Rich On Work: Responsibility And Meaning, Human Capacity, Kindergarten Soccer, and Bathroom Breaks For Lawyers In NYC

Chinatown, NYC. Lots of workers out there.

Hey Penny,

I was going to write an eloquent post about the nature of work, it’s philosophical basis, the various ways of looking at it, and so on, followed by a blurb about my own current work situation. But alas, my own current work situation leaves me with little time to organize an eloquent post. So, I’m going to wing this at the real world level, like our old-fashioned emails (which is how this blog got started), and ramble, making philosophical comments as I go along.

PROFESSIONAL SELF-AWARENESS AT AGE 42

Work has taken an interesting turn, and I’m busier than ever. Where to start?

I’ll start by mentioning that I’m in a leadership program — a formal course, run internally at the company, stretching over several months and designed to prepare me for executive-level work. It’s a lot about being self aware and learning how to deal with yourself and others from a leadership position. I was observed in a “leadership lab” for several hours and the observers — mostly psychologists and leadership consultants — gave me specific feedback on how I was performing. Additionally I’m getting executive coaching, as well as participating in a group where I talk about leadership challenges with peers in the course.

The whole thing is quite involved.

At first I wasn’t sure how the leadership course would go. I was kind of lost on how to apply it, because I was in the process of looking for a new position within the company. I wasn’t sure of my place. Well, I found a new position — more on that later — but even before that I found the course to be extremely beneficial. I’ve learned a lot about myself and, just as importantly, I’ve learned how to view myself as a genuine leader, not just someone trying to lead, if that makes sense.

I’m 42 years old, and people my age are running large companies. I’ve always had self-confidence, but at the same time, it’s easy to look around and see others who are more influential and more professional. I’m not talking about jealousy or envy, I’m talking about self-regard and getting past the infamous “impostor syndrome.” The reality, I’ve learned, is that I’m just as professional as many of those I consider successful, and I have been for a while. I can embrace my own career reality.

This is not to say I can’t improve — I have LOADS of room to improve. But I don’t need to be full of doubt.

BECOMING COMFORTABLE WITH DISCOMFORT

Realizing this, internally, is a personal game changer, in a couple ways. First, I’m more comfortable in situations that might otherwise be intimidating. Second, I realize that however comfortable others look, they’ve had to overcome their own insecurities too. Have you ever been to a party or an event where you thought, why am I the most nervous one here? Do I belong here? Well, probably everyone is just as  nervous and uncertain. This is all human nature and a trick our brains play on us. Once we realize this, we can take some control over our own brains and overcome these hurdles.

As I said, I just started a new position in our company.  I interviewed and I was nervous. Quite nervous. I had interviewed for a different position and didn’t get that job, so I was nervous that I’d be rejected twice in succession.

After the interview, I took a long walk because I had no idea how it went. Interviews, for the most part, stink. The awkward introductions. The delicate dance of being confident but not overconfident, comfortable but not cocky, smart but not a know-it-all. Waiting for an answer. Interviews stink.

Surprisingly, I got the job! I’m not sure if it was my interview or my connections or the suit I was wearing … and I don’t care. I got it. It was probably the suit, the J. Crew Ludlow. [Note: People should never discount the value of looking professional at work. Dressing well has helped me advance since I was a waiter. I know a guy who was baffled at not getting a certain job, and yet he adamantly resisted dressing well. It’s like trying out for basketball with cowboy boots on — it just doesn’t work.]

Funny how career paths develop sometimes. I’m now very glad I didn’t get the first job I interviewed for, because the position I ended up with is much better. One can never predict these twist and turns, and I’m sure I would’ve adjusted to a different outcome. In some ways that’s the whole point of having decent self-awareness — to realize that no matter what you are doing, you are the same person with the same qualities.

Attaining a particular job or role does not change who you are, essentially.

RESPONSIBILITY, KINDERGARTEN SOCCER, AND HUMAN CAPACITY

So what’s the point of reaching for new or challenging roles, you might ask? You are who you are, right?

I’d say … not exactly. Being self-aware of who you are at any given time is not the end of the story. When you see who you are clearly, you want opportunities that match your abilities. And if you have drive or ambition, you want opportunities that exceed and stretch your abilities.

We are always changing, evolving, growing or regressing. Attaining a new role or taking on a new responsibility is an opportunity to first be who you are and then to become who you want to be, or who you could be, by using and growing and stretching your capacities. In other words, roles can help you change. Potentially, to become a better self.

I think you’re a Jordan Peterson fan, Penny, and he talks a lot about how people find meaning in life (here’s one snippet). One of his basic conclusions is that people gain meaning by taking on responsibilities. By taking on a responsibility, you then have an obligation to do something, and by doing that something, whatever it is, you find satisfaction and meaning.

