What Do You Really Need?

I’m about halfway done with “Ego is the Enemy” (stop reading this blog and go buy this book) and a paragraph really stood out to me. Okay, in reality, there are A LOT of paragraphs that stood out to me, this is probably the most underlined and highlighted book I’ve owned in a long time, but one particular paragraph stood out even more. I think it is kind of applicable to my way of thinking right now.

The paragraph is:

It’s time to sit down and think about what’s truly important to you and then take steps to forsake the rest. Without this, success will not be pleasurable, or nearly as complete as it could be. Or worse, it won’t last.

This is especially true with money. If you don’t know how much you need, the default easily becomes: more.

I don’t really sit down and think about what is truly important to me enough. I get in grooves and coast along and just kind of go where the river is taking me. For the most part, I think that is fine, it is valuable to “row with the flow” as Halcyon says. But, if you want to accomplish something then you need to be able to articulate what it is or how much you need.

Money isn’t terribly important to me, but it is easily quantified. So, as a thought experiment, I sat down and thought about how much I really need to have the things I want in my life. Then, I can work backward from there to figure out how much I need to be paid or how much I need to work. Caution: we are going to get into some math.

Current Monthly Financial Needs:

  • Rent: $387.50
  • Cell Phone Bill: $50.00
  • Internet: $20.00
  • Electricity: $75.00
  • Water: $30.00
  • Food: $400.00
  • Renter’s Insurance: $5.00

So, that takes care of the lower levels of Maslow’s Heirarchy: food, water, shelter, and internet. The total is $967.50 per month or $11,610 annually. In order to pay for that, I need to work at least 30 hours a week at minimum wage before taxes. After taxes are figured in I need to work 42 hours a week at minimum wage. That sucks… but I am not making minimum wage so there is some flexibility. Just working for $10/hr gets my work needs down to 30 hours.

As cheap as that is, there are things that I want to do that cost money and aren’t really “needs”. First, is saving for retirement. I’m going to use the 4% rule and make some wild assumptions.

  • Assumption 1: I retire completely at the age 65. That gives me 31 years to save
  • Assumption 2: The inflation change between now and 2047 is the same as the inflation change between now and 1985. Which means to cover my needs I will need to withdraw $36,000 annually from my retirement.
  • Assumption 3: There will be no technological advancements that will significantly decrease the cost of any of my needs. I find this highly unlikely and expect many things like internet, electricity, water, and maybe even housing to be lower when I retire, particularly since I’m willing to move to a cheaper place to live.

So, with those assumptions, I need $900,000 in my retirement account when I retire. That means it grows by $29,000 per year for the next 31 years. Shit.

Well, maybe it isn’t that bad. Investment and retirement accounts accrue interest. Time for some more wild assumptions… If I take the average annual rate of stock market return of 10%** and move it to a more conservative 9% I can reach my goal of $900,000 by 2047 if I invest $500 a month in the account.

That seems pretty far-fetched but let’s see where this rabbit hole goes. I can’t reach my financial goals unless I actually articulate them. With retirement included in my calculation, I need a monthly income of $1467.50.

I also want to be able to have vacations and travel and such. I’m going to call this the “Burning Man” fund. I won’t be going to the Playa every year, but I am sure I will be going some places every year… Iceland, or a series of small festivals and events, etc. I am going to be more liberal with this estimate and allocate $3,000 a year to having fun like this ($250 a month).

I guess I should also start paying my student loans (maybe). They are another $500 per month, and I also want to take some classes like yoga ($100 per month), have a weekly outing to drink beer with friends ($100 per month), and improve the house ($100 per month).

Where does that put me?

  • Need: $967.20
  • Retirement: $500
  • Burning Man: $250
  • Student Loans: $500
  • Classes: $100
  • Weekly Fun: $100
  • Home Improvement: $100
  • Monthly Total: $2,517.50

To reach my goal I have a few options.

  • Reduce my goal by decreasing my living standard
  • Earn more money (I’d need an extra $750 or so per month given my current income)
  • A little bit of both

I think Option 3 is the best option. To help with that I need to get a hold of my copy of 4-Hour Work Week. In it, Ferriss talks about researching and setting realistic goals over time frames. I could likely reduce my “Burning Man” goal by planning and be more reasonable. I can also reduce my home improvement, weekend fun and classes expenses. I’d also like to start dumpster diving and finding other ways to decrease my “need”.

I’d also like to start bringing in more income. I can start working more at my current job, look into finding a part-time secondary job (unlikely), and work towards what I really want to do… be a writer. If I can focus on getting my writing polished and sent to publishers (or self-publishing) I might be able to bring in the funds I need to have the life I want.

That monthly total is a pretty lofty goal for me, but now that it is quantified I actually have a chance of reaching it. Instead of just needing “more” money per month, I need $2,517.50 per month.

