Behavior

“This is Where Life Happens”

You’re going about your life, maintaining the status quo. You’re in the Pit of Ignorance (don’t worry). Then one day, you learn about “the big idea.” It blows your mind! The world is your oyster! You are filled with motivation, and it makes you want to achieve a new goal. You’re on the Peak of Enlightenment, but only momentarily.

Because you then realize: this goal is harder than you thought. It will take time. There’s no substitute for hard work and time. A long period of monotony ensues. You must slog through the Valley of Drudgery.

Days, months, years go by. You start making progress, and excitement returns. You’re ascending the Slopes of Soon. The closer you get to the goal, the more excited you get. And eventually…yes!…you hit your goal. You’ve mounted Goal Summit.

Most people I know feel this at some point in their life (though I doubt they’ve plotted it in Microsoft Excel).

It Applies Everywhere…

This little landscape applies to many goals. The “big idea” could be anything. Say, a new weight loss plan. Fitness is exciting, but the execution is painful. There’s a long slog through the Valley of Drudgery before the results really start exciting you.

Entrepreneurs get “big ideas” for new businesses, but actual entrepreneurship involves years of grinding. Little wins help, but it takes a lot of time and effort to reach Goal Summit.

And yes, this plot applies to personal finance, retirement planning, and saving money.

The FIRE community, for example, knows all about this landscape. Learning about FIREI could retire at 45?!—is mind-blowing. But that excitement wears off after a couple months. What remains is a simple truth: it’s hard to rush FIRE. You can only save so much money. And it’s going to take years and years before you reach your goal.

The important details come in two weeks. It takes another two weeks to create your master plan. And then it takes 15 years of repetitive plodding to execute that plan—a quick peak of excitement, then a long period of toiling.

Get Busy Living…

Have you caught the drift? Peaks of Enlightenment are short-lived. Goal Summits are rewarding but fleeting, too. Instead, most of life is spent in the Valley of Drudgery. This valley is where real life happens.

Well, shoot…that’s depressing.

Wait! Don’t cry a river yet. I have good news.

The good news is that we each have a choice. The drudgery can be boring as hell if we let it. We can get stuck in the doldrums.

Or we can flood the Valley of Drudgery with the simple pleasures of life and sail our life’s boat on a higher plane. The everyday mundaneness disappears. We’ve got a Sea of Simple Pleasures that are keeping life fun and fresh.

Full disclosure: it’s a struggle. I wish I was an ever-flowing fountain of flowers and butterflies and happiness. I suffer days of sluggish boredom. But most of the time, I’m able to make drudgery fun (as oxymoronic as that sounds).

Everyone I know traverses this landscape. Same for you, I’d bet. And that means the day-to-day tedium of life is either going to grind you down or fill your sails.

Get busy living, or get busy dying

Andy Dufresne, from The Shawshank Redemption

“Enjoy The Journey”

One of the earliest posts I wrote on The Best Interest features my terrific friend Tyler Socash.

Tyler hiked 7000 miles in 13 months, covering the Pacific Crest Trail (Canada to Mexico), Te Araroa (north to south across New Zealand), and the Appalachian Trail (Georgia to Maine).

Tyler, a big hiking fish in an Adirondack pond

I’m sure planning the trip was exciting. Who doesn’t like planning a big trip?! Tyler was flying high on the Peak of Enlightenment. And we know that finishing the hikes—especially the last steps on his final long trail—must have been exhilarating…a true Goal Summit. But do you think Tyler spent most of his 7000 miles deep in the Valley of Drudgery?

No way!

He was floating on the Sea of Simple Pleasures. Exploring new worlds and sleeping under the stars. Eating bowls of oatmeal to fend off “hiker hunger.” Meeting new hiker friends and “trail angels.” The journey is where life happens. If each step is a chore, you’ll never make it. That final mile is nice, sure. But it’s merely a fleeting bookend.

Summiting Mount Katahdin at trail’s end will feel great…for about an hour. But the glory will wear off. You’ll be left with either the memories of wildflower prairies and wild horses, or with the regret of sore legs and grimy discomfort.

From Enjoy the Journey
Tyler, 7000 miles later…

You want to get rich? You want to retire early? Or maybe you just want to get out of debt?

Good! Get after your goals. Take them one step at a time and enjoy the sights along the way.


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It’s 5AM Somewhere…

I learned a ton from “5AM Joel” when we spoke on episode 7 of the Best Interest Podcast. Joel is an Aussie living in Los Angeles who runs his own personal blog and runs the famous Budgets Are $exy—which is how we first met (here’s my first article on Budgets, featuring Sadie the dog!).

Why do I bring up Joel? Because of his boundless optimism!

Joel sends an email to his readers every day at 5 a.m. It’s short and sweet, usually taking 30 seconds to read. And I’ve found that each day’s message features a drop from Joel’s Sea of Simple Pleasures. A story about Cooper, his dog. A picture of his blooming garden. A quick anecdote about bringing joy to the world.

And the best part? His emails will fill your sea, too, and at zero cost to Joel. Optimism is freely shared. A rising tide raises all ships. Joel is clearly enjoying his journey high above the Valley of Drudgery.

I subscribe (clearly) to the email, and I highly recommend it if you want to start your day with a quick morsel of positivity.

Joel is an everyday personal finance superstar, with savings somewhere between “Barista FIRE” and actual early retirement. But he barely ever mentions that. He’s too busy surfing and smelling flowers and walking Cooper. Simple pleasures.

One Last Water Reference…

I know I’ve been bleeding dry the water references…maybe I’m just thirsty? Here’s one more.

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

David Foster Wallace, from This is Water

If you haven’t listened to David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water,” I highly recommend it.

The message from the speech is exactly what we’re discussing today. It’s all too easy to swim through life while forgetting that we’re surrounded by life itself. This is life. The journey itself is everything.

In the speech, Wallace explained to the graduating seniors at Kenyon College that life will drag them down (into the Valley of Drudgery) unless they realized they had a choice. That choice is how to think, view the world, and see their fellow man. Will they see simple pleasures hiding in plain sight?

Our “default setting,” as Wallace says, is to view ourselves as the protagonist of the world.

Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor.

But the world doesn’t happen to us. We’re not the main characters in some T.V. show (though it’s hard to fight that feeling). It happens with us and around us. We’re each just a minor character in someone else’s play. So turn off that default setting and tune in the simple experiences occurring around you.

You might be upset at me mounted on my high seahorse. So I’m going to steal another one of DFW’s lines because it’s also a message from me to you:

Please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to.

David Foster Wallace

Seas rise, seas fall, and the Sea of Simple Pleasures is no different. I’ve had plenty of bad days, especially in the past year. But when my cup runs dry, I’ve found reprieve in the simple things. The end of the journey will eventually come. I’m working hard to summit my goals. But if I don’t quite make it, I’ll be ok. Why?

Because “this is water.” This is where life happens. And life itself is our buoy.

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About Jesse Cramer

Jesse Cramer created The Best Interest to explain personal finance and investing in simple terms. His writing has been featured by CNBC, MSN, The Motley Fool, and other national publications. He resides in Rochester, NY with his girlfriend and their dog. Follow him on Twitter: @BestInterest_JC
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