Designing my life, part one: Building a compass
Last week, I raved about the book Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. These two Stanford design professors have taken design principles and applied them to helping people figure out what they want to be when they grow up.
After advocating Designing Your Life to several friends, two of them suggested that we work through the book's exercises together. One of those friends is Kim, my long-term girlfriend. The other is Craig, a college classmate. I thought it might be fun to share some of these exercises as we complete them over the next couple of months.
Because I want to respect the intellectual property of the authors, I'm not going to describe the exercises exactly. Instead, I'll provide a vague overview and then discuss my own answers. (And, when it makes sense, I'll also include answers from my friends.)
With that out of the way, let's dive in! Let's see what happens as I begin the process of designing my life.
Marijuana and me
This article is difficult to write. It's an admission that I failed. And it's not like I failed once, but failed repeatedly over the course of several years. And it's not that I really failed failed, you know. It's that I failed myself. I failed to live up to my own expectations.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.
I grew up Mormon. Among other things, this meant that nobody in my family consumed recreational drugs of any kind. Mormons have a strict prohibition against such indulgences. And, as most folks know, they even take their stricture against "strong drink" to mean that caffeine is forbidden.
So, my parents didn't drink alcohol or coffee. They didn't smoke cigarettes. They didn't do anything that led to altered states. Hell, my father even hated television because he considered it a "plug-in drug". For much of my childhood, we didn't have a TV. When we did have a TV, access was often restricted.
My parents left the Mormon church when I was a freshman in high school. We returned to the local Mennonite congregation in which my father was raised. Mennonites aren't quite so restrictive with mind-altering substance as Mormons are — they love their coffee! — but they're close.
In high school, I was never tempted by alcohol. I had friends who would drink, but it never appealed to me. Plus, it was against the rules.
Also in high school, I had friends who discovered marijuana. While I was ambivalent about booze, I was actively opposed to pot. I believed it was evil. Plus, it was illegal. As a rule follower, there was no way I would touch the stuff. And when I was with friends who did get stoned, I'd read them the riot act. (I once chewed out my best friend Sparky because he had the gall to get stoned while we were waiting in line to buy tickets for a Tears for Fears concert.)
Essentially, I started life as a Goody Two-Shoes. I refused to do anything illegal or immoral, and I condemned others for choosing anything that I wouldn't choose. I was a self-righteous young man who couldn't see that there's no single Right Answer to life.
Designing your life
I am obsessed with the film Everything Everywhere All at Once. From the moment I saw the trailer, I knew the movie was meant for me. I was right. The film's bizarre blend of action, philosophy, science fiction, taxes, and juvenile humor feels specifically targeted to me and my brain.
For those unfamiliar, here's a quick plot synopsis.
Evelyn and Waymond Wang own a laundromat. Their business is failing, their marriage is fracturing, and so is their relationship with Joy, their daughter. During a meeting with the IRS, Evelyn is visited by a version of her husband from a parallel universe. He says that the multiverse — all of the many parallel universes — is under attack from an evil being named Jobu Tupaki, and Evelyn is the only one who can save it. The rest of the film is about Evelyn overcoming her skepticism and discovering her true power (and Waymond's).
This trailer pretty much nails the mood and theme of the film. If this preview intrigues you, you'll probably like it:
Everything Everywhere All at Once is strange. Very strange. It starts mundane and boring, descends into madness, then ultimately ties everything together in some magical ways. Some people hate it. They can't finish watching it. That's too bad, because if you abandon the film during the boring part or the strange part, you never get to the magical part. The tedium and the madness are all part of the journey.
Life is not a game
This is a guest post from Michael Laurence. Previously at Get Rich Slowly, Michael has shared his thoughts on investment risk and what happens when more money makes you miserable.
You hear the phrase "the game of life" all the time.
There are books on Amazon instructing us on how to win at the "game of life". Hell, Milton Bradley's "The Game of Life" from 1860 — still sold today — was the first popular board game in the United States.
