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10 July 2009 — Ad Astra Per Aspera (5)

I was digging through some old e-mail when I came across a request to update my gigantic list of goals.

On my 38th birthday, I wrote about the 101 things in 1001 days project (which I learned about from I drafted my list of 101 goals on 25 March 2007, and then provided a single update on 01 January 2008. It’s now been 839 days since I made the list. How am I doing today?

Here’s the current state of my list:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve done well with my financial goals. I’ve met them all. In fact, I’ve exceeded my goals by a wide margin.
1. Pay off all non-mortgage debt
2. Fully fund Roth IRA (2006)
3. Fully fund Roth IRA (2007)
4. Fully fund Roth IRA (2008)
5. Fully fund Roth IRA (2009)
6. Establish a $5000 personal emergency fund
7. Open a high-yield online savings account
8. Automate bill payments
9. Automate IRA contributions
10. Get a safety deposit box

Health and Fitness
I haven’t done as well here. In fact, I haven’t done well at all. I think the contrast between this list and the first list demonstrates that what gets measured gets managed. The things we focus on are the things we excel at.
1. Give up sugar for a week
2. Eat only home-prepared food for one month
3. Eat vegetarian for one month
4. Get cholesterol to healthy levels borderline now
5. Have a colonoscopy
6. Complete a marathon keep getting injured during training!
7. Complete a 100-mile bike ride
8. Play a team sport
9. Do 100 push-ups got up to 50+ before giving up
10. Bench-press my body weight
11. Complete a one-mile swim
12. Maintain a weight of 170 or below for six months
13. Drink only water for one month
14. Give up alcohol for three months

Home and Garden
I did a little better with this list, though I still have many goals left to accomplish. I actually think I could finish some of these in the four months that remain of my 1001 days.
1. Get the birds out of the workshop ceiling
2. Repair ceiling upstairs in house
3. Clean all gutters and install gutter guards
4. Finish modernizing the electrical system
5. Build a patio
6. Prune the holly trees
7. Learn how to use the chainsaw properly
8. Finish building the horseshoe pit
9. Hire somebody to paint the house
10. Open all windows that are painted shut
11. Park my car in the garage (this entails a lot of sub-steps)
12. Remove debris file from beneath the cedar
13. Add new spigots outside
14. Get a rug or carpet for the library getting close!
15. Acquire some nice office furniture
16. Create home maintenance checklist
17. Erect a hammock keep trying to find a used one
18. Acquire a chipper
19. Set up workshop for woodworking no longer a priority

I made great start on this list, but haven’t done much on it recently. I really do need to purge my record collection, for example. And though I no longer want to sell all of my comics, I do need to organize my collection.
1. Purge wardrobe of anything I haven’t worn in the past two years
2. Get a massage uh, this is sort of an addiction now
3. Learn to shave with a safety razor
4. Update my address book
5. Sell record collection
6. Get rid of computer books
7. Sell CDs, keeping only hard-to-find favorites
8. Sell comic books
9. Sell board games
10. Hold a gourmet potluck
11. Create the Indispensable Comic Strip Reprint Library in progress

Wow. I haven’t even tried to do anything on this list other than the two interview items — and that’s because those come up in the course of my GRS activities. I need to do more here.
1. Take a speech-com class (Dale Carnegie?)
2. Take a drawing class
3. Take a Spanish class I’m more inclined to take French now
4. Take a yoga class
5. Take a cooking class
6. Give a good radio interview I can do this on a regular basis now!
7. Give a good television interview This is a little more difficult for me, but I’ve done it

Again, I haven’t done enough here. One of the things I crave is adventure, but I only talk about it. I never put my words into action.
1. Get tickets for World Cup South Africa Not going to happen
2. Skydive hahaha
3. Go on a trip by myself I should do this
4. Go white-water rafting
5. Ride in a hot-air balloon
6. Learn to shoot a gun Kris beat me to this and taunts me about it

The Wii bowling is no longer a priority, though I’m still making slow progress on the movies. Yay for Netflix!
1. See all Oscar-winners for Best Picture 59/81
2. See all Oscar-winners for Best Documentary 6/66
3. Bowl 300 on Wii Sports 264/300

Before I started Get Rich Slowly, I was actually interested in making money from photography. I was making good progress, too. This list of goals reflects the fact I hadn’t yet abandoned those dreams. Now I have.
1. Sell/publish a second photo
2. Digitize all photos
3. Sell $100 of images at iStockPhoto

Not bad progress here, but not as much as I’d hoped. I spend most of my time reading personal finance books!

