Category Archives: Productivity

A Minimalist Guide to Money and Investing — Part I

by Jessica Dang
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One of the most frequently asked questions I receive from readers is how I earn and manage money, and how I was able to create a passive income so that I could quit my job.

In the past, I’ve been reluctant to share too many specifics, as it is a huge subject and I’m not a financial adviser. Furthermore, everybody’s situation is different, depending on their job, earnings, age, risk appetite, city/country and economic environment. With so many variables, there’s no way I could speak for everyone, so the best I can do is talk about my investment journey.

In these posts, I’m not going to tell you how exactly to invest (entire books have been written on this subject) or recommend one particular course of action over another. I’m not telling you what you should, or shouldn’t do. Rather, I want to share my own views on money and work, how my views on wealth have changed over the years, and how I approach investing, earning and spending now.

When I talk about ‘wealth’ in these posts, although I am discussing material and monetary wealth (something that is not often discussed by minimalists as a good thing!) I am well aware that money is not the measure of one’s worth. Please see my Minimalist Meditations on money and wealth for my views on this.

I’m going to share how I went from a full time corporate employee working 50+ hour weeks to earning the same amount of money but only working between 1-6 hours per week on a passive income, all from a minimalist’s perspective. By ‘minimalist’, I don’t mean that this post will be a simplified, dumbed-down article about investing basics. It will be about how I have applied various minimalist philosophies to my approach to investing, for example, how I’ve been able to educate myself in various types of investing so that I’m able to select the type that works for me (in this case, getting fair returns by doing as little as possible so that I have time for things that are more important).

I’m not saying that it is every minimalist’s aim to quit their job, lie on a beach, and do nothing at all. Nor am I saying that having or not having money defines minimalism in any way. You can be a minimalist in a hut, or a minimalist in a mansion. Minimalism means something different for everyone, and for me, minimalism has always meant freedom. Freedom to choose what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it, where I wanted to go, and who I wanted to spend my time with. It means directing my limited resources of money, time and energy away from what people think of me (the size of my house, car, wardrobe etc.) towards things that actually matter to me, like giving to those in need, and spending time reading, creating, travelling, and with my friends and family.

Everything I’ve always wanted to say about money (almost!)

I’m going to be very frank about the subject of money here, because I think there are some hard truths in this subject. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, especially people who don’t want to admit that they are unhappy or doing anything wrong. I’ve heard a lot of excuses in my time. The worst approach I’ve heard people have is complaining how everything is stacked against them, how they’re ‘just not lucky’, or resenting people who have been successful in this way, but doing nothing about it.

I also don’t expect everyone to agree with everything that I say, which is fine too. I’m always willing to hear other people’s opinions and learn something new, but if you don’t have anything helpful or constructive to say except for poo-pooing on somebody’s else ideas, you can save your precious time and stop reading now.

If you’ve read this far and want to carry on, good for you. There is a lot I want to say, and because it is quite a complicated subject, I will break it down into multiple posts in linear steps, although life rarely works in a straight line. For the sake of easier understanding I’ll start with the basics.

This post:

  • 1—Motivation and Environment
  • 2—Mindset and Education

Future posts:

  • 3—Accumulating Capital and Allocation
  • 4—Investing and Income
  • 5—Your New Life
  • 6—The Past (Reflecting) and the Future (Giving)

I’m going to try to fit in everything I’ve always wanted to say about money in these posts. The reason why I say ‘almost’ is that I’m sure there’ll be things I’ve forgotten and will want to add later, or edits, clarifications, and answers to readers’ comments in the future so the above post ideas are subject to change.

Before we start, I strongly recommend reading a previous post I updated recently 5 Ways to Get Rich for Free about some basic yet important ideas about money.

1—Motivation and Environment

Most people don’t just stumble upon investing. We’re not taught it at school, and it’s not a natural instinct or something that is instilled in us as children—that money can be made other than the route of school -> university -> job -> promotion(s) -> retirement = success.

