My life philosophy: 52 lessons from 52 years

Now we are 52And now we are 52...

On this day in 1969, baby J.D. entered the world. I don't think there's any way my parents could have predicted the path their firstborn would take through life. It hasn't always been easy — no thanks to the obstacles I've placed in my own way — but I've really had a wonderful (and interesting) life, and I look forward to whatever time is left me.

As I do every year here at Get Rich Slowly, I'm going to commemorate my birthday by sharing some of the most important things I've learned during my time on Earth. These are the most important pieces of my life philosophy.

Let's start with a look at the core takeaway from my 52nd year, the newest addition to my life philosophy.

What I Learned During My 52nd Year

This past year, especially, has been an interesting one. I know that's true for the world as a whole, but I personally have experienced a great deal of growth over the last twelve months. It's been a deeply introspective year.

If you were following along, you could see me process some of this introspection in real time, both here on the blog and at the Get Rich Slowly channel on YouTube.

In July, I wrote that I am the one thing in life I can control. In August, I wrote about eliminating net negatives (or trying to). In October, I wrote about the pursuit of quality. And just a few weeks ago, I wrote about the power of low expectations.

What I've realized in recent weeks is that all of these Deep Thoughts seem to be a manifestation of the same fundamental problem in my life: my ADHD. For years, I suspected I had ADHD. In 2012, my therapist confirmed it. In consultation with my M.D., my therapist prescribed a medication (Vyvanse) that I was meant to take every day. I hate the side effects, though, so I never did. I took it only as needed.

But in searching for answers regarding my ongoing depression and anxiety, I've come to understand that these two debilitating mental illnesses can actually be caused by ADHD. My inability to focus leads me to become overwhelmed. When I become overwhelmed, I get stressed. When I get stressed, I get anxious and depressed.

It all seems obvious today, but it was never obvious before.

Anyhow, I've begun taking my Vyvanse regularly. Today is the sixth day in a row that I've used it. It seems to be helping. Meanwhile, I've been trying to practice mindfulness in everyday life. Plus, Kim and I are taking some big steps (to be discussed here in the coming weeks) to alleviate some of the things that overwhelm me on a regular basis.

Coming to grips with the fact that my ADHD is more pronounced than I believed (and that it's probably the source of so many of the things that bring me suffering) has been eye-opening. As I reviewed this list, for instance, I was surprised at just how many pieces of my philosophy directly tied to ADHD coping mechanisms. It's crazy.

So, the biggest lesson I learned this year is the age-old maxim: know thyself. As far as possible, know what makes you tick — and how that affects your goals, actions, and relationships.

My Life Philosophy

Before we dive into the rest of my life philosophy, I want to make something clear: I am no wiser or smarter than anybody else. And I'm certainly no better. But I am an individual.

I'm my own person with my own personal preferences and personal experiences. These have all jumbled together over the past 52 years to give me a unique perspective on life (just as you have a unique perspective on life). To quote my favorite poem:

Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met...

So, these 52 nuggets of wisdom are things I've found to be true for me — and, I believe, for most other people. (But each of us is different. What works for me may not work for you.) These beliefs make up the core of my personal philosophy of life.

Some of these ideas are original to me. Some aren't. When I've borrowed something, I've done my best to cite my source. (And I've tried to cite the oldest source I can find. Lots of folks borrow ideas from each other. There's nothing new under the sun and all that.)

Here are 52 principles I've found to be true during my 52 years on this planet. I'll lead with this year's new addition.

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More about...Psychology

The power of low expectations

At the end of January, I had an epiphany.

Kim and I were sitting in the living room one evening, relaxed in our easy chairs, both reading books. All four of our beasts were nestled nearby. The house was quiet. For the first time in forever, I felt completely content.

For maybe twenty minutes, I paused what I was doing and simply savored the moment. I stopped. I looked around. I made time to be present in the Now.

Eventually, my mind began to wander. "When was the last time I was this happy?" I wondered. I thought back to the late 1990s when my ex-wife and I lived in similar circumstances. Kris and I would read together in the evening, each with a cat in our laps. Life was simpler. I felt no anxiety. I was happy.

