A common misperception about minimalism and simplicity is that if you have nothing, you’re living in accordance with these concepts. “I’ve never had much money,” some might say, “so I guess I’ve been a minimalist my whole life.”

It’s possible this is true, but minimalism is more about living intentionally than owning few things. I own very little because my passion is travel, and I don’t need much to pursue the lifestyle I enjoy. Carrying more actually hinders me, so owning little — while still possessing the things that allow me to do the work I love — is key.

For others, though, owning so little will be a true negative, not a positive. If having a full library of hardcover books is what sets you aflame with happiness and fulfillment, it doesn’t make much sense to live out of a backpack.

This focus on stuff, then, is a distraction from the point. And that statement is true in two senses:

First, our possessions distract us from calibrating ourselves toward what really makes us happy. That is, we focus on the accumulation of possessions rather than exerting the effort required to figure out what truly makes us happy, and spending our time, energy, and resources (including money) on those elements; be they possessions, relationships, experiences, or whatever else.

Second, this stuff-focus is often a distraction when we talk about minimalism, because it makes us think that by simply eliminating what we have in storage and owning half as many pairs of shoes we’ll be fulfilled.

This is possible — consuming less frees up time and energy to spend on actualization of other flavors — but it’s not an end unto itself. You could have all of your stuff stolen and experience nothing but loss. You could grow up impoverished and spend all your time thinking about accumulation, rather than self-realization.

It’s our focus and efforts in a holistic sense, then, that require recalibration. It’s not enough to simply decide to declutter your home; you have to make use of those newly liberated resources to declutter your mind, as well. It’s about making better use of what you have so that your resources are spent on the right things, not just owning little and then waiting for — hoping for — enlightenment.

The real power of minimalism is that it allows us to pull away from our latent stuff-focus so that we might align ourselves with self-actualization and happiness, instead.

If the path to simplicity is only leading to another type of stuff-focus — one that runs opposite but parallel to our previous fixation — we haven’t yet liberated ourselves from the cycle. All we’ve done is hop to another track on the same set of rails, which leaves the rest of our vast, spectacular internal and external world unexplored and under-utilized.

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Cabins are beautiful. They’re ubiquitous examples of simple architecture: a place for everything, everything in its place, and nothing that doesn’t need to be there. Some walls, a fireplace to keep warm, a bed to sleep in, and some kind of heated surface upon which to cook a basic meal from un-messed-with ingredients.

But as much as cabins have become a visible representation of the ‘simple life,’ not all of us want to live in cabins. Even those of us who crave that kind of simplicity, upon reflection, would probably prefer some other living situation, outside of periodic, sabbatical-esque jaunts.

It’s not the cabin that we crave, it’s the simplicity that such a space represents. We want fewer distractions and, in many ways, fewer options. When you’re living in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, you cook what’s available and entertain yourself with introversion or basic social interactions with whomever else is there with you. You aren’t overwhelmed with ‘fear of missing out’ feelings or a complex social schedule. You aren’t burdened with decisions about which restaurant to eat at or which Netflix show to binge-watch.

The cabin, then, is merely a convenient visualization for something more expansive; a concept that’s less Pinterest-able and Instagram-able when made less specific. Something that’s harder to explain when it’s not attached to a piece of nostalgia and all the romance that entails.

Cabins aren’t the only visuals associated with the concept of simplicity. Brands that make clothes, prepare food, sell real estate, and lease cars use visuals that tap into this desire to be free of some of the modern world’s more pernicious complexities.

What they won’t tell you, of course, is that you needn’t buy a thing to achieve this goal. You needn’t wear a specific label, eat a certain type of food, or live in a certain kind of home.

All you have to do is take some time with yourself to figure out what sets you ablaze with happiness and fulfillment.

Identify the aspects of your life that make getting up in the morning worthwhile, and what you look forward to all week. Then focus on these things. Habitually eschew those activities, relationships, and acquisitions that unnecessarily complicate your life, weigh you down, or siphon away your happiness.

Cabins are beautiful, but even more magnificent is a self-aware person who is able to imbue any space, or lifestyle, with that same intentionality and significance.

This essay originally appeared in my newsletter.

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The Right Laboratory

I love experiments. Being able to try new things, see how well they jive with my ambitions, and then adjusting my lifestyle accordingly. Experiments are a key component to my happiness, present and future.