Example: I am coaching Kindergarten Soccer. I signed up, initially, on a whim. The league was desperate for coaches. At first I questioned this move — I was adding something to an already busy schedule, it messes up my Friday evenings, and I didn’t know what I was doing. I still don’t know what I’m doing. But I can see that Peterson is right. Taking on the responsibility to these kids and their parents brings me satisfaction, another sliver of meaning, and a nudge to personal growth. Paradoxically, it gives me more energy rather than less. And it makes me a more interesting and well rounded person. It opens the door to a new community of people, which may or may not result in friendships but I’d never know if I hadn’t signed up.

Coaching soccer is a relatively small obligation. The point is, anything can be a meaningful obligation. The trick is to try things, find out what works, find that set of responsibilities that gives life meaning. According to Peterson, no one is as miserable as the person who has no responsibilities and nothing to do.

For a lot of people, the standard responsibilities that drive them are work and family. Rightfully so. Even though people often complain about these responsibilities day to day, there’s a lot of evidence that their absence would create personal nihilism. People become sled dogs without a sled to pull.

THE NATURE OF A CAREER: LAW AND ORDER WITH BATHROOM BREAKS

Anyway, back to my new position at work. It is close to a dream job at this stage in my career. Interesting work, more responsibility, professional recognition, and it could potentially lead to more cool opportunities down the road, if I do well. It’s also demanding, difficult, and my head is spinning because of the learning curve.

This is the nature of career advancement. Success is great, but success often leads to bigger challenges. A person needs to decide if bigger challenges are interesting to them. We all have our limits, and it’s part of the journey to figure out what our personal capacity is. What’s the right level of personal and professional balance so that one can experience flow (competent enjoyment of a challenging activity) and also experience health and sanity?

Sometimes I think about TV shows featuring high performing professionals. Generally they are cops or doctors or lawyers who are smart and savvy. It’s usually an intense, difficult profession that requires commitment and expertise. There are always exciting situations, because it’s TV. Being a District Attorney in NYC looks amazing on Law and Order. On TV, there’s dramatic music and deep, interesting conversations with mood lighting. Why are these shows interesting? One of the reasons, I think, is because characters on these shows are showing the limits of human capacity, the weight of responsibility that humans can take on. We root for them to do well even at personal cost.

Can I get some dramatic music to go with working late?

In real life, being a DA in NYC is a long career road (law school, starting out low on the totem pole, etc). And then the job itself, which is a big career achievement, is probably stressful and difficult much of the time. Even boring. In real life, there are bathroom breaks, days off to care for sick kids, dry cleaning, bad cafeteria food, and cramped offices.

Fiction is not reality, of course, but art can imitate life. An interesting exercise is to look at your life as if it were a story, with you as the main character. Would the story be interesting? Would you be rooting for the main character to fully reach his/her potential? Or would you want the character to spend 3 hours a day on Facebook and Netflix?

When I look at my story, I like the direction of the main character and the overall cast of characters, in broad strokes — leaving out the parts about bathroom breaks.

MY SCHEDULE, RIGHT NOW

Here’s a typical day for me now:

Continue reading “Rich On Work: Responsibility And Meaning, Human Capacity, Kindergarten Soccer, and Bathroom Breaks For Lawyers In NYC”

Rich Ruminates On The Benefits Of Being Uncomfortable. Can Imperfect Systems Help Build Resilience And Confidence?

I’d say he’s comfortable.

Hey Penny,

I appreciate your last post — it gave me a bunch of food for thought. This is exactly the sort of conversation we used to have over email, so I’m happy to reply on the blog. For those just catching up, here are the first 2 installments of this conversation:

If I could sum up the main emotional thrust of my initial post, it’d be something like: “My family is in the middle of a huge, tumultuous transition right now that involves money, work, life, school — is this really the good life??”

My answer to my own question, in that post, was The Good Life Is Not About Perfect Comfort.

Your answer, if I read your post correctly, is basically: Screw that! Get out of the rat race, ditch that prison school for a place your kids can thrive, and don’t knock Craigslist.

Again, this really made me think, so thank you. I’m going to try to unpack my original thought a bit more, with updated thinking based on the past week or so.

ON RETIRING EARLIER VS. FINDING FLOW AT WORK

As I said, I understand the desire to retire as early as possible. The transition back to work in the US from overseas hasn’t been all high fives and pizza parties. So why don’t I try to retire earlier?

I won’t spend much time on the practical aspect of this, but the practical side is quite complicated. I’d need to shuffle accounts, reset priorities, move again, etc, etc. It’s all possible I’m sure, if we were really committed. Maybe I could retire at 50 instead of 55. Maybe. For 5 years of … what again?

The more important aspect of this is philosophical. As I’ve spelled out in several posts, especially my Philosophy Of Money and the Meaning of Life, personal growth and meeting my potential and the value of work are all real priorities for me.

