What To Do When You Don't Know Your Purpose

Jennie here.

When I was younger, my dad used to tell me something that’s stuck with me ever since.

"Life’s not about passion,” he would say. “It’s about providing for your family and then making sure your kids have a better life than you do."

From that moment on, I let go of any notion that I could be an artist.

 

Prosperity vs. Purpose

I understand the mindset of my parent’s generation. As refugees from the Vietnam War, merely surviving in America was a daily struggle. I remember when I was younger, my mom waking me up at five in the morning and dropping me and my siblings off at my grandmother’s house on her way to a sixteen hour shift at a jewelry manufacturer. My dad worked the late night shift at a factory which meant he and mom would never see each other during the week.

Who had time for passion when you could barely make ends meet?

Poverty locks you into a mindset of scarcity, into thinking that because money rules over your life, there will never come a time when you’ll have enough.  

But that’s simply no longer my reality today. In a sense, my parents have already done their part. I’m living better than they ever could’ve imagined.

So now what? What’s my job? How do I make sure my (hypothetical) kids have a better life than I do?

What does “a better life” even mean? Does it mean if I end up making half a million per year, that I should make sure my kids make a million? Is that all there is to it?

Of course not. It turns out that my dad was only half right.

Yes, it’s important to take care of your essentials, to pay your bills and put food on the table, but life IS about passion. Passion is actually the whole point. What most people miss is that the things which come before are just preparing for it.

A better life to me means having a purpose, and a purpose means having the freedom to dream.

 

Next Steps: searching for my purpose

With our round the world trip departure date slowly creeping up on us, I’m beginning to wonder…

What do I want my path to be over the next few years and what are the steps I need to take today to get there?

In a year from now, I technically don’t have to work because of our extensive financial planning and savings goals. Now I have to reassess what my life after my current job will look like. And that’s a strange feeling and place to be in because I’ve had a job in some shape or form ever since I was 15 years old. The thought of becoming stagnant and simply depleting our savings is not my idea of a good time. If I’m giving up a steady paycheck, then I’d best be working towards something of real value to me.

Prior to L.A., I thought that being a well-rounded person meant having a healthy social life with several close friends, being intelligent (enough), financially independent, and occasionally introspective. Now in L.A., with no friends and no distractions -- I came to the realization that there was creative void that had been largely tossed aside in my life/identity for the past decade.

I had been living my life by father’s words instead of defining my own rules and conclusions.

So what does this mean for me?

  • I need to find a new purpose after the 9-to-5 life that will make me happy.

  • I need to start developing skills that I want to explore, not out of necessity or survival.

I’ve reached a point where I can stop being so practical and start finding more ways to fail.

 

Courage To Start Over

I didn’t think I’d say this but in an effort to re-vamp and rediscover old and new passions, I’ve started the learning process all over again. Things I’ve been recently exploring include drawing, painting, filming/video editing, and photography. Oh, and I’ve also started running as well -- mainly to hedge against my growing physical complacency in a car-crazy city.

Yup, this is me, Jennie. I enjoy getting back to the basics and pursuing the creative void that I've left untended for over a decade. I'm not an artist but that's okay. We've all got to start somewhere.

Yup, this is me, Jennie. I enjoy getting back to the basics and pursuing the creative void that I've left untended for over a decade. I'm not an artist but that's okay. We've all got to start somewhere.

Fortunately, I’m leveraging every tool at my disposal including:

  • Free classes all over YouTube

  • Inspiration from those younger (and older) than myself

  • Signed up for 3 months of (again, free) classes on Skillshare.

 

The Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Life / Just Do It

In the end, it doesn’t matter how much I learn if I don’t actually do something about what I want. So, little by little, I am start working on what my engineering coworkers would call a MVP (minimum viable product). I need to start building by creating the cupcake and slowly work my way to a full cake.

The idea of “starting with a cupcake” is metaphor for how product managers at Intercom approach scope. Source: The Inside Intercom Podcast

The idea of “starting with a cupcake” is metaphor for how product managers at Intercom approach scope. Source: The Inside Intercom Podcast

Just like running, I need to start small.

Step 0. Stop the bitching.

Step 1. Commit to waking up and getting dressed on “running” days.

Step 2. Run (or slow jog) for as long as my weak mental and physical state can handle.

Step 3. Finish, even if it’s not that great.

Step 4. Slowly, iterate.

What will happen next? I’m not 100% certain, but I do know that I can’t squander this window of opportunity.

A purpose is too precious a thing to waste.

 



Our Favorite Donut Shop (or How We Do Breakfast)
 
A couple that breakfasts together, stays together. At least that's what Jennie says.

