As people become more divided by technology – less willing or comfortable to make direct contact, the smile is given even more power. The unspoken action of goodwill, good intention, does not come so easily to many. And when two strangers meet, if only for a moment, it is the smile that extends intention, feeling, the initial moment of faith building. Even if that moment is fleeting and assumed to be gone just as fast as it came. This exchange builds warmth in the most distant and unlikely connections.
I moved to Boston when I started my first year of college. Until then I’d lived in Palo Alto my entire life. It was literally a move to the opposite side of the country and there were a lot of adjustments to make. Of all the things I’d read about Boston such as the heavy Massachusetts accent, the use of “pop” when ordering a soda (never actually experienced this), and of course the weather, the one I wasn’t prepared for was the shorter days in the winter. I recall stepping out of class at 5pm in early December, having been in a windowless room, and being surprised to see it was already practically nighttime.
Since then I’ve lived in other places with shorter daylight than in central California as well as Boston. Berlin, Germany however is by far the greatest stretch of this phenomenon of the late autumn and winter months. With less than 8 hours from the sunrise at 8am and the sunset before 4pm, it can get pretty dreary. Fortunately I’ve learned a number of coping mechanisms for this. Lack of daylight has some well known consequences like not getting enough vitamin D through sunlight exposure on the skin. But it also changes our circadian rhythms, the biological clock that controls our production of adenosine and melatonin, which tells the body when it’s time to wake up and time to go to sleep. Of course, with the invention electricity, and more recently of cell phones, tablets, laptops, and LED lights, humans have done their fair share of man handling the delicate system that regulates when to feel sleepy or alert.
Suffice to say I make an effort to stay on the good side of these natural influences. By trying to get as much light as possible from the sun and artificial sources in the morning and mid-day. As well as avoiding screens and bright lights in the evening when it’s time to wind down and get ready for some shut eye.
This video is a bit a peak at my days in Berlin, in early November when the shorter daylight is noticeable, and also how the daily routine looks.
I want to be wealthy.
I want to be super filthy, Scrooge McDuck, swimming in money rich.
Only, it’s not money that I want.
Money alone clearly doesn’t add value to a person’s life. Don’t believe me? Google: “lottery winners lives ruined”, enough said. And if that seems like a cop out to you, just look around for stories of the complicated lives of billionaires. Sure money can help. Private jets are awesome (at least skipping TSA and baggage claim sounds nice). But wealth is not the happiness and great life in a jar it can be objectified as.
No. I want to be rich in what I’ll call “life assets”.
The life assets I want are: skills, stories, friends, family, memories, great meals, and health. You get the idea. I also believe that when you’re rich in those things, you will be successful in life. After all, happiness is probably the greatest measure of success in my book. If you are gaining all those things in your life, you’re bound to be happy.
Attributes in life as assets
So then, entertain this concept; if you can be rich with life assets, then can’t we say there is some unit of measure for those things? Perhaps no unit we’ll all agree on like we agree on the unit of $1, but at least, the idea that one can have many friends, or very few. If I speak three languages and you only speak two, would you then agree that I have a greater wealth in language than you? Or perhaps, you, on average, spend several hours a week with various friends, while I barely have time to see one. Maybe in that case I am lacking in friendship wealth, at least time with friends, compared to you.
Your life assets as investments
If that all still makes sense, I now propose one more concept to branch off the last. If you can have a surplus of these life assets, can’t you also invest in them? That’s easy to agree on, right? You can learn to cook a new meal, make a new friend at work. Get married! These are all investments in your life assets. Hell! They are investments in your life! And if you keep track of them, and watch them grow. Continue to feed them, just like a monetary asset, they will get greater and greater and pay dividends.
Investing in life assets as a way of life
I want to propose that we use this concept of investing in life assets, as a way of making good decisions. When trying to decide what to do with your time, be it work, sleep, exercise, eating, catch up with friends, consider each of them as assets. Think about which ones are lacking in the distribution of time you can give them that will in turn keep them healthy and make them grow. I think this method will make it easy to choose what is better, to go for a walk or call a relative, instead of say… watching TV 😉
Final thought: strong life assets tend to also mean longer life
You’ve probably heard of centenarians; people who live past 100 years old. National Geographic did a great profile of the three poster child communities. In Sardinia, Okinawa, and Loma Linda, California. If you look at the attributes of the people from those groups, they all share some commonalities; community and or close family. Daily exercise. Great diets (read: not dieting –they simply eat healthy food regularly, rather than as a way to lose weight). And they all have a sense of purpose (described as having a life worth living). These people all invest in their life assets daily, they maintain low levels of stress. They use their bodies and minds, and they have great nutrition. And that keeps their organs healthy and functioning.
