What good can come from a mere toothache?
An important lesson about pain
Skip to content
What good can come from a mere toothache?
One of the biggest life questions that I’ve been battling with lately is how to balance work life – and everything that it comes with – with a minimalist lifestyle.
Can you have it all?
Since I was a kid, I have been extremely ambitious. I daydreamed about having a successful career. I would climb the corporate ladder, and the only glass I would encounter wouldn’t be a metaphorical celiing, but the full length windows to my corner office overlooking the city.
I imagined myself making ridiculous amounts of cash, buying a big house and getting VIP access to the coolest places.
The ambitious person inside of me still wants that.
The minimalist in me sees how fruitless it all is in the end.
The world of work feeds our desires, always making us want more. More money, more stuff, more status.
Since starting my corporate career a few months ago, I’ve found myself falling into this trap. It’s contagious, and I’m only human. Now that I have my own apartment and more stuff than I need, am I really happy?
A big part of me misses the time when I used to travel the world with my trusty suitcase which held all of my life possessions. Every day was an adventure. Now, every day is the same as yesterday.
Over the last few months, I’ve been so damn close to packing it all in and getting back onto the road, forgetting all of the reasons why I got off it in the first place.
There were so many times on the road that I would go back to my old daydreams. I decided that it was time to put my aimless wanderings on hold and finally settle down with a challenging job that would pay for my own apartment. For the longest time, I wanted a place that I could call home.
Is there a way to balance our ambitions, to have a ‘successful’ career, without losing our contentment with what we already have and getting sucked into a materialist lifestyle?
Part of the answer is finding a job that you love, that you’re good at, and that pays well. Unfortunately, this is a bit too idealistic for most people.
I’m sure there are plenty of people who have well paying jobs that they love, and don’t squander their money on useless stuff. The main problem is that when work is such a drag, saving up to buy something nice is all that you have to look forward to. A treat for all your hard work…
…and we’re going in circles, back to square one.
I don’t have the answers to this one. Yet.
This is something I’m going to have to learn the hard way. Any suggestions?
On October 2nd 2013, I downloaded an app on my iPhone called ‘Seven‘. It was a free app that guides you to doing a workout that lasts approximately seven minutes, which includes exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups, squats, and lunges, amongst others, without the use of any equipment, except a wall and a chair.
The exercises make you use most of your core muscles of your entire body within just a few minutes. The aim is to do the workout at least once per day, every day.
If you miss a day, you lose a ‘life’ (represented by a heart in this app) and you only get three of them per calendar month. The point in this is to keep a high level consistency by doing it almost every day throughout the month.
Apps like these were featured in The New York Times and have since become a dime a dozen from their popularity. It started out as a fad, but it became something I took quite seriously after a few weeks.
If you ask me why I started doing this, I wouldn’t really be able to go give you a good answer. I suppose it was because, like most apps, I just wanted to give it a go. But, if you asked me why I kept it up for 365 days, I can give you a much better answer.
It’s only seven minutes a day. Seven minutes. It’s not much if you really think about it. It’s probably the amount of time you take to scroll through Facebook, wait in line at the supermarket, or make a cup of tea.
There are 1,440 minutes in a day. Seven of those make up less than half of one per cent of it.
The argument is that if you can’t even find that much time to do a short workout, and keep your body in shape, then you’ve got your priorities mixed up.
When I first started, I didn’t think I could keep it up for a month, let alone for a year. However, I’ve always believed that my body and health is one of the most important things to me because without it I wouldn’t be able to do anything else.
So, it was that thought that kept me going. What else could be so important that I couldn’t give <0.5% of my day to keeping fit?
I had no excuses.
In the year that I’ve started this workout, I’ve moved several times across the world. I started it in Kochi, Japan, where I lived at my other half’s house, then moved to my own apartment in Tokyo for a few months, then back to Kochi, then back to my parent’s house in Kent in England, then I stayed in my brother’s dorm in Leeds, then moved to my own place in Manchester. In between, I’ve stayed in quite a few different hotels and hostels as well.
