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The blindspots that enslave us

We’ve been traveling in a truck and travel trailer now for 3 months. It’s been a fascinating experience, on many levels.

The thing that keeps coming to mind over and over is that us humans have some odd behaviors which enslave us. People who live in poverty in Africa will experience real, life-changing consequences from small adjustments in how they live. Run out of water for the day? Really bad. Build a new mud hut that collapses? Really bad. Choose the wrong market to shop at and end up with rotten food? Really bad.

In America, though, most of us don’t experience such meaningful consequences from slight lifestyle adjustments. Yet, most of us all live as though we do. I think there are a few things at work here. First, the innate desire to keep up with our neighbors. Second, our resistance to change. Third, our failure to think deeply about life.

We have been living in 200 square feet – a family of 5 – for 3 months. Before this, I would have dreaded trying this because it is too different from “normal.” But now I see that even though different, it isn’t bad. It isn’t anywhere near as challenging as life gets if you live in Africa. My kids have about 5% as many toys as they had in our “past life,” and they are just as happy.

Am I saying life in a trailer is better? Am I saying that fewer toys is better? Am I saying you should do this?

Not necessarily. I’m just saying that when we traverse the latitude of lifestyles that modern, first-world life offers us, the negative consequences are often very small. We won’t starve, die of thirst, or be stabbed in the back by thieves.

But on the other hand, the increase in joy can be immense, from changing how we look at lifestyles. Do you see this? The downside is small, the upside is big.

In any investment discussion, it’s good to hear this. Small downside and large upside is what we want. Yet, in the case of lifestyle, Americans don’t ever cash in on this.

What do I mean? At this distance from “normal life,” I’m much more able to see stuff. I can see some of my friends living a pre-written, Americanized script of what life should be like. They slave away and stress about it. They act like any change to the plan would be just as bad as being eaten by lions. But I can tell you, going from living in 2200sf to 200sf, isn’t that big of a deal, compared to what the rest of the world is living with. But as I said, there are huge experiences to be gained and joys to be had.

These joys can play out in a number of ways. The most important way is career-oriented. Since careers can have a huge impact on our happiness, being in bondage to a certain lifestyle while working in a yucky career is a great example of how fear of change can hurt us.

Another example is the incessant fear of running out of money in retirement, and working our tails off long after we have enough to pay for our immediate needs. I definitely believe in saving and investing, but there should be a limit when we’ve done “enough,” and also there should be a throttling back of this to whatever extent you need to if your job is burning you out or if life has other stuff you should be doing. What do I mean? If you love your career, and you are making tons of money, fine, save and invest extra. But I wouldn’t give that same advice to a 20-something who is making $10/hr and wants to travel before they have kids. Would it be worth them working an extra 20 hours per week, to save? No way! The trade off isn’t worth it. Or what if your kids are young and you want to hang out with them – maybe that is a time to turn off the greed machine and not worry about retirement so much.

So these are some examples of failing to think deeply about life and lifestyle.

Am I putting these words to good use, or just in theory? Well, I’m doing the best I can to put them to good use. How? The first example we’ve already talked about – daring to live for the better part of a year in a travel trailer. The challenges of doing this have been tiny compared to challenges other people face in the world, yet the rewards have been immense.

Another example for me, is work. My work tends to ebb and flow, where I have big years followed by small years. American convention would tell me that in the lean years, I should double my efforts, stress, slave away, fear fear fear the future. Rather than just ride the wave and not try to fight it. So, I’m trying to put that advice into practice. I’m planning on being away from Tahoe for several months, and my businesses are just sort of on autopilot. Therefore, instead of being a typical American and fretting, I’m just embracing it.

What does this look like? I’m streamlining my expenses this year, and gobbling up all the yummy tax advantages that come from having a temporarily lower income. The government will FUND your year off if you let them. Having lower taxable income qualifies us for all kinds of perks and subsidies. I’m not necessarily a fan of this structure, but, after fighting it for decades, I’ve finally just come to the conclusion “if you can’t beat em join em.”

The sacrifices most Americans face when tweaking their thinking in these areas are so small, they are almost laughable. Yet the joy and life experiences are exponential. So I would challenge you to examine your life. In what ways could you restructure your expectations to yield more freedom and happiness? In what ways could you harness, rather than fear, career dry spots and changes? I understand that we all need a baseline of income to survive, and that’s a different discussion. I’m not advocating for being irresponsible in not taking care of your obligations. I’m just asking that people really examine what their obligations should be.

All of our situations are different, and there’s no cookie-cutter approach. But the point is to realize that most changes when we go out on a limb will end up having comparably low risk and comparably high reward, given that we exist in a first world industrialized nation. OK, signing off now. Gotta go empty our tanks!


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