Then too, I achieved a similar level of contentment as recently as 2013. Soon after Kris I got divorced, Kim and I began dating. I lived alone in an apartment. My life wasn't filled with obligations and Stuff. Again, things were simpler. Simpler and saner and more filled with joy.

"But what really is the difference between those two periods of time and the last few years?" I thought. "Why have I been so anxious recently?"

The difference, I realized, has a lot to do with my expectations.

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The power of habit tracking

For decades, I've been a proponent of habit tracking. Habit tracking sounds and feels nerdy to a lot of folks, so many people avoid it. That's too bad. Habit tracking is a powerful tool that can help you make better decisions about your life.

Let me share an example.

Over at Reaktor, Olof Hoverfält recently published a long piece about why he's tracked every single piece of clothing he's worn for three years.

That's right: For 1000+ days, Hoverfält documented every garment he wore. (And, in fact, he's continuing to document his wardrobe publicly.) Using the info he collected, he's now able to make better decisions about which clothes to keep and which clothes to buy. I love it!

Hoverfält says people worry about how much time it'd take to do something like this but they shouldn't. Most of the time investment is in the initial setup, in that first batch of data entry. Actually using and maintaining the system requires about one minute each day. And the rewards are far greater than the cost in time.

Hoverfält's project is a perfect example of the power of habit tracking.

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More about...Psychology, Clothing

A year-long spending moratorium

While walking the dog last weekend, Kim noted that I've been getting a lot of packages in the mail lately. "What's up with that?" she asked.

I sighed.

"Remember how we shared that bottle of champagne on New Year's Eve?" I said. "Well, that got me buzzed enough that I sat down at my computer and ordered a bunch of used books. Mystery novels and manga. So, those are starting to filter in." That's right. I got drunk on New Year's Eve (because I no longer drink regularly, I've become a lightweight) and ordered old John le Carré paperbacks and Lone Wolf and Cub compilations from ABE Books. I lead an exciting life, my friends.

"Don't you have enough books?" Kim asked.

"Honestly, I do," I said. "And I haven't read half of them. I haven't watched half of the movies I've purchased. I haven't read half of my graphic novels."

"You only wear about half of the clothes in your closet," Kim added. We stopped to let the dog dig in the ditch. Tally was certain she smelled a rodent and was desperate to find it.

"Right," I said. "I know I'm not the only one who does this, but that doesn't mean I like it. I feel as if I ought to take a break from buying new stuff and just work through the books and movies and clothes I already own."

"I feel as if you ought to do that too," Kim said, laughing. Then Tahlequah saw a deer in the neighbor's field, and our conversation was forgotten in the ensuing excitement. Bark bark bark! Deers are evil.

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More about...Psychology, Spending Wisely

Start where you are

Ah, a brand new year.

Especially after the shitshow that was 2020, it's good to have the sense that we can begin anew, that we can shed some of those habits and behaviors that have been holding us down while adopting new patterns that lead us to become better humans.

I actually enjoyed a fruitful second half to 2020. I lost 24 pounds. I (mostly) gave up alcohol. I recorded 61 videos. I made progress in my fight against depression and anxiety. And, most importantly, I resumed the habit of writing every day.

In 2021, I want to build on this momentum. I want to continue these habits while incorporating a few new ones, such as tracking my time, keeping a personal journal, and — once I reach my target weight — exercising regularly once more.

There's one thing that often holds me back when I decide to make changes. It holds others back too. It's the overwhelming feeling that there's just so much to do — and that I've handicapped myself through poor choices in the past. I remember the physical feats I was capable of when doing Crossfit a decade ago, for instance, and I feel a sense of helplessness. I'm nowhere near as fit I was ten years ago. There's no way I can do that stuff today.

But I have to remind myself: It's not a competition. I ought not compare myself to others — or to my past self. My sole goal should be a better person tomorrow than I am today.

To do this, I must accept who I am, where I am. It sure would be nice if I were to start a fitness program in better shape than I currently am, but that's only a dream. If I want to change, I have to accept reality. I need to start where I am.