There’s usually a trigger that sets people on the path of investing—usually a person, or an event. For me, my trigger was realising (over a period of a few years) that I never wanted to work in an office again. There were times when I enjoyed myself, but after a while, I felt conflict with my inner self, the person who I wanted to be. Working long hours in a meaningless corporate job felt like it went against my philosophy of minimalism, not because I owned a couple more things, but because I felt I had much less freedom. I was cash-rich, but time-poor. Even if I changed jobs, I would be subjecting myself to the same things I hated (long hours, pointless meetings, office politics etc), just with a different job title. So I quit the world of work to get my life back.

I want to stress that I don’t recommend this approach to everyone, especially if you’ve got people dependent on you. At the time, my life overheads (ie. what I was spending on a day-to-day basis) was very low, which meant at the time of quitting I had enough savings to pay essential bills and food for about 18 months. I had a vague idea that I was going to use some of those savings to do something on my own, although what it was exactly, I hadn’t figured out yet. For most people, I recommend getting any side businesses or secondary income streams off the ground first, before quitting your main income source.

For me though, I knew that I could always get another job if things didn’t work out, and I could always fall back on a couple of online work-from-home jobs I used to have. So my basic needs were taken care of, but I needed to quit to have the time and energy to pursue all the other things that I had neglected while I was working. As well as start my vague business idea, I wanted to have the energy to get fit, to read, to write more, to travel, and to continue my language studies, among a lot of other things.

Your motivation for investing is important because it shapes what you decide to do, how you go about it, and how long it takes you to achieve whatever goals you have. You need to have the internal drive for it, otherwise you’ll get bored, or lazy, or both.

You are also affected by your environment. External factors such as your local economy, your job situation, and the kind of people you surround yourself with all affect what and how you do things, and the results you’ll obtain.

In my case, I didn’t want to work in an office. I hated the early mornings and long work hours, so I decided I would find a line of work that generated passive income. This means I wasn’t going to start an Etsy (not that I have the talent for it) or any other labour intensive business. I didn’t want to swap one full time job for another, and I didn’t want a job that was paid by the hour/day because that would mean I was trading my precious time for money.

I wanted to find a way of earning money that allowed me to put in an initial amount of work, but then after that income would continue to roll in, rather like someone writing a book within a few months and getting royalties for it forever. After a lot of research, I found that I lived in a city where there were huge business opportunities in property. The market was growing, with lots of young people wanting to live here, and prices to buy and rent were steadily rising. Investing in property fit my requirements—if I was able to buy a place (it is slightly capital intensive to buy an apartment but I will tell you how I did that in a future post) the rental income would continue indefinitely.

Once I had an area in mind (property investing), I could start building a foundation of knowledge…

2—Mindset and Education

With investing, if you just dive in, you’re probably going to get hurt. And it will be painful. I wasn’t stupid, so before I did anything, I spent months learning everything I could about about the practical aspects of investing, from how inflation works, what ETFs are, how to make a start-up, to the psychology of investing. I read a lot of books and information online about property, all of the monetary and legislative aspects involved, and researched the market in the city that I lived in. I lived and breathed investing, absorbing everything I could, and learned a huge amount. I’m still learning every day.

One of the most important things I learned from the book ‘Secrets of a Millionaire Mind’ by T. Harv Eker is about people’s ‘money blueprint’. Your blueprint is how you think about money, largely influenced by how you grew up. For example, if your parents have always told you that “money is the root of all evil”, or that “rich people are greedy”, you might still believe it today, and the thought subconsciously holds you back from earning too much because you don’t want to be seen as evil or greedy. Resentment towards the rich is what causes people to stay poor. (Here, I use ‘poor’ not as a derogatory term, but as a practical word to describe people who live paycheck to paycheck, but don’t want to be. I’m not making any sort of moral judgement for or against people who are ‘poor’, or ‘rich’ for that matter, but when talking about money in this context, it’s important to honestly say that there are definitely people who are poor (in monetary terms) but wish they could be more financially free.)

