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Safety Nets

My life can seem scattered to the outside observer. My projects are diverse, my interests are manifold, and my lifestyle is literally all over the map.

But there is a unifying thread that winds its way through everything I do: freedom. The freedom to be malleable and adaptable. To change my plans on a dime, to live where I want, to spend my precious time with the people I want to spend it with, and to apply my creative energy in the same way.

I am responsible for allocating my resources and energy, and the consequences of that allocation fall completely on me.

I’ve lived according to the standard life model, and even did pretty well inside of it, for a time. But I can honestly say — based on my own experiences and those of people I know who have made similar lifestyle changes — that shrugging off such templates can be the most constructive thing you can do.

Some might look at a lifestyle so absent of the traditional trappings of adulthood and consider it to be born of childish whimsy, but I would argue it’s the polar opposite.

When you’re a child, you make decisions that are uninhibited by the ‘way things are supposed to be done’ out of ignorance. You’re a kid, so you can’t possibly know where you fit in the world, so as a result you go out and you make mistakes and society is no worse off for it; there are inbuilt considerations for that kind of thing.

The flip-side of such accidental rebellion is a conscious, mature effort to figure out who you are, what you want, and how to live the best life possible based on this knowledge.

This is similar to childhood in that you free yourself from conventional expectations of ‘how a proper person lives their life,’ but very different in that you bear all responsibility for your actions. To pursue this kind of lifestyle, you have to be comfortable extracting yourself not just from the restraints of typical society, but also from many of the safety nets therein, and this is a big part of why many people are not comfortable taking the leap required to free themselves from imperfect situations: who will catch them if they fall?

There’s much concern in the working world over what happens when robots start replacing humans in earnest, across all industries. When machines make better secretaries and mechanics and convenience store workers and street sweepers, what will all those now-jobless people do for a living?

In my mind, the answer to this question is an exciting one: they’ll do whatever they want.

I’m not naïve enough to think there won’t be a tough transitional period. There will likely be years during which everything else works the same as it always has, and many people will find themselves out of work and adrift in an unfriendly system; tangled in the metaphorical safety net that’s always been there to catch them if they fall.

But I do think the arrival of such a change will be an amazing opportunity. From that point on, the jump required to extract yourself from some of society’s well-meaning shackles will be much simpler, because everyone else will be leaping right beside you.

Can it be scary not having a ‘nanny state’ to take care of your every potential need or stumble? Yes, it can be.

But is it rewarding to pick yourself up when you fall, and determine your own pace and destination as you move through life? Yes, absolutely.

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Higher Concerns

There’s a famous pyramid most of us would recognize, thrown around often as it is to explain why we are the way we are, and why we do the things we do.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is considered by some to be an excellent visualization of the stair-step path up which our quest to fulfillment takes us; a race to the top of a pyramid, upon which we’ll find enlightenment and immense satisfaction.

Of course, Maslow wasn’t really a pinnacle of scientific rigor. His Hierarchy is a concept that makes sense upon initial inspection, but quickly falls apart as soon as you consider cultural bias, biology, and numerous other inconvenient perspectives. It also seems to claim that a person can reach an end point; a finish line, after which they are a fully realized individual.

“I’m fed, clothed, had some sex, am safe, feel loved, have the respect of my peers and myself, am moral, creative, and have gotten rid of my prejudices and dependence on unsupported pseudo-facts. Done! Time to die.”

—No one ever

The lack of philosophical mass doesn’t mean there’s no value to be had in Maslow’s metaphor, however. I prefer to look at his chart not as a pyramid, but as a perspective drawing. Something that starts where I stand and leads off into the distance toward a goal that’s always on the horizon. A horizon that I can someday reach, but which will bring with it further horizons; a perspective that offers no end, but plenty of finish lines to cross.

No matter how you view the world and your potential future pursuits, however, I find most people do tend to view said pursuits as something they’ll involve themselves with ‘someday.’

This theoretical day never comes, in a lot of cases, or doesn’t come until late in life, at which point a person has more time to ponder such things, but less incentive or means to apply it. It’s wonderful to understand what makes you happy in life at age 90, but you’ll get far more use from the discovery if it’s made at age 30.