1. Read all of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past 1/7
2. Read all of Shakespeare’s plays 13/38
3. Read all of Dickens 6/17
4. Read all Hugo & Nebula winners 23/82
5. Read all Pulitzer winners (for fiction) 10/56

Although I haven’t diversified my writing activities, I can’t say I’m disappointed here. I write a ton, and nearly every day. I haven’t sold a magazine article or published a book, but a book is in the future, I think, and I’ve contributed to three other personal finance books, so that’s a start.
1. Compile and print a Friends Cookbook
2. Sell a short story
3. Sell a poem
4. Sell a magazine article
5. Write a book well, no book written, but…
6. Publish a book …I’m getting close to this
7. Participate in National Novel Writing Month no longer a priority
8. Digitize all of my creative writing

15 goals
1. Implement GRS forums
2. Implement GRS book section
3. Implement GRS tools and calculators section
4. Start a GRS podcast
5. Complete GRS redesign
6. Complete Animal Intelligence redesign done, but I haven’t written at this site in a long time
7. Move all old foldedspace entries to the new database messed this up
8. Launch Success Daily unlikely to happen, though may play that role
9. Launch Vintage Pop on hold, but in the works
10. Launch Too Much Cat abandoned this plan
11. Interview Robert Kiyosaki (or host guest post) not going to happen
12. Interview Dave Ramsey (or host guest post) still a good goal
13. Achieve $10,000 web income in one month
14. 1,000,000 visitors in one month to GRS oh so close on a couple of occasions
15. 100,000 RSS subscribers at GRS not going to happen

I now know that some of these will never be accomplished. Setting up other web sites? Not going to happen. I don’t consider this a failure — it’s just a shifting of priorities. And I’d now rather beat “Super Samurai” on Dance Dance Revolution than bowl 300 at Wii Sports.

I may not achieve everything I set out to do, but I’ve done a hell of a lot over the past couple of years.

Tags: Introspection · Personal History  → 5 Comments

17 April 2009 — Two Glimmers of Insight (3)

I’ve had a lot of amazing experiences lately that I’m not able to write about for a variety of reasons. However, I had two encounters yesterday that seemed especially important to me, and I wanted to write them down before I lost them. These anecdotes will be a little vague. Sorry.

I’m in San Francisco for some professional development and media relations training. (Yes, I’m serious.) It’s been a whirlwind of activity, but I love it.

In a morning meeting, I was complaining about the entire journalistic process in the United States. I’ve seen enough of it from the inside now to know that I cannot trust a single thing I see on television or read in a magazine. (Remember our five-year-old argument about Truth vs. truth? The media takes this to a whole new level.) These stories are manufactured, just like a cardboard box. They’re not reported. The “journalists” create the story they think their audience wants, and when they contact me, I’m just an ingredient.

Bill, one of the fellows working with me, listened to my complaints, and then he said, “J.D., you can’t look at it like that. You can’t expect it to be straight reporting because it’s not. You have to think of it like sausage. What they’re producing is sausage. The media is a giant sausage factory. You don’t want to know what goes into the sausage or how it’s made. You just have to trust that what comes out at the other end tastes good.”

I loved this analogy. Based on my experience, it’s so completely apt. It’s exactly what goes on.

I’m in the midst of participating in a bit for tonight’s episode of “On the Money” on CNBC. I’ll be on their Success Stories segment. But you do not want to know the ingredients to this piece of sausage.