A couple that breakfasts together, stays together. At least that's what Jennie says.

Ivan here.

And now for something completely different.

This is breakfast. We’ve got two coffees with half and half and a two second pour (each) of sugar. A ham, egg and cheese croissant, lightly toasted, with a side of jalapeño peppers. And a plain cake donut.

Notice how OCD Jennie was about arranging the napkins to be perfectly parallel to the paper. Was this necessary? This is the kind of image-crafting that goes against what we’re trying to do here.

But no one cares what I think.

***

Outside of appreciating the abstract quality of the circles and rectangles, the point of sharing this photo is to provide a glimpse into what we value. Jennie and I talk a lot of shit about showing versus telling, so the least we can do is try to live by it.

The total price of this breakfast comes out to $7.45. The donuts and croissants are made from scratch every morning before the shop opens at 4 am. The owners are a Cambodian husband and wife in their early forties. They took over the shop from their aunt, who built up a loyal following among the early morning working Hispanic crowd: construction workers, gardeners, cleaners and nannies who make their living taking care of the privileged classes (hence the shop’s hours, the jalapeno peppers and low prices). When the couple isn’t taking turns pulling sixteen hour days, they’re raising their son, who drops by every now and then for chocolate milk on his way to elementary school.  

The place isn’t much to look at. Shabby even, located in a small Mexican strip mall with limited parking. I imagine it doesn’t look much different from when it first opened nearly three decades ago. But as a staple in the local community, it’s managed to attract a diverse clientele: young and old, families from all racial and economic backgrounds.

I mean, who doesn’t love a fresh donut?

Whenever we set foot through its doors and take our seats in one of the four orange booths staring out at an LA intersection, we get the distinct feeling that this is real life. No one’s pretending to be anything they’re not. Human beings who aren’t worried about growing their fucking brand, expanding their social media presence or maximizing their overall return on capital.

I’m not trying to romanticize this place. It’s not perfect, but you live with those imperfections. The consistency of their coffee varies from day to day. When the wife makes the coffee, it’s dark and strong; when the husband does it, it’s weak and watery.

Source: The Mar Vista

Source: The Mar Vista

But all things considered, this might be the only place we’ll miss when we sell our things and go abroad. Although we don’t know this for a fact, we’re not expecting it to still be around the next time we come back. Our neighborhood of Mar Vista is one of the last in Westside LA to gentrify. Earlier this year, a restaurant called The Mar Vista opened a couple of blocks down the street. On their website under “Our Passion,” it reads:

The Mar Vista is a chef-driven, food-first experience with farm-to-table ingredients, rare-label wines and an eclectic lineup of live music.

That kind of place. One of those establishments where you walk in and as a minority, you feel immediately uncomfortable, regardless of what income bracket you’re in.

Look, we’re not the types to be all up in arms over progress. Saying that you’re anti-globalization is as stupid as being anti-gravity. I just wish that the majority of “progress” wasn’t so fake and empty - clean and pretty without ever really standing for anything.

As an outsider, I have no illusions about America. Jennie and I choose not to write about politics because it really doesn’t matter. Not Trump. Not Obama (Google his record on deportations). Not Republicans or Democrats. Both sides are so preoccupied with telling us what they think we want to hear, when the real solutions are almost always unpleasant, uncomfortable, and worst of all, unpopular with everyone.

Maybe I’m reading too much into things. Maybe breakfast is just breakfast and I should get a life and stop whining about things that don’t affect me -  just be thankful for all the privileges I've been blessed with.

Maybe I have no point to make. If that’s the case, I should end this post here.

***

Years from now, when Jennie and I are traipsing through some remote part of the world, a stranger might ask us (for some strange reason) what our favorite donut shop in the world is. If that time ever comes, one of us will say:

“There was this place called Donuts USA.”



5 Great Big Questions As We Approach Our 30s
 

dance.jpg

"Dance", said the Sheep Man.

"You gotta dance. As long as the music plays. Don't even think why. Start to think, your feet stop. Your feet stop, we get stuck. We get stuck, you're stuck. So don't pay any mind, no matter how dumb. You gotta keep the step. You gotta limber up. You gotta loosen what you bolted down. You gotta use all you got. We know you're tired, tired and scared. Happens to everyone, okay?"

- Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance


Ivan here.

Jennie and I have less than two years before we turn 30. While we don’t normally care for milestones, we see 30 as a major turning point in our lives. From that point on, we’re either going to grow complacent and comfortable and let time just steamroll over us, or we’re going to fight back and try to make every day count.