I started Asymmetrical Press with Josh and Ryan from The Minimalists because the three of us wanted to build a laboratory. We wanted to have an optimized means of creating new work, using new technologies, trying out new business models, and distributing in new ways. We wanted to bring new people to the forefront: people who are talented as hell, but hadn’t gotten the recognition we thought their work warranted via existing structures. We wanted to figure out how we might blend the best ideas from various industries into something new, and determine what might be possible using a lighter-weight, more minimal and focused business strategy.

That was three years ago, and we’ve learned a lot since then. We’ve learned enough, in fact, that we’ve begun taking larger risks and working on bigger ideas in an effort to see what else might be possible. To see which ceilings are actually skies, waiting for us to push past them.

Tomorrow, we kick off a new experiment: an tour called the WordTasting Tour. This has been a long time in the making, and we’ve been working on aspects of it since we started the company three years ago. Only recently have all the pieces fallen into place, though, and only recently did we decide it was time to take such a risk.

This tour differs from typical authors tours in several respects. Instead of presenting one book, one author, we have five. Instead of featuring a reading, maybe a Q&A, we have performances, presentations, some readings and a lot of music; we’re traveling with the amazing Skye Steele, and he’ll be adding his sound to the mix throughout each event.

We wanted to attendees to experience something, to feel something, to sample new genres and taste new ideas. And we wanted to ensure that as many people as possible could attend, which meant making every single event free.

As we’re going through our final preparations and readying ourselves for the first tour stop, which takes place tomorrow, May 1, right here in Missoula, Montana, I feel pretty certain that we’ve accomplished a lot of our goals. I can’t wait to share this thing we’ve made with you.

This first WordTasting Tour is taking place across 32 cities in the Western US and Canada, and if all goes well, we’ll be replicating the model in other places in the future.

If you’d like to attend, please RSVP (it’s free!) here. If you have couches, beds, spare bedrooms or very comfortable floors we might sleep on while on tour, please let us know, and thanks in advance.

See you out there on the road!

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Today is my 30th birthday. It’s a day that pop culture tells me I should fear and worry over. A day I haven’t really thought about these last six years, focused as I’ve been on wringing every last drop from my 20s. It’s a day that, though no different from any other day, marks a psychological occasion for many people.

I’m happy to find myself more excited than trepidatious: I can’t wait to see what happens next, and what I might be able to accomplish and experience these next ten years. What amazing people I might meet, world events I might watch unfold, discoveries and inventions I might benefit from.

I wrote a book entitled Act Accordingly a few years ago, and followed it up with a book called Considerations. Both books address a similar topic: how we spend our time. We’re all dealt different cards when we’re born, and we all encounter different variables along the way. We have different ideals, different hopes and dreams, different tastes and preferences, and greater or smaller quantities of time to spend than the person standing next to us.

But we all struggle to spend our time well. To use it to the utmost, getting the most possible bang for our time-related buck. This manifests in similar ways for most people, if you look around. We look to others to see if they have the answers. We follow pre-carved trails and follow signs. We learn all we can about this and that, hoping that the knowledge gleaned will allow us to divine where we need to be, what we should be doing. We do our best to find good people, people who add to our lives, rather than subtracting from them. We change and grow. We stumble and regret. We fail and succeed, sometimes simultaneously; the same outcome both a failure and a success depending on how we look at it and what we learn as a result.

For the past six years, I’ve been able to fully invest in my curiosity. To wonder and think, to question and marvel, to mull and ponder and meander until, sometimes, I arrive at a new realization. I’ve steadily become a better writer, but that growth is nothing compared to how much better I’ve gotten at sitting quietly and thinking difficult thoughts. I often forget that I’m technically a professional author, not a professional confused person, struggling to figure out where all the pieces go, coming up for air on occasion to jot down what I’ve sussed out, and how those things might apply to myself and others.

Six years ago I left the path I’d long been following. I rescaled and then discontinued the business I’d worked hard to build and operate. I stepped back, figured out what I actually wanted to be doing with my life, and refocused on travel and the pursuit of new information and experiences. I got rid of everything that didn’t fit into carry-on luggage and started up a blog, asking strangers from the internet to vote on where I would move every four months or so.

