own healthy food and I have plenty of it. Do I need to go see the new Batman movie? No, I’ll survive if I don’t and I’m sure I’ll see it someday. Besides, I have a lot of books that are calling my name!
Basically, this decision has come from an experiment that I do on almost every trip, including my most recent trip to Vancouver. When I first arrive in a new place, I tend to withdraw a lot of money and I spend it very quickly. I can easily go through $200 in the first three days just on food, transportation, museum passes, etc. However, towards the last couple days of a trip, I tend to be very comfortable in my new locale and almost always, short on money. Now, I could always go to the nearest ATM and get more money. It’s not like my bank account is dry. However, I prefer to conduct an experiment, which is basically to see how long I can make the smallest amount of money last.
In Vancouver, this was the two days before I left. I had twenty-seven Canadian dollars left and I was determined to make it last until I got on the train to Washington. I walked a few miles instead of taking the bus, I went to the Chinese supermarket and bought enough food to last me an entire day for $3.63, instead of eating out, and I hiked the the Grouse Grind, the 2 mile, ridiculously steep hike to the top of the 4,500′ foot mountain that overlooks all of Vancouver instead of paying for the lift. All of it was rewarding and I managed to make the money last until I got to the train station, where I converted the last dollar and four cents to American currency for the bus ride from the Amtrak station to the airport in Bellingham, Washington. I wondered if this was something I could do when I returned home, and so far, it’s working.
In the past six weeks, I have bought one shirt, one bicycle, one pair of shoes (to replace the pair that I literally ripped apart in Vancouver), and a bunch of BPA-free reusable bottles. I have also gone out to eat three times since the trip. Other than that, my spending has been almost nil. This streak will probably end this coming month, October, but it is still cool to know that it is entirely possible to live happily without buying crap.
To complement my spending philosophy, I have also decided to reduce the amount of crap that I have. I donated a garbage bag full of clothes, I got rid of shoes that I no longer wear, I organized all of my paperwork and got rid of school work and paperwork I no longer need, and I even went so far as to get rid of the paintings I made in 2009-2010 by giving them away to friends who asked for them. My room is becoming more bare and easier to keep organized every day and I love it! I still have a ways to go though and will probably continue downsizing.
Thoughts on Cars
It’s funny to me that there was a point in my life where I thought that cars were a big deal and that they could be considered a good investment. It makes me wonder what things I consider a big deal at this point in my life that I will look back on in a year or a decade and shake my head about, amused that I once thought those things to be a big deal.
Anyways, getting back to the whole cars thing, I think it is interesting how radically my views on cars have changed. For almost a year, I worked at a dealership, and as one learns when working at a dealership, cars are everything. The only thing that seemed to matter when I was there was what car you drove, what cars you liked, and what car you would eventually be able to drive. Working there for almost a year, and having worked at a car restoration shop for half a year before that, this view became engrained in my psyche. No longer was I happy with driving my beat up, bumper-less Subaru station wagon. I felt that I needed something that I could look at with pride and that other people would envy me for.
So between this view, a rather emotional April (the month in which my classic-car-restoring grandfather had died three years earlier), and a juvenile need to prove that old cars were a better investment than new cars (I had a jealousy issue about the fact that my girlfriend’s parents had bought her a nice, brand-new VW), I went on Craigslist and bought a 1974 VW Super Beetle without doing any substantial due diligence. Over the next year and a half, I poured over seven grand and countless hours into this car only to be laden with loads of stress and an unreliable car.I also failed to do or prove anything I set out to do in the first place. I am not basking in my car’s glory, I didn’t honor my grandfather by restoring it, and I wasn’t able to prove that classic cars are a worthwhile investment.
Of course, I no longer feel the need to prove or do any of these things. I no longer believe that cars define people and I do not want to be a “car guy,” I have since reconciled myself with my grandfather’s death and no longer feel the need to restore a car to honor him, and I no longer have envious feelings about my best friend or her car. In short, I have simply fixed all of the heart issues that caused this problem in the first place and no longer need cars.
Today, I will be calling local VW guys in an effort to sell the VW by next week. Regardless of the outcome or the price I sell it for, I cannot express how happy I will be to be rid of that car. It will be a huge burden lifted off of my shoulders and I am thankful for the very costly lessons that dealing with this car has taught me.