And if you want to change — if you want to master your money, your health, your relationships, your career — you too must start where you are.

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More about...Money Basics, Psychology

Action creates motivation

Human beings are interesting creatures. I'm fascinated by them. That's probably the reason I was a psychology major in college. It's certainly the reason that I believe (strongly) that everybody is talented, original, and has something important to say. (That bit of philosophy is something I picked up from Brenda Ueland's marvelous book, If You Want to Write.)

People are awesome — even if we're each flawed in our own way.

One thing I've noticed over the past few years is the dichotomy between knowing something and doing something. It's one thing to understand a concept or fact intellectually; it's a completely different thing to experience a fact or concept, or to put it into practice.

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I am the one thing in life I can control

Three weeks ago, I drove from Portland to Colorado Springs to participate in Camp FI, a weekend retreat for people interested in financial independence and early retirement.

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't drive this distance. It's a 1300-mile trip that takes at least twenty hours to cover. Or, if you're me, it's a 1400-mile trip that takes 23 hours of driving spread over two days.

But, in case you haven't noticed, we're in the middle of a global pandemic, and although I'm not nearly as cautious as many of my friends, I don't relish the idea of confining myself to close quarters with dozens of strangers for hours on end in an airplane. Besides, I like to drive. And I love the beauty of the American west. And I needed some time alone to think deep thoughts — and to listen to the Hamilton soundtrack over and over and over again.

Around noon on Day Two, as I exited I-80 in south-central Wyoming, I was listening to Hamilton for the fourth time in 24 hours when I was smacked in the brain by a lyric I hadn't heard before. I pulled off the side of the road to think about it -- and to make some notes.

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Great lessons from great men

Because I write a personal finance blog, I read a lot of books about money. I'll be honest: they're usually pretty boring. Sure, they can tell you how to invest in bonds or how to find the latest loophole in the tax code. But most of them lack a certain something: the human element.

Over the years, I've found that it's fun to read a different kind of money book in my spare time. I've discovered the joy of classic biographies and success manuals, especially those written by (or about) wealthy and/or successful men. When I read about Benjamin Franklin or Booker T. Washington or J.C. Penney, I learn a lot — not just about money, but about how to be a better person.

Here are some of the most important lessons that these books, written by and about great men of years gone by, have taught me.

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How to get started with difficult tasks

Yesterday in the /r/financialindependence community on Reddit, /u/mkengland asked a seemingly innocent question:

What made you stop planning/researching financial independence and actually start?

Was there a tipping point for you where you finally felt ready to start your FI journey? What made you finally take the plunge, open that first IRA/brokerage account/etc., and throw your money into the market?

[...]

I'm waffling over details, though...and can't seem to just DO IT.

This question seems innocuous, right? Yet, I've been thinking about it for the past 24 hours.

I hear questions like this relatively often. People want to know how to get started with saving and investing. Or with debt reduction. Or they want to know how to get started with budgeting. And, in fact, it's the sort of question I had too back when I started my own journey away from debt and toward financial freedom. It all seems so overwhelming! Where do you begin?

Trust me, I know how easy it is to over-complicate things. My ex-wife used to call me Overanalytical Man due to my superhuman ability to overthink even the simplest subject. Although I do this less often (and less severely) than I used to, it's still a problem that plagues me.

Today, let's talk about what I've learned about how to get started with difficult tasks.

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What to do when the stock market crashes

Can you feel it? There's panic in the streets! We're in the middle of a stock market crash and the hysteria is starting again. As I write this, the S&P 500 is down six percent today -- and 17.3% off its record high of 3386.15 on February 19th.

S&P 500 status

Media outlets everywhere are sharing panicked headlines.

Panicked headlines

All over the TV and internet, other financial reporters are filing similar stories. And why not? This stuff sells. It's the financial equivalent of the old reporter's adage: "If it bleeds, it leads."

Here's the top story at USA Today at this very moment:

USA Today headline

But here's the thing: To succeed at investing, you have to pull yourself away from the financial news. You have to ignore it. All it'll do is make you crazy.

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More about...Investing, Economics, Psychology