Even though work has been a bit of a grind lately, I recently had some days that were fully engaging. There’s nothing quite like the feeling that I’m doing good work on interesting topics with other professional people I like and respect. There’s nothing quite like that feeling of FLOW: “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” (Wikipedia)

What I’m getting at is that there’s a positive side to this, and sometimes the positive side only comes after a period of difficulty. I don’t want my career to be difficult all the time, but I also realize that very few things in life are achieved or enjoyed without effort. If we didn’t persevere through the difficulty, we wouldn’t enjoy the personal and professional gains on the other side. For me, the positive aspects of my career have far outweighed the negative.

Mrs. Rich and I want to meet our potential at work as much as possible. It stretches us, makes us grow, opens up new doors of opportunity. We have lived in different places around the country and around the world, and that scratches a special itch for us. We also live the lifestyle we want to live, and we feel lucky to be so lucky. Does that make sense?

ON SPENDING TIME WITH KIDS

One thing you mentioned that I don’t really understand: “And it seems to make more sense to me to Retire Earlier (if that’s what you’re planning on doing anyway) so you can watch your kids grow up ….”

Am I giving the impression that, as a busy professional, I don’t have much time with the kids to watch them grow up?

I can assure you, that’s not the case at all for me and Mrs. Rich. We chose to live close to school so we can walk them to and from every day, and we chose to live close to work so we can be with them rather than sitting in the car commuting. Mrs. R is a Kindergarten room parent, and I’m the soccer coach. There really aren’t many more hours in the day that we could spend with the kids even if we were retired right now.

Of course, we could be with them all day if we were homeschooling or something, which leads me to the education part of your note.

EDUCATION AND ADJUSTING TO UNCOMFORTABLE SITUATIONS

I don’t disagree with much of what you said about education. I’d probably prefer the Finnish way of doing things, or Montessori, or the little preschool we used to send our kids to.

That said, I’m not all doom and gloom about our local public school. It’s not much different from the schools I went to growing up. We were expected to sit down and we had homework and all that. I turned out ok, right?

Ha, don’t answer that.

I like your point about thriving: So, I don’t know, you say you’re boys are struggling in school, but, yeah, they’ll just have to adjust. Don’t you want something better than that? Don’t you want them to thrive?

I was open about the fact that my first, emotional, transitional reaction was to pull the kids right out of the new school and put them somewhere they’d be more comfortable. That’s a natural response for many parents. I also give a nod to the stages of development you highlighted in your post — I don’t feel as strongly as you do, but I see your points.

However, I also wonder, could there be some downside to pulling them out of uncomfortable situations? Conversely, is there some upside to giving them time to adjust to a different way of doing things?

Continue reading “Rich Ruminates On The Benefits Of Being Uncomfortable. Can Imperfect Systems Help Build Resilience And Confidence?”

Penny Explains Her Philosophy On Education. Why Do Little Kids Spend 5 Days A Week In School Prisons Anyway?

Dear Rich,

I’m going to write a bit about my educational philosophy, but first I wanted to address a couple of things from your last post.

You talked a bit about how you can kind of understand why people strive for FIRE. And you set yourself apart from them because you like spending the money that you have, you like being a busy professional, etc. But here’s the thing I don’t understand: You are setting yourself up for Financial Independence and Retiring Early, you’re just doing it a little later than everyone else. Retiring at 55 (which you said you plan to do) is still retiring early.

And it seems to make more sense to me to Retire Earlier (if that’s what you’re planning on doing anyway) so you can watch your kids grow up, rather than later, when you’re using your (still) early retirement to have more time to drink mai tais on the beach. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, to each their own, I’m just stating my opinion.) So, I’m with those FIRE people. They seem to have something figured out.

Now, let’s talk about education. You know I have strong feels about this, and I can understand why your boys are struggling, because schools are really no place for young children, especially young boys. They need to be outside moving their bodies, having adventures, exploring the world.

Here’s my primer into what I feel about the best form of education for certain age groups.

Birth – Age 9

I think that kids at this age should not be in school and should be allowed to explore and learn from the world as they are so inclined. I think they should spend a lot of time outdoors. A lot of time being physical. A lot of time finding and developing and pursuing their own interests. Some people call this Unschooling.

If you think about how babies learn and develop, how they learn to talk, and walk and do things without any formal instruction… you can carry this mentality for older kids too. Kids are always learning, even without formal instruction. My kids even learned to read pretty much on their own, in their own time, without any formal instruction.

This quote by John Taylor Gatto:

“It was never factually true that young people learn to read or do arithmetic primarily by being taught these things. These things are learned, but not really taught at all. Over-teaching interferes with learning, although the few who survive it may well come to imagine it was by an act of teaching.”