Three years ago, I founded a publishing company with a couple of like-minded fellows who over the years have become incredible friends and collaborators. Through that company we’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible creatives and do some amazing things.

Today, I woke up and smiled. I shook my head at how strange and amazing life can be. I feel incredibly fortunate to become a little more me every single day.

Not a bad way to spend my time.

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There’s a meme going around in which an attractive person is shown wearing fashionable clothing in public. Typically they’re wearing something a little over the top, or at the very least rugged in a high-end way. The caption of the post or the text displayed over the image reads “Live your life.”

If you trace such messages back to their source, it’s remarkable how they promulgate. This one started out as a reference to a hip-hop song by T.I. and Rihanna, which, if you watch the video, evokes a sense of not giving a damn about what other people think, regardless of how you spend your time, how you earn your money, etc. This devil may care attitude then carried over to a few different clothing brands, including American Eagle, and was played primarily when young, good-looking people were shown dressed to the nines while doing things that would likely ruin the clothing they were wearing. After a few years, this concept arrived in the blogging scene, and fashion bloggers started displaying a well-dressed guy or gal, typically strutting or otherwise owning their look, decked out in the finest something-or-another, the phrase appropriated for the image they evoked.

We use such images to help define ourselves to the world. It’s no mistake that outdoorsy looks are in just as fashion companies release a new fashion line, appropriating the lumberjack-ish look that’s hit a resurgence in artsy areas. This, then, provides a shorthand for people to use in how they dress. By wearing these clothes, I am showing my fondness for not just this shirt, but the lifestyle associated with it. I make things. I’m a little old fashioned, maybe I have a turn-table. I’m hearkening back to simpler times, though still making use of modern technology. This shirt tells you how I’m living my life.

Just as we appropriate the shorthand imagery that clothing labels provide us with, however, we, too, are appropriated by them. We’re walking billboards for their brands, and as we’re out ‘living our lives,’ showing what tribe we’re a part of by dressing the part, others look at us, our actions, our social groups, our Instagrams and tweets, and think, “Okay, this person is someone I’d like to emulate. How do I look more like them? How do I fit in with that crowd?” And the cycle continues.

Appropriation is natural; it’s an extension of how we, as babies, look at adults to see how to act, and as teens look to older kids to see how to act, and as adults look to the youth to see how to act. It’s an endless cycle that has new players — all these brands — but it needn’t be a negative cycle. If we’re aware of this tendency, and can self-reflect about why we’re appropriating and what these inherited brand ideologies represent, we can benefit from those pre-packaged collections of meaning, while also more clearly expressing who we are to the people around us.

We can, in short, more clearly speak by using words and phrases others have carefully strung together for us.

It has to be an intentional thing, though, otherwise we find ourselves appropriated and, resultantly, representing ideas and people we probably don’t want to be associated with. Remember in the late-90’s and early-2000’s when the GAP brands were exposed as using child labor in Southeast Asia? These were brands that represented a very specific, preppy-inspired lifestyle to those who wore their clothing. Wear a GAP-brand-shirt, and you were sporty and clean-cut. Collegiate.

Post-scandal, however, wearing their clothing made a person look socially tone-deaf. Unaware of what was happening in the world. Someone who wore tidy polo shirts and skirts at the expense of tormented children in a developing country. I think most people wearing their clothing at the time wouldn’t have expressed their views as such, and likely would have been horrified to find out that this was the perception others had of them. Regardless, the company took a major hit, their branding efforts were reduced to ashes for a time, and they struggled to rebuild and regain their audience’s trust.

As we appropriate, we are appropriated. Branding goes both ways, and every purchasing decision you make, if the product is something you wear or use in public, says something to others about you, whether overtly or covertly, and whether we’re aware of it or not.

This knowledge can be used to our advantage, when we align with companies we believe in, and brands that represent our points of view. But it can also cause us to be all talk, no walk. It can apply to us labels we don’t actually align with, or haven’t earned, lessening the incentive to ever earn them. To actually live our lives.

Know who it is you’re forming these relationships with and support the companies that align with your values. This is how we shape the corporate environment that depends on us as carriers for their messages and slogans. This is how we become willing and capable participants in the appropriation cycle, rather than simply hosts, ignorant of the billboards we wear, and the messages they spread.

This essay was originally published in my free newsletter.

