Posts in Editor's Pick
6 Things (These) Millennials Look for in a Business

Ivan here.

Jennie and I spent the past two weeks negotiating with a procession of incompetent / scummy U.S. health and life insurance providers that make up our banana republic healthcare system. And we’re not amused. So if you’re not in the mood for a rant, I’d skip this post.

You’ve been warned.

Why Millennials are Killing Businesses


If I had a nickel for every headline crying about millennials killing yet another business that I didn’t know still existed, I’d have more money to spend on their competitors.

It’s not even worth my time to link these click-bait articles (SEO be damned). That’s because the majority of these publications will eventually die. Because they add no social value, can’t even make a profit, and are kept alive by faux outrage, diverting our attentions from more important issues that take longer than a half-skimmed article to explain.

My overall response to these articles can be summarized thusly:

Mr. Pink from Reservoir Dogs (1992)

"Do you know what this is? It's the world's smallest violin playing just for your business."

Instead of “why are millennials so entitled and killing everything?” let’s ask, “why do businesses built on stale ideas feel entitled to survive?”

Becoming a more conscious consumer

Flaws in human beings are natural and often beautiful, shaped by our experiences, and deserving of empathy. Our strengths and weaknesses are what make our individual stories unique and relatable.

Flaws in businesses, on the other hand, are just sad excuses that leech valuable (and limited) resources from the economy, and from people who could’ve had better uses for their time and money.

While nobody has ever asked to be born, at some point, somebody made the decision to be in business. This means that they are subject to the Darwinian rules of the markets - and to ruthless scrutiny by the consumer.

The rules are pretty straightforward:

If you can’t make a profit and/or can no longer add more social value than you take away, then your business is worthless and deserves to die. What’s more, the sooner you die, the more resources get freed up for companies that might actually improve peoples’ lives.

Some businesses today are part of the solution, others are part of the problem. While we can’t simply “get rid of” problematic individuals (marginalize and ignore, yes), it’s extremely possible to get rid of problematic businesses. Businesses are just vehicles made of money, and money is just the sum total of our values and decisions.

As millennials, what we have to ask ourselves as consumers is:
Are we part of the solution or are we part of the problem?

If you think of our world as a system, and each individual choice is a component of that system, then what are the small things we can do today to improve things over the long term?  

6 Things (These) Millennials Look for in a Business

Here are six ways that Jennie and I evaluate businesses:

1. Follow the golden rule

Repeat after me: always add more value than you extract. And every day that you’re lucky enough to stay in business, you should be working relentlessly toward providing more value for less (or eventually, somebody else will). Define value how you will - but in the long run, the market decides.

2. Transparent pricing

If it takes me more than a minute to figure out your pricing, if you don’t list prices at all or if you include “optional” add-ons that are actually extremely mandatory, I’m going to assume you’re running a non-profit because that’s what you’re going to be.

3. Trust is personal

Business is business, but trust is personal. Do I like you and trust you with my money? Because I only engage with people and companies I like. If you change the rules on me for whatever reason after an agreement has been reached, then you’re getting replaced. I don’t care if it’s $0.01 more than we agreed. Just on principle, I’m going to dispose of you anyway.

At Spectrum / Time Warner Cable, if your own employees have to warn its customers to always keep their receipt after they return their internet routers (in case it gets “lost” and the customer gets charged a fee), then I’m here on my knees praying for the day when I can dance on your grave.

4. Ease of use / technology

If you make the process of buying your product/service hard, or make me wait for hours on the line, I’ll use that time to silently count the days until I can get rid of you for a simpler option. For example, if you only accept physical checks and money orders in 2018, you’re dead to me. If change is too hard or happening too fast for your slowass to catch up, then quit.

5. Bureaucracy

If the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, if I have to give you the same information three or four times on the same call, then maybe your business needs to be dismantled and cut down to a more manageable size.

6. Customer service

When someone calls customer service, that means something has gone wrong. That’s okay, life happens. Nobody’s perfect.  But how will you respond?

This doesn’t mean giving customers whatever they ask for. The average customer is probably insane. It just means that when you’re dealing with a human being, you need to act like one. If a request is common sense and reasonable, then it should be accommodated. If not, you should be able to explain clearly the reasons why. Any version of “that’s just the way it is” tells me your business has no idea why it does the things it does. Ergo, it should not exist for much longer.

The Origami Life: How We Like to do Business

Let’s face it: we’re buying products and services here - not saving the world. And yet our choices, in some small way, matter. If we don’t like the way the world is going, the least we can do is act on it. It may seem insignificant, like a drop in a ocean, but even if you “fail,” at least you can sit back and say that you did the best you could, at a time when most people didn’t bother to try at all.

As partners in a new business, here are some basic principles that Jennie and I would like to live by:

  1. Putting client interests above our own (e.g. be upfront and honest about our input/thoughts).

  2. Always try to add more value than we’re taking away.

  3. Growing and evolving with our business to make sure our skills are always up-to-date.

  4. Communicating and treating people like human beings and not numbers with a customer lifetime value attached.

It’s a harder way to do business, but it’s also cleaner. Call us narrow-minded, but after a certain point, what’s the point of doing anything if you can’t live on your own terms?

This also explains why Jennie and I haven’t we put any ads or accepted any sponsors on The Origami Life blog. The number of companies we’d gladly associate ourselves with can be counted on one hand (towards the rest we’re lukewarm at best, hostile at worst). It would be hypocritical of us to endorse anything we wouldn’t pay full price for ourselves. As frugal “minimalists,” that’s an extremely short list.

Luckily, The Origami Life happens to be our space. It also happens to be our life. So basically, it’s going to be our way or the highway. And if we can’t have it our way, at least we’ve put ourselves in a position to be patient and build for the long term.

Because freedom is the leverage that comes with wanting things without ever really needing them.

How I Left My Job & Negotiated My Exit

Jennie here.

From day 1 at my (now former) company, I knew that I was going to leave. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my job or that I didn’t always give 110% of my effort. I just knew what I wanted:

Ivan and I wanted to travel the world (and work simultaneously) starting in September 2018.

So, Ivan and I have had this planned out for more than two and a half years. At the end of July, I finally informed my manager of my intentions.

Given my current manager-employee relationship, I decided not to disclose that I was traveling the world. That’s my personal life, and it was really none of their business.

However, I did share the reasons why I was planning to leave. I stated that I’d changed managers three times in the last year and my relationship with my direct manager always seemed out of sync. I felt like she never really trusted me - her only team member. I also shared that I was exhausted by the constant need for political maneuvering. This is a problem with “careerists” in any industry - everyone’s just angling for the next seat. Whether that’s on a rocket ship or the Titanic hardly matters because nobody has skin in the game.  

I was just tired of it. It all seemed so pointless.

Here was my ask to my direct manager:

  1. I was willing to finish out all of my projects over the next month and help train/transition any new hires.

  2. During my last month of employment, I wanted to work remotely from New Mexico to spend time with my family.

  3. If they wanted to keep me on to tie up loose ends through August, I wanted an extension on my benefits and be on payroll through the end of September.