Age 9-14

At this age, with my kids, their minds were ready to learn more than I (and the world) were offering them. Fortunately for us, we found a 3 day a week Montessori Homeschool Academy. It was the perfect balance into a more formalized education with the kids going to a place that offered them the resources to learn more. Plus, Montessori doesn’t do homework or tests, so their philosophy matched up pretty well with how I wanted my kids to be educated anyway. Montessori is about teaching the child, not the curriculum. In addition, I like that it is only 3 days a week. That’s enough. Who says a 5 day school week is the ideal anyway? Why is that the norm? Family time should still be a bigger part of the child’s life than school.

I like what G.K. Chesterton has to say about schooling:

“There is a tendency to forget that the school is only a preparation for the home, and not the home a mere jumping off place for the school.”

This summer, my 11 year old was talking to his neighborhood friends, and they were asking him when his prison (by which they meant school) started. He said, “I don’t go to prison. I go to a nice little Montessori school.”

So, my kids like their school. They choose to go, I don’t force them. (I talked about this a bit already in my Paying for College Is Helicopter Parenting post, and I included a good discussion with my son about what he thinks about school and what he wants to get out of it.

Age 14-18

High school. We are still figuring this out. My oldest just started this year.

We picked a private high school that we thought was in line with our educational beliefs. At an open house, when asked about homework, the founder of the school, said, “We have your kids 7 hours a day. That’s enough.” And went on to say that they got around 30-45 minutes a night.

Well, cut to the parent orientation, and we see in our materials to expect 1-2 hours of homework a night. Not exactly what we signed up for.

Plus, it takes my daughter an hour to get to and from school on the city bus, so this full-time school thing is ending up taking a lot more of her time than we had planned for.

But maybe this is the next stage of development for a 14 year old. In his book Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, Gordon Neufeld talks about how during the teenage years, it is developmentally appropriate for kids to become more peer-oriented. (But until then, parents should be the primary influence, and it is often the other way around, especially with the way schools are structured.) So, I don’t know. She’s going to graduate in four years and maybe this is the beginning of her structuring her life differently. We’ll see how it goes. If it’s not working out for us, we’ll try something else.

Continue reading “Penny Explains Her Philosophy On Education. Why Do Little Kids Spend 5 Days A Week In School Prisons Anyway?”

MOVING DAY! Quick Thoughts About Living Overseas And Money And Happiness.

Dear Penny,

I have a lot I’d like to write but very little time, because tomorrow we head back to the US after living overseas for 2 years! More complicated topics will need to wait. But, I wanted to share some quick money and happiness lessons I’ve learned from our time here. In no particular order.

Perspective Is Valuable

Living in a foreign country has helped me appreciate the US, and it’s also given me some perspective on how to think about … anything and everything. What I mean is this: take any given question about life or money or happiness or whatever. And then imagine you grew up in a completely different socioeconomic culture.

Question: “What should I think about work and investing and retirement?”

Answer, from the perspective of …

… a personal finance blogger: “Invest only in Vanguard index funds. The market always goes up. Retire early.”

… a poor person in an urban slum: “I would give anything to have a good job.”

… a rice farmer in China: “Watch out for that water buffalo.”

… a French ski instructor: “Work to live, don’t live to work.”

… Penny: “Get off your computer and stop thinking about retirement so much.” 🙂

… a father of twin boys: “Hey — how’d you get on top of the house?”

It’s easy to get caught up in the particular circumstances of life. I like to remember that by sheer chance I was born into my culture and my family, and life would look a lot different otherwise. I try to make smart choices but I also know that for most decisions, there’s more than one right answer. If a certain answer sounds silly from several other perspectives, well then that certain answer might be silly. Or not as important as we think.

I Don’t Regret Any Spending On Travel Or Experiences. Life Is For Living.

We visited 7 or 8 countries while living overseas, ate a bunch of crazy food, saw some incredible sites, and enjoyed temper tantrums and ill-timed bathroom visits with kids in several European capitals.

(European in the bathroom. Get it?)

As you know, we’ve paid big money for these experiences. I wouldn’t want a dollar (or a Euro) back. Life is short. Life is mostly for living, isn’t it? I guess I’m like the French ski instructor sometimes.

Continue reading “MOVING DAY! Quick Thoughts About Living Overseas And Money And Happiness.”

Penny On Fame And Shame — A Response To Critics Of Her Notorious Guest Post

So easy to comment, so difficult to be civil.

Dear Rich (and our readers),

As you know, I had a guest post on the Making Sense of Cents blog and it was met with quite a few mean-spirited comments.

Now I know how it feels to be publicly shamed, I guess.

I can’t say I wasn’t anticipating a bit of pushback from the article, that was to be expected. But the amount of vitriol behind some of the comments was kind of hurtful and surprising. A got a personal note from Michelle from the blog and she said: Thank you for responding to comments on the article. Some of them are not the kindest – which is not the norm for Making Sense of Cents readers. Sorry that you are experiencing that.