This resentment causes people to not do anything about their work/money situation. They go wherever the flow is taking them in their jobs, and they don’t do anything about their spending habits. They let other people influence them on what they want to buy, and their saving/investing habits may be poor or non-existent. They might even be fearful of any other type of work, such as starting their own business because it’s ‘too risky’ and they would prefer the security of a job. There isn’t anything wrong with living like this by the way, I’m all for enjoying life the way it suits you. If you love your job, good for you (honestly!). However, if you don’t enjoy working, then the constant spending on expensive things means working more than you have to, which means you’re spending half of your life unhappy, as was my case.

Also, people who are not financially literate may think that the only way to earn money is by working a ‘normal’ job, which is simply not true. We live in an amazing world now where there is so much money to be made, and you don’t have to have a lot to start with. People with closed mindsets think that any other way of earning money apart from working is ‘risky’ or at least, so complicated that they could never understand it, so they don’t try. Confusingly, some of these people who are so scared of risk would happily buy lottery tickets. The worst I’ve heard are people who think that investing is in some way ‘cheating’, and that one doesn’t contribute to the economy if they don’t ‘work’ for 9 hours a day. To that, I would say that there are a lot of people who have more to contribute to the world than paper-pushing.

On the other hand, people can have a mindset that money is abundant, and is there for anyone to earn if they have the openness to identify the opportunities, the creativity and tenacity to pursue them, and perseverance when things get difficult. I admit this isn’t the most natural mindset, it’s usually learned out of necessity. My immigrant parents who didn’t go to school didn’t have a choice but to earn money with their own bare hands, literally. They missed out on learning how to read but at least they were never conditioned to follow societal conventions about work. They hustled and worked hard, and did everything themselves until they got to the comfortable lifestyle they have now. I was lucky enough to go to school and college, but it took me years to learn this lesson.

Lest you think I come from a place of privilege, I would like to share that apart from the hustling mindset, I wasn’t given anything above and beyond what most kids my age got (in fact, I would argue with my background I had a lot less) but I have always worked extremely hard. Because of our family’s poorer financial situation while I was growing up, I was always looking out for ways to make money. I started my own eBay wholesale business when I was 15, and have always managed to support myself so that I didn’t have to rely on my parents’ small amount of money. During college, while other students were partying or spending their loans on holidays, I had two jobs and never allowed myself to get into debt.

I am not saying that all you have to do is change your mindset, and you’ll automatically become rich. I know it’s not that easy. You can’t just dream about it and be a bit brave and you’ll be a millionaire. People who truly live in poverty face huge obstacles that aren’t just up to them to ‘think’ their way out of.

But for the majority of people, it’s essential that they have the right mindset because first they have to believe that it is possible for them to be rich, at least then, they can try to do it.

As with anything, it’s it would be almost impossible to accomplish if they didn’t think it was doable from the beginning. 

The good news is that your mindset is not set. You can learn to change, for better or for worse. Being rich or poor isn’t a dichotomy, it’s a spectrum that you can move along at different times in your life. Poor people don’t have to stay poor, and rich people don’t necessarily stay rich. People can become rich by work, inheritance, or winning the lottery, or lose it by spending above their means, getting into huge debts, or gambling it away.

Whatever your mindset is right now, without the appropriate one, you’ll never be financially free. That’s fine for some people, but that’s not how I want to live my life. I want to be free so that I can choose what I want to do with my time. Your mindset is your choice. You can choose to be rich. 

The other points I want to briefly make are:

  • There are a lot of things about money that we are told that are simply opinion, not fact.
  • If more people stopped to question their assumptions about work and money, they would be much better off.
  • Environment plays a role, but I believe that you decide whether or not you will be rich.
  • Investing means ‘using money to make money’, and you don’t need a lot to begin with. In fact, you can start with $10, so there are hardly any excuses.
  • People overestimate the risks, and underestimate the potential benefits.
  • Money doesn’t make you good or bad, it magnifies who you are—if you are already greedy, you’ll be greedier with more money. If you’re already generous, more money would make you more generous.
  • Having money isn’t the aim, having freedom is.