** A friend of mine who is a financial planner says my 10% was way too optimistic and 5% is a more reasonable growth rate. With that, I need to add about $1,000 per month to reach my goal. So, my new monthly goal is $3,017.50 without any reduction in expenses. I think I’m going to plot out things one at a time in a more detailed way to see if I can reduce those costs.

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Prelude: On The Mountaintop

What follows is my first draft of the Prelude for my upcoming book, tentatively titled “Mostly Flat: <something something something>”. If you have any thoughts or recommendations about clarity, grammar, etc please feel free to email me at pjneiger@gmail.com or Facebook message me. I will add chapters as I produce them and then, after some editing and such, make my book available to purchase. 

 

It started on a mountaintop in Afghanistan, as these things often do.

I guess a mountaintop in Afghanistan is specific to me, but the planting of a seed in the mind needs fertile soil, and fertile soil is often found in those moments of peace and serenity amidst chaos. When the mind has been occupied and the body afraid there is no time to think or plan or dream, but when the fear of imminent death slides away you can take stock of your life and how short it is.

My mind turned towards the future as I was laying on that mountaintop, my automatic rifle laying loosely on my lap, my helmet on the ground, and my eyes closed as the summer sun tried to pierce my lids. The men around me, my brothers, were discussing the same things we always discussed when we had spare time in a warzone. We chatted about the food we wanted to eat, the beer we wanted to drink, and the girls we wanted to sleep with. On that final point I had little to contribute, I was a virgin at the time and had sworn to my God to wait until I was married before bumping uglies.

We also talked about home and the places we wanted to go. This conversation required the help of a translator due to the regions of the US that were represented on that mountaintop. On one extreme we had Gagne, a young boy from rural Maine. Slim in stature and prone to embellishment his excited tales of his time in Maine were some of our favorites and always brought ruckus laughter. We knew his stories of competing in destruction derby’s or driving a car without a windshield or hood so that he could pour oil into the engine while he drove were likely not true, but they made us cry with laughter every time he told them. I like to believe they are true.

Gagne, being ever the story teller, was the polar opposite of Harding. Harding is a southern-boy from Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and he fit every stereotype. He was big, both in height and weight, and spoke slowly with a deep southern drawl. He rarely spoke except to ask what Gagne was saying, the two couldn’t understand each other, and because of this I became the default translator. My upbringing on the west coast and neutral/boring accent allowed me to understand and translate Yankee and Redneck.

Discussing the all the towns we came from planted a seed in my mind. This seed was to see the country that I was fighting for and, in a way, pay tribute to my unit, the 82nd Airborne Division, the All-Americans[1]. Seeds in the mind are tricky things. They aren’t like physical seeds you get to plant a garden, they don’t come cleanly labeled with species and growing instructions. You may have a general idea what a mental seed will look like but as it marinates in your mind, just below the surface, it mixes with other ideas and evolves into something you couldn’t predict. Then, when the time is right, it springs forth from your mind. It may be months, years, or decades later, and you may have forgotten that the seed even existed. For me, that season for growth started when I attended Burning Man for the first time in 2011.

Burning Man is hard to describe because it isn’t one thing. At its foundation it is a community of people who gather together for a week to build a society based on 10 Principles[2]. The beautiful thing about these principles is that people apply them in different ways and to different degrees, and everyone is accepted as long as they don’t harm another person. The biggest influence for me was meeting people who had taken charge of their lives. They had decided they didn’t want a normal, stable, monotonous life, and they took action. I camped with entrepreneurs, artists, and adventurers. It was hard not to be inspired and, during a particularly pleasurable night of rolling on Molly and exploring The Playa, the seed that was planted in 2004 started to bust forth.

When I returned to DC I tried to ignore the plant that had sprouted forth. It was easy at first, it was small and existed only in my periphery. But as time went by the plant began to grow. Ignoring it became more difficult. The beauty of the idea took up more and more of my mental space and I found my mind wandering to the plant as I worked. In many ways it was like a mirror, showing me how unhappy I was living in Washington DC, working 40-50 hours a week, and buying into the system. I tried to make changes in my life by working from home and taking on hobbies, but the idea kept growing and as it grew it began to take a more solid form.

Not only was I going to explore the United States, I was going to do it by bicycle, and it would start with a solo cross country ride.

Eventually, I got to a point where I had to make a choice. The idea could not be ignored any longer and I either had to destroy it or I had to embrace it. Destroying it would have taken mental effort, but it could have been done. There were all the logical reasons in the world to destroy it. I had a good job with a bright future in an economy that was weak and I had loads of debt. There was no job waiting for me on the other side of the country. I knew nothing about cycling long distances or bike maintenance. It was a crazy idea to abandon all stability and cross 3,000 miles of unknown land on two wheels. I didn’t destroy the idea, it was too beautiful and inspiring to destroy.