Because time speeds up intolerably as we age. We’ve already started to feel this living in LA. Our last year felt like a couple of months. Some days seem to go by in seconds.

If there’s one thing about our round the world trip that’s hard to explain to people, it's that neither of us views it as a vacation. Just the opposite - we think it’s when our real work begins.

Because if our twenties are about finding the right questions, our thirties should be about engaging with as many people from as many different backgrounds as possible, and squeezing every last drop out of this orange we call life.

Our thirties should be about finding some answers - before it’s too late.


5 Great Big Questions as We Approach Our 30s


1. How much is enough?

On the surface, this is a boring question about retirement and money, but what we’re trying to get at is: at what point do we stop taking and consuming like it’s some sort of birthright?

Is life really just about experiencing as much pleasure as possible through possessions, experiences, and recognition? If so, then why is Brad Pitt so miserable in this GQ interview?

Personally, we think this is one of the greatest defects of our culture: the assumption that if you’re rich and famous, you have nothing to complain about, as if happiness is some final achievement you unlock and not something you have to work at every single day.

2. Where can we add value?

What can we give back and why should we wait until we’re old and decrepit to do so? We’ll be near the height of our physical powers in our thirties. What better time is there to be taking risks and engaging with the wider world?

I suppose this is why we started this blog together, to lay the foundations for what will eventually lead us to our value proposition. What do we need to work at to be able to add value to the things we care about?

3. How do we stay true to ourselves?

This is a question of integrity - will we have any? It’s easy to say this is what we believe and this is what we’re going to do about it, but none of our convictions mean anything until they’ve been tested.

When the chips are down, are we willing to walk away from a pile of money if it means doing something we don’t believe in? Will we pander and tone things down to be popular? Will I write for Buzzfeed?

Because none of this is worth doing if it’s just pretend.

4. How do we keep things new?

The challenge of looking at our surroundings, the people who live in it, and at our own relationship with a fresh pair of eyes every morning. It’s not always going to be easy and we’re going to have to learn to accept uncertainty - but it’s better than turning stale and being a prisoner of our routines. At least it involves making the choice to live proactively versus fading into autopilot.

5. What kind of people do we want to surround ourselves with? How do we prioritize people?

It can’t just be about us. As two Type A personalities, this is something we’ve been grappling with a lot recently.  In LA, Jennie and I lead a very insular and privileged life. We have things we want to do, places we want to go, and everyone else sort of falls by the wayside. We don’t make enough of an effort to listen and empathize with people. We’re too caught up in our own little world.

This is something we have to address NOW versus waiting for our RTW trip to start.

Because if answers are what we’re looking for, we’d better be paying attention.

 



May 2017 Money Diary: Autopilot
 
 
The Origami Life - May 2017 Money Diary
 

Ivan here.

May spending was $3,073 including a $55 Costco membership and a $670 tribute to U.S. Immigration Services to extend my green card (filed under: Education & Investments). I’m expecting a response sometime this century.

This means our actual living expenses was $2,348. This might seem frugal to some, but the truth is we rarely deny ourselves anything. Yes, we do tend to push large purchases (i.e. electronics) to the last quarter of every year, but on a day to day level, we live without restrictions. We “dine out” for breakfast every morning. We try to go on dates once or twice a week to discover something new. We’re less obsessed with micro-budgeting than we were a few years ago.

It helps that we’re both cheap dates. It’s hard to justify spending the equivalent of a family’s weekly grocery budget on a boojy fusion meal using artisanal ingredients, where the waiter stops by every five seconds to ask how everything’s going.


After the Gold Rush


These days, our morning conversations always comes back to luck and privilege. We’re a little stunned by where we find ourselves today. Four years ago, I was living in a basement apartment on the outskirts of Toronto. Jennie was a sales rep for Club Monaco in Boston, paying $450 a month for a room the size of a closet.

Since then our income has nearly quadrupled. We’re halfway to our $40,000 travel goal. Barring a major financial catastrophe, we should hit our number well ahead of schedule. What had seemed like a major challenge a year ago is no longer that. It’s just something that’s going to happen - automatically.

So now what? What do we do with ourselves after financial autopilot?   


Defining Rich


Rich isn’t about how much money you make. There are people who make five times more than we do who I’d consider poor, because their wants and needs always exceed their ability to afford it. These are the people we should feel sorry for - because “more” is its own kind of slavery.

I think the true meaning of rich is when there’s nothing more to want and everything that sustains your life sorta works on autopilot.

By our own definition, we’re a lot richer today than we have any right to be.

I mean, we’re 28 years old.

