I haven’t been this poor in five years (and it’s awesome)

A young woman seated next to a sign that reads “this is my happy place”.

As children, we learn to delay gratification. If we save our pocket money, instead of spending it each week, we can buy a beautiful toy fire truck two months from now.

In school, we learn to plan. If we study diligently, we can get a good job. And if we work diligently at that job, we’ll end up with a decent retirement.

These are examples of giving something up now to have a better life later. It’s good that we learn about delayed gratification, because delaying gratification is often wise. Many times, Future You will thank you for it.

But it isn’t always wise. Let me share my personal example.

In 2015, I worked as a consultant. I earned plenty of money and I saved most of it. In fact, I had calculated that with seven more years of saving money, I’d have enough to never have to work again! I would be financially independent. Just seven years of delaying my gratification and then my life would be awesome.

Except I crashed on the way there. I pushed myself so hard at work that I burned out. For two years, I couldn’t do any work at all. And I didn’t just burn through my mental energy; I also burned through my precious savings, destroying my chances of enjoying that delayed gratification anytime soon.

But during these two years, I gradually realized a key truth:

You can have too much delayed gratification. (Just as you can have too much of almost anything else.)

Rather than working on a grand plan to become financially independent, after which I would do all the things I loved, I decided I would do the things I love now.

That’s why I’ve spent much of the past three years being with family and friends, rock climbing, scuba diving, writing, meditating, and working on my personal development.

Those activities don’t generate a lot of money. In fact, these days, I am roughly as “poor” as I was in 2013, about a year out of college and into my consulting job. I’m further away from my goal of reaching financial independence than I’ve ever been. But I’m also happier than I’ve ever been.

Of course, like almost everybody else, I do need to make a living. And I will. But I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I chose to be happy first and to focus on earning money second.

Are you slaving away at a job you don’t like because you think that it will lead to good things for you eventually? Consider whether it would be wiser not to delay gratification.

Sometimes, you have to insist on being happy now. And most likely, nobody taught you how to do this—so don’t be ashamed to ask for help.

Yours,

— Peter

P.S. Do you need help figuring this out? Are you not even sure what you enjoy doing? If so, let’s talk.

Never enough time

An hourglass with most of its sand at the bottom.

Do you often feel like you don’t have enough time? You’d like to do many things, but there isn’t time to do everything at a relaxed pace.

For many of us, our natural response to experiencing a lack of time is to start rushing. Here’s what it looks like:

  • You show up late for appointments.
  • You cram so many activities into a given time period that you have no downtime between them.
  • You worry about completing all the tasks on your to-list.
  • When you’re doing one thing, you’re already thinking about the next thing.
  • You find yourself having to make painful tradeoffs between doing all the things you want to do, on the one hand, and sleep, exercise, and rest on the other.

Feeling out of time and rushing to try to compensate for it is unsustainable. It will build up an unhealthy level of stress over time.

To reduce the feeling of running out of time, and the stress that comes with it, you might first try to rush a little less. You can move quickly without rushing. So rushing less does not mean you’ll get less done.

However, while you will feel better if you rush less, doing so is a form of addressing symptoms, rather than causes. If you want to tackle the root of the problem, you probably want to say no more often. By saying “no” more often and taking on fewer tasks and responsibilities, you create more downtime.

When do you experience a lack of time?

Yours,

— Peter

P.S. Do you find yourself incapable of enjoying rest? Everybody needs some downtime. It doesn’t have to come in the form of laying in a hammock on the beach. But you do want to give your brain some time off. If that’s a challenge for you, I highly recommend spending ten minutes on a fabulous meditation called “Do nothing” in the 10% Happier app.

The dollar amount that makes you feel safe

A person holding up a piggy bank.

Do you worry about running out of money? Is it the number one fear stopping you from making a change in your work life?

If so, you have some advantages over others: you’ve already identified that you want to make a change; you have some idea of what that change should look like; and you are motivated to make that change. Nice!

But you won’t make that change until you reassure yourself—not on a surface level but deep inside—that you can make a change and be just fine financially.

If this is your situation, you have a clear goal to head towards: build up enough savings to feel comfortable to pull the trigger. But how much money is “enough”?

There exists a number of euros or dollars or rupees that would reassure you if you had it sitting in your bank account. I can’t tell what that number is, but I can tell you that, say, $25 million is enough. It would probably take a while to save that much, of course, so you want to shoot for something more practical.