Instead, I destroyed all the poisonous things in my life and used them as fertilizer for the idea. My job, stability, the doubts from friends, and my inexperience all became strengths. I quit my job, bought a $100 bicycle at target, strapped everything I owned onto the back with bungee cords, and hit the road with one paycheck in my bank account. I knew there was a good chance I would fail, but damn it, I was going to try.

 

[1] What is now the 82nd Airborne Division received the nickname “All American” from Major General Swift because it had soldiers from every state at the time.

[2] The principles are Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommidification, Radical Self-Reliance, Radical Self-Expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leaving No Trace, Participation, and Immediacy. You can find out more at burningman.org/culture/philosophical-center/10-principles/

Selfish, Shallow, and Self- Absorbed

I just finished reading (well, listening to) “Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids”. Overall, I really enjoyed it. As an intentionally childless adult it was nice to listen to likeminded individuals explain their reasons for deciding not to have children. Many times I found myself nodding and smiling as the audiobook progressed, but mostly I was surprised at how diverse the reasoning was for many people. Even as one of the childless I still see the issue primarily through my own lens and hearing the authors (primarily women) discuss their situations opened my eyes to how easy I have it when it comes to this issue (and many others) primarily because I am a man.

The main title (Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed) is a bit tongue-in-cheek. Those accusations are something most intentionally childless people hear from time to time, and to some extent they are accurate. But, they are also accurate of people who have children. Isn’t it “selfish” to have a child because you’ve always wanted one or you get pleasure out of being a parent? Isn’t it shallow to have a child because that is what is expected of you from society? Isn’t it self-absorbed to require a genetic copy of you when nearly half a million children in the US alone need to be adopted or fostered? In the end, we are all selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed to some extent. It is our reasoning beyond those adjectives that I find much more important.

Some of the authors had abusive parents, some did not. Some were focused on their careers, but some did not. Some regret the decision, but others did not. The authors are individual humans, and as such they are complicated people and their reasoning reflects that. It is so easy to just label an intentionally childless person as selfish (or a Trump supporter as dumb or a Christian as foolish etc etc etc) but that removes their humanity. It reduces them to a small, inaccurate box based on one thing you know about them. It is like Dan Savage says about telling someone you have HIV… “When you tell someone you have HIV you are telling them one fact about you, but the way they respond tells you a lot about them”

We need to just cut each other a break once in a while. If you are truly interested in why someone chose not to have children (or why they did have children, support Trump, call themselves Christian, etc) then the proper thing to do is ask in a private and respectful way, and realize they don’t have to tell you if they don’t want to. I certainly wouldn’t ask those questions of strangers, it is kind of rude to ask a stranger why they do or don’t do the things they do with their genitalia, finances, vote, or soul.

So, if you are interested in hearing a small sample of the reasons people choose to be childless I highly recommend this book. Some of the authors are snarky and harsh, but so are some parents. It is a good read and can really open your eyes to how and why other people do the things they do.

The Myth of Sex Addiction

I just finished “The Myth of Sex Addiction” by David J. Ley. The book was pretty good and I recommend it if you have an interest in sexuality or psychology. As you can probably tell from the title Ley does not believe sex addiction is a real thing. Though, like a good scientist, he is skeptical and more of a sex addiction agnostic than atheist. His main complaint is that the people who treat sexual behavior as an addiction have not done anything to prove that is an appropriate label, or that their treatments work.

The definition(s) of sex addiction are numerous and they often include conflicting definitions or definitions so broad and arbitrary that it tells you nothing. For example, seven orgasms a week is considered a sex addiction. Well, that is just a normal week for some men who masturbate daily (particularly during the teen years) and can be one sexual session for some women I’ve been with. Placing an arbitrary number, absent any other factors and without any peer-reviewed data, in order to make money off of the diagnoses is not medicine, it is fraud.

The truth is, there have not been any research done to properly determine if sex can be addictive, much less what that would look like or how to properly treatment. “Sex addiction” is mostly an unholy alliance between people who don’t want to take responsibility for their actions, a “medical” industry that is mostly religious but makes millions of dollars annually, and a modern media that cares more about sensation than journalism. It is sexy and good for ratings to focus on the sexual exploits of the rich and powerful, and the rich and powerful (particularly white) are the ones diagnosed as sex addicts. Sex addiction is a privileged diagnoses for those that can afford it.