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Kindness and Reason

This essay originally appeared in my free newsletter.

When we ask someone to be reasonable, what we’re really asking is for them to see things our way. To put on our shoes and walk around a little. Certainly once they’ve seen our point of view they’ll rethink their position on the matter in question.

But reason is not the study of truth, it’s the application of logic, establishment and verification of facts, and justification of our actions and beliefs based on data (experiences, science, convincing arguments we encounter, etc). Reason compels us to use the best information we can find so that we might solidify our truths, or to show that our truths are incorrect, which in turn should lead us to new sets of beliefs.

This means that reason is a personal exploration; a venture out into the world to learn new things, have new experiences, meet new people, and reassess what we ‘know’ to be true at every step of the way. Evolving and upgrading our own perspective, so that if a person were to take a walk in our shoes at two different points, they would see from different perspectives each time. Reason is intentional, fact-based growth.

For many, though, reason is an excuse to pulverize opposition. It’s a means of establishing how one worldview is better than another, and manifests as a sort of rational shaming; I can better defend my beliefs, see how foolish yours look next to mine?

This is something you see among certain wings of the intelligentsia, in particular. While they speak out against walling oneself off from knowledge, and speak against things like faith-based beliefs, traditionalist thinking, and the like, they’ll sometimes act as if being able to explain the way they lead their lives makes their way of living more noble and pure.

I would argue that this misses the point of reason, and is even counter to it.

While it’s possible to come up with a ‘best fit’ system of living, that system will not necessarily be the same best fit for everyone. To claim moral or philosophical superiority, then, is to be incredibly limited in one’s scope of the world. It assumes that we all have the same goals, have had the same experiences, and hold the same data in the same regard.

Similarly, rational thinking is often applied as an excuse to treat someone else as the lesser in some way: they believe silly things, and my beliefs are clearly better supported, therefore I needn’t consider their humanity. Screw them and their rain gods.

The value of reason is that it’s an ever-shifting, fluid thing. The more you expose yourself to different ideas, the more variables you have to throw into the equation. By shutting oneself off from any possibility and any group of people and set of beliefs, we’re not being rational. We’re being prejudiced. And we’re using the language of rationality and reason to justify that prejudice.

Reason is a means of seeing the world more clearly, and enriching our experience for the duration of our lives. Kindness is a means of seeing the world in a humanistic way, in which we needn’t step over others to get what we want, and we needn’t belittle the calculations other people have made to determine what they believe, just because those calculations are using different variables than our own, or different math completely.

To me, what’s most conducive to a happy, fulfilling, growth-oriented life is to apply reason wherever possible, figuring out why we do things, adjusting to taste on the fly, and always moving toward some more perfect version of ourselves, while allowing others to do the same.

To be internally satisfied with your own beliefs and not feel the need to force them on anyone else shows immense confidence in how you live and how you arrived at your answers. To do otherwise implies the opposite: it says we need the rest of the world to fall into lockstep, lest we feel our fragile worldview is being challenged, which is scrutiny it can’t survive.

To try and force our view of the world on someone else — however we reached that view, whether through ancient writings or the application of reason — is counter to healthy relationships and a healthy society.

If we were successful in converting everyone to our point of view, we’d end up with a world full of cookie-cutter people, each blip seeing the world in the same way, leaving our species with far fewer perspectives and solutions to draw upon when solving the problems that impact us all. A fragile, homogenous blob. Far better, I think, to allow people to be at different steps of their own philosophical journey; even with the conflict such variances can sometimes instigate (though, again, these conflicts wouldn’t happen if we’d all stop trying to force our point of view on others).

Kindness and reason are not mutually exclusive. I, for one, think it makes perfect, rational sense to do things that make me and other people happy, and I don’t feel that diminishes the seriousness with which I approach my philosophical development. I’m not going to tell you how to think on the matter, but it’s a point of data worth considering and adding to your equation.

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Air is common. So common that we don’t think about it most of the time. Maybe if we’re scaling a mountain and the chemical composition of what we’re breathing starts to change, or have just finished a marathon and are struggling to catch a normal breath.

But beyond nonstandard circumstances, air is valueless. It’s the most valuable thing in the world in that it allows us to exist, but it’s also valueless.