What value have we brought to the world? What exactly have we contributed?

It’s hard not to think of our paychecks as nothing more than an inheritance. We were born into the right circumstances and into a modern economy that rewards self-promotion and mental gymnastics over physical labor.

Does that make us better than the people who serve and clean up after us every day? Or those who build things with their hands? I’m not so sure. I can think of a lot more ways in which we’re worse.


Life After Autopilot


driving-autopilot.jpeg

But since guilt and pity are both unproductive emotions, the question remains: what kind of life should we be working towards after achieving autopilot? What happens when there’s nothing left to optimize?

One thing’s for sure, we’re done stressing out over every dollar saved or spent.

The next step is about finding and adding value to things that matter.

We’ll let you know when we figure it out.



 

 

 

From Poverty To Middle Class & Forgetting My Roots
startup-photos-2.jpg

In short, I’m starting to lose perspective.

I’ve developed a middle class attitude towards the poor. This worries me because I realize that I’m only a few steps removed from having an upper class attitude towards the middle class.

Jennie here.

I’m the first member of my family to graduate from college, study abroad, and land a salaried position. I’m at a point now where I make four times as much as both of my parents combined. No matter how I slice it, I’ve “made it” in the world, with more choices than I ever could have imagined growing up.

The downside to my rise in the world is that recently, I’ve noticed that I’m starting to lose my ability to understand or empathize with my family’s financial situation. From my perspective, every member of my family seems almost hellbent on making the worst possible financial choices, even when the right ones are available and staring them in the face.  

I’ve developed a middle class attitude towards the poor. This worries me because I realize that I’m only a few steps removed from having an upper class attitude towards the middle class.

In short, I’m starting to lose perspective.
 

Growing Up Poor Changes You


I’ve forgotten how tough it was to deal with the daily stress of thinking about money and how it can quickly take over your life; being poor prevents you from thinking rationally, setting realistic goals, and makes it harder to accomplish even the most simple tasks.

This got me thinking back to my childhood.
 

Things Only Poor Kids Understand
 

  • You spend the majority of your life playing catch up. 
    Investing in the future was a foreign concept. For example, my parents wanted to save for my education, but couldn’t. So I never learned the value of long-term savings until much later on. When you’re poor, planning for the future just wasn’t feasible. I’ve spent the last few years shifting my mentality and learning the value of planning beyond the next month or next year.

  • You develop a paycheck-to-paycheck mentality.
    This was my entire life growing up. Because my parents were only high school educated, they didn’t have many options. I remember when I first moved out to Boston on my own with no job prospects, I had to borrow $2,500 from Ivan; I knew this money would only help me survive for a month or two at the longest. For the first six months in Boston, I worked several temp and retail jobs and lived paycheck to paycheck; most days felt overwhelming and stressful.

  • You’re a sucker for discounted, generic goods.
    My mom bought everything from food to clothes at discounted stores, sale prices, and often from generic brands. I used to see my mom buy clothes and when she got home -- she was excited because she had bought it at 80% or 90% off the original price. It didn’t matter whether or not she needed it. A sale was a sale.

  • Every day you’re reminded of how much it costs just to stay alive.
    My parents often had their routine, hushed conversations about money and how expensive it was to raise my siblings and I. The worst period was always around back-to-school season, when we would bring home the school supply lists. My parents would add up the costs knowing that it would come at the expense of next month’s groceries.

  • Financial ruin was always just around the corner.
    My family was one of the many families that benefited from Medicaid and WIC programs. I never had a consistent doctor throughout my entire childhood; we’d often go to clinics and see rotating doctors and nurses instead. I knew that breaking a bone or getting seriously sick could financially ruin my family. We simply couldn’t afford it.
     

Trying To Get Back To The Basics
 

Perspective Lens

More than anything, I just want to make my choices count.

When you’re stuck in the vicious cycle of poverty, all you feel is the constant burden of stress which leads to bad decisions and compounds other problems. This is the worst part growing up poor -- the feeling and perception that you have no control over your own life.

Since moving to Boston and getting my first salaried job, I’ve made the slow transition from being poor to being a middle-class citizen. I now have control over my life, my money, and my choices. This would have been unfathomable five years ago.

Here’s what I’ve learned from looking back:

  1. I don’t want to lose sight of who I was and how I got here.
    At the end of the day, my success was simply an amalgamation of my hard work, motivation from my parents and their expectations, my desperate need to end my life of poverty, and the right circumstances falling into place.