So I adjusted my mindset and went about educating myself about the world of investing. I learned about the different options available, and the risk/reward profiles and advantages and disadvantages of each method. See below for some resources. Knowing the basics, I was able to draw up simple calculations and work out whether or not my business would be profitable. From my research, I identified that there was money to be made, now it was just a matter of going after it…

This post will continue next time with:

  • 3—Accumulating Capital and Allocation: how I got the money to get started, and how I decided what to do with it.
  • 4—Investing and Income: how I actually went about investing my money, and how I get an income.

In the meantime, please let me know what you think of this topic. You can comment below, or contact me on Twitter or Facebook.

Resources 

They don’t teach you about money at school. I wish they did, a lot of people would be much happier, and would have much healthier attitudes towards money. I’m not a millionaire (yet) but I would have certainly become ‘richer’ earlier and more quickly if I started earlier. Instead of just complaining about it, I went about changing my views, and therefore my life. Here are some of the best books I read that helped me get there:

Secrets Of The Millionaire Mind: Think Rich to Get Rich

As I mentioned above, this book taught me that making money was all in your mindset. It’s hard to believe, but how we think about money can hold us back from making it, or push us to find ways to make it even though the odds seem slim. It also talks about how different mindsets aren’t necessarily right or wrong, but work in different ways, and in some cases even complement each other, as in the case of couples/partners. I recommend this book to people who think that becoming a millionaire is impossible without winning the lottery.

Rich Dad Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! 

This book taught me the basics of liabilities vs. assets. If you don’t know what these mean, you need to start with this book. A lot of things that people are taught about money, like how home ownership is the most important thing in the world has ruined them financially. At the very least, people would have been much better off if they could distinguish between buying things that put money in their pocket, or cost them their long term future. That’s the difference between people who stay poor or become rich. That’s not to say that you can never buy your own home or a nice car if you wanted to, but people do this when they can only just about afford it, and therefore they don’t or can’t invest, which if they did, a few years later they could buy their house ten times over.

The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life

If you want to be the best, you have to learn from the best. It might sound cliché, but if Warren Buffet is the most successful investor in the world, wouldn’t you like to know how did he did it? This is the most detailed biography of his life published, it’s a very long read and perhaps you don’t learn a lot as much about how to invest as much as you learn about what investing really means. Warren Buffet delivered newspapers as a boy, and had to borrow money to get his business started, but he never doubted he could be rich. Then he made billions.

Blogs: I recommend checking out Afford Anything and Financial Samurai (I read every post).

More resources to come in future posts, enjoy!

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Minimalism and the Pursuit of Perfection

by Jessica Dang
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If you could see the WordPress dashboard for this blog, you’ll find hundreds of crappy drafts. For every post published, I have at least 5-10 drafts that will never see the light of day.

It takes a lot of brainstorming, bad ideas, poking, prodding, and feet dragging to get a single post out. Most of all, it takes time. In fact, I wrote the original idea for this post in 2011. You can imagine how my book is going.

But by being persistent, something eventually comes out of it. If you’re lucky, it might even be good. Sure, there are posts that aren’t as popular as others, but that’s okay, because there are as many posts that exceeded my expectations.

There are two types of pursuits—you either have to get perfect results, or you don’t. If you’re building a bridge, it needs to be precise. Fortunately, most things fall in to the latter type. It’s better to try and get something done, than not doing anything at all because it can’t be perfect.

There’s no such thing as perfection. Art, business, science, life…everything is one big experiment. Sometimes you’ll get something wrong a hundred times before you get it right once. Nobody learned to walk without falling.

Minimalism is the same. Doing a little bit is better than none. You don’t ‘become minimalist’ overnight, or even over a couple of months or years. There’s no final, perfect goal. It’s a continuous practice of shifting your mindset and making the best decisions you can. You’re allowed to have lapses. There are no rules, so who’s to judge you?

Embrace the struggle. Anything worth doing is difficult. The discomfort weeds out the wannabes. The hardship is what makes it an accomplishment. As Roosevelt said,

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

Book I’m reading now: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life — Anne Lamott

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Minimal Student is graduating

by Jessica Dang
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I started this blog seven years ago at the beginning of my minimalist journey.