Air on Earth is made up of mostly nitrogen, about a fourth as much oxygen, and trace amounts of argon, carbon dioxide, and a few other gases. This is pretty much the same anywhere you go; it’s a predictable composition that allows us to ignore how dependent we are upon it.

Imagine that you’re drowning.

Suddenly, air is the most valuable thing in the world. More valuable than water, which also sustains life, which you currently have too much of. More valuable than money, which won’t provide the chemicals reactions your body needs to live beyond the next few minutes. More valuable even than love, or the fulfillment derived from creating work you care about, or the earnest respect of your peers, or dreams and the freedom to pursue them.

A sudden shift in circumstances has promoted something that’s less valuable than perhaps anything else on the planet to the rank of ‘most valuable thing in the universe.’ To you and me, air is nothing. To a drowning man, it’s everything.

I say this not to be morbid, but to point out how context matters in the assessment of value.

What I produce may be inherently valuable to some, but not to others. My writing may roll off the back of those who don’t need it, or want it, or find value in it, while for others, it may prove to be a lifeline. Exactly what they needed at that moment. This is true of many things, not just writing. Not just air.

The question, then, is for whom might your work be of incredible worth? For whom does the slant of value relativity work in your favor, and theirs? Where does context conspire to make what you have to offer more valuable than it might be elsewhere, and how might you adjust how you work to provide more of it to the people who really, truly find value in it?

All too often, we try to sell air to people who have plenty, and then decide that we’re either producing something valueless, or that the world doesn’t understand how vital our offerings might be.

Looking at things from a different angle, though, and determining where our efforts might be better applied, and for whom, can allow us to continue creating, while also, potentially, helping those who’re struggling to catch their breath.

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WordTasting Tour, 2015

I’m a huge fan of road trips.

I love exploring a country overland. There’s so much worth seeing in the space between places, and a road trip is the longer-term embodiment of that type of exploration. It’s a project that allows you to take more wrong turns, enjoy more random opportunities, and encounter more people you wouldn’t have ever met, otherwise.

As such, I’m thrilled to formally announce the first ever Asymmetrical Press WordTasting Tour, which will take place in May and June of this year. On this tour, I’ll be traveling the Western United States and Canada with my good friends and business partners The Minimalists, authors Shawn Mihalik and Josh Wagner, and musician Skye Steele.

Our intention is build a ‘book tour’ experience that’s atypical from what one might expect. We wanted to have multiple authors presenting their work, talks that go beyond those readings, and an interweaving of other creative live performances, like music.

All of us are dedicating two months of our lives to this (in addition to all the prep time), in the hope that we can present something really interesting and fulfilling. All tour stops will be free of charge.

RSVP for the event in your city to ensure you get a seat. I hope to see you there!

Dates and Cities

May 1 — Missoula, MT (free tickets)

May 2 — Hamilton, MT (free tickets)

May 4 — Whitefish/Kalispell, MT (free tickets)

May 5 — Helena, MT (free tickets)

May 7 — Billings, MT (free tickets)

May 9 — Great Falls, MT (free tickets)

May 10 — Calgary, AB, Canada (free tickets)

May 11 — Edmonton, AB, Canada (free tickets)

May 14 — Vancouver, BC, Canada (free tickets)

May 15 — Victoria, BC, Canada (free tickets)

May 18 — Seattle, WA (free tickets)

May 20 — Olympia, WA (free tickets)

May 24 — Portland, OR (free tickets)

May 26 — Ashland, OR (free tickets)

May 29 — Reno, NV (free tickets)

May 30 — Sacramento, CA (free tickets)

June 1 — Berkeley, CA (free tickets)

June 2 — San Francisco, CA (free tickets)

June 3 — Santa Cruz, CA (free tickets)

June 5 — Los Angeles, CA (free tickets)

June 7 — San Diego, CA (free tickets)

June 9 — Phoenix, AZ (free tickets)

June 10 — Tucson, AZ (free tickets)

June 12 — Albuquerque, NM (free tickets)

June 13 — Santa Fe, NM (free tickets)

June 15 — Denver, CO (free tickets)

June 17 — Fort Collins, CO (free tickets)

June 19 — Casper, WY (free tickets)

June 20 — Provo, UT (free tickets)

June 22 — Salt Lake City, UT (free tickets)

June 23 — Boise, ID (free tickets)

June 25 — Spokane, WA (free tickets)

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For me, novelty is fuel.

