Taking a dump is one of the most satisfying activities one can aspire to in middle age.
And yet, this is not a Beavis and Butthead post
I refer to the ability to eliminate, for lack of a better term, the "life clutter" that obstructs productivity and happiness.
Perhaps it derives from the sobering reality that there are likely more years behind you than ahead of you. Perhaps it's a result of latent multi-infarct dementia diminishing the socially inhibitory effect of the frontal lobes.
Regardless of the etiology, it produces a sense of freedom to discard.
Deep Work And Deep Play Make Jack A Productive Boy
I recently finished reading Deep Work by Cal Newport, a professor at Georgetown University who specializes in relentlessly paring down his life to the essential activities that allow him to be productive and efficient in a milieu (academic computer science) where many of his peers feel overwhelmed and stuck.
How does he do it?
He says no.
His book operates on the premise that we all have deep (creative, meaningful, value-adding) work and shallow (logistical, socially obligatory, distracting) work.
It's up to us to strategically tilt our workday as heavily in favor of the former as we can without jeopardizing our employment.
One of his greatest pieces of advice as someone at the intersection of tech and culture? Be relentless in determining which digital pursuits add value and support your goals, and get rid of the rest.
There Was A Time Before TED Talks
I've read variants of this approach before the digital era.
Joan Didion wrote a brilliant essay for Vogue alluding to it in 1961, with a follow up essay years later describing the liberating transgression of flouting social norms by declining to read aspiring authors' new manuscripts if that time detracted from her own writing and priorities.
In 1964, Ayn Rand published the provocatively titled, The Virtue of Selfishness, a collective of essays where she identified rational self-interest as a worthwhile pursuit that conflicted with the popular religious concept of a moral obligation to sacrifice for others.
These concepts outline grander belief systems whose controversial implications g beyond my lowly, somewhat humble aspiration: to reclaim time lost to unrewarding digital pursuits.
First, I had to define the reward I sought from digital pursuits: a meaningful, sustained connection with others.
Next, I took inventory.
The blog is an absolute time suck, but it's also a recreational outlet of my choosing. It's a terrific way to connect with people, many going through some incredibly lousy moments in their medical careers.
To offer a sense of hope to colleagues who might be suffering, to show them it can be better and to open the playbooks of other generous docs who took action all infuse the blog with a grander purpose than my personal amusement. To model redemption through financial literacy and discipline provides a greater purpose.
This is more vanity project than income-generating side hustle. My hourly income is pitiful from blog-related work.
I put myself out there to meet other interesting people who are willing to live differently, whose ideas make my life more rich and challenge my assumptions, and whose wonderfully quirky brains leave me in awe more often than not.
As long as it fills that need, and I can feel I fill a need for others, I'll keep at it.
I get regular annoying spam solicitations (I have a guest post on mortgage rates perfect for your site, [your name here]!).
Fortunately, they haven't become frequent enough to break my spirit.
I also hear from thoughtful folks who reach out to me via email, often to pose challenging questions I enjoy brainstorming answers to, or otherwise represent the long tail of misfits like me that I am grateful to cultivate friendships with.
In addition to keeping in contact with friends from Fin Con 18, remaining accessible via blog-related email remains valuable.
This was a tough one. I had avoided facebook like the plague, largely because I thought it would become addictive and I feared it taking me away from activities and people I cared about.
My evasive maneuvers were no match for the incredibly generous Physician on FIRE, who invited me to be an administrator on his facebook group around the time of its inception.
I was flattered to be offered a position that was the equivalent of Assistant Regional Manager to PoF!
Flattered and excited, I gave facebook the good college try. I tried to come up with potential positives I might learn as a group administrator:
- A chance to put growth mindset into practice by learning a new skill.
- An opportunity to get to know the other administrators, Drs. Bonnie Koo and Carrie Reynolds.
- A front row seat to an impressive online entrepreneur and genuinely nice human being with behind-the-scenes insight into one facet of his business.
- A chance to interact with like-minded docs looking to make financial independence a priority.
The reality, alas, was less ideal. Each time I logged in, I felt inundated by a sense of artificial social obligations.
Sure, I could communicate with a few friends more easily, but those friends I would have reached out to regardless. The medium makes it easy to reach out with a low calorie interaction, but the expectation of reciprocity means disproportionate time is required to respond.
Logging on felt like being thrust into Times Square due to information and sensory overload on par with the least appealing aspects of a Vegas casino .
There was vetting the endless stream of folks interested in joining the closed docs-only group, where some bad actors with conflicts of interest misrepresented their identities for secondary gain or shamelessly promoted business interests via the group.
I tried for a year, but I never took to it. I recently explained the situation to PoF.
He graciously accepted my resignation, after which I immediately deactivated my account. It still feels great.
I am told my disinterest will eventually cost me potential income (I have enough) and publicity for the blog (fair point).
I can live with those sacrifices.
A bit trickier than facebook, this medium can be fun to use to connect with those Fin Con docs who company and witty repartee I have come to enjoy. The down side? Checking the app begets more checking of the app.
I don't like feeling addicted or getting a craving that distracts me from being present.
Twitter makes me into that guy who checks his phone all the time.
I'm not crazy about that guy, so I've banished him from my kingdom. I removed the app from my phone several months ago, and my life improved.
I'm going to limit this one to weekly checks on the laptop, with responses to messages from friends as an exception I'm willing to make.
Another tricky one. When I first began tracking physician finance blogs, my list of 80 made for some real insomniac reading binges as I tried following each and every one.
Feedly, which funnels all the blogs I follow into a single place to read new posts (hat tip to Physician on FIRE for recommending it), seemed to offer a solution.
Now that my sleep schedule has normalized, I can't find enough time in the day and Feedly routinely informs me that I have 90+ posts I've not yet read.
Jim Dahle of WCI fame has rightly pointed out that bloggers can easily be grouped into either entrepreneurs looking to generate income or people who comment on their friends' blogs in exchange for receiving comments on their own blogs.
Jim is absolutely correct in this assessment, and reciprocity in comments among invisible friends who are also bloggers is a currency I value.
I've selectively reduced the number of blogs I follow, so that I read what I enjoy instead of what I feel obligated to read. I also batch my reading time so that I catch up on 5-10 posts at a time.
What Will It Look Like To Everyone Else?
The element of curating my life for the consumption of others is an exhausting and dreadful prospect. My life is lumpy, full of warts and imperfections and embarrassing thoughts I regret having voiced aloud. Certain mistakes I prefer remain private.
I get tired enough just living my life, and those I love have dibs on what energy I have left.
I will not chew my complex life and break it down into tiny digestible morsels for others like a mother bird feeds her fledglings.
Fortunately the supply of pre-chewed worm mush of lived experience continues to exceed demand.
Am I Just Being Rude?
Nobody wants to openly be a prick to the nice guy in your 7th grade math class who saw your profile and reached out.
No doubt he is genuine in his happiness seeing you after all these years. I'll catch him at the next reunion.
He didn't make the cut back then, and I am not suddenly lowering the bar to be my friend.
You need to be willing to make a significant effort to be my friend. That's by design.
Won't My People Miss Me?
Social media lowers the bar and creates a false sense of an audience interested in my every thought. Truth is, most people are just not that into me, and I don't need to pretend otherwise.
The result of this judicious culling is I'm staying ahead on blog posts, reading more intellectually dense books, exercising and hosting visiting friends without feeling trapped by the social obligations that underlie the architecture of many social media platforms.