More and Less for 2019

“There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth: not going all the way and not starting.” — Buddha

I’ve been inspired by David Cain’s posts on his blog, Raptitude, about going deeper instead of wider. That is to say, when we start each new year, we often look to enrich our lives by adding to it – new skills, new books, new places.

Cain, more than a year ago, mused (here) about going instead deeper and finding the value in what we already own or what we already started. Surprised by the enthusiastic response from his readers, he wrote on the topic again (here). And recently, he wrote (here) how spending this past year going deeper created the best year of his life. All three posts are fantastic reads.

I

I oscillate between two extremes: diligently staying on top of the toughest of challenges and, in certain situations, switching off completely when I face resistance.

When I do the latter, I defend myself by building my armour of bravado – “s/he is too annoying” or “I don’t need this headache” or “clearly this is not meant to be”.

Cain says it’s easier at tough moments to stop and instead go for something new that carries the benefits of quick easy gains.

I’ve made sense of this by thinking of the honeymoon period of a relationship. New love, heightened with possibility and hope, is thrilling – until it goes deeper and the inevitable hurdles come into view. We can decide at that point (as I generally have) – nah, I don’t need this shit. And promptly go find someone else to replay the honeymoon period with; it requires less of us.

Oddly enough, I used to take pride in knowing a little about a lot, in covering a wide surface area; it made for amusing dinner party conversations at least. But in reality, a series of honeymoon relationships – or indeed a string of half-learned languages or multiple entry-level hobbies – feel like a life half lived.

II

Cain’s words unexpectedly chimed with my recent decision to become financially fit.

Weirdly for a producer who’s made a living making and meeting budgets for films, I didn’t use this in my personal life. (Though perhaps it’s not uncommon – I know therapists who can’t solve their own problems, accountants who are terrible with their own money, and landscape gardeners who never tend to their own backyard…)

Once in a blue moon, when my mind dared to wander in the direction of my long term financial situation – I’m a freelancer with little savings and no retirement or pension plans – I’d immediately shut it down.

I told myself that one day I’d figure it all out. But I didn’t actually know where to start. I was never educated on handling my own finances – how to budget, how to save, how much to save, how to handle debt, how to plan for the future.

These past few months, I finally decided to learn. I read the book How to Own the World by Andrew Craig, which helped me understand ways of saving, and the importance of diversification in investments. It’s UK-centric in its specifics, but it explained terms I’d heard but never quite understood (bonds, commodities, index funds). Snapshot takeaway: consider investing 60% in equity/debt/bonds, 30% in commodities, and keep 10% in liquid/cash.

I also read the hugely popular Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. Being American, the tone has much more swagger, but it gives a simple blueprint on how to become financially independent. Snapshot takeaway: get out of debt, build an emergency fund, and begin investing. He lays out instructions on how to complete each step, and says you are officially wealthy when your money makes more money than you do. Once you reach that point, it’s good to continue investing, but also to have fun with your money and donate it. I believe him when he says it’s more fun giving your money away than earning it.

I’m now making it a point to speak to financially savvy friends, tax accountants and potential investment advisors to educate myself further. I’m in a somewhat messy situation, straddling multiple countries and various tax authorities as I do. My goal is to streamline everything so I stay on top of it and not feel overwhelmed by debt or ignorance.

One way to get a grip on my finances has been to make and keep to a monthly budget; I needed to curb the casual way I was blowing my cash.

This is not the first time I’d vowed to do this (even if saving my wallet wasn’t the primary reason before). But this time, the idea of not buying more books or kitchen cupboard items or toiletries until I’ve finished the existing stock feels satisfying. As Oprah I believe once said: if you’re not happy with what you have, then what makes you think you’ll be happy with more?

As a bonus, it nicely aligns with my own desire to be minimal. As I’ve said before: fear makes us hoard, while trust lets us relax and let go. Conscious spending, I hope, will lead to more conscious living.

III

It’s feeling more and more difficult to live consciously. My days often appear to be a string of skimming exercises of errands and emails. At the end of the day or week or month I wonder if I accomplished anything of real value.

I’ve never used a dating app but that “swiping right” culture has seeped into everything we now do. It’s the way I sit down to watch something on Netflix but if my mind wanders for a moment, I think of all the other shows I could be watching instead.

To paraphrase Barry Schwartz from his TED Talk: when there’s only one kind of ill-fitting jeans to buy and we’re disappointed, we blame the world. When there are hundreds of different styles of jeans to buy and we buy one that’s disappointing, we blame ourselves.