Truth is, I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out. Ivan and I were prepared for any one of  three scenarios:

  1. They would let me go on the spot (very likely).

  2. They would let me finish out my work over the next month (not so likely).

  3. They would attempt to persuade me to stay (not so likely).

The Results Of My Negotiations - What I Got Paid To Leave:

girl-walking-wall-32246 (1).jpg

In the end, it didn’t turn out 100% the way I wanted. Maybe just 75%. But that was more than enough, considering that Ivan and I would’ve been perfectly happy walking away with nothing:

  1. My manager gave me a one week to “finish up my tasks/projects.” There had been a lot of tension for some time so this worked out well because I got time back in my life.

  2. I coordinated with our HR department and managed to get one month’s pay without the work.

  3. They did not choose to extend my benefits into September (this was always a stretch goal and not a completely necessary one. Our international health care plan begins coverage starting September 1st).

I knew that it was highly unlikely that they’d accept all of my terms and I was right. Ivan and I had anticipated that my manager would be inflexible and might respond negatively to my resignation so we actually pre-emptively cancelled the lease to our apartment at the end of July.

Lessons Learned and What I Would’ve Done Differently In Leaving My Job:

diagram-direction-display-1305360 (1).jpg

Here are some of my lessons learned from my first tech startup:

  • Lesson #1: I wish I had better negotiated my employment contract from the very beginning. My former company (like most tech startups) aspired to the “hire fast, fire fast” philosophy. And here’s the thing - those companies will always exist within the startup world, but there are consequences to this type of mentality. In theory, it’s a great idea to cut your B and C players quickly. But this assumes that management is competent and has the ability to distinguish between A and B players - and not be caught up by their own biases and prejudices. Sometimes objectivity and rationality is just a cloak for arrogance and a poor understanding of your own limitations.

    Had I known what I know now...I would have demanded a severance package and better sign-on bonus (relocation package) from the beginning because I was accepting a job across the country. In my next opportunity as a director level or higher, I will definitely negotiate terms that are more favorable to me.

  • Lesson #2: I should’ve done better due diligence. I joined the company because I was desperate to leave Boston at the time - my job was going nowhere and my managerial relationship was hostile (Ivan: misogynistic) to say the least. And in this new opportunity, I jumped without thinking too hard about it - I didn’t even negotiate my salary - which I should have.

8 Steps to Negotiate & Execute Your Job Exit Strategy

agreement-arms-business-1081228 (1).jpg

Everything in business is negotiable. Trust me, you have more power than you can imagine - no matter what your situation.

Here are a few steps that I’ve gathered to help you negotiate your exit when you decide to leave your job.

Step 1: Decide on what you want and make your plan.

For me, I wanted to leave and travel the world by September 2018. You don’t have to wait as long as I did but I felt grateful to have two and half years to do good work, queue up the “next thing” in 2018, and mentally prepare to leave my job. Because I’m a planner, I needed this sort of thing. And I knew that if I didn’t have a “deadline,” I would never leave.

Step 2: Always lay the groundwork.

One of the most important things that’s always relevant - whether or not you leave a job or want to negotiate a raise - is you should always do your job well and document everything. Make sure to always document the following:

  • Schedule quarterly reviews with your manager.  
  • How well have you performed in the last 6 to 12 months? What are your metrics?

  • Have a presentation that covers your accomplishments and accolades, with testimonials from other team members across the organization.

  • Send a follow up email of what you discussed and shared with your manager. It’s critical to have a paper/digital trail of your good work.

Step 3: Prepare for your “next” thing.

Are you looking to get a new job? Traveling? Give yourself at least 3 to 6 months of interviews, informational coffee dates, or start doing some freelancing. Start early because it’ll only give you more options down the road.

Step 4: Assess your relationships.

In any organization or team, you should know who you can  depend on to advocate for your work and accomplishments (before and after you leave). Also, it’s good to have relationships with your executives if you work for a small tech startup. This makes it easier for them to accommodate to your asks when you finally decide to leave.

Step 5: Understand your leverage.

Understanding what your advantages are in any given situation. For example, was a lot of your team’s work dependent on you? Are there key company events/milestones during the year where your presence is essential? That’s leverage. And with proper timing, you can use it.

Step 6: Decide what you want.

Do you want a more flexible work environment (e.g. working remote 100%)? Are you leaving because you don’t agree with the direction of the company or management? Regardless of the reason, think about what you’re willing to do to help the company transition - and what you want to ask for in return. For example, if you’re a star employee - you can offer to help train the new replacement over the course of x months. And for your troubles, you could asked to be paid x extra for the additional months you’re putting in. If you’ve got a family, always ask for an extension of your benefits. In my case, my healthcare was 100% paid by my company so it would have saved me over $1,500 a month.

Step 7: Understand and accept the fact that the exit meeting may not go the way you want.

That’s just life - it’s not always going to work out the way you had intended. The moment you say, “I’ve been thinking about leaving the company…” it’s up to external forces and how they respond. I don’t want to downplay luck in all of this. On the other hand, they also say that luck is preparation + opportunity.

Step 8: Control your own narrative - remember the future and leave on positive terms.

Sure, it’s important to negotiate the best terms in your separation agreement but keep in mind that this goes beyond money – what you agree to and how you go about it can affect your career long term. When I left, I did an informal “exit interview” with every single one of the co-founders and executives at my company. I wanted to express gratitude to them, share why I was leaving, and make sure that I controlled my own narrative even after I’m gone.

The Bottom Line: Everything Is Negotiable; Ask For What You Want

If there’s only one takeaway that you have from this post, it’s that the world is malleable and you have more power than you think. And you owe it to yourself to ask for everything that you want because who knows - you just might get it. 

Early on, Ivan and I both realized that the “where” you end up isn’t nearly as important as the “how.” The journey over the destination applies to pretty much everything in our lives. And even when things don’t work out the way we want, you can still be confident in the fact that you played your hand the best you could. And that’s all anyone can ask for.

If there’s only one takeaway that you have from this post, it’s that the world is malleable and you have more power than you think. And you owe it to yourself to ask for everything that you want because who knows? You just might get it. 

Origami Letters: Too Much Memory

Origami letters is a series we are experimenting with, where we share moments from our relationship through a selection of letters we’ve sent each other over our four year marriage (and nine year relationship).
These letters have been lightly edited for grammar and brevity. Pseudonyms are used to protect people’s privacy.

* * *

There, sir, stop. Let us not burden our remembrances with a heaviness that’s gone.
— Prospero, The Tempest

November 5, 2016
Subject: Too Much memory
To: Jennie
From: Ivan

vintage-photo-memories-old (1).jpg

Dear Jennie,

For weeks I've thought about what I should say about my grandfather. With the end probably closer than I'd like to admit, it might be helpful to put my thoughts and feelings down in writing, so that I can come to some sort of understanding about the whole thing before it happens.