But alas, what can you do? Such is the nature of the internet.

The comments bothered me at first, but then the next day, I continued on with my technology fast, and got over it pretty quickly. When I checked back in on the comments several days later, there were several more hurtful comments, but by that time, it didn’t bother me that much. It was like, once I’d read one, I’d read them all, because they were all saying pretty much the same thing.

Thank you for all your help with the comments, by the way. You do a good job of addressing people fairly and kindly. I liked what you had to write.

Related Post: Monthly Happiness Report: Rich Makes Sense Of Internet Commentary, His Cousin’s Controversy, And The Good Life –July 2017

So, anyway, because of all this, I want to break protocol for a moment and instead of addressing this post just to you, Rich, I would like to break through the fourth wall and directly address our readers and comment some of the issues that the Making Sense commenters had with me and the choices I’ve made. Because, if I’m making these choices, I might as well be able to stand behind them and defend them, right?

That’s kind of the point of this whole blog, isn’t it?

Let’s start here.

Here is are two actual comments that pretty much sum up what a dozen other commenters were saying:

WOW! JUST WOW! It’s one thing to do all of this but totally another to BRAG ABOUT STEALING FROM THE GOVT. I guess there is a first for everything and this is the first time I have seen someone with balls big enough to brag about ripping the govt. off in writing. THIS is why people do without because people like Penny “steal” and there isn’t enough for others who NEED IT.

and

I am very liberal and support the existence of social programs for people in need. But this is disgraceful – you don’t have “need.” Read what I am writing: you don’t have need, you have “want” and are gaming the system so that other people are paying for it. Other people’s tax dollars are funding your food stamps and earned income credit, while you deliberately under-earn and use the earnings of others to pay loans you voluntarily incurred, rightfully owe, and will reap the rewards of as your husband’s practice grows. Shame on you.

First of all, I think a lot of the commenters were mistaking my unbridled honesty for pride. Nobody is proud to be on food support. If anything, it is the opposite. It takes a bit of humility to accept that is offered.

I don’t think I’m stealing from anybody or lying about anything. As you’ve seen here, I’m honest almost to a fault. I mean, I’m laying out my monthly expenditures for everyone to see and critique, line by line.

Note: This page has affiliate links to products we endorse. Full disclaimer. 

As far as taking money from other people who really need it… here’s the thing: If my family, at our income level, is getting this kind of support, this means that other families are getting support too! Isn’t that a good thing? Just because we’re getting support doesn’t mean that we’re taking it from others who need it. We’re ALL getting help! Yeah!

Secondly, I don’t find anything ethically wrong with accepting benefits that I legally qualify for. As Rich pointed out in his response to one of the comments:

This idea that Penny should voluntarily give up assistance that she qualifies for, because some people think it’s unfair, is misleading. How many people out there qualify for tax breaks, refunds, mortgage interest deductions? Is anyone sending that money back to the Treasury because they don’t really need it? Should we all reject our standard deduction, because, well, we can afford a computer, so it would be immoral to accept the tax system the way it is? I don’t think so. The tax benefits that one qualifies for and how one spends their money are two quite different matters.

Continue reading “Penny On Fame And Shame — A Response To Critics Of Her Notorious Guest Post”

The Best Of Penny And Rich So Far — 6 Months Of Conversations Across The Income Divide

Dear Cousin Penny,

We’ve been at this blog for around 6 months, so I thought it’d be a good time to go over some highlights. This article will contain numerous links to some of our best posts. Of course, a complete list can be found via the Posts tab.

For any new readers, I’ll quickly reiterate our premise. We’re cousins from a small Midwestern town. One summer, around age 10 or so, I think we played together every day for 80 straight days. Good times.

Our adult lives diverged but we kept in touch, often writing long emails to each other about life and happiness and money — which is essentially the genesis of this blog.

You got married young, you have 4 kids, and your husband went from teacher to chiropractor. Along the way you gathered a boat load of debt, but you have no regrets. Low income doesn’t seem to bug you.

As for me, I went from the farm to theology school to French language study in Paris. Much to my own surprise, I landed a high income career, married a woman with similar career goals, and had twin boys. High income agrees with me. Why wouldn’t it?

Our full origin stories can be found here:

RICH’S GOALS

Click on image to see the details of Rich’s plan.

What’s a personal finance blog without goals? My goal is to reach a $1 Million net worth sometime during my 45th year of life. And after that I want to build a generational family legacy (um, in 3 easy steps!).

I admit, since starting this blog, the goal has become less important than the journey, the process … life. As I’ve thought about my philosophy of life, it’s become clear that it’s really not about the money. It’s about relationships, growth, and freedom — these are the keys to happiness, incidentally.