It was 2009. I discovered a lifestyle movement that talked about the joy of having less. I learned about how being obsessed with buying and owning material possessions is a recipe for an unhappy life, and it resonated with me. I began to write about it.

At first, I was mainly concerned with stuff and how to get rid of it. I wrote about decluttering and one bag living. It suited my nomadic lifestyle at the time when I was living, working, and exploring several different cities and countries.

Eventually I returned to the UK. I was approaching my mid-20’s, and everyone around me was settling down. I moved into my own apartment with the single suitcase I had been living out of.

I got a corporate job and it was everything I ever wanted—or at least, I thought I wanted. I was paid well and got promoted, but the environment was so tough I began to change as a person. I struggled to find balance. I started buying more things to make up for the creeping unhappiness I felt doing a job which I realised, deep down, was ultimately meaningless. It took a long time, but in the end I found the courage to quit. I ended up starting my own business which gave me the freedom to do what I wanted. I took back control of my own life.

At every stage of my life, my perspective on things shifted. The more I experienced, the more convinced I was that many of the conventional ideas we’re supposed to follow—such as working in a soul sucking job in order to pay your bills and buy stuff until you’re either 65 or dead—didn’t really stand up to scrutiny.

In turn, the direction of Minimal Student has followed me on my quest, moving on from ‘how to declutter’ articles to ones about the tougher questions—what is important in life? What does success really mean? How can I be happy?

I still have more I want to share with the world that isn’t just limited to young people or students. By trying to keep things relevant to the blog name, some of the articles I’ve written have been held back from being able to reach a wider audience. As my readers have grown, the blog has to as well. The Minimal Student community is made of readers of all ages, and from all walks of life. I want to reach out to them too.

So I have decided to start afresh. Don’t worry, Minimal Student isn’t finished. I will always be a student of life and will continue to study what it means to live. However, I will be doing so under a new blog, Minimalist Meditations (www.minimalistmeditations.com) which I am working on expanding the ideas for my book that I’m hoping to finish and publish this year.

To make the transition easier, Minimal Student with continue to exist for a little while, before all of the links will redirect to the new blog URL. All of Minimal Student’s social media will also be renamed.

The good news is that I will be writing a lot more often, and you can keep up with new posts I write and publish by subscribing via RSS or email, or following me on Twitter or Facebook.

I don’t claim to have all of the answers, and in no way have I reached ‘the end’, but I can reflect on what I’ve learned in the past several years and what I, no doubt, will learn in the future. Feel free to join me at Minimalist Meditations on this path towards finding a life of happiness.

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Finding what matters in 2016 and the best books I’ve read this year

by Jessica Dang
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road

There’s a saying that goes, ‘the days are long, but the years are short’, which I didn’t understand when I had my corporate job.

Back then, the days were long, the weeks and months dragged on, and a year seemed like an age. Although I had what most people considered an ideal job, after month after month of unhappiness, I couldn’t carry on. I was at a crossroads, so I chose the road less travelled. I quit.

I don’t have any regrets. I needed to experience everything wrong with a 50+ hours per week office job to realise that it was completely the opposite of what I wanted from life. Scared of facing the truth that I was wasting my life, I lived in denial and I never gave myself the chance to ask myself the important questions—what’s important to me? What do I want in life? Who/what do I want to spend my time on?

There’s a happy ending. With all the time and freedom I had, I started some side ventures which lead to my own investment business, and now I’m making more than my previous salary (and still growing). The best thing is, I have set it all up as a passive income, so that I don’t have to work more than 2-4 hours per week. 

In other words, I’m earning 50% more while working 95% less. 

I also travelled to several different cities/countries, hit my long time goal of reading 52 books in a year, ran both a half marathon and a full marathon, found time to learn more French and Japanese, take swimming and yoga lessons, and so much more, all of which I never would have had the time or energy for before.

My own success is the best remedy for the time I wasted during 2014-2015. Now that I have done well on my own, I have let go of my hang up about never having a successful corporate career. I don’t need one. Everybody is different, but for me, I’ve learned that I am not willing to pay the price.