My grandfather has the early onset of Alzheimer's. Not sure how you would define 'early.' How does the brain choose which things to forget? When he was at our wedding ceremony and reception in October, he still remembered my name and who I was. I'm grateful for this, though the significance of the events were lost on him. I watched him eat the food that was placed in front of him. Dutifully, like a child.

With my grandfather, I think about what it means to have lived. In eighty five years of his life, he's raised four children, who in turn provided him with nine grandchildren. He's been rich and poor, had his triumphs and defeats, and has travelled and cultivated his internal and external worlds. He's had a taste of fame, of competition, of loss and deceit. He's bought Rolexes on a whim and travelled across Europe by train. He's held his own calligraphy and art exhibits, taught judo, and coached sumo wrestlers. He's taken to the open road by motorbike, hunted wild boar with packs of hunting dogs. He's had periods of violence and tranquility.

It's hard not to ascribe heroic qualities to his life - and these are only the stories that I know. Growing up, I probably thought he was invincible. I think what hurts most is not his impending death (which happens to everyone), but the manner in which he's fading away. Now I understand why the ancient Greeks wanted to die on the battlefield. In a way, I had secretly wished that for him: that he would get his due, that his end would measure up to everything he had been in life.  

I'm glad he won't remember the end - even if it hurts those he's leaving behind.

Neither my dad or I are anything like my grandfather. At least, not in any way that matters. Our lives just don't have that grand sweeping narrative running through it. And that's okay. Before he lost his ability to paint and write, I asked him for a Chinese couplet that's now hanging above my desk:


Translated, it reads: Find meaning in simplicity. Travel further in silence.

More than anything, my grandfather taught me that it was okay to be myself completely.


Origami Letters: Why We Started this Blog

Origami letters is a weekly series Jennie and I are experimenting with, where we share moments from our relationship through a selection of letters we’ve sent each other over our four year marriage (and nine year relationship). These letters have been lightly edited for grammar and brevity. Pseudonyms are used to protect people’s privacy.

* * *

I had a funny feeling as I saw the house disappear, as though I had written a poem and it was very good and I had lost it and would never remember it again.
— Raymond Chandler

Ivan here.

Back in 2016, I sent the following email to Jennie with the subject line “Looking out over the hump.” It’d only been a few months since we moved to Los Angeles, and we were both starting to establish our routines. This letter was also written exactly one week before we decided to start this blog. Our first post was published on August 12th titled, “A 20-Something’s Guide to Starting Over.” It’s funny looking back on it now.

I think this letter provides readers with a glimpse into why we started The Origami Life and our hopes for it going forward.

Note: If you're interested in our story so far, check out The Origami Life: The Story So Far.

An Origami Letter:
Looking Out Over the Hump

Dear Jennie,
Got both your voice messages this morning. The first when I woke up and the second after I came back from my run. You sounded very cute in a flustered, occupied sort of way.
On my run this morning along the neighborhood circuit, I was startled by a grey tabby cat lying on its side on a corner patch of grass near a busy intersection. This was by the tennis courts of the Mar Vista rec centre. It was a strange place to find a cat, and I had to leap out of the way to avoid stepping on her. She was wearing a red collar with a silver bell on it. Her eyes followed me as I went by.
As I continued on my run, I realized that something about her. It's not every day that you see a cat outside just lying there, all alone at the edge of the sidewalk. She was barely moving. She must be sick. Heat exhaustion? I decided that on my second lap around, I would stop and check to see if she was all right.
When I passed the tennis courts the second time, there were two women standing where the cat had been. They looked like mother and daughter. The daughter was in her thirties and her mother, who looked to be in her late fifties. She was cradling the cat in her arms and sobbing. The daughter stood off to the side, looking helpless.
They must be the owners, I thought. I slowed down to catch a glimpse of the cat. Sure enough, she was dead.
I didn't know what to say. A lot of questions were running through my mind. What happened? Why was she all alone on the edge of the sidewalk? Was it already sick when they brought her out or did it get hit by a passing car or a bicycle?
Was I the last person she saw before she died?
I really hope not. Startled, I had jumped out of the way and kept right on going. Never stopping for a second. It was too late before I realized that something might be wrong. Even after her death, I wanted to know the story of how she ended up there. I wanted to ask the two women what happened. But instead, I ran past them again without so much as a word.
I guess you could say that it's a fundamental character flaw of mine. Growing up from an intensely shy child, who didn't speak a word all through kindergarten and cried when my mom dropped me off, into a cold and self-absorbed adult. What business was it of mine to ask questions or express concern? What difference would it make? And so I thought and reasoned to myself, and in the end, none of the things that I thought or felt ever translated into action.
I think that's the truth of where we stand right now. Always on the cusp of something but lacking the resolve and drive to constantly move forward, to focus on the present moment and not on the past or dreams of a future where I’m free from all obligations and impositions. Me. Always me.
Is there no one else I can think about besides myself?
Running helps, I think. So does writing when I can sit down and concentrate and not worry about anything else. I arrive at some sort of understanding about who I am and can reflect on moments that would otherwise pass me by. But knowing this isn’t enough. I have to remember that actions are the only thing that matters. The only thing that counts. Putting one word after the next, one foot after another, and with hope in my heart that eventually, one of those footsteps will take me home.

The Challenge: Looking at the World Through New Eyes

The real discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
— Marcel Proust

One of the reasons Jennie and I were willing to wait two whole years before heading off on our RTW trip is because around the time this letter was written, we both realized that the “where” isn’t nearly as important as the “how.”

We carry the way we look at the world and our own lives wherever we go.

And we've realized that the only way to add meaning and value to something is to create it for ourselves.

Update Post: Rethinking this Blog, Starting a Business, Planning our Exit

Starting from today, readers of The Origami Life can count on a new post
every Tuesday - with the occasional experimental post on Fridays.

Ivan here.

Despite running a blog, Jennie and I like to keep our cards close. The risk of oversharing online is real - go too far in one direction and our life becomes performance art. We want to be thoughtful about what we put out there, and at least try to add value to a reader's life.  

What we’ve learned over the past year is:

Not every success is worthy of celebration. Not every failure is worthy of analysis.

Life is spontaneous. It doesn’t always fit neatly inside a listicle.

The Origami Life Update:

Rethinking the Blog, Starting a Business,

Planning our Exit


January has been a busy month for the Origami couple:

1. We created a content plan for The Origami Life.

This year, due to an increasing workload in other areas, we want to be less carefree and more intentional with this blog. Last year, we published whenever we felt like it. In 2018, we’re setting minimum expectations so that people know exactly what they’re getting from us - and when they’re getting it.

To that end, we spent the first week of 2018 at our favorite donut shop doing a MEGA brainstorming session. We broke out the Excel (the E), jotted down themes we would focus on each month, plus a list of potential ideas for each week. We’re also establishing a regular publishing cadence moving forward.

TL;DR: New post every Tuesday for the rest of the year.

