Are You Properly Enjoying Your Wealth?

I know what you’re thinking.

“I’m not wealthy. This blog post isn’t for me.”

Actually, it is. Historically speaking, you are one of the wealthiest individuals who has ever lived.

It takes relatively little effort to provide for your own really essential needs: food, water, shelter, clothing. Setting aside people who feel the need to give their kids or spouses lots of unnecessary doodads, vacations, etc, the “bare necessities of life” have never been cheaper, particularly if you live in the West. A small amount of labor can keep us alive – anything over that is just bonus.

But how many of us really appreciate or enjoy the freedom that comes with that wealth?

Commutes, 9 to 5 commitments, and inflexible job-centric living suck away most of our days. We spend the best parts – the sunny parts – inside. We plan to be tied down. We force ourselves to tolerate things and people we don’t enjoy. We worry about the opinions of those people. And we never quite experience the full fruits of the freedom we have.

I’ve been seeing some of that freedom as I’ve experienced voluntary unemployment. I feel rich – particularly in time. If I want to go browse an outdoors store or stock up on books from Goodwill, I just do (I did today). I don’t care if it’s 1 PM. I don’t have to worry about being at somebody’s desk. If I want to go to the cemetery and read a book in the sunshine, I can (I did that today, too).

I’m already doing hunting-gathering for income sources, so I’ll be adding some constraints back to my life soon. But just having this brief space of time is useful. Having full possession of my time now is showing me how I want to feel even when I don’t have all my time to myself. I want to feel as wealthy as I am in fact.

What about you?

Are you savoring that many of life’s best things (nature, time with friends, books) are free or cheap?

Are you savoring the time you save from not having to work all that much?

Are you savoring the fact that you can go anywhere you want anytime you want?

Are you savoring your freedom?

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Elitism for Everybody

While not everyone is great, everyone can be.

This may be my most American idea.

As Gordon Wood argues in American Characters, we live in a populist country founded by elitists: a strange twist in history that has given to a mass population personal role models who had extraordinary (if flawed) personal character.

We’re taught from an early age that we should look up to and imitate founders like George Washington – a landed aristocrat – and Thomas Jefferson – who was reading Latin and Greek classics in his teens. There’s an idea in most of our educational systems that we can be like these men.

That’s a pretty crazy idea. It’s a pretty wonderful one, because it’s true (we can exceed those men). And it breaks categories.

It’s not a pure egalitarian idea. Egalitarianism is a leveling force. This idea calls us to go higher, and to be as good or better than men who were superior to their cultures.

But it’s also a revolutionary idea. In calling everyone to become elite, this American idea redefines aristocracy. It offers admission to anyone – if they’re good enough, that is.

It’s a hard belief to maintain, but I want to believe and try to act in a way that assumes that everyone can (in some way) become great and virtuous. It may be the idea that makes America special. It’s the idea that makes it possible for me to work hard to make the world better. I want to believe that there is some profound and great potential in every person.

As far as I know, that idea hasn’t been disproven. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, the idea of “egalitarian elitism” may not have been tried and found wanting, but found difficult and left mostly untried.

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The Fatal Weakness of the God of Cynicism

We live in a culture of overpowering cynicism.

We assume the media is bending truth. We assume people won’t speak their full minds to our faces. We assume companies, organizations, and governments will try to pull one over on us. We assume love, friendship, and honor are hollow ideals.

As products of this overpowering cynicism, we tend to view sincerity as impractical. And so we hardly ever encounter it.

It would be reasonable to view the rarity of sincerity as evidence of its weakness. That would be a mistake. To a culture of overpowering cynicism, sincerity is now rare enough to have the strategic advantage of being a surprise.

To tell the truth at risk to your own reputation? To celebrate virtue? To say what you think to someone’s face? No one expects this behavior anymore, and so it is unsettling and difficult to counter.

If you set yourself against a cynical society, your sincerity can be a great advantage.

This relentlessly sincerity can’t be born of naivete. It has to look cynicism straight in the eye and know it. It has to be a sincerity “in spite of” – in spite of the cost of doubt, in spite of excuses, in spite of accusation, in spite of mockery, and in spite of the fact that cynicism is a “safer” and more “realistic” option.