In the Real World, the game of life's rules and criteria for success are vague and never explicitly stated. But we all know what they are. To win, you need:
- money (or, more accurately, conspicuous consumption)
- physical attractiveness
- kids who go to great schools and are athletically successful
- and so on
"The game of life" has become more than a metaphor. Many people — obsessed with their status, career, or where their kids go to school — have internalized this idea and literally view their life not as something to enjoy, but as a competition to be won.
This is a tragedy. Life is not a game.
Learning to dance: How couples can have constructive conversations about money
Today, the Get Rich Slowly summer of books concludes with an excerpt from Cashing Out: Win the Wealth Game by Walking Away from Julien and Kiersten Saunders. Julien and Kiersten are the power couple behind the rich & Regular blog and YouTube channel.
The following excerpt from Cashing Out (published by Portfolio/Penguin) is used with permission. Copyright © 2022 by Rich & Regular LLC. This passage has been edited to be more readable on the web.
Dr. Sue Johnson is a clinical psychologist who specializes in emotionally focused therapy. She says that when couples fight (regardless of the topic), they're doing a dance. One partner makes a move, and the other one responds accordingly. She insists the dance is always the problem — not you, not me, not us — and not the topic.
By focusing on the dance, we can shift our focus and look at our interaction patterns whenever there's an issue. The rhythm of one person responding to the other person's moves is what ultimately. defines the dance, and our ability to instinctively know when to reach and and grab the other's hand for a spin requires what Dr. Johnson calls emotional attunement.
If the conflict is the dance itself, think of your emotions as the music. Being emotionally attuned means you can both hear the same song, or at the very least can acknowledge that yours isn't the only song playing. In other words, it's not enough to just go through the moves together if one of you is grooving to Barry White and the other is swinging to Barry Manilow.
When you've been in a pattern of avoiding conversations with your partner about money, it's as if you've both been attending a silent disco. Everyone's dancing, but you can't hear any music. If you want to get attuned, it's important to understand what unresolved money arguments sound like, emotionally speaking.
The power of non-monetary investments
The Get Rich Slowly summer of books continues! Today's excerpt comes from Jordan Grumet, better known in the FIRE world as Doc G, host of the Earn & Invest Podcast. When he's not talking about money, Jordan is a real-life hospice doc. His new book, Taking Stock, offers lessons from the dying to the living.
The following is from Taking Stock by Jordan Grumet with permission from Ulysses Press. Copyright © 2022 by Jordan Grumet. This passage has been edited to be more readable on the web.
I used to have a patient who was an undertaker. We had many conversations about philosophy and practicality, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that one must gain profound insights from being engaged in such a unique business. As I was often fond of saying: When the undertaker speaks, you should really listen.
Those of us who have made death and dying our business may seem unlikely investment advisers, but because both the undertaker and myself have spent extensive time in close proximity to mortality, we’ve been given unique insight into what’s really worth investing in. What investing tips could someone in my line of business have gleaned from dealing with death and dying? Believe it or not, a few quickly come to mind.
These tips weren't learned by accompanying the wealthy through this difficult journey — although the wealthy have much to teach. These tips weren't siphoned off of the personal books of those who had little interest left in hiding their secret ingredients to success. These are simple, straightforward bits of knowledge gained from walking down this lonely path with those reluctant to be making the journey.
And believe it or not, most of what I learned about investing has nothing to do with money.
How to make better decisions
Howdy, friends. Sorry for the long lapse between posts. After returning from a brief summer vacation, the GRS database had imploded. Again. We patched things up this morning and can now resume publishing. Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to share excerpts from three recent money books.
The following is from Buy This, Not That by Sam Dogen with permission from Portfolio, an imprint of the Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2022 by Kansei Incorporated.
Please note that I've edited this passage slightly to (a) be more readable on the web and (b) fit within the publisher's word-count limitations. Ready? Let's dive in!
Life is rarely black-and-white, yet we need to make definitive choices all the time.
- Rent this house or buy that apartment?
- Invest in a growth stock or an index fund?
- Live in San Francisco or Raleigh?
- Join a start-up or work at an established firm?
These choices all involve an expense of time and capital. Each choice brings risk and reward. The problem is that most of the time we don't have enough information to confidently choose this or that. My approach helps you overcome this information gap.