Next week, I will begin my search for a new car, but it will not be for anything special. If I lived in a world where I didn’t need a car, I would be so happy, but that is not the case – yet. Therefore, I will be looking for something that gets me from reliably from here to there without a care in the world about its looks or features. None of that matters to me anymore. It’s just stuff.
The Tyler Durden Creed
When I first saw the film, Fight Club, it made absolutely no sense to me. I thought it was the worst, most nihilistic movie I had ever watched with no meaning. Like most critics who panned it when it opened at the box office, I viewed it as an excessively violent film where a bunch of guys beat each other up for no apparent reason and caused mayhem at the expense of everyone else. Only now, six years later, does it make any sense. In fact, it makes perfect sense and it always has, I was just blind to its meaning. The whole point of the film was to be a figurative punch in the gut followed by a swift kick to the face in an effort to make us, the viewers, re-examine the ways in which we live our lives. Every word that Tyler Durden says to the narrator, Jack, is actually intended for the audience.
I recently watched the film again and one line in particular has really stuck with me. In a long monologue, Tyler Durden says, “This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time.” I realized how true this line really is. Our lives are finite and are like an hourglass. Each grain of sand shifts from one side to the other until there are no more grains of sand left. Therefore I have to be conscious of that and make an effort to truly fill each “unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.”
The Tim Ferris Experiment
In an effort to increase my freedom of time, I began an experiment based off of Tim Ferriss’ experiences. In his books, he writes about making himself unavailable by only responding to emails for predetermined amounts of time and by only being available by phone between set times. Therefore, I have set 6:00AM, 11:30PM, and 4:30PM as times to check my emails and I allow myself no more than 15 minutes each time. This also creates an environment where people don’t expect me to get back to them instantaneously. So far, it has made a really big difference.
Along with the time allocation experiment, I have also begun using Wunderkit, a task management app, and a RescueTime, an analytics app that shows you how you spend your time on computers to help me better focus my time. With all of these efforts, I have managed to free up almost 3 hours a day. Along with exercising and getting into a regular sleep pattern, I have decided to dedicate this time to more formal education.
In Vancouver, I met many European travelers who spoke two, three, or even four different languages. One guy I talked to said that he was the worst student in his English classes and yet, even he spoke almost perfect English. Being surrounded by bi-lingual or tri-lingual people is a pretty humbling experience, and few things make me feel dumber than knowing that I am confined to one language and cannot comprehend what people around me are saying while they can comprehend everything that I say. Therefore, I decided that when I got home from Vancouver, the first thing I would do would be to pick a new language to learn. While I had been learning Arabic, I found that the thousands of different Arabic dialects were going to be a major challenge and that with the Arab Spring, the chances of me visiting the Arab World anytime soon would be pretty slim, so I decided that I would pick a more conventional language that I might actually be able to use. I went to the library, picked up a Mandarin book, a French book, and a German book, and settled on French through a rigorous process of eni mini miny mo.
Now, while I am a huge fan of autodidacticism, I do believe that there are subjects that are better learned through teachers and tutors, such as music and languages. I went on Craiglist and found a French teacher who would work with me for twenty-five dollars an hour. At first I thought that this was a rather high amount to have to pay, but then I realized that she probably just values her time as much as I value mine and that investing a larger amount would force me to be more productive.
The Power of Focus
A few months ago, I began teaching piano to my best friend for free. In the past, I taught piano but found it discouraging because students would not focus and each lesson, I had to reteach them the things I had taught them the previous lesson. I quit teaching. This student, however, was different. She focused very sharply and would not give up until she had gotten it perfect. We moved through scales and chords very quickly, and it has nothing to do with my teaching. In fact, I would say that I have been the worst piano teacher ever. Because I had thought that this would be a casual thing, I was not prepared for her to move through my initial plans so quickly. And this was simply because she was focused and practicing on a daily basis.
Using this same thinking, I have begun to tackle the French language and am now learning more quickly than I could have ever imagined. Within the past three weeks, through intense focus and an hour of study each day, I have managed to learn how to read, write, and speak over 350 nouns and adjectives and am already starting to get a handle on the verbs. Just yesterday, I was transcribing entire paragraphs from English to French.
It’s really quite astounding to me. When I first read about Tim Ferriss’ claim that it’s possible to learn 95% of a language in three months, I thought he was crazy, but now I think it is entirely possible. It just has to do with focus.