Whilst all this was going on, quite a few negative things happened during 2016 (politically speaking) in the UK and abroad that I strongly disagreed with. While I did what was in my power, I’ve come to terms with the fact that there are many things outside of my control, and the world isn’t perfect, but that’s okay. As long as I do my best to make the world a better place, and I encourage others to do so too, then slowly things will be better. We’ve made a lot of progress in other areas, and with the right amount of introspection and attitude, the world can only move forwards, not backwards.

2017 will be a continuation of my personal and professional journey. With all of the free time I now have, it’s not a question of if, but when I will do the things that I hope to. I want to do more and give more this year. The best thing is that I don’t have to seek the time, money, or permission to do it. I created that for myself. I’m my own boss now.

Posts of 2016

January: Life begins when…

February: I’m only passing through

March: What I learned from 7 years of minimalism

April: How minimalism redefines success

May: Minimalist Meditations — Giving

June: Minimalist Meditations — On Control

July: What’s left after minimalism?

August: There’s no such thing as karma

September: What minimalism taught me about dying

October: What minimalism taught me about love

November: The bigger picture

Bonus: Searching in 2015

the best books I read in 2016

For the first time in my life, I read 52 books in one year. In the theme of freedom and figuring out what I want from life, here is a selection of some of the most helpful pieces of advice I received this year:

The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage – Ryan Holiday. Holiday turns stoic philosophy into practical advice on how to get over difficulties that we face in our lives. It’s okay to have obstacles, and even to be annoyed by them, as long as we face them with the right perspective and get over them with the right action. Wisely, he says, “Doing new things invariably means obstacles. A new path is, by definition, uncleared. Only with persistence and time can we cut away debris and remove impediments. Only in struggling with the impediments that made others quit can we find ourselves on untrodden territory—only by persisting and resisting can we learn what others were too impatient to be taught“.

 

The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich – Timothy Ferriss. I reread this book again for the first time in about 5 years and things are very different this time around. Before, while I could agree with a lot of what Ferriss said, this time they actually meant something doable and tangible to me (see passive investments above). This book contains a great argument for working less even if it means earning less, and also solid tips on how to start and grow a passive income business. I’m also in the middle of devouring his newest book Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers.

 

Man’s Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust – by Viktor E Frankl. Thankfully, many of us haven’t had to go through the horrors that Frankl did as a Holocaust survivor. As a professor in neurology and psychiatry, his unique perspective on what it means to find meaning in life fascinated me. In particular, his view on what it means to have good mental well-being, “[…] mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become,” reminds us that meaning is found in having something worthwhile to aim for.

 

The Last Lecture: lesson in living – by Randy Pausch. With his immediately likeable personality, yet devastating story of being diagnosed with a terminal illness that only gives him a few months to live, Carnegie Mellon Professor Pausch gives leaves this important and poignant memoir for this wife and three young children about what is really important in life. He teaches us to dream big, and not obsess over what other people think, because in the end, who cares? It’s the dreams you have, and the things you do, and the people you love and who love you that really matter, and makes us happy. Let’s not wait until we realise that we are dying to make the most of it.

 

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance – by Angela Duckworth. What makes a person successful? I’ve been asking myself this question for years and Duckworth sheds a lot of light on the answer. The answer is, spoiler alert: effort. Persistent effort. Not just showing up, or innate talent, or luck, or environmental factors, but persistently putting in the time and energy to get better. While this means I have a lot of work to do on the things I want to get better at, it’s reassuring to know that what separates the mediocre from the great is blood, sweat and tears because I’m willing to shed a lot of it.

 

The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now  – by Meg Jay. The Image result for defining decadebiggest crime of twentysomethings these days is thinking they have all the time in the world to do anything they want. I’m certainly guilty of this in some respects, so I’m glad I found this book when I did. With all the changes in the last century, people are putting off important decisions until their 30’s or even 40’s, which is too late to make the most of the time they had. The decisions we make in our 20’s have the biggest impact on our lives down the line, and it’s better to use that to our advantage right now, rather than let bad choices made for us, or by us, dictate the rest of our lives.