  2. Not falling into the trap of chasing “more” versus having enough.
    Growing up, I had aspirations to be rich just to get out of a bad situation -- poverty. But I realize now that what I was really vying for was having choices. Moving forward, I don’t want to get caught up in chasing the “next” thing when it comes to financial and material possessions.

    More than anything, I just want to make my choices count.

I've talked about my experience with money and family in the past, if you're interested in reading more, check out these blogs:



5 Small Occupying Moments of Our Week (05/07 - 05/14)

Ivan here.

This post is late and it’s all my fault. Just know that Jennie and I are grateful to all the readers who’ve been checking back daily for updates. In our attention deficient world, that’s about as rare and precious as true love. Thank you. Our hearts are aflutter.

These days I’ve been up to my ears in finance prepping for my third and final CFA exam in June. There’s something about derivatives and credit default swaps that brings out my inner sociopath. I may be one failing score away from cranking up the chainsaw and chasing a hooker down a flight of stairs (see: American Psycho)

But it wasn’t all work and no play (Jack would be a very dull boy). Last week, Jennie and I managed to spend a few quality evenings out on the town. We saw real people doing real things that had nothing to do with helping textbook millionaires select the most tax advantaged vehicle for their investments.

Editor’s Warning: Reading over my moments in the edit, I was also more irritable than usual.
 

1. Don’t Just Play For Yourself  

Last Thursday, Jennie and I went to Blue Whale Jazz Bar in Little Tokyo to see a jam session featuring students from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. These were young musicians hand-selected by the great Herbie Hancock to study jazz on full scholarship for two years.

So, how were they? If you want my honest opinion, it was like listening to an old man fall down a long flight of stairs. Lack of talent wasn’t the problem. In fact, there was probably too much talent on the stage all at once. Every musician in the ensemble (especially the drummer) was too busy showing off how great they were that they forgot to play for each other and have fun.

At least that was my takeaway. It’s also a personal reminder to get over myself and really pay attention to the people around me. To live in the moment.
 

2. Give a Damn (or GTFO)

I have a love-hate relationship with The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. On one hand, they have a decent selection of pulp sci-fi and mystery books. On the other, it’s always packed with tourists who are just there to take selfies in front of the book arch. Because apparently that’s what people think books are for nowadays - decoration.

The arch of who gives a shit? Get out of my way.

The arch of who gives a shit? Get out of my way.

The staff are also some of the most disinterested, too-good-for-this-place, Jack Keroauc-type wannabes I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet. If they’re really that bored and world weary (from World War 2 presumably), they should go bake on a beach somewhere until they develop a personality. Life’s too short to move through it without ever giving a damn about anything.

Some would call what you did typing.

Some would call what you did typing.

 

3. Lalala [Can’t Hear You] Land

Most people in Los Angeles refuse to take the bus. I’ve heard many excuses for this, ranging from not enough routes to long unpredictable wait times. All of which are fair - but it’s also a Catch-22. There’s not enough funding for new routes because everyone drives, which causes congestion and leads to slower buses and longer wait times. So you end up with a clownish situation where everyone is always in a hurry and stuck in traffic at all times.

But I think there’s also an unspoken reason why people don’t ride public transit: poor people. They're dirty, they smell funny, and most of them are minorities. No one comes out and says it. Everyone just drops hints about how “dangerous” public transit can be and won’t fess up to what they actually mean.

What gets on my nerves the most is that the majority of these people would self-identify as liberals, which these days seems to mean having the right opinions and saying the right things. Which goes to show that it’s prettier to think so than to do anything about it.  

This only strengthens my opinion that what you say you believe means jack squat. Why don’t you show me?
 

4. Scorecards

Last few weeks was a rough patch for Jennie. She had a product and website launch at work and for 3-4 nights in a row she was up until 4 in the morning picking up the slack for other people. She’s an expert at this by now. I've given her eight years of practice.

Warren Buffett says there are two types of people in the world: ones with inner scorecards and ones with outer scorecards.

The type of scorecard you have boils down to a choice of:

  1. Being the world’s greatest lover, but having everyone think you’re the world’s worst lover

  2. Being the world’s worst lover, but having everyone think you’re the world’s best lover

You’d think everyone would pick the first option, but that’s not the way our world works. There’s a good percentage of people who would rather look the part than be the part.

So you always end up with a “group project” situation where for every person who does the work there are four others who will be busy making themselves look good. Next thing you know, one of them gets a promotion or becomes President of the United States. All because they sipped the right cocktail (there's a pun intended here) or can relate to how well Tom Brady throws a football.
 