2. We took a long weekend trip to San Diego.

San Diego is like the boutique version of Los Angeles. Here are some recommendations from our three day trip:

Source: Yelp ; Sunset Cliffs, San Diego

Source: Yelp; Sunset Cliffs, San Diego

Hiking and Sightseeing in San Diego:

Cheap Eats and Beverages in San Diego:

Source: Yelp ; Phil's BBQ, San Diego

Source: Yelp; Phil's BBQ, San Diego

3. We celebrated 4 years of marriage with another fight...this time over gingerbread cookies.

It’s that time again. Jennie and I fight every single year on both of our anniversaries (marriage and relationship). This year’s argument was as stupid as it sounds. It was a fight over whether one of us (me) needed permission to eat the other’s (Jennie’s) gingerbread cookies.

Jennie’s note: He ate my goddamn cookies because I said he couldn’t. He doesn’t even like cookies. (Ivan: two cookies. I ate two) AND for good measure, he broke my cookies into 100+ pieces in a blind rage. My poor cookies...

4. We set up an LLC and officially launched our business.

Origami Partners LLC. That’s the name of our client services company. Over the past 8-10 months, we’ve made steady progress on our goal of earning $2,500 in freelance income a month. About six months ago, we made a breakthrough, but we didn’t want to jinx ourselves by writing about it. Look for more future posts on how we’re turning a side hustle into replacement income - and breaking free from the 9-to-5 lifestyle.

5. We took advantage of the Chase Banking bonuses and collected $700 in January.

Chase and other banking institutions offer new account sign-up bonuses all the time. Armed with our fuck-off fund, we took advantage of these offers in January. We opened a business checking account and got $200 from Chase with a $1,000 deposit. Then I opened a personal checking and savings account and was paid another $500 - just by moving my direct deposit and our fuck off fund from one bank to another. Having a fuck-off fund: it really is the gift that keeps on giving.

6. We billed our first clients for the year as a business.

Over the past 6 to 8 months, we’ve been slowly building up a roster of clients that we hope to take with us on our round the world trip. January 2018 was the first month we billed them as Origami Partners LLC. It felt surreal and amazing. We’re both excited to begin this strange, new chapter of our life.

7. We booked two months apart from each other in February and March

Late last year, we both looked at each other and realized we had a ton of stuff to do before we leave in September 2018. So at the beginning of the year, we broke down what each of us would need to get things done. It turned out that after nearly 9 years together, both of us needed some time apart. So I booked a $400 roundtrip ticket to Taiwan (and rented a cottage out in the countryside) so that we could both get some “me” time.

8. Ivan’s setting aside 30 days in a cabin to finish his novel.

I know a cabin in the countryside is an indulgence, but I’m justifying this as an early 30th birthday present to myself. Toward the end of last year, I realized that I couldn’t live with myself if I went off on our RTW trip without finishing my novel. I’m 45,000 words in, and the longer this thing festers inside me, the harder I’m going to be to travel with. So when I saw a $400 flight deal to Taipei and a $235 a month cabin out in the remote countryside, I felt like I had to do it. I feel pretty grateful to be married to a partner who understands.

9. Jennie’s asking for another raise (because she’s worth more).

There are two ways of thinking about this: the normal person’s way and the sociopath’s way.

  1. A normal human being might say: “I’ve got 7 months left before I leave, plus the freelance income is picking up - why go through the hassle?”

  2. A sociopath would say: “When I don’t need something - is literally the best time to ask for it. Plus, what are they gonna do? Fire me so I can leave for my RTW trip sooner? Oh no. Whatever will I do.”

Editor's note: To be clear, this was Ivan's take on my raise. 

10. We booked our Round The World (RTW) first stop on September 1st, 2018

We’ve decided to head west from Los Angeles on our RTW trip. First stop: a rustic cottage in Kauai, Hawaii for 15 days.

What We’d Like to Do Differently Around Here

We think we understand the rules when we become adults, but what we really experience is a narrowing of the imagination.
— David Lynch

Confession time: on some days, I catch myself acting like a 80 year old man.

“Look at me! Look how clever and wise I am. Kids these days, they just don’t understand how the world works.”

This is the downside of having plans and routines. After a while, you start to become rigid. Too sure of yourself. Less open to new ideas. Maybe that's why I've been feeling dissatisfied with my more recent posts. I think this “rigidity” is holding me back from becoming a better writer and storyteller. Or as Jennie likes to put it: “What if you didn’t have a stick up your butt?”  

I think there’s value in creating a world and inviting readers to live in it, rather than telling them what the rules are and to not touch anything. There’s value in telling stories that make people feel something deeper than a logical transfer of ideas or that first knee-jerk response.

So that’s what we’re aiming for this year: more personal stories and more experiments on what this blog can be.

How to Be Yourself in 2018
Say what you are. Not what you would like to be. Not what you have to be. Just say what you are. And what you are is good enough.
— John Cassavetes

Year in Review: Our Playlist for 2017

Ivan here. 

Good music is like a shortcut to the subconscious. A decent musician can walk to places that a writer has to sprint to.

So before I give you all my paragraphs about how I felt about 2017, here’s a playlist Jennie and I compiled for the year -  one song for every month. Most of these songs are from albums we loved that came out this year - mixed with some 80s synth pop to drown out the internal screaming.

How did 2017 go for me personally? Jennie and I will have another post to go into the specifics, but to sum it up, I’d say it probably went better than I feel about it at the moment. As usual, I found myself making the same mistakes, disregarding the same advice that I'd easily hand out to others. Again, I bit off more than I could chew and had to scramble during the second half of the year to snatch partial victories from the jaws of overwhelming defeat.

But this post isn’t about me - it’s about all of us.

A Different Kind of Annual Review:

Why We Need To Be Ourselves in 2018

If I could summarize 2017 with one statement, I’d say that this was the year when two worlds collided: the world of our beliefs (i.e. how we’d like to see things) and the world of consequences (i.e. what we actually did about it)

When optimism (or delusion) meets reality, the effects can feel quite disorienting.

In 2017, we saw case after case of people who spent their careers signaling truth and decency, but in the post-Weinstein world, we’ve discovered that when the chips were down, a lot of people failed to be neither true nor decent.  

More specifically, I’d divide these cases into two camps:

  1. People who believed the right things but did the exact opposite

  2. People who believed the right things but did nothing

In a way, it’s healthy that we’re starting to see things the way they truly are. It’s brought us closer to a shared version of reality. To quote Annie Dillard, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

It’s a shame so many people had to get hurt before we’re finally coming to our senses.

Forget New Year’s Resolutions:

Let’s Talk Values and Priorities

Appearances and signals of virtue/prestige/credibility/success is the exact opposite of how Jennie and I would like to conduct our lives.

Neither of us want to wake up one day and realize that we weren’t the people we claimed we were, that our values and priorities never translated into anything that we ended up doing. Or worse, that everything had been an act - a play we put on for other people because it looked good - that there were no real principles or values underneath.

Yeah, a wasted life scares us.

An Origami Worldview: Fix Yourself Before You Fix The World

Our lives are composed of a finite series of choices: of how we spend our time and how we spend our money.

We believe that every incremental hour or dollar spent:

  1. stands for something beyond that hour or dollar
  2. has consequences on the wider world around us.