Ley’s criticism about the sex addiction industry and lack of scientific rigor was spot-on to me and made a lot of sense. He didn’t try to prove that sex addiction didn’t exist, but that isn’t his responsibility. As he said in the book,

In the realm of scientific investigation, it is the responsibility of the believers to evaluate the validity of their hypothesis. If they cannot then the null hypothesis, that the believers are wrong, is assumed to be true. Despite the challenges I have received in writing this book, it is not my burden to prove that sex addiction doesn’t exist. Instead, the field of sex addiction must proves scientifically that it does exist. And to date, that proof is not forthcoming. Telling men with problems that they have a sex addiction and then having them become evangelists for sex addiction does not constitute proof. It is possible that investigations of hypersexual disorder may demonstrate that there is some kernel of truth here, but even that will not prove that the addictive process at work. Until then, the scientific answer is that sex addiction most likely does not exist if it cannot be scientifically demonstrated.

The problems and harm from “sex addiction”, like cheating on your spouse or spending large amounts of money on pornography or prostitutes, are symptoms of other problems in a person’s life or society. Sex is not like a drug and can’t meet the necessary requirements to be classified as an addictive drug. Ley hypothesis that the real thing that sex addiction therapy is supposed to “cure” is normal male sexuality. Men and women are sexually different on a physiological and psychological level. Evolution has made the genders pursue different priorities when it comes to sex, and for men things like variety are evolutionarily important. By stigmatizing this you force men underground and unable to discuss their feelings and desires, and by making it an illness you take away their personal responsibility.

Sex, like many urges, are strong, but we are not slaves to our urges. By allowing for an open and honest conversation about what men tend to want out of sexual partners and finding a middle ground without religious judgement can allow for greater mental health.

Climb the Mountain

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” – Jack Kerouac

There are certain quotes that just stick with me and serve as a type of motivation. The above by Kerouac is one of those quotes. It is such a succinct reminder that our lives are finite and the moments that matter, that make us unique (as individuals and a species), are the ones where we are pursuing our own passions. I don’t really have a desire to climb a mountain, but there are things I want to do that can get lost in the daily shuffle.

I am not the only one. Many people want to write books, explore the oceans, travel the world, or build a business. It is this passion that manifests itself uniquely in each individual that has helped our species explore the world and wonder about the universe. It is easy to forget what we love and to lose our child-like curiosity about what we can become. It is easy to embrace the status quo and ask ourselves “why rock the boat?” This is the wrong way to look at things, we should ask ourselves “why not?”

Flipping the burden of proof is what we should do regularly in our lives, and is the premise for a new book that I am proud to be a part of. When I decided to flip the burden of proof I discovered that staying in the job and city I was in was holding me back. I asked myself “Why not quit my job?”. Of course, there were reasons not to quit my job but upon analysis it was clear they were not strong reasons. Every excuse I came up with could be overcome in a way that brought me more freedom, more peace, more happiness, and more goddamn mountains to climb.

I was not the only one. A dozen authors, from all walks of life, collaborated to put together a book about flipping the burden of proof. If the idea of expanding your life, trying new things, and exploring your potential is appealing you can find out more on our Kickstarter page . If you support us getting this product in print you will receive a copy of the book as well. I hope you will consider it, there is a wide world out there and sometimes we just need a little motivation and a few examples to take that first step into exploring it.

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Authenticity

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“We think sometimes we’re only drawn to the good, but we’re actually drawn to the authentic. We like people who are real more than those who hide their true selves under layers of artificial niceties.” – Life Lessons by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross & David Kessler

 

I’ve often inquired about why certain people hang out with me, it is sort of a way I reflect on myself and seek improvement. I’m not exceptionally nice or attractive, I’m far from wealthy, and while I think I am pretty smart I have not really come up with anything groundbreaking or particularly creative. I have often been told that I’m authentic though, and I guess there is something there that attracts people.

I guess it makes sense from an evolutionary level. It is better to be surrounded by people who are mean but you can trust to act as they say they will act instead of “nice” people who may not be authentic. Most of the women in my life are very aware that I would enjoy adding a sexual element to our relationship, and yet I am not seen as crass or chauvinistic. I think this open honesty also accurately tells them that I would never be dishonest or deceitful or take advantage of them. Authenticity shows that our desires do not control our actions, that we will not compromise our integrity for short term gain.

I think there is the same danger with recognizing authenticity within oneself as recognizing any other trait. It can become a role that you take on and utilize for its own sake. You can become “the authentic one” and define your life by an unending pursuit of authenticity. Then it loses it’s appeal, just like a person who loves cooking soon defines themselves as “chef” or a person who sees the benefit defines themselves as “yogi”. Instead of using these different tools to become our true selves we use them as a mask over our true selves.

I don’t really have a conclusion to this post. I’m now reading “Life Lessons” and so far it is really good. I think many people could benefit from a little reflection on what wisdom can be gleaned from those who are on the edge of life.