I read many more books than the few I’ve listed here, but these were some of the most impactful. Of course, I will continue with my journey of learning, and will post more book updates in future posts.

Minimal Student book update: This project means a lot to me so I’m taking my time with it. I’ve nearly finished the first draft of the main text, and sketched up potential covers. There will be a lot of editing to do, but I’m planning on spending some time disconnected to get 80-90% done by early spring. I will continue to update the blog regularly.

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Why Showing Up Is Not Enough

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

I often read advice about how to be successful. Up until now, I must have accumulated hundreds of books, biographies, articles, and essays about success – what it means, and how to ‘achieve’ it, all the while hoping to find a common theme that would tell me the universal truth about the one thing that apparently makes life worth living.

I admit, it’s probably not a good habit to read about it too much. Spending a lot of time reading about it means that I’m spending less time doing the kinds of things that would actually make me successful. Besides, after all these years, I’m still looking for an answer.

I have learned a few important things, however, so it hasn’t all gone to waste. There are certainly common pieces of advice that have come up more than a few times in my readings. One of these is the importance of showing up.

the myth of showing up

Almost everyone talking about success talks about showing up. They say that if there’s one thing in common between all the men and women who have been ‘successful’ in the past – those that have discovered, or invented, or achieved something great – it is that they showed up. They got out of bed every day, even if they had to drag themselves up, and went to the laboratory, or office, or racetrack, and climbed whatever mountain they had to, physical or metaphorical, to reach their goal. They were there when it happened (whatever it maybe be).

But it makes me wonder – is that enough? Does saying that they were simply there miss another crucial element to their success? After all, when they arrived at the door, or the foot of that mountain, they didn’t just stand there.

They took the first steps, they moved forward, and they carried on. They didn’t give up.

They weren’t just there when it happened, they made it happen.

That’s why showing up is not enough. You can’t just get out of bed in the morning and sit your ass down on a chair and expect miracles to happen. Yes, it can be hard to do that, but almost anyone can just show up. It’s what you do after you arrive that matters.

If you’re going to work every day, or to the studio, or lab, or playing field, or wherever it is that you’re hoping to achieve greatness, and your heart is not fully in it, you’ll never get to where you want to be. You have to be present and aware, which means you can’t just be there, you have to be there. Do you get it? You have to put your heart in it, get in the flow, look forward, see the bigger picture, strategise, be one step ahead, push hard, then push harder, and most importantly, do the goddamn work itself. There’s no getting around it.

It’s a medicine that easy to prescribe but hard to swallow. If you have been chipping away at something for a while, and you’re not getting anywhere, it might be because you thought showing up was enough to get you to the top, but it’s not.

It’s like expecting to be lifted up a mountain by the force of nature just because you arrived at the foot. It won’t happen. The only way to the top is to climb up, one step at a time. Yes, there are ways to do it more quickly, and efficiently, there are tools you can use, and maybe there’s a shortcut, like a bus that would drive you halfway up, but unless you find it, you’re going to have to do it the hard way.

So yes, showing up is important. But there’s more to it than that. If you want to condense the hours and hours I’ve spent educating myself about success into just a couple of words, it would go something like this:

Show up. Put your heart in it. Do the work. Don’t give up.

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On the Shortness of Life – Part II – Protecting time and living in the present

-by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

This Part II of a five part series about the stoic philosopher Seneca’s work, On the Shortness of Life, read Part I – Finiteness.

2. the whole future lies in uncertainty live immediately

Of all the things we have, time is arguably the most precious.

There is nothing else in which we are only given a set amount of it. However much we have, we  would never know until the end, and no matter what we do or who we are, we can never earn, gain or buy a single second more of it.

And yet, within this mysterious amount of time that we given, we’re supposed to achieve so much. Or, at least, so we want to. Which is understandable – what kind of life would we have if we didn’t aspire to travel the world, write a novel, fall in love, raise a family, do fulfilling work, learn a language, run, dance, sing, paint, or do any one of the amazing opportunities life has to offer us?