I stoke my inner-fire by introducing my senses to new things. I do this all day long. “Check out these new flavors,” I tell my taste buds. “Or how about this new texture, that’s pretty nice,” I say to my fingertips, running them over a particularly appealing fabric while murmuring to my eyes, “That’s pretty interesting, right? Those colors? The pattern?”

Most days, particularly when I want to make something — to do creative work — I’ll change my work location every twenty minutes or so. It’s not really a conscious, regimented thing; it’s more that I’ve learned to recognize when my brain is getting bored, when my environment is fading into the background, and I relocate to reenergize my awareness. I may be writing or designing something, but there’s still part of my mind that comes alive when I move from the chair to the couch, from the couch to the rug in front of the fireplace, from the rug to the bed, from the bed to the coffee shop down the street.

This craving for novelty is reflected in my lifestyle choices. I travel frequently because I’ve realized that by doing so I maintain a level of peak awareness and mental stimulation much of the time. Learning this about myself has resulted in the happiest years of my life, the ability to churn out a large portfolio of work I’m proud of, and a heightened enjoyment of my environment, wherever I happen to find myself.

Of course, not everyone find their joy in novelty the way I do. For others, a meticulously curated home might be the optimal fuel. For still others, perhaps a collection of well-crafted lifestyle restrictions are what the doctor ordered, stimulating creativity by first limiting it.

There’s no right or wrong, better or worse fuel. But it does pay to know what your fuel is, so that you might bring more of it into your life. It’s okay to not push yourself to achieve crazy heights all the time, but even the most mundane of days can be far more pleasant when you have a surge of energy and appreciation with which to enjoy it.

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Rework or Retreat

Many of the emails I receive each day relate to the topic of imperfection.

More specifically, I hear from people who are trying to determine how they might extract themselves from a lifestyle that seemed to creep up on them; a lifestyle rife with responsibilities and issues that weren’t part of the plan. Whether because of work, or a non-functioning relationship, or monetary issues, or a combination of these and other variables, they’ve found themselves stuck in a rut. Fine, but not great. Making it work, but not deliriously happy. Living, but not living.

It may be that they were led down the path they now walk, told their entire lives it would lead them elsewhere. It may be that they didn’t know what they actually wanted — what really made them happy — until recently, and their former hopes and dreams don’t measure up to the newer versions. It may be that they simply never thought about such things until just recently, and like we so often do in times of disorientation and bewilderment, they opened up a browser window and started Googling as quickly as they could type. Which is how their story ended up in my inbox.

Whatever the path to communication, and whatever the specifics of the story, the solution very often falls into one of two categories. If you write me about this type of thing, I’ll very likely tell you about these two options:

Your first option is to improve upon your current lot, iterating and upgrading the best you’re able, reworking a lifestyle that doesn’t currently fulfill you into something that does; or at least something that brings you closer to fulfillment.

Your second option is to step away from your lifestyle and start something new. This could mean quitting your job to pursue your painting passion full-time. This could mean breaking up a marriage that’s been okay, but not great, and going out into the world as an individual once more. This could mean leaving your home to explore the world, despite the protests of a family that means well, but wants you to stay put. This could mean many things in particular, but in the broad strokes, it’s a retreat. Not in the ‘running from something’ sense, but in the ‘stepping back from something’ meaning of the word. It’s replacing what you have now with something different.

The first option is in some ways easier to implement. It will likely cause less drama and attract less pushback, and doesn’t bring with it the ‘stepping off a cliff’ feeling that the second option tends to instill in people.

But the ‘retreat’ option is a clean break. It allows you to build from scratch, rather than trying to reshape something that may not want to be reshaped; allows you to be a new version of yourself right away, rather than forcing you to build a bunch of newness into your existing structure.

Neither option is more right or more wrong, and either could work for any person. You could even combine the two: plan a retreat, but allow yourself to iterate your current situation until you’re at the point where you can take the leap. If you opt for a hybrid approach, I recommend setting a firm deadline for the complete switchover, otherwise it’s easy to put it off again and again.

Whatever you choose, though, I suggest that you choose something. You’ve got a finite amount of time to live and enjoy and feel good feelings. The sooner you make a change — the sooner you rework or retreat — the more time you’ll have to enjoy your happier, more fulfilling life.

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