From a different perspective, but not a different side of the coin. When a palliative nurse heard the thoughts of people on their death beds, their thoughts were eerily connected to this subject. They wished they’d focused more on being happy, worked less, spent more time with friends, and had more courage.
So, even if you aren’t the Warren Buffet among your peers. You probably have many valuable assets, that can make and give you happiness. That can give you more time with the people you love. Invest in those assets, they are probably a lot less volatile than the financial markets.
I travel a lot, and frequently I’m traveling somewhere that there are friends to see. Inevitably the question of where to meet and what to do with said friends comes up. There are many layers of complexity to that decision, how close are we? When did we meet last? How much time do we all have to spend together? But generally, since I love all my friends, and never have enough time with them I opt for the most time possible.
In the past, meeting at a restaurant was always the go to – in our late 20’s and now early 30’s it’s been fun to choose some fancy restaurant and show off what adults we’d all become (assuming these are friends I’ve known for a while). Picking a great new place to eat was a way of showing how much style and taste we’d developed, or that we don’t have to eat pizza anymore 😛
Lately though, something’s have changed. I realized, there is so little time to see these friends, that while a swanky restaurant is a nice choice, it actually limits our ability to catch up; restaurants are often loud, and at least in the USA, once people have finished eating the check comes, and unless everyone planned to go somewhere else afterwards, that means the catch up time is coming to an end. In a typical US restaurant, that could be anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes of time together. I point out US restaurants because in Europe and other places outside the US there isn’t a rush from the waiter to leave your table so other people can sit down. Once you’re done eating you can sit and talk as long as you want regardless of what you plan to eat or drink.
The other change lately has been my budget. Since I haven’t worked in 6 months, I frequently encourage friends to find lower cost options, and typically the best available in that category is a home cooked meal. Home cooked meals are great because you can to show off your skills and adultness in a whole new way with your cooking abilities and choice of cuisine. Also unless you go all out on chic ingredients, the price can be much more modest compared to a full restaurant bill, especially if you plan to drink some wine.
Additionally, at home we have all the time in the world to catch up. No one is rushing us to leave the table, conversations can run late into the night. You can even offer a place to sleep in your home if guests don’t feel like driving home is a good idea.
You’ve probably dabbled in the art of cooking dinners with friends, so you already know what I mean. But perhaps you didn’t see it quite that way, or didn’t realize the benefit of not having to leave when the meal is over. For me the extra time is the best part of all. Life is short, I can count the past 5 encounters I’ve had will all my friends in the last 10 years, that’s scary. I fear there may only be 10 – 20 more since as life goes on we get more and more tied up, we make more and more friends, and our flexibility to meet up goes from once or twice a year to once or twice every two or three years. Make the time count, give yourselves an extra hour or two and you’ve literally doubled the amount of time you get to have in each others lives!
Looking around the landscape of startups and founders around presently, it dawned on me, the aim for many of them is simply to succeed. Their company is not one they dreamt about as little kids. The problem they solve isn’t making the world a better place. Maybe it optimizes some workflow for someone somewhere and is therefor valuable. But if you boil down what the end to those companies are, and the wins along the way they may bring, the plainest take aways are success i.e. proof he can start/operate/grow a company, and cash.
So if the company doesn’t actually fulfill the dream of the founders, and it doesn’t make the world better, why are they doing it? What is the point of earning money simply to have money? It’s an empty goal. The results of it will be empty for all involved. People should avoid taking jobs, or starting new businesses just for the money. There is no greater waste of your life than to look back at 80% of the time you had and feel like it didn’t amount to anything but cash.
Yes there are skills to learn, and perhaps you have to take one for the team so you can get to a point where starting a meaningful company, or doing something meaningful is possible. But at all costs, avoid making that huge investment. Life is beautiful, and short. There isn’t time to waste just so you can have more money.
Every single moment of time is an investment into something, whether it’s sitting in a chair and investing into a bad back and bigger waistline, or talking to someone, and investing your thoughts, and ideas into the exchange of thoughts and ideas with that person as well as your relationship with them. When a employer pays an employee to be in one place doing one thing 40 hours a week, they are investing their cash into having a warm body available to perform a task when they need it.
Try to avoid being the one that is throwing away valuable time investment dollars into someone else’s pot, unless it builds assets for you and can make you happy, it’s a waste of your investment resource of time.
When a popular shop changes something about their business unfavorably, its customers have a choice: either 1) be complacent, 2) complain, or 3) find a new shop to go to with more favorable conditions.