I have also become keenly aware of how lucky I am. I don’t want to be a selfish materialistic hedonist; I want to be a generous squirrel. I never thought I’d write a parable about squirrels, but this is modern blogging. Animals can talk.

So, I hope I can meet my goal the right way. Since we started the blog, I’ve been able to keep pace.

Click on image to enlarge. My actual pace is the blue line, the pace I need is the red line.

So far so good!

But, again, I’m much more concerned about happiness than money.

PENNY’S GOALS

Click on image to see the details of Penny’s goal.

Now to your goals, Penny. You have enough student loan debt ($173,000 at the start of the blog) to make Dave Ramsey drop a dadgum mess in his britches. You’d love to pay it off, and you’re making good progress. I’m not sure how much you have left right now, but I think you’ve already lopped off $20k of debt in a few short months.

I’m continually amazed at how frugal you are when I read your monthly money checks.

But, like me, you know money is not the key to happiness. You spend very little because you just don’t value things that need to be bought. Even with low income, you feel the need to give more than the need to get out of debt faster. In addition to giving, you’ve learned the art of receiving.

THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING CONVERSATIONS ACROSS THE DIVIDE OF INCOME INEQUALITY

Penny, sometimes I think we agree on a whole bunch of topics and sometimes I think we couldn’t be more different. But what I really appreciate is that no matter the topic, we can have an honest conversation, even if there are points of disagreement.

Continue reading “The Best Of Penny And Rich So Far — 6 Months Of Conversations Across The Income Divide”

Rich Recites The Four Commandments Of Technology, Which Were Given To Him On A Tablet. No, Not A Stone Tablet.

This page has affiliate links to good products we endorse. Full disclaimer. 

Penny,

Now that you’re on your technology hiatus, I’m not sure when you’ll see this. I may need to start addressing my posts “To Whom It May Concern”!

Actually, the great thing about the internet is that you’ll be able to see these posts whenever you return, whether it’s a week or a month or 2 years.

This got me thinking. I’m about to make the most obvious observation since Luke Skywalker said, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” (Of course you do, Luke. The Death Star can destroy planets and a psychopathic villain is your Dad. But such is the genius of Lucasfilm dialogue.)

Observation: Technology is great, but it can also suck.

I understand, and sympathize with, your desire to step away, at least temporarily. A long time ago I read the classic Neil Thompson book, Technopoly, which made a compelling case that technology always changes people and cultures, and does so in ways that are not immediately understood. And does so in ways that are often negative.

I’m not pessimistic, per se. I’m listening to the Beatles on Amazon Prime Music as I type this in Google Docs on my MacBook Air, after all. For me, the key is to take advantage of the best aspects of technology while avoiding the worst parts. But how is one to do this, especially when tech is so sneaky and pervasive?

As you noted, it’s not easy. Even those of us who are sensitive to tech overuse can find ourselves sucked into bad tech. So, I think it’s helpful to have some rules. I was thinking about this, and something amazing happened. 

I went up on a mountain, and found a tablet. No, not a stone tablet. It was a Kindle Fire. And on it were the four commandments of technology.

FIRST COMMANDMENT: TECH SHALT HONOR YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY

I’ll never forget when I got my first email account. Juno. I thought: I can’t wait until my family and friends all get on email. Think, we can write to each other whenever we want! Amazing! Maybe I’ll even write to my cousins (ha).

Turns out, email did catch on. And for this, I’m grateful. We started this blog over email, and I haven’t heard your voice in years. Yes, the inbox gets full. Boo-hoo. Have you tried, lately, to send something via pony express? Not very helpful. Email is amazing!

I still have the first email I sent to my wife. It was 2005, we had just met, and I was trying to secure a date. I was trying quite subtly, almost to the point of not trying, almost to the point of being so obtuse that she ignored me. But she didn’t, and that fumbling, nearly disastrous, actually life-changing email is easily retrievable via Gmail search. Amazing.

So indeed, technology can honor our relationships.

And then there was Facebook.

The gig is up with Facebook as an online community. It’s not even an online DMV, a benign and boring utility. It’s malignant. It’s a place to show off, to send a cheap birthday greeting, to get snarky, and to spy on people you secretly dislike. Even worse, it’s turned into an outrage machine.

Guess what, FB acquaintances? I don’t care which (fake) news article you recently found interesting or intolerable. Facebook is playing you. Its engineers, behind the scenes, are selecting articles that will bring about an emotional reaction. You click, they get paid. If you don’t believe me, check out this podcast called What is Technology Doing to Us? where Sam Harris talks with Tristan Harris, former “Design Ethicist” at Google. The latter Harris explains quite clearly that we are mistaken if we think social media content is neutral. Companies need clicks, and they know how to manipulate people to get those clicks. Seriously, that podcast changed the way I think about social media.

