Taking the Next Step Forward

My life has changed a lot since I started writing here, pretending to be a simple economist. I’ve started school, finished school, traveled a bit, started a new job, had two kids, bought a house, paid it off, moved around town, and moved into a new career. I’ve read a lot, learned a little, and live a life that often feels completely different than the simple one that I started this journey down. I’m pretty happy with where life sits right now. Its a neat place. There are a few little things I’d like to wrap up and finish, but I’m moving into a season where the biggest life decisions (what to ‘do’, where to live, how many kids to have, who to marry) cede themselves to refining decisions and spending time with the people most important in my life.

walker-1208261_1280I’ve done a lot less reflection recently and its starting to get the better of me. I’ve been in consumption mode and my life is changing because of it. The biggest change has been a movement in career. Although I am now doing what I love, I’m still in learning mode and I’m faced with new challenges and demands daily. I was good enough at my old job that most days I could just get my work done without a lot of new thinking or mental stress. When I finish most days at my current job, I’m often running low on mental energy. In fact, the other day I even struggled with a basic conversation about explaining the benefits of a simple life because I haven’t spent the time to mentally organize my thoughts given the new season of life I’ve entered. I haven’t spent the time to have the conversations with my family and wife about what our next big goals are and the steps to get there. I’m entering a new stage of life and I need to decide what’s next. Continue reading Taking the Next Step Forward

I Should Be Doing Something Else

Do you ever have the thought: I Should Be Doing Something Else? It’s a classic dilemma. I get that feeling when I have an unfinished task that requires attention. It’s similar to the notion about being at work and thinking about your kids, spouse, or what you should be doing with your life; then, thinking about work when you should be relaxing, vacationing, sleeping, or enjoying your kids or family. If you have a knowledge type job or manage others, there is certainly the tendency to have your mind going in the background thinking through the endless possibilities of things that need to be done.

typewriter-801921_1280When we have a list of things that need to be done, whether written or simply in our head, we often feel internal guilt about not doing the “Things that need to be done”. It doesn’t always motivate us to actually do the urgent things but certainly makes doing any thing else less enjoyable. Another personal example is this: I enjoy reading, especially novels, non-fiction, and most long form content. However, when I was taking college classes, especially those that suggested (or demanded) lots of textbook reading, I always felt guilty if I read something other than the textbook in my free time. A rational person would simply say, finish reading your text, then you can relax and read whatever you want. However, instead of doing the rational thing, I would simply avoid reading all together. For some reason, other activities that didn’t compete as directly with the mental space dedicated to reading for class, were easily accomplished on my to-do list. Continue reading I Should Be Doing Something Else

I Don’t Want to Read the Book

“I don’t want to read the book, just tell me what to do.” I’m an avid reader. I spend a large majority of my day reading for work, research, or pleasure. I almost always enjoy reading the book. If you are like me, you probably enjoy reading too. I’m a bit unique in the fact that I almost exclusively read non-fiction. But I enjoy a detailed and carefully informed argument about a topic. Most non-fiction books are just that. Especially the business, lifestyle design, personal finance, or self-help variety. To some extent, long form essays or blogs are similar as well. I actually enjoy reading the details and gaining context to understanding the ‘why’ behind a set of recommendations or suggested actions. Especially when it comes to life change.

old booksBut most people are not like me. Most people do not enjoy reading like I do. Well, maybe they enjoy reading their Facebook feed, but any long-form non-fiction is akin to pulling teeth. Trying to get someone else to read a 1,000 word blog post or even a short essay about a topic of interest can be surprisingly hard with some individuals. Most people don’t want to read the book. Continue reading I Don’t Want to Read the Book

Less Information, More Reflection

I’m addicted to new information. I enjoy listening to podcasts, reading plenty of non-fiction books, watching documentaries, perusing other blogs, following TED/YouTube series, and studying academic publications. In addition, I really enjoy meeting and learning from people who are a little older and a little wiser than myself. In essence, I find myself on the constant lookout for new information. Due to the nature of my employment, I must follow economic and financial (and sometimes political) news as well. I’m constantly bombarding myself with new data.