You do this by thinking in probabilities instead of in binary terms, where it's an all-or-nothing proposition. If you start thinking in probabilities instead of absolutes, you'll develop a stronger analytical mindset to make more winning decisions over time. You'll also be able to make more winning decisions on risks that others never dare take.
Cool projects from some of my friends
Hello, friends! I have a lot to say, and I've done a lot of work on Get Rich Slowly during the past three weeks, but most of my efforts aren't yet ready for public consumption.
- The site de-design is 95% complete, but that final five percent is fiddly. I could be ready to launch the new layout tomorrow — or it might be two weeks. It's tough to say. If you're curious, though, you can check out my current progress here. But be warned that the site isn't fully functional. (For fun, I mocked up this very post in the new format so you can see the difference.)
- I have several long articles in the works — quality! the internet is dying! the sunk-cost fallacy! — but nothing that's wholly finished. And with my attention more focused on the de-design and Real Life than on writing, it'll probably be a while before anything is complete enough to publish.
Still, I thought it'd be fun to stop in with a J. Money-esque stream-of-consciousness post to share a some cool projects from some of my friends.
Speaking of J. Money, let's start there.
How rising mortgage rates affect home-buying power
Interest rates on home mortgages are rising rapidly across the United States, which seems to be slowing most housing markets. (Some, like the market here in Corvallis, have been less affected. Give it time.)
The average mortgage rate for a 30-year loan was about 3.0% at the start of the year; today, it's at 6.245% — even for somebody with an excellent credit score over 800.
Kim and I are fortunate that we bought our home in 2021 instead of waiting until 2022. Mortgage rates weren't actually a factor during our deliberations last year; the historically low rates were simply an added bonus for buying when we did.
When we purchased our home last August, we took out a $480,000 mortgage at 2.625%. We didn't hit the precise bottom of the mortgage market (that was early January 2021, when we might have had a loan for 2.5%), but we came close.
Here's a chart from the Federal Reserve that shows mortgage rates from the past 2.5 years.
And here's a chart that shows mortgage rates for the past 50+ years:
Mortgage rates have hovered at historic lows since the Great Recession of 2007-2009. And rates fell even further during the COVID pandemic. (These low rates are partly responsible for the blazing-hot housing market of the past two years.)
What do these rising mortgage rates mean to actual home buyers? Let's use our situation as a representative example.
Growing up poor (and how it messed with my mind)
Hey, folks. We have/had a good discussion going here, but something happened to nearly all of the comments. I'm not sure what the issue is. They're still in the database, but they don't appear on the site. We'll work to solve the problem.
Update: Holy cats! It's not only the comments on this article. It's the comments on every article on the site. They're all gone. I can see them in the database, but they're no longer tied to their posts. They're just here hanging in the ether. I have zero clue what happened. May be time for a database restore.
A couple of weekends ago, Kim and I enjoyed a short vacation on the Oregon Coast. She's been taking foraging classes, and she had an early morning workshop on harvesting sea vegetables one Sunday. Rather than wake in the middle of the night to drive out, we rented a small place in Tillamook and took the dog for an adventure. (The dog loves the coast.)
We let Tally lead us on a walk through town one rainy afternoon. Coming home, we cut through a trailer park. "We're in the poor part of town," Kim said.
"Yep," I said. "But look at that trailer house right there. That is almost exactly like the one I grew up in." Here's the trailer I grew up in:
We stopped to look at the trailer. I pointed out the tiny windows and the sagging roof. "It's small," Kim said, frowning.
"Yes," I said. "Yes it is." The trailer was a beat-up 1970-era single-wide. Nothing about it looked appealing. I could imagine the inside: shag carpet, thin wood paneling on the walls, faded linoleum, colors like Avocado and Harvest Gold on every surface.
If you've been watching Stranger Things season four, as we have, the trailer houses in that show remind me of ours too. Look at this mobile home from Stranger Things; it's very, very similar to the one my parents owned:
Everything about that image feels like my childhood to me. (Well, except for the demonic tentacles wrapped around the house and car...)