But how much of your time is really yours? How much of it is spent doing the things that you want, that mean a lot to you, as opposed to what other people want you to do, or worse still, what you think others expect of you?

In other words, are you spending enough time pleasing yourself, instead of others? For me, I know I have a lot to work on here. Seneca points out what we all ought to know:

“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which is right to be stingy.”

Of all the things we are possessive about – money, land, partners, status, possessions… the one thing we hardly think twice about – time – is what we should be most protective of.

We let others encroach on our schedules, making us do things that we don’t want to do, or making us feel ‘obliged’ to do it, as if we don’t have a choice.

“Call to mind when you ever had a fixed purpose; how few days have passed as you had planned; when you were ever at your own disposal; when your face wore a natural expression; when your mind was undisturbed.”

I admit I haven’t had many days like this, but they sound ideal to me. There are a lot of tough questions being asked here, and it’s easy to consider them and then not do anything about it. Most people might think it’s fine to spend time winding down watching three hours of TV after a long day of work, but if that means that we don’t have time to do the things we really care about, then maybe it’s the amount of time we spend at work we need to fix.

I’m certainly not perfect, so I don’t have all of the answers. I still can’t believe it’s my birthday in just two weeks – where did the time go? It feels like I’ve let an entire year slip by me. How many do I have left? No idea. How much time in the last year did I spend doing the kind of things I wanted to do? Not enough.

If there’s one resolution I want to make for the rest of this year, or for the rest of my life for that matter, it would be to better protect my time.

the whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately

So let’s say we learn to guard our time better – now what? This isn’t just about other people. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Yes, we should spend time on ourselves, but how much of the time we’re lucky to have for ourselves (or for the people and things we love) is wasted?

How much of it was spent procrastinating, putting off things that would have otherwise been fulfilling, for the sake of ‘relaxing’ or just out of pure laziness? Seneca said,

“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future”

Procrastination isn’t just de-prioritising the task you have in mind, it’s de-prioritising your whole life.

On top of that, we humans tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the past and the future. It’s natural for us to go over our regrets, or worry about things to come. But each minute wasted thinking about the things you have or haven’t done, or things that may or may not happen yet, is a minute squandered.

“Life is divided into three periods, past present and future. Of these, the present is short, the future is doubtful, the past is certain. [..] In the present we have only one day at a time, each offering a minute at a time.”

Life is too short to mourn over things that cannot be changed. As long as you did your best at the time, then you can’t have any regrets about it. And every minute spent worrying about the future, which by nature is unpredictable, is just using up what precious time and energy you have left to actually do something about it.

Whenever I’m in danger of worrying too much, I repeat to myself, Time is the most valuable thing I have – live in the present moment and savour every moment of it.” In good times or bad, it’s a reminder of how lucky I am to be alive.

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Balancing Work Life With A Minimalist Life

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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?

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What I learned from 365 days of doing the 7 minute workout

by Jessica Dang
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oct13

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.

7-minute-workout

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.

photo 5

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.

365+ days

365+ days

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?

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Check out How to Lose Weight Fast Without Exercise : 8 Sure-Fire Ways by Fitness Jockey.

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Minimal Student has graduated! You can subscribe to weekly updates on the new blog Minimalist Meditations via RSS, email, Twitter or Facebook.

 

Making Miracles

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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 Sweetest Reward

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big_tree-1920x1080

They say that it’s best to aim for the low hanging fruit. A lot of the time this is true, but it isn’t always the case.

In the short term, it might make sense to take advantage of whatever comes your way first. The low hanging fruit are easy to reach, but they aren’t necessarily the best fruit on the tree.

In the long term, only doing what is easy won’t get you very far. If you only go for low hanging fruit, you’ll never taste the sweetness of overcoming a difficult challenge, and achieving something worthwhile.

Learning to climb a tree takes patience and perseverance, but if you take things step by step, you can reach the top.

It helps if you’re not weighed down by stuff. Carry too much, and your burden will hinder your progress. Let go of the things that don’t matter, and focus on the things that do.

You only get one chance at life, so why not aim high? The sweetest fruit grow at the top.

 

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