That’s the low-grade (or sometimes high-pitched) tension we carry – this nagging doubt that a perfect choice (and that includes a job, boyfriend as much as a dress) exists and it’s our fault we haven’t yet found it.

We are free to choose. And we’re spoilt for choice. Yet we’re perennially disappointed, imagining out there is a path that is magically easier than the one we’re currently on.

How emboldening, therefore, to decide to focus only on what I have in front of me.

IV

Using my financial goals and Going Deeper as a focus has helped me rearrange my usual thinking process:

Instead of buying my way out of a dilemma, how about finding a creative solution using existing resources?

Rather than turning away at the first (or second or third…) hurdle, why not take the effort to do my very best to overcome it?

As I face resistance (and I do continually), I tell myself: it’s Not An Option to cop out right now.

What if I imagine this is the only work assignment, the only diet, the only apartment – how can I work with it to make it better?

And as my own fears will inevitably gurgle up as a result, how about trying to confront the demons?

The last point is what David Cain says is the reason we may often resist going deeper in the first place:

We don’t want to run into our limits, we don’t want to feel dumb, we don’t want to get rejected. We don’t want to put our hearts on the line if we don’t have to, and all the important things involve our hearts.

I’ve often thought it was smarter to cut my losses and quit early. But as a friend explained to me about long distance running – you will always hit a wall, so if you want to accomplish your goal, you have to run through it.

Challenging my limitations isn’t easy so I’ve often taken the easy way out. There’s a scene in Fight Club where Brad Pitt grabs Edward Norton’s hand and gives it a vicious chemical burn. I’d always been like the Ed character – disappearing into my mental cave towards imagined greener pastures. I’d mentally, if not actually, bolt.

But now Brad is towering over me, yelling, “This is the greatest moment of your life, man! And you’re off somewhere missing it!”

I’ve done More and Less several times before on this blog, but this time it’s more a call to arms:

Enough denial. Enough making excuses. Enough bravado. Enough telling myself it’s not worth my time and life’s too short. Life is too short – to not live deeply. Life’s too precious to just skim the surface. Dive in. Stay the course. Make the effort. Fight. Become resilient. Commit. Believe. Rise.

“All we are saying is give peace a chance.” — The Beatles

Although I am no longer active on social media, I’m more than thrilled if you choose to share this post on your end, thanks!

Related Recommendations:

 An Affair to Remember has a special place in my heart. This 1957 film is an oldie but a real beauty. This is not the first or last retelling of the same story (indeed, the director Leo McCarey remade this version based on his own earlier 1939 film, Love Affair; Warren Beatty remade it in 1994; and Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle was inspired by it as well). Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr meet on a cruise ship takes their lives off course. This tale of enduring love is witty, charming and romantic (in a sobfest way) in equal measure.

“How many things do we feel obliged to do for the sake of it, or for appearances, or because we are trained to do them, but which weigh us down and don’t in fact achieve anything?” Antoine Laurain’s novel The Red Notebook, set in Paris and about the objects we carry in our lives, is an effervescent read.

A household is stuck with their clutter and an expert comes in to inspire them to clear it all out. The first time I saw this on a reality show was The Life Laundry on the BBC in 2002. And it was amazing. Like the mother who felt compelled to display each and every tiny scribble of her children’s artwork because she didn’t want to be like her own mother who’d neglected her. Every single episode had me sobbing at the psychological reveal; it was terrific TV. So when Netflix released a new show last week called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, I had high hopes, but this has a different tune altogether. Kondo flutters in, charms everyone, advises on how to clear and fold, then leaves the family to do it, later returning to review and applaud their achievements. While I’m grateful the filmmakers haven’t tried to conjure up cheap theatrical tension where they may be none, I am nonetheless disappointed that they don’t attempt to understand the story behind the clutter (and there’s always a story behind clutter). But if this leads to less mindless consumerism and more appreciation for what we already own, I’m all for it.

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2 thoughts on “More and Less for 2019

  1. Wishing you a blissful and enriching new year !! best wishes. Recently I have revisited all those people and places where I spent my early childhood, realised there was nothing I had planned. Being a seeker of truth or being on the path of truth also was not my choice, it was existential. We have taken certain religious/spiritual practices as ‘technique’, ‘method’ or ‘guidance’ for our ‘path’ and on the other hand the Existence have its own way to take us to our home. We really can’t choose, or start or finish ,, there is one word for all of that -‘Surrender’. Just felt like sharing, once again wishing you a very happy n prosperous new year. Stay Blessed

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