5. Time Horizons

But time is the great equalizer. You can always tell how full of shit someone is just by waiting a while. Same goes for this blog. We’ve got big plans for it. Jennie and I know it’s not even 1% of where it needs to be, but rest assured that we plan on still being here in five to seven years. 

We’d love for you to stick around.


If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that. Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue.
— Jeff Bezos


 

 

 

 

Why A House Is Not A Home
 
I don’t want to own anything until I find a place where me and things go together.
— Truman Capote, Breakfast At Tiffany's

Ivan here. 

Conventional opinion can oftentimes be very stupid - a natural consequence of decades (sometimes centuries) of people never questioning their own assumptions. Let’s take this statement for example:


Real estate is a safe investment.


Sounds accurate, right?

Now here are some cold, hard facts: 

  • The average return for US real estate was 3-6% per year from 1968 to 2009. 
  • Inflation averaged 4.5% during that same time period
  • This was achieved amidst a historic (and virtually continuous) fall in interest rates, from 20% in 1982 to 0.75% today.

This begs the question: what happens to the value of assets when mortgage rates have nowhere to go but up?

Of course for most millennials, all of this is academic, as very few can afford a home in the first place. Even for those who are lucky enough to be able to, the price tag is usually far higher than they expect:

But I think even the affordability problem is missing the point. The question that millennials should be asking themselves is: should you buy a home even if you could afford one? 

Here are my five arguments against. 


5 Reasons Why a House is Not a Home


1. You’re Not Building Equity in Anything

Your first home is almost never an investment - whether its value goes up or down is completely irrelevant. As a Canadian who’s witnessed the Toronto and Vancouver housing bubble firsthand, it’s always baffling to me why people care how much their home is worth in any given year - when they clearly have no intention of moving out of their neighborhood. 

I may be in the minority, but I think “building equity” is just a euphemism people use to make themselves feel better about being in debt, all while fantasizing about the day when they’ll finally get their life back. 

2. A House Costs More Than The Mortgage

Opportunity cost is the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen, and it's something that rarely gets factored into the buy vs rent decision. Yes, moving can be a pain in the ass, but progress and career mobility tend to feel that way too. 

Whether or not you decide to travel the world is beside the point. Given that most of a millennial’s net worth is tied to his/her future earning potential, doesn't it seem insane to tie your fortunes to one neighborhood for the next 30 years?

3. Security is Risky (and getting riskier every day) 

The thing about the world we live in is that no one has any idea what’s going to happen a year from now - let alone thirty. For millennials to place our bets before we absolutely have to smacks of hubris.

 
 

4. We Never Own Anything Anyway

We just borrow it for a while. The sooner we realize this simple truth, the less of a rush we’ll be in to lock ourselves down. Instead of the buy vs rent decision, it’s better to frame it in the form of a question:

At this stage in your life, are you prepared to sign a one year lease or a thirty year lease

5. Home is a State of Mind

Jennie and I worry that a lot of people are making life altering commitments simply because they think that it’s what they’re supposed to do to feel “secure” and “established.” In reality, security can't be bought or sold - it comes from our choices. What about feeling established in your relationships and secure in the things you want? In the person you want to be? 


Our Takeaway


People get hold of ideas about how their life is supposed to turn out. It makes them think that they have to play the same game as everyone else, even when it doesn't suit them.

Do you know where you want to be for the next thirty years? If the answer is yes and a thirty year mortgage is your way of doing that, then don’t let this stop you. All we’re saying is that it’s okay to say you don't know - and act accordingly.

After all, a house is a house, while a home is something entirely different. It isn’t confined to one place; it can't be borrowed or bought. 

Home is the feeling you get when you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. 

I remember a man in Salinas who in his middle years traveled to Honolulu and back, and that journey continued for the rest of his life. We could watch him in his rocking chair on his front porch, his eyes squinted, half-closed, endlessly traveling to Honolulu.
— John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley


April 2017 Money Diary: Shortcuts

Ivan here.

Back from two weeks in Taiwan with Jennie’s annual supply of milk tea ("...which by the way is delicious," says Jennie). The Origami Life will be back to our regular posting schedule (every 2-3 days) just as soon as I recover from this jet lag.

 
The Origami Life - Good Budget Expenditures for April 2017
 

We reported $5,158.33 savings in April - largely due to one-off federal and state tax returns, which made up for lower freelance income during my absence. Spending is on pace for $36,000 in 2017, even as we include airfare ($~500) and gear for a seven day cycling trip across eastern Taiwan (~$100). I came back from the trip with some stories - but that’s for another post.

All in all, no excitement or surprises on the financial end. We’d like to keep it that way.  
 

Shortcuts

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
— Mark Twain

Shortcuts: there aren’t any.