In a free world, countries should act the same as businesses. When they start to mismanage, change hours, increase prices, or fall short on the upkeep (i.e. sanitation); some patrons will complain, and some will leave. Citizens of a country are (usually) tax payers, they rely on the services provided by their government, and when the cost of living in that government becomes too great, or the service quality provided by their country goes down too much; the citizens can ignore their frustrations which only allows the problems to fester, they can complain and try to stand up for their right to better services (considering how difficult it is to move… this is perfectly fair), or they can leave and take their tax dollars elsewhere.
In some countries moving to another city, state, or province can solve the problem. Which is good news for those who aren’t allowed to leave their country, or don’t have skills, or other qualifications needed to become welcomed as a citizen of another country.
Some people are not fortunate enough to pack up and move, when they grow tired of conditions in their current homeland they can protest, work with policy makers, and hope things improve, or ignore the problem and learn to deal with it.
But someone who speaks english and has valuable skills such as today with engineering software, mobile, or web applications, this person is literally free to go anywhere in the world. That is how badly engineers are needed in today’s economy. It’s only a matter of time before countries get the message and pay more attention to the customer suggestion box entries. Sadly, these organizations are so big, they tend to get the feedback after the proverbial ship has sailed.
I think the trend of demand for engineers will continue for at least a couple more decades, and with it, countries will be forced to see how they are losing valuable, talented citizens because the country didn’t offer a sweet enough package. Unlike the wealthy elite, engineers can make a good living, but not quite enough to freely do anything they want. They don’t have the luxury of living on a yacht and lobbying politicians, but they do have the luxury to take a job in a another country with better work life balance, culture, and cost of living.
This post documents the findings of a nurse in palliative care; who takes care of patients in the last 3-12 weeks of their life before they pass away. When the patients were asked about their regrets, the 5 things she heard repeatedly were:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Going over them one by one, I think you can easily draw some conclusions about how to live your life better, at least by the advice of those who offered their feedback from the days before theirs would end. Deducting the take away, you can make pro-active rules for yourself. I’ve recapped those here:
1. Have courage to know what you want and live the way you want, not how others expect you to.
This is a challenge for a lot of people, be it from our family, friends, society, or spouse, we feel pressure to live according to others expectations, even when they go agains’t our own personal aspirations. Do what you believe is right for you, it is not always so simple as just heading in the direction your heart tells you, but be clear with the people around you what that direction is, and if you ever feel held back, take note and free yourself from that obstacle.
2. Don’t work so hard. Focus on making time for your self outside of work.
Obvious but illusive; many people love what they do for work, and many people pour themselves into their work, but is it for the expectation of their peers, or for their own satisfaction. I think a lot of the time it’s for the former. I’ve found that the goals of my job, aimed for something I wanted to achieve, but eventually kept me from other things I wanted in life that I couldn’t get through work. Know when your work life balance is out of balance. Make the free time gaps in your work life that can be filled with your hobbies, passions, relationships, and life that you would never achieve through work.
3. Have the courage to express your feelings. Avoid people who don’t accept your true self.
If you can’t tell people how you feel. You will never feel understood. Because no one can understand you when you thoughts are unheard. It’s easy to slip into a life where you feel different from others and don’t see the need or place to share your feelings with them. But this is a habit that grows and grows until it’s normal to not share your feelings. Ultimately no one wins when you do this. People you interact with are being mislead, believing you want something else, and therefore wasting their time on you and supporting interests that aren’t yours. And you are wasting your own time, being with people who don’t understand you, or don’t want to understand you. Just imagine how fulfilling it can be to know the people around you support you and love you for who you are, not some carefully crafted image of the person you think you need to be.
4. Stay in touch with friends.
Perhaps work has something to blame here, perhaps not expressing your feelings does too. It’s easy to lose touch with friends, especially when you start investing your friendships in people from work, or the friends of your spouse rather than your own. In the end we all only have a select group of true friends. They are as important as family and it’s your job to keep them close, even if they aren’t good at it.
5. Let yourself be happier.
Since all of the above issues lead to a life of happiness and fulfillment I think it’s easiest said that if you don’t share your feelings, if you don’t keep your friends close, if you don’t make time for your personal life outside of work, if you don’t have courage to do what you truly want… you won’t be happy. And you aren’t letting yourself be happy. So start doing what you truly want to be doing, make it know how you feel to others around you. Keep your friends close and work, but don’t let it take away from the rest of your life, and have the courage to not work in the name of being happier and more productive when you are working.
