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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 everything which comes before is just preparation 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.

 



How to (Finally) Achieve Your Dreams

Ivan here. 

Nobody asked us to, but seeing as how this is our blog, I’d like to reintroduce what the simple life means and what The Origami Life is about. 

In the most general sense, a simple life means: 

  • Understanding that life is short (Not as a cliche. Feel this in your gut).
  • Learning to separate what you’ve been told to believe vs. what you actually believe.
  • Discarding the useless, keeping the essentials, and building a life on your own terms.

Jennie and I like to keep things specific and concrete because generalities don’t usually pay our debts, put a roof over our heads, or food on the table. 

So at the risk of oversimplifying, I’d like to share a simple formula: 

Dreams: What Makes the World Run

1. Passion to Dreams

This is the hard part. You’ll probably have to figure this one out for yourself. 

Our hypothesis: the process of turning passion to dreams is part magic, part putting yourself in a position to experience new and stimulating things. 

I spent my formative years in Taipei and was educated at a private English-speaking high school. The school was 99% Asian. Young, impressionable kids filled with practical ambitions of becoming future engineers, doctors, scientists and senior vice presidents. Not that there was anything wrong with these professions. I just didn’t want to be another product of my environment. 

One day when I was thirteen, while wandering through the library, I stumbled upon a book. It was Oscar Wilde’s A Picture of Dorian Gray, which contains the most amazing preface to a novel ever written. Mr. Wilde dropped the mic before his novel even began with the following: 


We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is useless.
— Oscar Wilde

“To make useless things,” I repeated to myself. “and try to get people to admire it.”

That’s how my dream of becoming a writer was born. 

2. Dreams to Goals

A dream is like a fairytale. Something to shield you from the cold, hard realities we have to face every single day. To make something real, you need to tear your dreams down and break them into short, medium and long term goals. This process can be unpleasant. The “reality” of being someone usually falls short of our romantic ideas about it. It’s no wonder that most people prefer to dream without ever getting their hands dirty. It’s more comfortable that way. 

In my case, it would look something like this: 

Short term Goals: 

  • Read 52 books a year
  • Write daily: at least one hour for myself before I write for pay

Medium Term Goals: 

  • Earn $2,500 a month to cover all day-to-day living expenses
  • Reduce spending needs to $2,500 a month
  • Develop a specialized, niche skill just in case (i.e. investment/securities analysis, get my Chartered Financial Analyst designation)

Long Term Goals: 

  • Publish a useless novel, tell the truth, write about mundane things magically 
  • Build a small following. I’d be content with a readership of 10,000  
  • Come and go as I goddamn please

3. Goals to Routines

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
— Annie Dillard

This is an iterative process where you try to structure your days to match your short, medium, and long term goals. It requires focus, patience, and a lot of trial and error. A consistent and self-improving routine will give you an edge over the millions of people who want the exact same thing. 

I’m at this stage right now and I’m failing miserably at it. Juggling competing priorities while trying to maintain focus through life’s up and downs - and being discouraged when progress doesn’t happen as quickly as I expect it to. Jennie tells me I tend to overestimate what I can do in a day and underestimate what can be done in a month. My wife is a smart woman. 

4. Routines to Progress

In Japan, all sushi chefs start out as apprentices. In a place like Sukiyabashi Jiro, made famous by the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the only job of a new apprentice is to wash rice - for the first three years. 

Why is this process necessary? In my opinion, it's to help weed out the non-believers. The ones who were never prepared to work on the right things for an excruciating amount of time, with practically no guarantee of riches or recognition.  

The only thing that will keep you going is remembering the feeling the work gave you when you first started. In my case, whether I’m paid $100 or $10,000 a piece, I’m going to get my kicks either way. So what do I care? Outside of the things I have to do to keep myself alive, I’ve literally got nothing better to do.

 

Our Conclusion

The beauty is in the attempt. In that long walk to the stage.
— Dave Chappelle

Dreams: they really are what makes the world run. 

Jennie and I both believe in the joy of progress and the people you make progress with. There is no final state of ‘success’ ‘happiness’ or ‘wealth.’ There’s no end game; the game is all there is.  And so long as we’re spending quarters, we may as well be playing the game we enjoy. 

The beauty of these principles is that it applies to almost everything: planning to travel for a year. Saving for retirement. Developing better money habits. Working on a better relationship.  

It’s all origami to me. 

 
 


5 Reasons We Want to Travel (and Live) Abroad

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
— Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson,

Ivan here.

The only fate worse than death is spending a lifetime waiting on the sidelines. Ironically, that’s the exact situation I found myself in a year ago, as I tried to navigate the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of (legally) immigrating to the United States.  

Before that dark place consumed our lives, everything was going according to plan. Jennie and I were lucky. We both landed decent paying jobs straight out of college, her in Boston and me in Toronto. While we weren’t thrilled about working for corporations, we made the best of our situations by building one of the most unassailable f*ck off funds imaginable

We were also working towards a very specific goal: to sign the marriage paperwork within a year, and start the US immigration process in the second

That’s when US Citizenship and Immigration Services happened, and a process that should’ve taken 10-12 months ended up taking 17 because of lost paperwork, a government shutdown, and garden variety incompetence. 