Enough people spending their time a certain way adds up to a certain type of culture. Enough people spending money adds up to a market with certain types of incentives. And when you add everything up, we’re all invested (or complicit) in the system we’ve created and the future we’re creating.

It’s easy to point to the monsters around us and use them as scapegoats. Our elected officials are owned by corporate interests. Wall Street is greedy. The President is narcissistic and ignorant with a limited attention span. Congrats, we’ve now established that monsters will be monsters. What do you want - a Pulitzer Prize?  

The more interesting questions to ask are:

  • Who's funding corporate power over our influencers?

  • Whose greed allowed Wall Street to earn their commissions?

  • And are we really in a position to criticize narcissism and snap judgments on Twitter?

At the end of the day, the best way to fix the system is to fix ourselves.

A Practical Guide:

How To Be True to Yourself in 2018

Within ten days you will seem a god to those to whom you are now a beast and an ape, if you will return to your principles and the worship of reason.
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

At the Origami Life, Jennie and I try to take observations (or criticisms) and transform them into something constructive and practical.

" New year, new me."

From reading the most common resolutions of 2018, we get the impression that people are hoping to become totally new versions of themselves, as if a switch will flip, and the world will suddenly change on January 1st.

But none of these things will happen if we continue to live with the results of other people’s thinking, with the narratives of ideology and battlelines, of performing our lives in front of an audience - instead of thinking and feeling as individuals.

If anything, instead of being different people, we need to be ourselves more completely in 2018, and boil things down to the essentials of what we truly value.

1. Make a statement about who you are

Before you figure out what you should do, first you have to decide what you stand for. What do you value? It’s rare that I meet a person who deep down, doesn’t want to do the “right” thing. But how can we know what the “right” thing is with all the noise around us?

One exercise I like to do is to summarize what I value in a single sentence, then I’ll ask myself ‘Why?’ three times in a row.



Ivan's Value Statement:

The thing I value most is independence - the ability to make choices, to add value to the lives of the people I care about.

  1. Why? Because I have a problem with authority and groupthink.

  2. Why? Because I value individuals and their freedom to say or do whatever they like - even if it’s misguided - as long as their wrongness comes from an honest place.

  3. Why? Because life is absurd and meaningless, and since everyone must be going through the same thing, it’s important to be true to ourselves and to empathize with others.



2. List all the things that are stopping you from being that person

List out all the instances in the past year where you fell short of who you imagine yourself to be. This could be anything from purchases you made, time wasted on something, things you wish you could’ve said, relationships you wish you could’ve started/ended.

3. Prioritize no more than three things on that list

One of the least appreciated things about personal growth is that you can’t have priorities without sacrifice. It’s literally in the definition: if certain things are more important to you than others, then it’s equally important to STOP DOING the least important things.

In 2018, people around the world want to eat better, exercise more, spend less money, pay down their debt, get more sleep, read more books, learn a new skill, get a new job, make new friends, and find a new hobby. Well, which is it? Some of these goals are clearly contradictory.

If you have more than three priorities, you have no priorities at all.

4. Do the hardest part first

The hardest part is starting something. Not tomorrow, not next week, not when you’re sufficiently prepared or running out of excuses. Today. No matter how small the step.

5. Grind your way to better habits

I have this theory that we’re defined by what we do when we have little incentive to do anything. Doing something when everyone else is equally motivated is called “breaking even.” We don’t go anywhere when we break even - we’re just catching up to the average.

Everyone is filled with hope and optimism on January 1st. Everyone is signing up for that gym membership, cranking up that Mint app, or waking up at the crack of dawn. But when reality sets in sometime in February or March, we find ourselves staring into the abyss. This is the abyss created by January’s expectations and the reality that change is almost universally slow and painful.

And what we choose to do when faced with that abyss will mean everything.

* * * 

On that happy note, what are some things that went well in your life over the past year?
What were the things you struggled with?
What’s your perspective moving into 2018?  

Jennie and I would love to hear from you in the new year!

* * * 

Financial Priorities: The Origami Master Plan & Blueprint

Ivan here. 

This is what the average person’s life looks like:

Always playing catch up, always reacting to one situation after another. Never realizing what was truly important.  

I look at this trajectory and ask myself: did these people ever make any real choices at all? Or did they just end up accepting the choices that had already been made for them? 

An Origami Blueprint

This gets at one of the core tenets of this blog: our refusal to accept the results that most people get. It’s about setting priorities and making sacrifices in order to live deliberately, to create a life we can look back on that’s truly our own. 

If we had to design our own origami life, what would it look like? Obviously, a lot of it would be dependent on choices we haven’t made yet. 

But here’s a rough sketch: 

The Origami Life Blueprint. The plan so far.

Our 20s - Asking the Right Questions


1. Build a Fuck off Fund

It’s not enough to simply pay off our debts to society (i.e. student loans). We need to build a fuck-off fund to ensure that society will always owe us

With a 6-12 month fuck-off fund, employers owe us better compensation, banks and credit card companies owe us better bonuses. Basically, we need financial leverage over everyone who might otherwise have leverage over us. This means that before we spend a single dime on anything that’s not essential to our survival, we first buy the option to tell someone to fuck off. 

2. Be Done With Retirement

Retirement sounds like a terrible idea. Hanging out by the beach, sipping mai-tais, with no purpose or meaning besides “enjoying your old age” is not our idea of a good time. Who wants to wait around to die? 

This is an advantage Jennie and I have over most people because it makes our retirement number far more attainable: we simply need to make sure we have “enough” by the time we’re too old and decrepit to work (not by some arbitrary age of 65). 

Our minimum number happens to be $700,000. Working backwards, assuming a 6% annual return for the next 35 years, this means we need to have $90,000 ($45k each) invested by age 30. After 30, even if we don’t invest another dollar, the magic of compound returns will ensure that we’ll have at least $700,000 by age 65. 

This is why we lived in shitty basement apartments in Toronto and a room the size of a closet in Boston - to make this minimum number happen. 

3. Build a Travel Fund

This is where readers find us today, as we track our progress through our Money Diary. Keep in mind that this came after a considerable amount of pain moving through steps 1 and 2. But what better time is there to take our lumps than in our 20s? 

Our 30s - Finding Answers

1. Insure Ourselves Against Loss

At age 30, we’ll be purchasing 30 year term life and disability insurance to protect ourselves against catastrophe (i.e. protecting our downside). Also, the younger you are, the cheaper the premiums are. 

2. Build Our Own Freelance Business & Pursue Creative Projects

Start traveling and take some major creative and professional risks. 

3. Have Kids (maybe)

We're still on the fence about this. See our blog posts on the subject. 

Our 40s - Expansion Phase

1. Grow Our Business & Creative Projects

It's too early to say how this will play out. 

2. Save for Child’s Education

Taking a cue from Ivan's parents, no expense will be spared for their education. After that? They're on their own. 

3. Support Our Families

At the end of the day, family's still family. No matter how terrible their life choices were.

Our 50s - Consolidation Phase

1. Continue to Grow Our Business and Creative Projects

Again, too early to say. 