Later in the day, I was working with Michelle, who is giving me public speaking training. She was asking me about my story and my goals. She wanted to know how I present myself. What do I want people to remember me as? I kept coming back to my old song-and-dance: I want people to trust my advice and listen to what I have to say, but I don’t want them to think of me as a financial expert. “I’m just a regular guy,” I said.

Michelle shook her head. “That won’t work,” she said. “You can’t kiss a girl through the screen door.” She didn’t even have to explain what she meant. I understood her meaning immediately. “The truth is, you are an expert. You’re an expert on the fundamentals of personal finance. You’re a common-sense advisor.”

Great stuff. (She also gave me a good disclaimer to use after I bill myself as a spokesman for common-sense fundamentals. She told me to say: “I am not an expert in this space. You should seek a professional advisor.” In other words, I should lay claim to what I can, and then offer people further options.)

I have another entire day of training ahead of me. I have to be over at the office in 25 minutes. I’m excited for what it might hold.

Tags: Introspection · Personal History  → 3 Comments

11 February 2009 — Genius and the Creative Muse (4)

Over the past couple of years, author Elizabeth Gilbert has been something of a joke in our house. We read her book The Last American Man for book group, and neither Kris nor I were impressed. It was certainly well-written, but the subject was lame, and we felt as if Gilbert were writing a love letter rather than a biography.

We’ve had friends read Gilbert’s subsequent memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, and their reactions have mostly been ambivalent, as if they couldn’t understand the hype.

So, Kris and I are unimpressed.

Yesterday, however, Andy pointed to Gilbert’s talk at this year’s TED conference. (The TED talks are amazing. They’re like little nuggets of brainfood.) Her subject? Creative genius.

My opinion of Gilbert has changed. After viewing her presentation, I have new-found respect for her and her process. What she describes is similar to what I experience. I’m not saying that I’m a genius, but what glimpses of genius I may have often seem to come from somewhere outside myself. (I think of it as possessing a muse, but maybe that’s because I don’t really understand the word.)

Gilbert tells the story of a poet who, as a young woman, would feel poems coming at her from across the landscape. She would run to the house to grab pencil and a paper before the poem would pass her by. I experience something similar. I am not joking.

When people ask me where I get my ideas, I tell them the best ones come from mowing the lawn. It’s true. For some reason I cannot fathom, when I am mowing the lawn (or doing other yardwork), I come up with the most brilliant ideas. For a long time, I would lose these ideas. I wouldn’t remember them by the time I was finished with my work. Frustrated, I developed a system. Now I keep a pencil and a pad of paper near the door. If I’m working outside and the muse comes to me, I stop what I’m doing, and I go to my pad of paper to write it down. I capture these bits of genius.

Gilbert’s talk is brilliant — at least to me, as a writer. It captures some bit of writerliness, and for that I am grateful.

(On a sidenote: Kris and I watched Almost Famous the other night. I knew the plot going in, so I expected the film to be “about” rock bands. Sure, that’s a main theme. But I was impressed that this is one of the best films I’ve ever seen about what it’s like to be a writer. Capote? That’s a film about a writer, not about writing. Almost Famous is about writing, and I love it for that.)

Tags: Deep Thoughts · Introspection · Writing  → 4 Comments

5 January 2009 — Money and Meaning (8)

Just under three years ago, I started a new blog. I’d been writing here at foldedspace for five years, and had great fun interacting with my friends and family (and the small community that had grown up around our interactions). We argued about politics, about religion, about comics, about Truth.

I started my money blog on little more than a whim. I thought I could help other people while also helping myself. Surprisingly, it worked. That site attracted a following, and at the same time it became my livelihood. Last year I made more money than I’ve ever made in my life.

But a funny thing has happened, one which a few of you have had a chance to glimpse. Though I love my work, and though I’m happy to be earning my living from writing, at some point I became a workaholic. J.D. the lazy became J.D. the driven. Was it because my work was producing so much income? Was it because of the praise I received? I don’t know.