No one will know what to do with a sincerity like that. A sincerity that can persist despite a culture of cynicism unsettles that culture of cynicism. It’s what might start to change things.

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Honor Is a Game of Chess, Not Checkers

“It’s chess not checkers.”

That’s what my jiu jitsu coach told me once when I asked about when to or how to use a takedown. In as complex a fighting style as jiu jitsu (just like in chess, as opposed to the simpler game of checkers), there isn’t really a clear answer about when to use a “move.”

I’m learning that honor is that way, too. Honor is complex because life is complex. Rarely does it fit into a one-dimensional ruleset.

There is honor in going to bat for an ideal. But there will be times when honor requires that you prioritize a person over an ideal.

There is honor in being truthful about your own faults. But there will be times when standing proud is the most honorable thing you can do.

There is honor in standing up for someone else’s reputation. And there may be times when sacrificing your own reputation for honor may be the honorable thing.

There will be times when it is honorable to call things out. There will be times when it is honorable to stay silent.

There is honor in fighting an enemy, but there may be times when honor may require you to forgive or even work with an enemy for the sake of a greater good.

There is honor in disrespecting the disrespectable. And yet there may also be times when honor requires you to admit your foolishness to fools or your guilt to the guilty.

Honor is complex. It’s a strange, evolved code of lived-out truth, courage, loyalty, fairness, and personal risk. All of these dimensions of honor have to be combined in an honorable decision.

But all of this is not to say that the honorable way is hard to recognize. Honor is complex because life is complex, but we are ourselves complex beings. We have evolved with honor, and (somehow) we always know how to head in the direction of honor. We won’t know the exact steps to get there, or exactly where we will end up, but after all, that is what makes the game interesting.

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Broaden Your Idea of What’s Possible for Your Life

In the last five years I discovered that it was possible for an awkward, non-technical, non-athletic farm kid to skip college and become an important part of a cryptocurrency tech startup, become a fairly avid trail runner, and become comfortable living in a big(ish) city.

I wouldn’t have known if or how I could have done these things, because I didn’t really know how much was possible.

I’m willing to bet that most people don’t have a clear understanding of just how many options they have, and just how many different paths they could take with some effort.

Even tonight I’ve been browsing through apprenticeships and work in a state way out West, and I’ve been going down rabbit holes of new ways
I could spend the next year of my life. Now I am starting to realize how customizable and diverse life can be if designed with the right effort, intention, and skill.

Location? It may take some time and money, but there are cheap ways to get to some all kinds of cool places in this country, whether in New Hampshire or Colorado.

Job? As a young person with a tolerance for risk and lower-budget living, I don’t need a big salaried position. I can afford to start at the ground level of just about anything.

Hobbies? Find a friend who loves climbing, or skiing, or swordfighting. Or join a meetup.

5 years of doing the same thing (even an awesome desk job) or living in the same place (even a great city) can limit you to thinking that you can only make lateral moves. It’s just not true. As I make decisions about my next move, it’s been helpful to have moments that have made me realize just how wide my options are.

I don’t have to take a lateral move into a desk job. I don’t have to go work a retail or chain job somewhere either. I don’t have to stay put. I don’t have to be the same person with the same habits. And realizing that – as well as seeing my options – is helping me to get closer to finding a thing that really lights my fire.

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Be Someone’s Moral Measuring Stick

My father and my grandfather told me to “be the man [I] was supposed to be” since I was young. In their code, this means telling the truth, acting honorably, playing fairly, working hard.

It’s the code of farmers, and it’s rare to find in the city, where the simple code sometimes invites scorn or condescension.

When I make the right (even if hard) decision, it is comforting to know that at least my father and grandfather would be proud. With them as fixed points in my mind I can afford to let the outside world get to me a little less.

My grandfather was a man who lived as he ought. My father is a man who lives by the code. And because of that they are moral measuring sticks for me, constants and landmarks for moral navigation and self-evaluation. This is what I’d like to be for my children and grandchildren.

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