2. Invest in Other People  

We'd like to eventually be in a position to employ other people or help them start their own projects

3. Pay for a House With Cash

We covered our rationale for this in The Hidden Cost Of Home Buying. 

Our 60s and Beyond

1. Never retire

Retirement is basically tacit acknowledgement that you can no longer add any economic value to the world. 

2. Give 90% of our wealth away

We'll leave our potential offspring with the remaining 10% and hope they don't squander it. The rest goes back into society. The only things Jennie and I hope to leave behind are a few ideas, not a burdensome estate that our beneficiaries never earned. 

Marriage Podcast: A Six Year Long Distance Relationship #LDR

If you subscribe to iTunes then check out their channel here!

Jennie here! 

A few weeks ago, we were lucky enough to be featured and interviewed on a Brooklyn-based podcast called The Paper Year. Evan and Caitlin started this podcast in order to document their first year of marriage together and to chat with other married couples about their experiences. 

So, how did we get on this podcast?

I was a huge fan of their podcast since they started and really admired their ambition to start and run a podcast together! So, I reached out via email and told them a little bit about our (slightly Kafka-esque) long distance relationship and marriage. And a few months later they asked us to be on the podcast! I had to twist Ivan's arm to get him to agree to the podcast but, in the end, we both decided to put ourselves out there. 

It was our first time podcasting and we had a great time speaking with two strangers we had never met over the internet. Anyway, make sure to check out the podcast (linked above) and read a few of the highlights below.

Highlights and Quotes from the Podcast

It was a Kafka-esque immigration [the short story] In the Penal colony where the guy is getting hole-punched by the machine...
— Ivan

Lessons Learned From Our Long Distance Relationship (of 6 Years)

  1. Not all love stories are romantic. Yeah, so our relationship started off because of a drunken kiss. Who hasn't experienced that? In the end, we ended up together and that's romantic and real.
  2. Manage expectations – with yourself and each other. In our case, we created a "social contract" to solidify our expectations and plans together. We talked about how often we'd see each other, how often we should evaluate our relationship, etc. This contract helped us communicate better and carried us through various milestones together. 
  3. Be realistic about your budget together. Can you really afford to see each other? We were two broke students who couldn't see each other often because it was expensive. Over the course of six years, we spent upwards of five figures on visiting each other.
  4. The immigration process is probably one of the toughest experiences you'll have as a couple. For Ivan and I, we had no choice but to immigrate and begin that process together – otherwise, it would've meant the end of our relationship. The 17 month process was long, hard, and emotionally draining. 
  5. Independence is crucial to the success of any relationship. Throughout our relationship, we prioritized taking care of ourselves first because we did not want to be defined by our relationship. We wanted to have our own projects, hobbies, and distinctive goals. Ultimately, prioritizing ourselves helped us become better partners.

He was so drunk...he was swimming on his bedsheets because it had dolphins on it...
— Jennie
We will chase down a goal until it’s dead.
— Ivan

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. 

July Money Diary: How Much Does It Cost to Live in Los Angeles?

Jennie and I live a fairly frugal, minimalist lifestyle in Los Angeles, but this hasn't stopped us from enjoying ourselves. This money diary shows readers how much it costs for two married, twenty-something millennials, with no kids, to live in the City of Angels.  

Ivan here.

We use the app GoodBudget to track all our expenses. The app uses an envelope budgeting system, where you set up a budget for each category. At the beginning of every month, each "envelope" is filled and you subtract your spending.

We prefer GoodBudget over Mint because the app forces us to log every expense manually. Why? We believe that the process of saving money should be made easier and spending should be made harder. Logging our expenses as they happen help us make more conscious choices. And we never get blind-sided by our bank statements or Mint app. 

The app also has a great reports feature that breaks down our expenses by category. Let's take a look at our spending for the month of July. We think it's a pretty good representation of what a typical month looks like.  

Expenses for the Month of July (2016)

1. Rent and Bills ($1709.62)

Our fixed monthly costs. This is how this envelope breaks down:

  • Studio Apartment: $1,400 (including all utilities and parking)
  • Phone Bill: $150 (for a six line family plan. We take care of the bill.)
  • Internet: $55 
  • Gas & Household Essentials: $100-150

$1400 is a little on the high end for a studio apartment, but we live in an expensive part of town that's just a 10 minute commute to work. Usually you can get a studio for about $1100-1200 in other parts of LA. In our case, we value our time much more than the savings. LA rush hour traffic is no joke. 

Think about it. One extra hour a day sitting in traffic means you lose almost 24 hours every month. That's the equivalent of taking close to two weeks out of every year. Would you pay $2000 a year to live 3% longer AND save yourself a lot of unnecessary stress? You bet we would. 

2. Eating Out & Entertainment ($328.68)

We go out a little under two times a week and try to keep it under $50 a day (with the exception of birthdays and anniversaries). This is a warm-up for when we eventually go on our round the world trip in 2018. If we can do $50 a day in Los Angeles, we can make it pretty much anywhere (outside of maybe Western Europe and Scandinavia).

3. Groceries ($305.27)

We buy in bulk at Costco and Trader Joe's, with occasional trips to an Asian supermarket. We don't go out of our way to cut back on groceries and it always works out to about $300 a month. 

4. Savings, Education, Investments ($232.87)

The title is a little misleading (we don't save just $232 per month). This tracks the money that we use to invest in ourselves. This includes things like books, registration fees for courses or exams, tools/electronics for work etc. In July this was mainly website and domain registration fees plus other costs related to starting The Origami Life! 

5. Miscellaneous ($156.53)

Morning coffee runs, afternoon ice cream and midnight snacks go here. Sometimes it's the little things that make life worthwhile. 

6. Life Happens ($54.40)

Unexpected expenses. These are the things we didn't budget for. Usually around $50-100 a month. 

Couples' Paris Trip: 10 Unique 'Lost in Translation' Moments
Let’s never come back here again because it’ll never be as much fun.
— Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation

Ivan here.

Lost in Translation is the perfect movie about travel. It encapsulates everything I love about being in a foreign country: the alternating moments of solitude and human connection, the confusion and discovery.

As we travel, we’re constantly trying to calibrate our inner worlds to our new surroundings, to find some meaning in the madness. At the end of our journey, we come away with a few special moments that change us in ways that are hard to explain to our friends and family back home.

This post will be your guide to finding your own Lost in Translation moments in Paris, knowing full well that the best ones can’t be planned for. But maybe, just maybe, if you open your heart, the right moment might just tap you on the shoulder, and whispering gently into your ear...

1. On a morning run along the Seine


I try to go on morning runs in every city I travel to. It’s an easy way to beat the jetlag and explore a new city at the same time. It’s 6 AM, barely light out. The air outside is cool and most of Paris is still asleep. With Air and Phoenix playing in my earphones, I map out a five mile route along the Seine, from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower. There’s something surreal about keeping to a daily ritual in a new city that leaves you feeling both energized and at peace. 