IMG_3724[1]I still find myself searching for more information when, often, I already have enough. I simply need to step back, reflect on it, and take action. I don’t really need to read more about the nuances of financial planning at this point. I need to spend more time reflecting on the choices I’ve made over the last six months and see if they align with my long term goals. I don’t need to read more about simplifying my life or organizing something a little better. I need to take inventory to see if I’m actually keeping everything organized and following simplistic principles. I need to spend much more time in reflection and less time consuming new information. (Picture is a nice little sticky note that covers up the second tab of my browser when I’m tempted to get distracted) Continue reading Less Information, More Reflection

From Tiny House to McMansion

Is 2,328 square feet crazy for four relatively small people? 3,500 sf? Can a wannabe minimalist own a huge house? Are the two mutually exclusive?

Well, we did it. We traded in the tiny house and bought a McMansion. Well, actually, we didn’t. We haven’t actually moved. We haven’t listed our current home. And we haven’t found the mythical “forever house”. But, I’ve noticed that my mindset has already started to drift. Things I previously considered off limits are now “affordable” and “convenient”. An extra bedroom, sure. Houses for our cars, why not? Commuting to work with traffic- everyone else doesn’t seem to mind. I’m amazed at how far my mind has traveled in the last few months. Maybe it’s time for me to get out the catheter and bedpan.

house6In turns out, a lot of people think like us. Family friendly, in-town, walkable, Ivy-league preschool district, open floor plan, park-friendly, and affordable*. These are the buzzwords of many young professionals and young families are striving to achieve in housing. However, I’ve learned first hand that the combination (especially the affordable* part) seems to be a bit of a mythical proposition in many different areas of the country. Our town is relatively small and the limited number of homes that meet the previously mentioned qualifications are sadly few and far between. However, if you strike the whole in-town/walkable part, the outskirts and suburbs have a plethora of options to meet the needs of discerning parents. So, if somethings got to give- what will it be? Continue reading From Tiny House to McMansion

Reducing The Need For Willpower

There was a bowl of chocolate covered almonds sitting out in the kitchen. Throughout the day, every time I would go to grab a drink, grab a snack, or get something for anyone in the household, the little bowl of treats called my name. I really like dark chocolate covered almonds (or nuts of any kind). On a normal day, I don’t really eat any sweets. If I do, it’s typically a small nibble after dinner. In fact, we try not to keep many unhealthy things in our household because I know my willpower is weak when I’m hungry and ready-to-eat treats are around.

choco nutsI think everyone has some type of change they would like to make in their life. Throughout the years we often think in terms of resolutions or goals. While I still participate in the practice of thinking through areas of self-improvement, I’ve come to the conclusion that systems work a lot better than willpower. In fact, most people concentrate on the goals they would like to meet and the mental power it takes to ‘deny oneself’. However, I think we rely too much on our own will power when we would actually be better served by putting ourselves in a position to succeed in making needed changes. Wouldn’t it be nice if it was easy to make significant changes in our life? What if it was easier to eat healthier, work out more, have more time and waste less money. Too often, our lives are simply designed to fail. We spend more time dreaming about the results of our resolutions, but spend entirely too little time on the systems that make our goals succeed. We need better systems in place to reduce the need for willpower. Continue reading Reducing The Need For Willpower

Delaying The Big Decisions

Certain seasons of life are filled with big decisions. There are inflection points in life which determine the trajectory of our future. Choosing a career, a spouse, where to live, and to have children (and how many) are all huge decision points that radically affect our life and lifestyle. The pressure to make the right decision can be tough as we move through different seasons of life. One way to make the process more palatable is to simply slow down the process. If I am not comfortable moving forward, I must take additional time, gather more information, and make one big decision at a time.