One way to help you decide on a number that’s “enough” is to calculate your monthly living expenses and then to decide that you want, say, two years worth of expenses saved up. Another way is to pick a round number that seems sufficiently big, such as $50,000.

There is no “right” number. There is only a fuzzy region of net worth in which your fears can dissipate.

What’s your ballpark number?

Yours,

— Peter

P.S. If you’re having trouble deciding, or if you’ve set a net worth goal in the past, but you’ve kept raising the bar as you approached it, you might need to approach this problem from a mindset angle instead. If that’s you, let me know and let’s work on your mindset.

Believing that you can

A man climbing a coconut tree.

I suppose that, if we were to distill my message down to its core, it would go like this:

No, you don’t have to work a stressful job.

Yes, you can make a living doing something you like, on your own terms, in a sustainable way.

(My statement assumes some level of privilege in your life, but if you are reading this, you probably have plenty of privilege to make the change safely.)

There are many ways to get from A to B, although some of the steps are usually required. One of the required steps is believing that you can.

If you’d like to make a change, but you haven’t yet, it might be because you don’t truly believe that you would be better off after making the change.

If you don’t hold this belief, it will help to establish it first. The wrong beliefs can hold us back and we often underestimate the impact of our mindset on our experience.

Wait, “mindset”, “experience”—what is Peter going on about now? This is starting to sound a little woo-woo!

To put it more plainly: how you think about stuff affects how you feel. If you don’t feel good about pulling the trigger on a change you’d like to make, maybe we need to upgrade your mindset.

Tell me: why don’t you believe that you can do what you’d like to do?

Yours,

— Peter

A little exercise to handle guilt

A person holding a notebook and a pen.

Are you a doctor who doesn’t really like their job? But you spent all this time—a decade!—learning medicine and specializing. Now you feel that you should make use of your training. You owe it to… well, to someone.

Or maybe you are a consultant/lawyer/banker and you attended an expensive university. You don’t love your work, but it pays well, and you need the money to pay back your student loans or to pay back your parents. Or you feel that you should have a highly paid job (even if you don’t like it) to justify your or your parents’ investment in your education.

Either way, there is a conflict between the status quo and the desired situation. And such a conflict creates stress. It makes you very motivated to change the situation. But something is stopping you—and often that something is guilt.

Now, I studied economics, so sometimes I like to put on my economist’s hat. If I do, we can view the (money or time) costs of your education as sunk costs. If you approach the situation rationally, you should not consider sunk costs. They’re gone (“sunk”) and you can’t get them back. You should decide what to do, including whether to change jobs, purely based on your future happiness.

This is a fine way to decide things in theory, but in practice humans do not reason this way. We are not perfectly rational.

If you feel too guilty to do something that you want, deep down, then no amount of me reminding you to consider sunk costs will make you feel better.

Getting out of this situation, in which guilt prevents you from doing what you want, starts with noticing that guilt. And I have an exercise for you that can help.

For the next 14 days, whenever you notice that you’re feeling guilty, take a moment. Use that moment to write down what you feel guilty about. Write it down on paper or on your phone, whatever you have handy. You don’t need to spend much time writing, although you can turn it into a good journaling session if you like.

Here’s an example. You’re leaving work early and you feel guilty because nobody else has left the office yet. You might write down:

“I feel guilty because I left the office early. I think it’s because it makes me feel like I’m not doing my best at work. Perhaps because I don’t really care.”

So just short little entries. If you’re having trouble noticing when you feel guilty, ask yourself every day at a specific time, such as on your commute home.

Can you start keeping track of your guilt today? Reply if you will commit to this and I’ll help remind you. At the end of the 14 days, we’ll see whether there are any patterns in your responses.

Yours,

— Peter

How to get more days off

The view of a tropical beach from a person in a hammock.

Do you wish you had more days off? Are your trips always rushed? Do you have to choose between traveling and visiting your family?

If you get a fixed number of vacation days per year, you might think that’s it. Nothing you can do about it. Too bad. Maybe you’ll get some more vacation days when you get promoted, or when you find a better job, someday.

You can take a different approach, though. If you want more days off, how about taking unpaid leave instead?

Of course, vacation days—paid leave—are strictly better than unpaid leave. But an extra day off might be a lot more valuable to you than the money you’d earn that day, especially if you make good money.

If you want extra days off, have you asked your boss, manager, or HR?

If not, why not? Are you worried about them reacting poorly? Do you feel that you need the money?

If what you really need is rest, a break, or simply more free time, unpaid leave might be a great option for you.

Yours,

— Peter