When you reach the Eiffel Tower, stop by the first cafe or bakery that catches your eye. Take your time, sip your morning coffee and look out the window. Watch Paris wake up. Oh, and the Eiffel Tower opens at 9 AM. If you want, you could be the first in line. 

2. Between the shelves of the Abbey Bookshop

I may have found the perfect bookstore in the Abbey Bookshop, and it’s a magical and otherworldly place. The entrance is tucked away off the well trodden tourist path, its windows stacked to the brim with new and vintage paperbacks. Inside, bookshelves run from floor to ceiling. The aisles are so cramped their very existence feels like a reluctant compromise. 

The shop is run by its owner Brian, a mild-mannered Canadian expat and his sweet and helpful Parisien assistent. It’s truly a marvel that places like this can still exist in 2016, but Brian’s been here all along, ever since the late 80s. Stumbling upon a place that still feels real and true in the digital age is nothing short of a miracle. 

3. a basement bench in the Musee Marmotten Monet


I go out of my way to avoid crowds. My theory is that they tend to dilute the intensity and significance of every moment. If reading the same books everyone else is reading means you’re confined to thinking the same thoughts, why shouldn’t this be true of places as well?

The basement level of Musee Marmotten Monet houses the world’s most extensive collection of Monet’s paintings. What’s truly special about this exhibit is that visitors are taken on a journey of the painter’s life through his works. Walking through the exhibit, you can experience Monet’s progression from a young ambitious painter to an old man near the end of his life. Simply put, it’s a moving testament to an artist’s life. Here was a man who devoted his life to a craft, and struggling through hardship and poverty, created his own meaning in the world. 

4. Dazed and confused at the Palais de Tokyo

At the bizarre end of the spectrum, there’s the dubiously named Palais de Tokyo. Its connection to Japan and Tokyo remains one of life’s great mysteries. Inside, you’ll find yourself strolling through a maze of loudly post-modern art and a cafe festooned by stretched-out panty hoses. 

I sat speechless through a video installation of what I can only assume to be a woman’s battle with chronic constipation and her quest for the sweet salvation of Activia’s probiotic yogurt. It’s true what they say: all life becomes art. 

5. In a TROPICAL Greenhouse At Jardin des Serres D’Auteuil

The greenhouses in the Jardin des Serres D’Auteuil makes for the perfect hideaway on a rainy afternoon. It’s one of those places you imagine could only exist in a city like Paris. This vast garden produces 100,000 exotic plants from all around the world, separated into greenhouses by region and climate. Walk through aisles of desert cacti, then lounge away in a tropical climate in the middle of a Parisian winter, to the calls of birds imported from the Amazon -- and tell me this won’t change your life. 

6. burgers and fries at De Clercq

While I enjoyed my share of French cuisine during the trip, the sheer quantity and richness of meats, cheeses and wine taxed my untrained and decidedly East Asian palate. De Clercq provides some cheap comfort food, with a local twist.  It’s a small standing-room-only shop catering primarily to take-out orders. If you happen to make the poor life decision of ordering a maxi cornet of Belgium fries, keep in mind that instead of gorging yourself, there’s enough warm food to feed one of the many people living on the streets of Paris. 


7. Visiting Oscar Wilde At the Pere Lachaise Cemetery

As a general rule, walks through cemeteries and shrines are best done during the early hours of the morning, before the hordes of tourism arrive with megaphones loud enough to reanimate the dead. 

A literary circuit involves a visit to the graves of Balzac, Proust, Moliere, Gertrude Stein, and Oscar Wilde among others. When I arrived at Wilde’s tombstone, I was disappointed to find that they had erected a makeshift barrier to prevent further acts of love in the form of lipstick marks. Given the writer’s mistreatment at the hands of the State, you would think that separating him from his readers was the last thing he would’ve wanted.  

8. sunset on the steps of the Sacre Coeur

The best place to see the sunset is sitting on the steps of the Sacre Coeur Basilica. Watch as the blue rooftops and clay chimneys of Paris are bathed in the temporary light of a golden sunset. Take your time and wait for the night to descend and the lights to flicker on. A hundred lighted windows to a hundred Parisian lives. 

9. Reservoir Dogs at the Filmatheque du Latin Quartier

Paris is a city that remembers when going to the movies was an event, when the magical whirl of a projector casting images at 24 frames per second was an experience worth sharing with an audience. 

At Parisian revival houses, nothing gets butts into seats quicker than a midnight showing of a Tarantino feature. There are only two screening rooms at the Filmatheque du Latin Quartier: the red room is Marlyn Monroe, the blue room is Audrey Hepburn. 

Watching Reservoir Dogs is like hanging out with your buddies every weekend, where you crack the same jokes and laugh at them anyway. Sitting at a midnight showing with lonely old men, young French couples and bored, chain-smoking students (male and female), you feel like you’ve been transported to another time. 

There are "the little differences" with a Parisian audience. Like Americans, they can’t wait to know what Madonna's Like a Virgin is really about, or Steve Buscemi’s stance on tipping. But they laugh at slightly different points. Certain pop culture references escape them. Yet when Stealer’s Wheel comes on with Stuck in the Middle with You, the anticipation and excitement in the room is universal. Like a quarter-pounder is to a royale with cheese, you’re in a moment that feels familiar and foreign at the same time. 

10. Strangers You Meet in Paris

It’s not conventional opinion, but the people my Jennie and I met in Paris were some of the friendliest we’ve encountered in all our travels. Perhaps it was a function of us visiting during the winter off-season, but I think it also has something to do with our expectations. 

I don’t enjoy attentive service or small talk. I much prefer a polite exchange of greetings and being left alone to have my conversation or to read my book. No complications. No rush. And this side of Japan, no country does leave-you-alone service better than the French. 

But then there are other moments, where Parisians have gone out of their way to be helpful. On our first walk outside our studio in the 10th arrondissement, an elderly man came up to Jennie and I, shook our hands, and asked us where we were from. At a restaurant, a young waitress translated an entire menu from French to English before we could stop her. Or the bartender who insisted we stay past their closing hours while we waited for a midnight movie. 

These are the stranger than fiction moments that I can’t explain, and they’re moments that we'll carry with us for the rest of our lives.  

5 Lessons We Learned After Six Years of Long Distance

Ivan here.

Jennie and I spent six out of the seven years doing long distance, separated by borders and oceans. For months on end we were thousands of miles apart, fourteen hours away. Years passed, as the Earth spun indifferently around the Sun. 

It takes a certain type of personality and mindset to make long distance work. Though it may seem romantic looking back, trust us when we say that in reality, it’s a torturous grind. Technology makes it easier, but communication between two human beings is and will always be a flimsy, makeshift thing. 

There are no short-cuts. Here’s what we’ve learned having come out of it (relatively) unscathed:

1. Start with the end in mind

Distance is a cold bitch. It doesn’t care what your relationship deserves. If you don’t have a plan, you’ll probably fail. 

We were college students when we met. When we graduated, both of us needed jobs and the idea of going through the long (and expensive) U.S. immigration process while looking for our first full time jobs seemed like an unnecessary handicap to place on ourselves.  