I can proudly say, even after all of this moving around, I never missed a single workout.
After about a month, it became a staple part of my day. I simply couldn’t not do it. It was the only part of my day that was consistent during this tumultuous year with all of the moving around I did.
I usually did it in the morning, straight after waking up and splashing my face with water. It woke my body up and prepared me mentally for the day. I would either do it mindfully in silence, or play loud music and get myself pumped up for whatever I had to get done that day.
On the days I didn’t have time to do it in the morning, or when I had flights etc. that messed up my schedule, I would find another time to do it during the day, but I could feel the difference having missed it in the morning. I would be much more sluggish, and achy in some places.
I wish I could include some sort of dramatic ‘before and after’ photos of myself a year ago compared to now, but I don’t have any. I’ve never really had a problem with my weight, and the truth is, I’m sorry to say, this is not a weight loss app. Seven minutes is still only seven minutes, not a magic formula to lose weight. It has never advertised itself as such, so don’t be disappointed if you try it out for that reason.
What it is for is to ensure that for most days, you’ve done at least one thing good for your health. Even if you didn’t find time to go to the gym that day, or you ate an extra piece of chocolate, at least you can go to bed that day knowing that you did one thing good for you.
It’s been a long journey. There were days when I could barely pull myself together to do it, and there were days when I was ready to go by 6am. It hasn’t been easy, but I don’t plan to stop anytime soon.
Why don’t you try giving it a go?
Whether it’s money, possessions, body type, career, status, fame or fortune, most of us find ourselves doing it almost everyday – comparing ourselves to others.
We see someone else with more or better X, or Y than us, and we feel less of a person because compared to them, we don’t stack up.
It’s something that we don’t usually think of as a ‘toxic habit’, but it fits all the definitions. It’s something that you do continuously, usually without thinking, and is bad for you.
Why? Because while we’re busy looking at how much better someone else has done, we’re not seeing our own accomplishments. We forget to be content with what we already have. It’s one of the most poisonous things you can do to yourself.
Living a minimalist lifestyle isn’t just about decluttering your house, or how to roll your clothes up efficiently so that you can backpack around the world, it’s about so much more than that.
It’s a way of living a life where you are happy with what you have. A big part of this minimalist philosophy is to try to not compare yourself to other people’s measure of success, and find a way to live that means you are happy.
I emphasise try because nobody is perfect. Sometimes we just can’t help ourselves, and sometimes comparing ourselves to people who we admire might help us become better people.
Seeing good traits in others and aspiring to be more like them, such as being more honest, or more adventurous, or having a healthier lifestyle is fine. It’s comparing material possessions that is the most toxic, because this is the universal truth:
There will always be someone with more than you.
Even the richest person on Earth lacks something you have. Always reaching out for more stuff that is ultimately meaningless will only lead to constant dissatisfaction. You will never have enough. So stop comparing your life to other people’s, and start living your own.
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make is to confuse emotions with goals.
They make lofty aims like, ‘I want to be happy,’ or ‘I want to be successful,’ without knowing that these aren’t really goals at all.
What we’re talking about here are emotions, or states. These can change all the time. You could be feeling happy one day, and miserable the next, it’s only natural that our moods are constantly changing.
So aiming to achieve an emotional state, and stay like that for the rest of your life, is only going to lead to frustration.
Emotions are only an indication of whether or not you’re going in the right direction towards where you want to be. In other words, they can only show you whether or not you’re doing the right thing, right now.
For example, if you want to ‘be happy’, and you find that you’re happiest spending time with your friends and family, then your happy state is telling you that that’s what you need to be doing. So you should aim to spend more time with the people you love.
If what makes you feel successful is doing something you enjoy and you’re good at, then if you hate your job, you’ve got to aim to find something else.