As I became more and more engrossed in my work, I began to leave other things behind. I stopped reading. I stopped seeing my friends. I stopped learning Latin and going for walks in the country. I left a part of me behind.

Over the last few months, I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching. I’ve been asking myself what it is I really want. I’ve dug myself out of debt and even set aside a nice nest egg (though taxes are going to reduce that from “nice” to “a little”). I’ve changed my financial habits. I’m not tempted to buy every book or magazine or videogame I see. In fact, they rarely tempt me at all. So, I no longer want money.

I think what I want is meaning. But how do I find that? To some extent, my meaning will continue to be derived from Get Rich Slowly. As I’ve said before, I truly feel as if I’ve found my vocation. I’m helping other people develop a better relationship with money. But that cannot be my only source of meaning.

Tammy, who still visits foldedspace now and then, will tell me that I’ll find meaning through God. That’s one way. But I think it’s possible to find meaning and purpose through other avenues as well. I look around at my friends, and most of them have children, and these children help to provide meaning. That’s another way, but again, it’s not for me.

I’m not sure there’s an easy answer to this question. (In fact, I know there’s not; people have wrestled with it for centuries.) What I do know is that I’m ready to broaden my horizons…

Tags: Introspection  → 8 Comments

9 December 2008 — A Do-Nothing Day? (3)

I’ve complained a lot lately about how busy I am. “I’m a workaholic,” I told Mac yesterday.

“No,” he said. “You’re a stressaholic.” Ouch.

I want to believe he’s wrong but, well, there’s evidence that he’s right. I can’t say no to anyone who wants my time. I take on far more than I can ever complete. It’s not good.

What I find enlightening, however, is how I’m reacting this morning. I’m sick. Yesterday afternoon and evening, I began to feel nauseated, and I developed a fever. The fever’s been running at 102 for the last 12 hours. I cannot sleep. I need to throw up, but I can’t let myself do it. (I hate throwing up.)

More importantly, it’s time to take a break. When I’m this sick, there’s just no way for me to be productive. And yet doing nothing doesn’t seem like an option. I feel like there are so many things on my list, and doing nothing leads me to fall further and further behind.

I stopped to think this morning: When was the last time I actually did nothing for a day? I can’t remember. I watched the first half of Aliens about a month ago, but felt guilty for not working so I stopped midway through. Other than that, I can’t remember the last time I read for pleasure, or watched television, or browsed my comics.

So today I’m going to try to do nothing. I’ll read some comics or watch a movie or, well, sleep. Sleep sounds good.

But right now, maybe I’ll try to go throw up.

Tags: Introspection  → 3 Comments

19 November 2008 — Leaving My Comfort Zone (8)

As many of you know, I’ve begun to push myself in new directions. My personal finance blog has been wildly successful, and because of this I’ve been presented with new opportunities.

Public speaking
For one, I’ve been offered some speaking engagements. I spoke to graduating students at Western Oregon University last spring, and last weekend I gave a talk at the Multnomah County Library. Though I was one course shy of a speech communication minor, making presentations to groups right now scares the hell out of me. It’s tough.

I console myself with the knowledge that I will get better with practice. It used to be that I was very nervous when I met “imaginary friends” for coffee or lunch or dinner. (”Imaginary friends” being Paul J.’s term for internet-only friends, a term that has found common usage in our house.) But now I’m very comfortable meeting these folks, and even look forward to it.

Might it be possible that I’ll eventually feel the same way about speaking to groups?

Media appearances
Even more intimidating than public speaking are the occasional media appearances I make. Since my disastrous first live radio interview, I’ve had a couple of other television and radio appearances. These have been of mixed quality. In all cases, I was tense tense tense tense tense. And in one case — the series of interviews being broadcast this week on KPTV-12 — I really think I did a poor job. (It makes me sick to watch these.) But, in general, I think I’m improving.

The real test will come tonight. I’m scheduled to appear on KGW-8’s “Live at 7″ program to speak about frugal Christmas gifts. Once again, I am tense tense tense tense tense. After speaking with friends and family, though, I have some goals. Paul H. suggested that I try to speak more slowly, and so I will. I’m also going to try to take a moment to compose my thoughts before answering questions.