Instead, we decided to pick a coast for our job search. I ended up in Toronto. She was hired by a company in Boston. A two hour plane ride wasn’t so bad, in the grand scheme of things. We had a plan in place to sign our marriage paperwork and start the immigration process within the first two years. And aside from the soul-sucking, wrist-slitting, bureaucratic shit sandwich that is US Customs and Immigration, that’s pretty much how it went down. 

2. Be ruthlessly practical

At the time we started long distance, we’d only been together for about three months. Our time abroad in Kyoto was nearing an end and we sat down and talked about the current and future state of our relationship. 

The thing about a LDR is that you’re either all the way in or out. There is no middle ground. There’s no waiting to see what precious flower will blossom from your relationship. 

More important than the decision to be in a long distance relationship was the fact that we wrote down (on a piece of paper) some hard rules about not dragging on a relationship if we were unhappy. If it wasn’t working, we’d give each other an out. We kept ourselves accountable by doing monthly check-ups to discuss what went well or poorly; it kept us honest. 

3. It’s better to over-communicate (but be kind)

Communicating is probably the #1 contributing factor to the success of a LDR (or any relationship for that matter). Of course, we love each other and that’s important but without the basic foundation of communication, we would have never made it through the six years apart. Early on, it’s tough to be honest because as individuals, you’ve probably kept the majority of your personal views/opinions to yourself. That doesn’t jive in a long distance relationship. 

Unless you’re telepathic, your partner isn’t going to understand what you think, want, or need. So do yourself a favor and be honest with each other about when you’re happy, upset, surprised...pretty much every emotional component of the spectrum should be verbally communicated as soon as it surfaces. And be honest if you need some  space from each other as well.. We’ve had plenty of arguments go from bad to worse in less than 5 seconds because one or both parties wanted to be as hurtful as possible in the heat of the moment. 

4. Be prepared to make hard sacrifices

Although we knew that sacrifices were an inherent part of any relationship, we weren’t 100% prepared for how much it would cost (in time and money) or the toll it would take on our social lives.

Time and money

LDRs are expensive time and money sinks. For our first year, we had to navigate the distance between North America and Asia, and then Canada to the US for our last five. As two broke students, we tried to see each other every couple of months. Those round-trip tickets alone would cost at least $300 - $400 each, not to mention trying to cram every minute of quality time together into the span of a week. 

Social life

Our LDR meant a lot of Skype/video time together in the evenings, almost daily when we could manage it, or emails/phone calls on days that we couldn’t “see” each other face-to-face. It meant we had to really prioritize or plan around our social life that made us both happy and that was tough at times. It forced us to strike a balance together and apart. 

5. Be honest with yourself

Finally, it’s important to try to distinguish between what you want and the lies that you choose to tell yourself. 

Are you only in this relationship because you’re afraid of hurting the other person? Or that it might jeopardize your mutual friendships? Or that you’ve invested too much time and energy into it to back out now? Are you only in this relationship because you’re scared of the unknown?  

It’s not OK to live your life on someone else’s terms and there are no legitimate reasons for you to stay in an unhappy situation. In our experience, living for appearances or making decisions based on the expectations of others is responsible for a lot of unnecessary suffering.  That’s why it’s important to be able to look yourself in the mirror and really hone in on what you want. 

A 20-Something's Guide to Starting Over
We shall not cease from exploration, and at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
— TS Eliot
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Ivan here.

Los Angeles is our sixth city in ten years. This means that on average, we move to a new city every twenty months. With any luck, we plan on being on the move indefinitely. It’s how we like to live.   

To us, moving is living. I joke with Jennie that the day we decide to settle down and buy a house may as well be the day we pick out our own coffins (I prefer maple, she likes bamboo.) Or as Woody Allen puts it in his film Annie Hall, “a relationship, I think, is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies.”  The last thing Jennie and I need is to have a dead shark on our hands.

While you can certainly ‘move forward’ without changing zip codes, it’s a special kind of thrill to be able to physically hit a reset button. It’s like flipping over a Monopoly board when the game has dragged on for too long. Therapy.

Over the years, we’ve gotten pretty good at starting over. Here’s a rough guide to this simple art:

1. Recognize when it’s time

There are no hard and fast rules, but it’s usually time to make changes when your days become virtually indistinguishable from each other. Sun comes up, sun goes down. Sunday starts looking like the inbred cousin of Saturday.  

This requires introspection: what is it that you want out of life? What are your goals? Are your routines getting stale? Are you starting to feel stagnant?

We try to keep in mind that time is the only currency you’re always spending that can’t be replenished. When you find that you’ve grown numb to time's passage, getting punched repeatedly in the face is preferable to feeling nothing at all. 

2. Plan Your Exit

If only in your dreams, you’ve already traveled to the city you’d love to wake up in.  Here’s your chance to make that a reality. That said, as hard-core planners, we don’t believe in making follow-your-heart, impulsive type moves. 

Spoiler alert: you know that movie The Beach starring Leonardo Dicaprio as the young dreamer who decides to go searching for the perfect beach, even though the guy who tells him about it ends up committing suicide five seconds later? Yeah, do the exact opposite of that. Get your ducks in a row. Have a game plan and plan on following through with it at least 6-12 months in advance. 

                                                                       Don't be this asshole. 

                                                                       Don't be this asshole. 

3. Make a Moving Budget

Moving is expensive. Between flights, a security deposit, first/last month’s rent and new furniture, you’ll need a minimum of $5000-7000 in start-up costs to move to a new city. A good rule of thumb is to track your expenses for a month and multiply that by six. That’s your emergency fund. Then plan to save another $2-3k on top of that. 

4. Keep Your Relationships

In the digital age, your relationships shouldn’t be crutches that keep you from doing the things you want. Outside of the person you’re going to be living with, you don’t really have to compromise on anything. Distance has given us a new perspective on the relationships that actually make a difference in our lives, and those are the ones we make the extra effort for. 

5. Ditch Your Things

We regard possessions as major inconveniences, which is why in preparing for each move, we sell or donate all our cheaply purchased furniture and purge everything that doesn’t fit into two large suitcases. 

If you’re moving to a city that doesn’t require a car, do yourself a favor and get rid of it. Cars are the worst (more on this in a later post). Having the luxury of ditching yours is often enough to justify your entire move. 

6. Take a Scouting Trip

Scouting your destination beforehand can really give you a leg up. More importantly, it’ll help you avoid the costly rookie mistakes in your first couple of months.  You’ll be surprised how much you can learn in just a weekend if you tackle it with a purpose. Ask questions, meet people, get advice from locals and simply walk around the different neighborhoods. 

7. Savor the Countdown

Life is strange. Nothing makes you fall in love with a city more than when you’re about to leave it. Starting over isn’t about running away, it’s about giving you a new appreciation for the here and now. 

8. Start a New Life

The first few months should be a balance between exploring new things and developing a routine. It’s kind of like jazz -- you improvise over a steady rhythm. Exploration gets you out of your comfort zone and a strong routine eventually gets you to where you want to go.

For us, that's everywhere.