If freedom, or independence, or travelling, makes you happy, then you need to let go of the commitments and stuff that’s holding you back so that you can do it.
If you’re feeling unhappy or unsuccessful because you’re stressed out about money, all the work you have to do, or the drama that people around you bring into your life, then now you know where to begin to change that. Sorting these out would be your ‘goals’ for now.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with deciding that you want to happy in life. However, until you realise that happiness itself is just an emotion that comes from the result of your actions, you’re not going to get any closer to it.
You have to define what ‘happiness’ means to you by breaking it down to actual actions that you can accomplish right now. Those actions are your goals, for now.
In summary, here are some action steps you can take today:
1. Think specifically about which emotions, or states, you would like to feel about what. For example, “I want to feel ____ about ____. For example, “I want to feel happy about my job.”
2. Find out what makes you feel that way. For example, ”I feel happy about my job when I enjoy the hours I spend working.”
3. Do those things, or avoid the things that make you feel the opposite. For example, “I love working with people, so I should move to a more client facing role” or, “I hate working in an office, I’m going to find a job that’s more hands on.”
4. Keep going. Keep finding new things that make you feel better about that particular area of your life. For example, “Being really good at my job makes me feel successful. I’ll keep working on getting better at it,” and so on.
5. Move onto improving other areas of your life. Once you’ve picked an area to improve, keep it up. Them try the technique in another area, such as improving your relationships, finding a fulfilling hobby, or improving your health. The possibilities are endless.
It sounds so simple, but most people only get to the first step and then wonder why they’re not happy yet. What can you do to redefine your goals?
Have you ever lost a hard drive?
It’s the digital equivalent of your house burning down. Suddenly, you lose your past work, files, documents, and most painfully, your photos. Gone. Forever.
This happened to me one year ago today. Granted, I still had some of the most important things saved elsewhere, but for the most part, I lost the better part of six years or so of documents.
At the time, losing so much data felt like losing a part of my life. Things that I created during that time, the hours that I put in to writing, editing, saving everything so that I could look back on it again one day, gone.
A year later, how do I feel?
In a word, content.
That’s right. I feel fine. The minimalist part of me should have known I would be. I don’t miss anything and my life hasn’t collapsed because of it.
The things that I thought were so important a year ago don’t matter to me as much now. And I imagine a year from now, they’ll matter to me even less.
I’m a strong believer that things happen for a reason (or at least, one should try to find lessons in the things that happen to them) and losing my stuff was no different.
To me, this was a lesson in letting go.
We live in an age now where we can save everything in our lives. We can snap moments that were supposed to last a second, and keep them forever. Although this is good in some ways, it can also be negative in others. We can recall feeling angry, irritated, or sad at someone or something, and this time actually remember why.
My digital house burning was a cleansing, of sorts. It allowed me to start afresh. Knowing that the things we capture are only a snapshot of each moment, I was able to enjoy each moment better.
Instead of worrying about taking photos wherever I travelled, I stopped to talk to people, and appreciate the sights, sounds, and smells of the places I went.
Cleansed from the baggage of my past, I was able to focus better on creating new work. I had grown and improved in so many ways in the last six years, and holding onto old things wasn’t going to help me progress forward.
Yes, it’s difficult to go through a digital house burning. I’m not saying that people should start setting their hard drives on fire (I now keep a second hard drive and also back up into in the cloud) or stop taking photographs. In fact, I am a big advocate of keeping diaries for reflection. But what I am saying is this. Even if certain stuff feels important to us now, ultimately it’s just a thing. If we lose it, we all have the strength inside us to get over it.
One day, the things that feel so precious to us now will be gone. Until then, let us cultivate a mindset that focusses more on things that we do have, rather than on the things that we’ve lost.
Learn to let go, and in the end, you’ll be okay.
Last year, I made a bucket list of some of the things I wanted to do in my life before I die. Usually, when I have an important goal to achieve, I would break down the goal – what do I have to accomplish by when? What do I have to do first in order to do second? Complex goals usually require complex planning.