Again, I’m hoping that by continuing to do these things that I hate, I’ll actually get better at them.

Book deal!
Okay, so that subheading is premature. I don’t have a book deal. I haven’t even completed a proposal. However, I have agreed to work with an agent from Waxman Literary Agency. Next up: a book proposal, which we hope to have done in a couple of months. Then, assuming it gets picked up, an actual book. Who woulda thunk it?

This, too, is scary, but in a better way than the previous two things I listed. I know how to write. I feel confident in my abilities. I’m not worried about my ability to create a quality book.

However, each of those first two things I listed — public speaking and media appearances — will be critical to the success of my book. I’ll need to be able to present myself in a variety of situations if I want to promote the book and encourage its success.

Building confidence, destroying fear
It seems strange to me that little foldedspace has led me to so much more. I know that many of you long for the days when I wrote about comic books and cats and computers. I miss those days, too. But I’m not sure that they’ll ever return.

In the meantime, the seeds I planted here have grown into something amazing, something that has let me climb higher than I thought possible. I’m well on the way to achieving my dreams.

Tags: Blogging · Introspection · Personal History  → 8 Comments

22 October 2008 — Your Life Unfolding (2)

Sometimes you read or see something that connects with you on a deeper, almost spiritual, level. David sent me a short video that contains some pieces of wisdom that really resonate with where I am in life.

Narrator: What is the most important thing you have learned in life?

Dan Millman: If I only had one sentence to say to somebody about life, it would probably be, “Trust the process of your life unfolding.”

I don’t know if it’s true or not that everything that happens if for a highest good and learning, but I choose to take that on as an operating belief in my life. Because I can never choose to feel like a victim. Then instead of saying, “Why did this happen to me?” or “How come? Is God Punishing me?” if this is a difficult time, instead I can only say, if I chose this on some level, I might as well make the best of it.

I tell people that at least 10% of what I say is going to be wrong for you. You need to determine which 10%. Discriminate. Have your bullshit detector on, turned up. You check it out against your own inner knowing, because I’m not here for people to trust me, I’m here to help people to trust themselves.

Narrator: I love this journey. I get to live my dream, travel the country, and meet amazing people. The only time I really screw it up is when I try to control it instead of just letting it unfold as it should.

Lately I feel like I’m too inclined to micro-manage my life and the things I’m doing. I don’t enjoy that micromanagement. I think that in many ways this attention prevents my life from actually happening. I’m always worried about how other people are going to react when I should just relax and let life unwind. I should just be myself.

Tags: Introspection  → 2 Comments

14 October 2008 — Hello, Autumn (1)

Autumn is here. The days and nights are getting colder. My usual strategy for coping with the chill is to bundle up. This morning, though, I couldn’t shake the cold. I turned on the heat for the first time since April, and sat at the kitchen table drinking a mug of cocoa.

As I ran a hot bath, I sat and watched the leaves fall from the walnut tree. I mowed the lawn yesterday, so the grass beneath the tree is short, like a carpet. There’s no wind to speak of, but still yellow dying leaves are drifting down in waves. It’s as if a group of leaves hatched a plan: “Let’s all jump at the same time.”

The cats aren’t pleased with the change in seasons. First of all, there’s not enough light. Second, it’s raining too often. Third, although they have fur, they’d prefer not to have to rely upon it to stay warm. Finally, they no longer have freedom of movement. During the summer, the doors are open constantly, and they can come and go as they please. Not now. Now they have to ask to be let in and out, but they don’t like asking.

Mornings like this are slow. They’re nice. But I need to have some productive mornings. During the week before our vacation, I worked hard to prep articles for the time we’d be gone. It’s been nearly two weeks now since I worked at such a frenzy, but I can’t seem to muster ever a little motivation.

That’s okay, though. I have stuff ready to go through this weekend, for the most part. I still have time to sit at the table, sipping a mug of cocoa, watching the leaves fall.