Problems nag at us. They fill our thoughts, like a weed, growing up in between the things we deem important. They bother us, take attention away from what we want to think about. Many of us procrastinate, allowing the weed to grow, to form roots and eventually crack the foundation of the ground they formed under.
Others treat these problems like weeds, and hit them with some weed killer, applying toxic chemicals to take away the possibility that they become a strong life in the place where they coincidentally found refuge. Possibly introducing new poisons to our ecosystem.
Some problems can be treated not like weeds; growing up between cracks, but like crops. Perhaps they don’t present danger, perhaps they wont make things ugly. Maybe they are the spirit of new birth in our life, forming in the dark corners, conceived while we were looking in the other direction. And if we give them enough time to get past that seedling stage, provided they don’t offer any imminent danger, they will develop into a flower, or a hearty stalk. Something that can be used, or perhaps something that changes the way we perceive ourselves. Creating new life were there were only particles. The zygote of creation working it’s magic on our very own lives.
If we keep a passive eye on our problems, so long as they aren’t progressing into something bad, letting them mature, we can understand if they are actually a problem, or something new, beautiful, enlightening. We can reap the assets of those problems, as they in fact might not be problems, but diamonds in the rough. When the time is right, we can harvest them, make them into something great, grown organically in the backyard-chaos that is our lives.
That’s quite a view right? That’s how I feel too. This was taken in Norway after hiking 11km to the “Troll Tunga”. How I got there, and where I was in my life tells a story of a lot of unexpected situations, dedication, and careful planning. That’s a lot how life is though, isn’t it? You do some planning, and there are a lot of unexpected things that come along.
Up there on top of the Hardangerfjord in Norway, looking off the ledge of that rock, I was thinking two things, 1) “this is one of the most spectacular moments of my life”, and 2) “I better go soon, there are a lot of people waiting to stand here after me!”. But something changed inside me that day from that moment. I just wanted to stay. I wanted to spend as much of my time as possible in places as beautiful as Norway, looking out over endless beautiful landscapes. I felt rewarded, and I felt lost. I had touched bliss for a moment, and soon I had to walk down the mountain, to get back to the car, so I could drive to the airport the next day, and eventually head home to Berlin where I live and had a job to return to.
The juxtaposition of responsibility and desire to enjoy the moment were playing a tug of war in my head. I knew it was possible to stay, the consequences were not so big that I couldn’t recover from them. Everything that went into getting there emphasized the importance of time, to make the most of the time I had in Norway: looking at tons of maps, finding driving directions, comparing car rental fees with paying for tour busses, camping vs cottages, this city or another, phone calls and emails to tourism offices. So many decisions had been made before even getting to the airport in Oslo – so more time could be spent enjoying my time in this beautiful country. And yet here I was with less than an hour at the summit only to have to prepare to leave.
It’s a huge metaphor for life.
You spent so much time fighting, waiting, working, planning, just so you can get somewhere that you expect to be grand. And then the hike back down begins as quickly as the final approach had ended. How can we extend that time at the summit? How can we have more of it? How can the inevitable return to “real life” be less urgent? What if being at these places was “real life”, and the time back at base camp getting ready to ascend the mountain was the brief moment? That’s what I wanted!
Life is beautiful. It’s short. If you don’t think so, you’re probably in your early twenties and haven’t looked back at your last year of college like it was eons ago. But age is no matter, if you can open your eyes to behold a breath taking sunset, the world is still your oyster. The most important thing is the world is changing, constantly. It’s easier than ever to climb to the top of that mountain and have a lifestyle that allows you to stay at the top of that mountain, or go on to climb many more.
I’ve found many ways to live like this, and I think anyone else can do it. It’s not as easy as asking to work from home until your manager trusts you so much you can get away with flying around the country without anyone noticing. You can’t just find someone in another country to cover your ass while you go surfing. But it is as easy as giving yourself some runway, removing unnecessary lifestyle habits that prevent you from getting out into the world, making a plan, and booking a one way ticket.
This blog is dedicated to teaching people how to obtain those spectacular moments. No matter what your dreams are, chances are, some of the steps for getting there scare the living daylights out of you. On a deep chemical molecular level that is just your hippocampus warning you there is some risk. But just like riding a rollercoaster, or jumping off a diving board. As soon as you take the plunge, that same gland will reward you with dopamine, and nothing will feel as good as waking up every day challenging yourself to once again take a proverbial dive into the world that awaits you. Challenging yourself, and taking the sometimes unimaginable steps to get the things you want in life, not only helps you enjoy how you live completely. It’s an amazing ride and I plan to show you how to take it.
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