However, I intentionally left my bucket list vague. Indeed, some of them are just one word long. Why? Because contrary to what it sounds like, the things on my bucket list are not goals.
My bucket list tells the story of an adventure – my adventure. A good story isn’t about the destination, but the journey there. No matter where you go or what you do, it’s what you learn, and how you grow on the way that matters.
Travel is about discovering yourself. The phrase ‘finding yourself’ usually conjures up the image of a mountaintop or some other glamorous destination. However, you won’t find out who you are by wading through the Amazon or meditating in a Zen temple. Everything you need to discover about yourself is already within you.
Knowing this is liberating. It means that you can find meaning in your own backyard. You don’t have to get on a plane – just going for a walk around the block, or taking a train to the next town, can be an adventure in itself. You can learn a lot just by being more mindful of the surroundings you’re in right now, and taking a moment to be grateful for what you already have.
However, if it’s possible for you, visiting other countries can also be worth your while. Going outside of your comfort zone, whether it’s in the same country, or within another culture, can open mind, and widen your perspective on the different ways of thinking by different people. It can challenge your beliefs – which is a good thing – and make you stronger as a person.
Wherever you choose to go, remember that there is a difference between travelling for the sake of travelling and going somewhere to enjoy the journey itself. In other words, are you just trying to get to ‘X’, or do you care about the road there? When people create bucket lists, are they really only thinking about reaching a destination? Or are they thinking about the journey too?
The real question is, which one are you thinking about?
The concept is easier to understand when you look at the other things I have on my list. For example, ‘learn Japanese’ is so vague – how can one possibly know when they’ve ‘learned’ a language? The answer is that you can’t. I’m now living and working in Japan, and I could say that I’m fluent in Japanese, but I still haven’t crossed it off the list. I don’t think I’ll ever reach a place where I can say I’ve ‘completed’ this item, but that was never my intention. It was the process of learning that has given me so much. Because I’ve taken the time to learn a new language, a whole new world had opened up for me. I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t made the effort.
In the same way, I didn’t run a marathon for the medal. After all, it’s just a piece of metal. A medal and a free T-shirt is merely a representation of my hard work. It was all of those hours I spent running that mattered. By training for it, my body became healthier, I learned to eat better, and I built my mental and physical endurance. The actual marathon itself didn’t matter nearly as much as the sweat and tears I had shed in all the runs I did before it. The strength I gained didn’t just happen to me suddenly when I crossed the finish line, I collected it slowly, step by step, along the journey that I had already made.
So yes, you and I may never complete our bucket lists, but that’s okay. This is not an excuse. It’s not supposed to merely be a list of stuff to be ticked off one by one – it can be so much more than that.
Your bucket list should tell your story. How it goes is up to you.
When life gives you lemons, make grape juice, and let the world marvel at how you did it.
What a great twist to an old saying. Sometimes, you don’t get everything that you want, or even everything that you need. If only you had a bit more time, more money, more resources.
Life can be full of challenges, mistakes and failures. It would be great if life worked out the way we wanted it to, but things aren’t always going to go according to plan. Sometimes, you’re going to be dealt a bad hand, and it’s up to you how you want to play it.
That’s the great thing about life. Even though it can be hard, it’s also full of opportunities and any number of wonderful things. As long as you learn from your past, keep your chin up, and face whatever life throws at you head on, you’ll be okay in the end.
Sometimes, life only gives you lemons. You may have wanted oranges, or apples, or anything else but lemons, but you didn’t get what you wanted. Well, now’s your chance. Go on, make some magic happen, and let them marvel.
The last time I wrote about my minimalist bedroom, I was living in Kobe with a host family. My room was simple – just a futon, a chair and a desk. There was also a piano in the room that belonged to my host sisters, which I would use from time to time.
It turned out that it was all I needed. I learned a valuable lesson that year – that the less stuff I had to hold me back, the more I was free to do what I liked, and enjoy my time in Japan.