Tags: Daily Life · Introspection · Rosings Park  → 1 Comment

13 October 2008 — Why I Blog (2)

“Are you watching YouTube again?” Kris asks me nearly every day. Usually I am. She doesn’t get it. But to me, YouTube is just another form of blogging. Both are new forms of community, ways to express yourself and to interact with other people (most of whom are strangers, no doubt, but who can become acquaintances — or friends).

The following video is an hour long, but it does an outstanding job of capturing the mood, the mentality, and the motives behind blogging. Even though it’s about YouTube:

The world is a mess lately: economic turmoil, a contentious Presidential election, and rumors of doom from the corners of the globe. But, for whatever reason, this new interconnectivity gives me hope.

Tags: Deep Thoughts · Geekiness · Introspection  → 2 Comments

22 September 2008 — A Comics Geek Gets Serious (1)

I originally intended to post this at Get Rich Slowly, but Kris rightly noted that I’ve beat this topic to death lately. I’ve revised it for posting here.

I’ve spent a lot of time this weekend thinking about my motivation for collecting comics. On some level I do it because I’ve always done it. I’ve been buying comics for 35 years. It’s a part of me. It’s a habit. But more and more, I’ve come to realize I don’t enjoy all of the comics I buy. That’s the main reason I’ve been able to cut my spending on them so sharply over the past few years.

After two days of introspection, I realized that what I really enjoy are the comics I remember from my youth, the ones I might have picked up at the grocery store or the mini mart when I was six, or twelve, or sixteen. I’ve decided to focus my collecting on the years between 1975 and 1986.

Making this decision is a huge relief. It gives me direction. Now I can look at my bookshelves and know exactly which anthologies to sell and which to keep. Now I can budget for future purchases. Now when I stumble on a stack of comic books at the thrift store or a garage sale, I won’t feel the urge to buy them all.

I’m actually excited in a geeky sort of way because I’ll be able to apply several of the techniques I’ve shared at Get Rich Slowly:

  • First, I’m going to purge some of this Stuff from my shelves. I’ll sell the books on eBay or the Amazon Marketplace. The money I earn from selling these books will be used to fund my future purchases.
  • In fact, I’m going to create a special savings account specfically for my comic collecting. Initially, this will act exactly like the stuff replacement fund I wrote about last week. As I sell the comics I no longer want, the money will go into this account.
  • Even more exciting (and I can hardly believe I’m saying this), I’m going to set a comics budget. That’s right — J.D., the man who does not budget, is going to create a budget for one aspect of his life. I’m going to place $50 a month into my comics fund.
  • To implement my monthly comics allowance, I’ll make an automatic transfer from my checking account into an ING Direct subaccount. It’s from this pool of money that I’ll allow myself to buy now books.
  • I’ll draft a list of goals. It may seem silly to have comic-collecting goals, but without them, I’ve just been buying things willy-nilly. (Why on earth do I have an Aquaman compilation? Nobody needs an Aquaman compilation.) With some goals for my collecting, I can focus on what’s important to me.

Earlier this month, I wrote:

There is nothing wrong with buying things that you will use and enjoy. That’s the purpose of money. If you’re spending less than you earn, meeting your needs, and saving or the future, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to afford the things that make life easier and more pleasurable. But when you purchase things based solely on the idea of having, I believe you’ve crossed the line from using money as a tool to becoming a tool for money.

For a long time, I’ve been collecting comics because I liked the idea of having them.

Kris, who views comics as a waste of time and money, would probably prefer I just got rid of them all, but I enjoy them. Now that I have no consumer debt, I can afford to spend a little money on them, and I’m happy to do it.

This isn’t really about the comics, though. It’s about taking a hobby I enjoy and determining why it brings me pleasure. It’s about setting limits, about setting goals, and about turning a collection of Stuff into a books I will read and enjoy.

Next: How I discovered that May 1980 marked the start of my “golden age” of collecting.

Tags: Comic Books · Geekiness · Introspection  → 1 Comment