Man goes to a casino one night and leaves with a million dollars. What does that make him? Rich, for one. Second, improbably lucky. Third, an idiot.

To voluntarily participate in this tax on the poor, this man (unless he’s Rain Man) is just as much of an idiot when he walked out of the casino as he was when he went in. The only difference being that he’s now an idiot with a million dollars.  

My point is: it’s better to be good than lucky, and because the process of making a decision is the only thing you can control, you should be laser focused on how you can make your process better.

Part of getting better is understanding what you don’t know. In personal finance, investing, and in anything else I can think of, there is nothing worse than the illusion of knowledge.

So whenever we think we have something figured out - is actually the perfect time to think again.




8 Years Together: What’s Changed (And What’s Stayed the Same)

A few weeks ago, Ivan and I celebrated our 8th anniversary together. Since Ivan has been away in Taiwan on a cross-country cycling trip, I’ve had some time to reflect on our relationship. In response to Ivan’s “Why We Always Fight On Our Anniversary” post, I wanted to share ways our relationship has changed and stayed the same over the last eight years together.



Five ways our relationship has changed:


1. Small moments matter a lot more to us now than grand gestures.

When we were in a long distance relationship, every little thing felt like a grand gesture (e.g. visiting each other, flowers sent to the office, fancy dinners, etc). Now, the most memorable moments are those mundane/in-between moments we spend together. Activities like taking long walks together or having coffee in the mornings has made a lasting and positive impact for our relationship. The little things help us stay connected and I value the social capital that builds up from these moments much more than the big moments now.
 

2. Our arguments have become MORe trivial (and get resolved faster).

A great example of this is when I drove Ivan at the airport last week. Ivan started getting irritated with me because he was anxious about getting to the airport on time but I kept getting lost (even with the GPS on). So we started bickering. By the time we got to the airport, both of us were annoyed. Afterward, I seethed all the way through heavy LA traffic and when I got home, I saw that Ivan had texted me and apologized for losing his temper. I instantly forgave him. Problem solved.

I may be biased because we argue all the time, but I think open conflict is healthy in a relationship. Stuff doesn’t accumulate, everything surfaces. We’re forced to deal with our issues head on. Once you sort through all the important stuff (i.e. life goals and priorities), you start to realize that being right on the small stuff isn’t worth the hassle.
 

3. We’re more in tune with each other financially.

We’re more focused on planning for the the future as a couple. When I say this, it’s mainly about financial stability. We check in frequently about savings, investments, short-term goals, and long-term goals together; it’s probably been the best change in our relationship because we’re clear on expectations and the type of future we want to have together. A clear example of this is what we’re cutting back and saving more in order to reach our $40,000 savings goal for our year long round the world trip. This simple but clear financial goal helps us map out things we both need to do in order to be successful.
 

4. It’s More difficult to Keep our relationship Fresh

This is still a working item for Ivan and I. When we were living apart, it was a lot easier to set aside an hour or two to Skype each other. Now that we’re living together, it’s tough to spend quality together without life getting in the way. It seems like we’re constantly boppin’ around grabbing groceries, going to appointments, or working; by the end of the day, it’s exhausting to prioritize our relationship. Even though I personally think there’s more to be done on this front -- Ivan and I have begun to lay the foundation work by grabbing coffee together in the mornings (without distractions) and that’s helping a bit.
 

5. We’ve rounded each other out

From the very beginning, Ivan and I were complete opposites.

Ivan used to be a lot colder and more distant from other people. On the other end of the spectrum, I was always a little too emotional in my arguments and opinions. Over the years, we’ve had practice in improving those characteristic flaws and now Ivan’s EQ has improved (slightly) and I’m more rational/logical in my arguments (significantly).

Note: The emphasis on "slightly" and "significantly" were all Ivan's edits... - Jennie


Three ways our relationship has stayed the same:
 


1. We’re still just as competitive.

The friends and family that know Ivan and I well understand that both of us are obsessed with being “right” and “winning” an argument. Early on, we constantly debated/argued to see who could get the upper hand. We even made wagers -- and Ivan always takes them because he thinks he’s always right.

One time, Ivan lost a game of poker to me (because he was on a long winning streak) and ended up wearing a maid’s outfit to the movies with me in Japan.
 

2. We’re still our own person, with our own goals.

One of the primary things we’ve been adamant about since we’ve been together is being our own person. I’ve met several couples where over time...you become a single unit with no real ambitions or distinguishing qualities. The problem with this is that over time, you lose what makes you unique and start to become defined by your significant other.