Since then, I have lived in a couple of different rooms and apartments. Amongst them, in the UK, I lived in a beautiful apartment with a wonderful view of Leeds, then in a small flat in London, and then, after a short time back at home, I moved back to Japan.
In Kochi prefecture, I was lucky enough to live in a countryside house with three tatami rooms. I would love to share photos of all of these places one day, but since people have been asking, here is where I’m living right now.
When it was time to move to Tokyo, I spent a long time trying to find a place to live. It was difficult to find an apartment that I liked the look and feel of, but after many, many hours of searching, I settled on an apartment near the centre of the city, pictured here.
The bedroom isn’t large, but it is comfortable. I liked the clean white walls and the simple flooring. The big window lets in a lot of natural light, and the large shiny desk felt like it was inviting me to sit down and write.
Notice that I don’t have a wardrobe. Initially, it wasn’t out of choice, but now I’ve realised that I don’t even need one. I own very few clothes anyway, so I just hang a few work shirts and my black suit jacket on the rack, and fold the rest of my clothes on the shelf.
I shifted the desk slightly after taking these photos so that I would have space to roll out my yoga mat. I don’t own much else except for a few books, which I put on the shelf, and my trusty laptop, which sits on my desk.
I prefer to keep the top of my desk as clear as possible. My laptop has a permanent position in the middle (unless I’m studying from a textbook), and I usually allow just a few notes, and a cup of coffee, of course.
I find that having too many bits of paper, knick-knacks, and even my phone on the desk distracts me from my work. (I’ve since moved the lamp pictured above to my bedside instead.) Perhaps I’m easily distracted, but this has always been my style.
The kitchen and bathroom is just as you would expect in a big city. Small, yet functional, it has everything I need, and nothing more.
I’ve talked before about how minimalism, far from restricting you, actually can grant you more freedom. Not having suitcases of stuff to drag around with me every time I move means that:
I can move all of my possessions in one trip. I can take all of my necessities without breaking my back while dragging things across train stations and airports.
I can live relatively small spaces. In a city as expensive as Tokyo, that makes a big difference.
I can live more comfortably. It’s easier to maintain a place that isn’t overflowing with stuff. I spend very little time cleaning – just brushing the floor and wiping down surfaces every couple of days. This gives me plenty of time to do the things that I want to do, from reading in bed to exploring the city.
I don’t earn much money, and I don’t have a lot of free time, but not having to worry about all of the above is especially beneficial for a nomad like me. It’s time like these that I’m really grateful that I found the minimalist way.
Do you have any thoughts or photos you’d like to share? I would love to hear from you in the comments! Or, join Minimal Student’s new Facebook page for immediate updates on future posts, minimalist inspiration, throwback Thursdays, quotes, photos and more.
What do the most successful men and women in history all have in common?
Not all of them were smart, or good looking, or had either poor or wealthy backgrounds. They weren’t all gifted from birth, or went to college, or happened to be in the right time and place. They were from all walks of life, and were completely different except for one thing.
They changed the world.
Isn’t that the true meaning of ‘success’? To be remembered for doing something remarkable. It’s not about making money, being famous or inventing something. It’s about changing the world, even if just a little bit. Even if it’s just for a few people. And preferably for the better.
It all begins with a vision of the future, of a better place. And then with a little bit of persistence, fearlessness, and yes, even a dash vulnerability, they made it. Of course, it takes a lot of courage. It’s not an easy road to take, being a world-changer.
Children have an amazing ability to see things through rose-tinted glasses. This isn’t a bad thing. They think they can change the world, and they probably could have, except as they grow up, they slowly become sceptical about their chances. Most people call this ‘coming to terms with reality’ but the truth is, as adults we make lot of excuses for not even trying.
If only we could all leave the world a better place than before we entered it. If only we were all brave enough to keep on our rose-tinted glasses for just a little longer.