A shot from Terry Gilliam's 1985 film BRAZIL, a dark comedy about living in a dystopian, bureaucratic society.          

It was around this time that we first started talking about a round the world trip. Initially, we were just joking around, imagining a life where we’d leave everything behind for a nomadic lifestyle. But after the immigration debacle, we turned dead serious. After six years apart and 17 months squirming in bureaucratic limbo, we had lost our sense of humor. We dreamed about a life without restrictions. The ability to come and go as we pleased. 

In short, we were tired of waiting. 

As two ruthlessly practical, Type A personalities, we immediately started planning and setting goals. We would save $40,000. That was going to be our cushion. In the meantime, we’d also try to generate $2500 a month in remote income to make a sustainable living abroad. 

We promised ourselves that we would be gone before September 2018. That’s one of the main reasons we started this blog. To keep ourselves accountable. 

There will be no Eat, Pray, Love up in this bitch.

We’re not traveling to find ourselves. There will be no Eat, Pray, Love up in this bitch. On the contrary, we understand ourselves too well to be restricted by mortgages, kids, and to be tied down by a mountain of things we could live without. More than anything, we just want to be ourselves completely, and to accept no compromises for what we want. 

So when friends ask us why we want to travel, here are the five reasons we give:


1. Because discomfort is the best education

2. Because standing still is moving backward

3. Because we enjoy the challenges of new places, people, and things

4. Because life’s too short, time moves too swiftly to allow ourselves to be governed by the wishes of others

5. Because years from now, we don’t want to look back On a life not lived


Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if you took a slightly different road? Don't waste time wondering.

Start today.  

The Life-Changing Magic of a Fuck Off Fund

Ivan here. If you’ve been to a bookstore recently, chances are you’ve stumbled upon Marie Kondo’s international bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Do you enjoy flushing your toilet and thanking it for a job well done? When you brush your teeth in the morning, do you look at your toothbrush and ask yourself, “does this spark joy?” If so, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is the book for you.

But you know what’s even more magical than tidying up? What will literally change your life and open your eyes to all that this world has to offer you? 

Having a Fuck Off Fund.

So lay off those bath salts, stop talking to inanimate objects, and embark on a magical journey towards financial freedom. 

Something tells me we’re not in Kansas anymore.
— Dorothy, Wizard of Oz

What is a Fuck Off Fund?

The Fuck Off Fund is hardly a new term and is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a sum of money you keep in your savings account in case you need to tell someone to fuck off. This could be anyone (or anything) from an abusive boss, a bad relationship, or a dead end job.  

Basically, the Fuck Off Fund serves as your first line of defense. It’s the antidote to late-stage capitalism. The match you use to set fire to Lady Fortune’s stupid wheel. More importantly, it's an invitation to an exclusive club called Freedom. 


The Fuck Off Membership Tiers

 
 

Did you know there are actually multiple levels of financial freedom? Here’s the rough breakdown:

1. The Basic Fund

At least 6 months worth of living expenses. This provides insurance for life’s small to medium sized emergencies. Everyone should have a basic fuck off fund. 

2. The Premium Fund

Debt free + 6-8 months worth of living expenses. Insurance for even the most catastrophic emergencies. 

3. The Domestic Fund

8-12 months of living expenses + enough to cover the moving costs to live and work anywhere in the country. For more info on this, check out our 20-Something's Guide to Starting Over.  

4. The International Fund

A full year’s living expenses + enough to travel and live abroad doing work you’re passionate about, from any country where you can legally get a visa. 

5. The Fuck Off Lifetime Status Club

Enough savings in the bank to cover one year's living expenses from interest and dividends alone, doing whatever you like, and answering to nobody except the law and your own mortality 

For example, if you’re comfortable spending $30,000 a year, divide that by a conservative 5% annual return and you get a fund of $600,000. If you don’t mind living in a smaller city, town or in the countryside, you could achieve lifetime fuck off status on much much less. 


5 Steps to Building Your Own Fuck Off Fund


1. Figure out your minimum expectations

Make a list of everything you need each month in order to (a) survive and (b) be reasonably satisfied with your life. The fewer Rolexes and mansions you have on this list, the cheaper you can buy your freedom. 

2. Track your actual spending for 3-4 months

Be honest with yourself and figure out where you stand today. How far are you from your goals?

3. Make a realistic budget 

A budget is like a marriage between reality and your aspirations. A reasonable budget means you don’t end up eating ramen by the end of every month. And don't try and compare yourself to others. Do whatever works for you (so long as you're doing it better than the person you were yesterday). 

4. Set up a separate savings account

This savings account should be out of sight and out of mind. Don't open it with the same bank where you keep your checking. 

5. Set up automatic transfers

Set it up so that a certain percentage of every pay-check goes into your savings first. If you don't have a Basic Fuck Off Fund yet, you should be holding off on non-essential purchases until you've achieved that minimum. Having the patience to buy your freedom first is worth infinitely more than the new (insert name of status seeking object here) you don't really need.  

And remember, over time, you need to make sure the balance of your Fuck Off Fund keeps up with your increased monthly spend.