Anyway, dear FB friends, please go back to the good old days of posting pictures of your baby, or your cat, or your baby cat.

This is good tech.

I find it entirely reasonable to ban FB from daily usage. If someone wants to connect with me, they can email. Email is amazing! I’d probably quit FB altogether … if I didn’t want to spy on people I secretly dislike.

Bottom line: I want to use tech to connect with people, especially people who I care about and want to see in person, in real life — not a fake community of click-bait victims.

SECOND COMMANDMENT: TECH SHALT NOT KILL … THY BRAIN

The internet, increasingly, is a brain-eating monster. It serves candy, and we are obese kids looking for that next sugar high. There are even these pop culture sites (cyber candy drug pushers) called, ahem, PopSugar and Hello Giggles, that are actively trying to destroy our gray matter.

Right now, I’m pulling up Yahoo for the latest intellectually engaging headlines.

PopSugar: Selena Gomez Has a Summer Look with Your Name on It

Well … that’s a surprise. My name on it? How can I not click on this? Apparently, I should “stick to the basics but accessorize with just one statement piece. Selena knows how it’s done – she rocked her cropped denim with a white t-shirt, slip-on sneakers, and finally, an embroidered choker.”

The embroidered choker doesn’t really sound like me, but maybe I should try it.

Now consider this smart gem of a headline from Hello Giggles: There’s a video of a real life hippogriff and we’re freaking out because Hogwarts must be real

That one was filed via Yahoo News (until clicked on, and then mysteriously shifted to Yahoo Style). Neither News nor Style fits a hippogriff.

This trend of saying “You” and “We” in headlines is insidious. Creepy. Subliminally destructive. The implication is that everyone, or anyone who’s anyone, cares. I know there are Harry Potter lovers who might care, but it’s the wording that bothers me. There’s an undercurrent of mass persuasion and groupthink that is far more dangerous than it seems.

Continue reading “Rich Recites The Four Commandments Of Technology, Which Were Given To Him On A Tablet. No, Not A Stone Tablet.”

Monthly Happiness Report: Rich Is Part Of The Global Elite And His Quality Of Life Is An Oppressive Symbol Of Class Warfare. Pass The Quinoa Crackers. –June 2017

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Penny,

I’m going to take my happiness report in a different direction this month. I’d like to respond to an article that popped up regarding the way “the rich” spend their money. I saw it on BBC, entitled “The New, Subtle Ways the Rich Signal Their Wealth.” Originally it was written for Aeon and entitled “Conspicuous Consumption is Over. It’s All About Intangibles Now.” By any title, this article represents what I perceive as a growing resentment toward the rich. Toward me, in other words.

I encourage you to read the article, but I’ll summarize it here.

The rich are getting sneaky. They used to separate themselves with the conspicuous consumption of luxury goods for all to see — fancy TVs, cars, and handbags. But now, luxury items are widely available to the masses. So, to set themselves apart, the rich are increasingly spending on inconspicuous social and cultural status symbols: education, health, and retirement.

This kind of privileged spending activity is subtle but “pernicious,” benefitting rich families while excluding the middle class.

And here’s the concluding paragraph: “Inconspicuous consumption – whether breastfeeding or education – is a means to a better quality of life and improved social mobility for one’s own children, whereas conspicuous consumption is merely an end in itself – simply ostentation. For today’s aspirational class, inconspicuous consumption choices secure and preserve social status, even if they do not necessarily display it.”

End summary.

So Penny, you might be wondering why I’m talking about this in my happiness report. Here’s why. We have a high household income ($260,000), and I’ll grant that we are more or less rich. I’ve written extensively about how I prioritize my spending, both for optimal happiness according to my values and for the benefit of my family’s financial security (in 3 easy steps!). The above article is essentially saying that my way of spending is harmful (“pernicious” was an interesting word choice) as a form of class warfare and social privilege.

In short, I’m part of the problem.

Ok, well … let’s grant for a moment that I’m unknowingly part of an elitist conspiracy to oppress common folk by eating free range chicken and saving for college. How could I take action to distance myself from such a dangerous subculture? How could I prove my desire to be on the side of fairness and equality?

Should I take my kids to McDonald’s and tell them that one day, if they live long enough on nuggets and soda, they could ignore higher education and work behind the counter? Should I blow their college money on a Porsche in the hopes that they will make a career out of filling it with gas? Would I then be regarded as a more moral and less pernicious rich person?

Chicken nuggets — a great way for rich people to champion social equality.

I have another theory. Maybe the rich are just discovering that luxury doesn’t bring happiness, and that the best way to build a stable family environment is to promote health and education. And maybe that’s a good thing.