The pursuit of self-realization, a deep understanding of the world and where you fit within it, knowledge of what makes you happy (and what doesn’t), and an outline of how you want to spend the time you’ve got as a conscious, sentient being is not a chase you have to put off until the rest of your life is lived. It’s an investment worth making sooner rather than later — something I view as the ultimate self-indulgence — and although it can be mentally demanding, it needn’t replace your other activities and responsibilities.

This isn’t an activity reserved for the wealthy or elderly.

I set aside a little time each day — 20 minutes — to do nothing at all. I sit and think. No listening to music, no chatting with a friend or staring at a poster or reading. Just me and my thoughts and a blank wall. It’s amazing the kinds of things that rise to the surface when you give your thoughts the time they need to percolate.

There are as many ways to approach this process of self-discovery as there are people, but mine is a starting point you’re welcome to use if you’ve been looking for an excuse to get started on your own philosophical deep-dive and don’t have an existing structure that works for you.

What’s more important than how you ask these questions, though, is that you’re thinking about them to begin with. From there, the amount of time, energy, and focus you put into answering them depends on what role you want the answers to play in your life moving forward.

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I Hate Marketing

I hate marketing.

Not all marketing — I think there are effective, non-invasive ways to do it — but so much of what’s done online today just smacks of ‘sell sell sell’ over producing real value and doing something important. It’s all newsletter numbers and pop-ups and metrics that I can’t quite convince myself to care about.

I haven’t always felt this way. Like most people starting their first blog, many years ago I followed marketing guides I found online, all of which purported to help me grow my audience and increase my revenue. I tried most of them, figuring that I just didn’t have the experience to know why it was okay to hurl annoying advertisements at my readers, or the sophistication to understand why blogs should do nothing but drive traffic to paid products.

I’m not entirely certain this is still not the case — that I’m not making a mistake in ignoring all that marketing advice — but I do know that I enjoy blogging a lot more, now that I’ve stopped making such things a focus.

I love being able to write what I want, unconcerned about going viral or constructing the perfect headline. I love not feeling pressured to add one more list or how-to guide to the dogpile of lists and how-to’s the blogosphere has become. I love being okay with telling stories or writing essays that don’t have a point beyond telling a story or sharing a thought; no sales pitch, no upsell, no marketing ploy, no promiseing some kind of ‘free ebook’ if you sign up for whatever-the-hell.

My new approach is naive, in a way, and I know this. I know that I could be selling more work by putting more pressure on my readers to buy my books and share the links with their friends and so on and so forth.

But it’s a naivety I’ve earned, I think: I’ve put in the time so that I don’t have to be that guy. So that I can produce what I want, make it available for those who want it, and leave it at that. I don’t want the relationship I have with my readers to be a sales relationship. I want the sales, if they occur, to be secondary; incidental, even.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as I’ve written more and published more and put together a lot more products and services of which I’m proud. I’ve been trying to come up with a way to rant and rave about how much fun I’m having with these sellables — dabbling in different genres, playing with different shapes and sizes and colors of fiction and nonfiction, and experimenting with different publishing vehicles and media — without falling into the same marketing pit trap I’ve been studiously avoiding for the last several years.

I don’t want to inundate this space with marketing messages. I want to talk shop, and I want to share what I’m passionate about, but I don’t want this to become the type of dreaded, all-too-common, purely transactional exchange I’ve been trying to avoid. I don’t want readers filtering every word I write, wondering what I might be trying to sell them today, rather than what ideas I’m trying to share for the sake of the ideas themselves.

So what I’ve done is set up a separate page for my work; a place where I have all my paid offerings, some free stuff, and upcoming projects in one place, so you can see what I’ve got in terms of books, classes, newsletters, and the like. I’ll link to the site sometimes (making it available to folks who want it), but otherwise will endeavor to keep this place as marketing-free as possible.

I’m not sure this is the ideal way to set things up — separating the paid work from the free work — and it very well may be a mistake in terms of what ‘moves product’ better, promotes upsells, and whatever the hell else I’m supposed to be agonizing over.

But the point isn’t to sell more — it’s to ensure that I still enjoy writing here, completely free, and producing the work featured over there, where I can sell it for the lowest price possible while still making a living.

It’s about continuing to enjoy my work. And holy wow do I enjoy it.