Our family is in the middle of one of the largest inflection points we’ll experience. Life has been pretty straightforward for the last five or six years. We’ve lived in our little college town, maintained the same jobs, and executed the plan of starting our family. While kids were a game changer, we mostly continued our life and just towed the kids along. Our lives are quickly becoming more kid-centric. I also started a long graduate program (PhD in Financial Planning and the study of Behavioral Economics) that added an additional four or five years of clarity to our plans. But now the mini-stage of life is coming to an end. We are having new discussions. We are trying to decided how many kids to have, to remain in the city center (vs. suburbia), considering possible career changes, deciding about school systems, family friendly homes, and who we need to become to be great parents. I feel like our big decision making pants have been on autopilot the last few years and it is all coming to a climax. Continue reading Delaying The Big Decisions

The People We Love The Most

The holiday break and new year are often times where the activities of our life change. Growing up, it was a time where stress and responsibility went away and fun and relaxation filled every day. I wouldn’t say that holidays are stress free these days- but certainly the activities change and the grind of work or school flow into managing crazy kidschildren’s activities, spending time with friends, and entertaining extended family. In my life, I certainly notice that I have a lot more unstructured time to think and contemplate. In fact, I often push many of the family discussions about long-term plans to the end of the year when Ms. SE and I have a little time to spend together.

The question I need to evaluate and answer each year is this: How am I treating the people I love the most? Am I prioritizing the right people? Am I allocating my time and attention appropriately? And lastly, am I communicating my love in a way that the people I care about understand and internalize? Continue reading The People We Love The Most

Slowing Down the Input Stream

Sometimes I feel like I have too much information coming into my life. I’m especially aware of information that is not helpful and does not meaningfully contribute to a fulfilled life. In the modern age we are constantly bombarded with news, options, advertisement, requests, and astutely crafted marketing plans. Often, it is simply too much.

streamI’m not a big fan of negativity. I certainly appreciate (but dislike) constructive criticism but still I struggle with negative things that impact my mindset- especially in areas where I have little actual control. I still spend too much time on Facebook and Twitter and I find myself reading about ‘news’ as a way to procrastinate when important things are on the line. I’m always striving for contentment and I’m pretty sure there is a relationship between the input steams that enter my life and the level of satisfaction I feel.

I need to be intentional about the stream of information that comes into my brain. I need to constantly monitor the positive ones and discourage the negative ones. I need to remove the unproductive ones and concentrate on the ones that bring actual fulfillment. I need to slow down my input stream.

It Begins Here
My cell phone and my internet connection. I’m pretty sure the bulk of my unproductive (and also my productive) inputs come from two simple sources: My cell phone and the Internet. I’m to the point where I rarely watch unplanned television and most of my friends are healthy inputs. When I make the time to read for fun it is often relaxing and productive. But, I do find myself guilty of many of the things productivity gurus restrict. I know I shouldn’t look at my cellphone right when I get up or check my email before I do important things- but I find myself doing them anyway. I know that I rarely workout after 7am but sometimes I still hit the snooze button and skip my morning workout. I know I need to spend more time doing “x” but I waste time doing this or that. Social media, deals, and news. These are my time wasters. When I’m feeling extra unproductive I can spend plenty of time reading about my favorite sports teams and fantasy football. Assessing my input streams really begins with understanding how to control my phone and the time I spend online. Continue reading Slowing Down the Input Stream

When We Don’t Follow Our Own Advice

We write a lot about optimizing life and living as simply and efficiently as possible. But do we actually live it out? Or better yet, have our lives evolved and changed to the point where things that were priorities years ago now have changed? That is the internal (and now external) debate that has been raging in my head the past few months. I’ve started to question many of the assumptions we’ve made to determine which aspects of our life are passing fads and which are grounded principles.

adviceI don’t really like giving advice. I’d rather tell stories about what works for us and give examples of how it is possible to live efficiently in one area or another. There is a point where I still encounter the mental challenge of trying to live out my own advice. I often find myself in circumstances where I can rationalize my way into almost any possible scenario. I find myself saying things like, I would never recommend this to a friend but our family is a little different. Or, we could probably make that work- it would be a stretch, but we could do it for a little while. So, when the dust settles, will we be able to live out what we actually think is best for our life? Continue reading When We Don’t Follow Our Own Advice