Continue reading “Monthly Happiness Report: Rich Is Part Of The Global Elite And His Quality Of Life Is An Oppressive Symbol Of Class Warfare. Pass The Quinoa Crackers. –June 2017”

Penny Says No To The No-Spending Challenge Because It Is Stupid

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Dear Rich,

For the sake of research, I had contemplated doing one of those “No-Spending Challenges” for this blog. At first glance, it seems like kind of a fun idea. But then I thought about it a bit more and I realized how stupid these challenges are.

So, the premise with these challenges is that you don’t spend any money for an entire month. But this is stupid because people just re-allocate their spending to other months. Like, they’ll stock up on groceries, they’ll pay their bills in advance, that sort of thing… the same amount of money is being spent, it is just being done in a different month.

Or, if you’re doing this challenge and you really want to buy a new pair of pants, you just wait until the challenge is over and then go out and buy the pants the next month.

I have no idea what this challenge is teaching anyone.

When I was visiting my mom one weekend, I read about some ladies who did this challenge in the Fargo Forum. These ladies weren’t going all in and stocking up on groceries or anything, as they had set an allotted amount for expenses and bills and such (apparently you can do this with this challenge as there are not any hard and fast rules). Their results were especially stupid. Instead of spending money to go out, they would continue to go out, but their boyfriend or their parents would end up footing the bill. Or they would use gift cards that they already had.

Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

I like how this blog post on The Financial Diet sums up this stupid challenge:

“Personally, I feel it’s a way for well-off people to congratulate themselves on struggles they haven’t personally experienced. Poor people aren’t making a statement when they don’t buy coffee every morning, it’s simply their reality.”

I can’t believe I wasted my time entertaining this idea. Don’t do the No-Spend Challenge, everybody. Budget accordingly. Spend money on what you value. Live a good life. That’s all you need to know.

Later,

Penny

Are Stocks In A Bubble? And Why Do Engineers Retire Early? — Rich’s Ramblings

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We interrupt our regular programming to bring you the first edition of Rich’s Ramblings!

Wha?

It’s simply this: I might have thoughts, ideas, inklings that I want to share quickly, but I haven’t had the time to completely process them into full on professional blog posts. (Which is funny, because when did blogs become so professional?? They used to be for amateur novelists and family photos.) So, I’ll stick these 8 pound 6 ounce newborn baby ideas into Rich’s Ramblings.

That’s a Ricky Bobby reference.

What about Penny? Maybe she’ll have Penny’s Ponderings or some such. Or Penny For Her Thoughts. Up to her.

Last part of this preamble: I need to be able to write a ramble in one hour or less. Otherwise, it’s a post. Ok, go.

First a random thought and then on to my main topic.

RANDOM THOUGHT: WHY ARE SO MANY ENGINEERS TRYING TO RETIRE EARLY?

It seems like half of all early retirement bloggers are engineers. Why? Is it because engineers are smart and like to design systems (including early retirement systems)? Or is it because engineering jobs are soul-crushing and need to be escaped? I really want to know before my kids get old enough to consider engineering. Thank you for any advice!

I can dislike stocks and still be cuddly.

MAIN RAMBLE: I THINK STOCKS ARE IN A BIG FAT BUBBLE

This first ramble will, I’m sure, draw all sorts of ridicule and hate mail. It’s ok. I’m 41 years old with twin boys. I simply can’t be offended or humiliated. I’ve held a dirty diaper in one hand and a crying boy in the other at 30,000 feet with dozens of onlookers. And that’s a mild story.

Many personal finance bloggers have been asking themselves if stocks are in a bubble. It usually starts with “Stocks are definitely a bit frothy right here, I’m nervous,” and it usually ends with something like, “I’m sticking to my plan, stocks are for the long run, yadda yadda yadda, I’m really tired today.”

George Costanza reference.

But let’s analyze what we’re saying about stocks before we convince ourselves to stick with them. We — and by this I mean me and a bunch of market observers at this point — are saying it’s pretty obvious that stocks are either fully priced or overpriced. At the very least, we can say that stocks, on the whole, are not underpriced (which is the best time to buy them). If you think stocks are underpriced … agree to disagree. San Diego means Saint Diego.

Ron Burgundy reference.

Personally, I think we are in a bubble created by low interest rates, QE, and momentum. I also think many people agree with me but do not want to act on it. I’m not going to wow you with complicated math arguments. You can read those elsewhere (like here — Hussman Funds Weekly Market Comment). I’m just going to show you this chart, and if you think what’s happening right now is totally normal, that’s ok.

Bubble? What bubble? (Image credit: Yahoo Finance)

If you think the first 2 bubbles were obvious but this one is not, that’s ok. Saint Diego.

I’M OUT OF THE STOCK MARKET RIGHT NOW. COMPLETELY.

Continue reading “Are Stocks In A Bubble? And Why Do Engineers Retire Early? — Rich’s Ramblings”