Somewhere along the past eight months of traveling and blogging, I’ve been forced to think big about life. Sometimes, when Adam and I run out of things to say to each other or maybe just have a few extra beers, introspection happens. I’ve learned a lot about myself along this trip and lately, I’ve been surprised to find I’m developing a life philosophy in bits and pieces from inspiring writers and bloggers I’ve stumbled across.
So, in my most ambitious and possibly cheesiest blog post ever, I am going to try to explain my life philosophy, through the writers who most inspire me. In addition to giving everyone reading some further (and better!) things to read on the internet, I hope this post inspires future conversations that help me figure it out even more.
Ok, here we go. I promise to keep it short. My current philosophy is:
Be strong and self-reliant.
Choose limited “essentials” intentionally.
Challenge yourself to find the least you need, not the most you can get.
For me, strength and self-reliance are physical, mental, and financial. There are probably other important ways to be strong, but these are currently my priorities. I know it’s weird to start your life philosophy with weight lifting but hear me out.
“Being strong makes you harder to kill.” – Mark Rippetoe, Starting Strength
Starting Strength is the first book I ever read about lifting weights or working out. Rippetoe argues that building lean muscle mass and strength is the best way to get and stay healthier, especially as one gets old. Strength is hard to gain but relatively easy to maintain, so everyone should start getting stronger as soon as possible.
If you want to get strong, there are a lot of ways to do it, but I think the Starting Strength method is the most efficient and least injury-prone way to do it. The book has hundreds of pages on the form of the recommend lifts. The programs are very simple and the results are addictive. I loved that the workout was straightforward, easy to measure, got results, and didn’t take up a bunch of time or cause me any injuries.
It wasn’t easy to find gyms while we were traveling in Asia and we missed working out consistently. I’m excited to get back at it now that we’re “home” in the US. I’ve even made room in my small bag for my squat shoes, at least for now!
Moving onto financial strength, my next source of inspiration is Mr. Money Mustache, or MMM, a blog about “Financial Freedom through Badassity.” MMM writes about how badass it is to be frugal, with occasionally over-the-top comments like this:
Your current middle-class life is an Exploding Volcano of Wastefulness, and by learning to see the truth in this statement, you will easily be able to cut your expenses in half – leaving you saving half of your income. – Mr. Money Mustache
He got me started on a mind shift change that’s been amplified by our travelling, one where I realized it is cheaper and more satisfying to figure things out myself than to pay someone to do it. His blog is full of posts that inspired me to be more mindful about spending and our finances, plus he rages on consumerism in amusing ways.
One easy way to stop spending as much, which we used before we left Chicago, was implementing a one-in-one-out policy for our apartment. We knew we already had enough stuff, so we decided that if we wanted to purchase something new, like clothes, furniture, kitchen gadgets, or whatever, we would first get rid of something of equal weight and volume. This was a really good practical rule, it was easy to implement and explain, but it wasn’t inspirational for me.
Then, I found The Minimalists.
The Minimalists are two writers, bloggers, Instagrammers and recently podcasters who inspire me with their beautiful minimalism.
Adam’s opinion of possessions trends more towards stoicism, whereas these guys focus on having the right set of things that help you live the life you want, rather than just having less. Check out their blog, I’m think it will inspire you to make more room for the important things in life.
Of course, both MMM’s brand of personal finance and Minimalism focus heavily about being mindful and pragmatic about what’s important. Another big source of inspiration for me and Adam on mindfulness is Sam Harris, an author, blogger, podcaster and neuroscientist.
The first inspiration was a ~100 page book called Lying. To summarize, you should never lie, not even white lies, and especially not to people who you care about. Adam felt strongly that the ideas in Lying were something he’d already gotten close to on his own, but the book gave him a more articulate explanation and a stronger intellectual rationale for his behavior.
After reading the book and committing to being more honest, I was surprised and a little embarrassed when I realized how often and unnecessarily I would let small lies slip. And, I’m sure we’ve all been in a place where one little fib leads down a slippery slope to a bigger deception. Once I started noticing the little and bigger lies, I had to think hard about why I didn’t want to tell someone the truth. I will admit I still avoid some conversations and occasionally change the subject rather than always go to the hardest truths, but I’m a lot less likely to say something false.
In addition to writing about lying, Harris also writes, blogs, and podcasts about meditation and mindfulness. Those were the first exposures I had to a scientific and rational view of meditation. Ultimately, it led to Vipassana and to our ten-day silent retreat. One comment that stuck with me is from a podcast interview Harris conducted with Joseph Goldstein, where Goldstein says something like:
The best way to learn about your brain is to sit and watch it.
That watching through meditation becomes mindfulness, and, to me, really goes hand in hand with the mindfulness for minimalism and frugality.
In addition to the personal benefits I found from meditation, the process of learning to meditate also taught me the difference between knowing something intellectually and “emotionally” or subconsciously, for lack of a better word. I finally understand the difference between head and heart.
When we left on the trip, I knew intellectually that we’d be able to figure out whatever challenges came our way, but I would still get majorly stressed out when those challenges popped up. There was an emotional part of my brain that would just panic and the rational part of my brain would start shutting down. This is not helpful. Now, after dealing with those challenges in different countries and in different ways, I get a lot less worried. My subconscious finally caught up.
I realized that I succeeded in one of our initial trip goals: to challenge ourselves, outside our professional careers, to be comfortable in a wide variety of situations, and even to crave a little discomfort. We wanted to be Antifragile, a made up term described in a book of the same name by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
If you can get past Taleb’s arrogance and meandering style, you’ll find lots of compelling thoughts on risk, uncertainty, and human error in this tome. He spends much of the book explaining antifragility, a tough concept to define easily, as it’s the opposite of fragility, but not just robustness as many people immediately think.
One key concept is that highly complex systems, managed by people who believe they’ve built them to be stable, are actual highly susceptible to shocks and collapse. Taleb argues that adding complexity of the systems, in an intent to reduce volatility, not only doesn’t work, it makes things worse.
Traveling and unemployment have increased our overall robustness for different geographies and levels of financial outlays. I know now that we could live happily in lots of places. I’m more tolerant of some types of mental stress, if not the kinds that come from traffic and meetings. This makes us more robust, and moves us more toward antifragility. So, while we still have some major burning questions about life such as, “Where should we go next?”, or possibly, “Should we really get jobs again?”, I can at least be confident we’ll go strongly and without much stuff.
Now that I’ve explained some of the terms, I can summarize my life philosophy with all the key buzzwords.
Be a strong, minimalist, mustached, antifragile and mindful person.
I would love to hear if any these authors or any of these ideas resonate with you. Are there any other authors or bloggers I’m missing? Let me know what you think!