For us, being partners means first establishing who you are as an individual. You don’t want to live every waking moment for the other person. Instead, it’s about establishing personal goal and space to evolve as an individual. We can support one another but it’s so important to have something that is solely yours.
 

3. We still love each other a lot, in spite of our flaws.

I still love Ivan as much as I did when I first met him. I love him more because I’ve grown to love and accept him as he is. He and I have a lot of faults and I know we’re not perfect people, but we’ve learned to accept one another as is. That’s key. It’s difficult to find someone who will love every good and bad aspect of you as a flawed human being.

 



The Lifelong Emptiness of Living For Appearances
Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
— Kurt Vonnegut

Jennie here.

I have a friend whom I’ve known for a few years and she is constantly posting amazing mouth-watering photos of food on her Instagram and Facebook. And everytime she visits me, we always end up eating out at 3 to 5 different restaurants in a single day because she “loves” food.

Source: Instagram

Source: Instagram

The strange thing is, I’ve been with her for several of the “Instagram worthy” moments but she always seems to enjoy taking share-worthy photos more than the actual food or experience itself. I even recall her being disappointed or unimpressed with the food on several occasions, but oftentimes the very next day -- I’d see some fantastic photos on social media with commentary (and a million hashtags) about how satisfying and mind-blowing the food/experience was.

So it got me thinking: why the facade? If the food was mediocre -- why not just say, “It looked fantastic but the food was mediocre. Don’t waste your time here”.

But then I realized, the more likes she got, the happier she seemed about that shared moment/experience.


Three Observations
On Living For Appearances And Approval


I noticed these types of incidents more so in the last few years. And I’m not talking about just social media but this general lack of authenticity and contrived appearances are weaved into various parts of our lives. 

And it’s led me to the following observations about how living for appearances and approval can ruin our lives:

1. Some people use social media to feel validated. They live their lives through the eyes of others and not themselves.

Social media has turned us into performers. Every moment is carefully curated, filtered, captioned, and tagged to enhance their personal brand. But in reality these “moments” are simply being captured for how they’ll be perceived by their peers or community. Instead of living your life the way you want, you end up caring more about the attention and love derived from those so-called “shared moments”.

Moments should be shared, but likes and the number of comments should not validate you as a person or be the highlight of your experience. Living your life through the eyes of others will only make you unhappy because your happiness is dependent on other people's approval.

2. People are "sharing moments" but end up missing out on the actual moments.

Real Simple did a survey on Instagram users and found that 65% of users say their feeds only focus on the good, Instagram-worthy aspects of their lives—not the real-life moments. It seems like a lot of people are spending a huge chunk of their time curating their online social identities instead of enjoying a moment for what it is (e.g. great food, conversation with friends, new experiences, a gorgeous sunset, etc).

In the end, while searching for the right angles and emojis, they end up missing the actual moment -- where happiness should be found.

3. People are afraid to say what they mean.

The reality is we live in a culture where online personas/perceptions and stories are valued and most people only want to share the best highlights -- the superficial portion of their lives. People are often scared to put out into the universe what they mean to say or what they really want to share. It’s likely because if you say what you really mean, you won’t necessarily get the response you want or expect. In the end, what some people create is contrived perfection made to get attention and pander to a general audience. Isn’t that exhausting?

And look, I’m not hating on the idea of posting/sharing happy moments and thoughts, but are you: (1) sharing what’s real, (2) saying what you mean, and (3) doing what you preach? Life is also about the in-between moments -- the struggles, the mundane, and the crazy.


We're Doing Our Best To Live Authentically


These observations bring me back to a fundamental question that Ivan and I try and center ourselves on every single day: are we being authentic to who we are?

This post isn’t meant to be an I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong post but I wanted to share some thoughts around what we see online and how we want to present ourselves. Whenever we’re with other people, with each other, or putting any new content out into the world, we try to live by the following motto: Live simply and authentically.

So what does that look like for us? We tell ourselves the following constantly:

  1. State who you are and what you stand for.

  2. Understand why you're doing what you're doing.

  3. Never falter, pander, or apologize.

In Haruki Murakami’s case, when he opened a jazz bar -- he realized that if he only got 1 out of 10 customers liking and coming back to the bar, he’d be okay. And that’s the type of attitude that we want to approach this blog, our life together, and what we share with you.

For us, we want to be true to who we are and what we’re trying to share -- crafting our lives authentically and achieving that simple life. This blog isn’t about gaining millions of readers, it’s really about reaching out to the 1 or 1,000 loyal readers and finding our type of people. We know The Origami Life isn’t for everyone and that’s okay.