Turning My Hobby Into My Job

When I was a kid I told people I wanted to be an architect. I think it was mainly because I played with lots of Legos and people told me I should build or design stuff for a living. As I approached the end of high school, I leaned more toward engineering and medicine mostly just following in the footsteps of my family. At some point after my first year in college, I realized I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so I stepped back to get a generalized degree in business. After graduation, I spent a little time overseas working and traveling eventually settling into grad school learning about economics.

Ifinancen high school I remember thinking economics was the most boring subject on Earth. I equated it with graphs, charts, and equilibriums that had little bearing on my day to day life. When it came to graduate school I couldn’t decide between an MBA program or Law school. Looking back, I think I was really just buying time to figure out what I wanted to do in life. Ironically, I chose to go with economics based primarily on the fact that they offered the best assistantship and stipend. It wasn’t until I really studied microeconomics and behavioral economics that I realized that learning how incentives work and how decisions are made is extremely valuable. Continue reading Turning My Hobby Into My Job

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 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

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

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

How Many Square Feet Do We Need to Be Happy?

We are having a debate. Or at least I am having a debate. I’m faced with internal dilemma of trying to figure out where I want to live in the coming months (and years). As a family, we are anticipating many different changes in the next few years, but most likely one will involve buying a new house in the town where we currently live. We really like the home we are in. In fact, we will probably keep it as a rental unit even after we buy a new one. Our house is modest in size for our area and the price per square foot of real estate is super inexpensive where we live. We can easily afford a lot of house, but what do we actually need? All the internal discussion boils down to the question: how many square feet do we need to be happy?

My History With Big Houses
houseIn Georgia, where I’ve spent the vast majority of my life, houses are really big. We have lots of space, a major home building industry, plenty of forestry products and sprawling urban and suburban business centers. I grew up in a family of six and my parents turned our 3/2 into a space with bedrooms for all by the time I finished high school. For several years I had a massive basement to spend the majority of my time. In college, I shared a 185sf dorm with a roommate, followed by a fraternity house with 35 other guys and finally a room in a large house to myself. After college I moved to Manila and lived in a small 200sf studio. Upon getting married, we stayed in a 1,200sf condo before moving into our own 390sf studio for several years. Finally, we moved into our current 850sf home of efficiently laid out urban space with our family of four. (Picture is of a move in ready house that just sold in our town for about 190k, 3,600sf, $829 Monthly payment) Continue reading How Many Square Feet Do We Need to Be Happy?

Your Life is Designed to Be Unhealthy

Do you currently feel healthy? Do you feel like it is difficult to remain healthy? Are unhealthy habits and temptations continually challenging your self control and motivation? Almost everyone I know wants to live a healthy life. We all want to eat well, exercise, sleep well, minimize stress, and have healthy relationships. But is it even realistic? You may know someone who seems to live a healthy life with ease. Without effort, they seem to eat well, workout at 5:00am and live stress-free. In comparison, we often contrast our ideal with the realities of working late, demanding children, rushed meal choices and relationship pressure. Is our life designed to be unhealthy?

unhealthyDesigning a healthy life happens when we understand, prioritize, and automate the important. We don’t accidentally become healthier. It doesn’t come naturally. In fact, society actually pushes us in the exact opposite direction. We have consistent pressure to complicate our lives. Do more. Make more. Spend more. Life moves health to the bottom of our priority list- often until we reach a crisis. If you have the right tool, the project is easy. However, without the right equipment (physical or mental), trying to make progress is an uphill battle. We never get traction. So, until we realize popular society (and the marketing power they exhibit) does not have our best interest in mind, we will be stuck with the mentally exhausting task of trying to live a healthy life. The solution is actually pretty simple. It involves a little planning; but all we really need to do is make healthy choices easier than unhealthy ones. That is when progress actually happens. Continue reading Your Life is Designed to Be Unhealthy

I Need More Than a (Financial) Pill

Everybody wants a pill. People want a quick and easy fix. It takes real work to dive under the surface and address the true challenges we face. We are often too tired, too lazy, and too comfortable to initiate any type of real change in our life. We don’t want to change, we just want our problems fixed. So, we ask for a pill. The trouble is, even when we get a pill, we end up just treading our symptoms instead of actually addressing the underlying problems in our lives. Sure, it makes us feel better for the moment, but does it actually make our lives better?

Debt, weight loss, relationship communication, stress, poor sleeping habits, addictive substances? Sure, a pill will fix all of those.

money pill“I don’t want to work any more or spend any less but I’d like to get rid of this debt. I don’t want to eat any differently or exercise at all, but help me lose 50lbs. I want my relationship to be better with my _________ but I don’t want to be uncomfortable working though current and past issues. I want to feel healthy and wake up feeling good on weekend mornings but I’m not ready to give up cigarettes or alcohol. We see it all around us. We see it in ourselves. We often have major issues that need to be addressed but rarely have the emotional fortitude to address the challenges head on. It is a lot easier to take a pill. It is much harder to fix ourselves. Continue reading I Need More Than a (Financial) Pill