Life begins when…

by Jessica Dang
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dawn mountains

Life begins when…

you wake up

the sun is shining

you smell coffee

 

Life begins when…

you create

you help

you discover

 

Life begins when…

you feel grateful for the little things

you do something you enjoy

you learn to love

 

Life begins when…

you see the bigger picture

you learn to let go

you make it to the other side

 

Life begins when…

you go somewhere you’ve never been before

you do something you’ve never done before

you want to be better than you were yesterday

 

BONUS Giveaway: Living on Purpose: Straight Answers to Universal Questions – Dan Millman

I’m starting off 2016 by celebrating hitting 20k+ subscribers via emailRSS, TwitterFacebook and Tumblr. Thank you wonderful readers for all of your support! I will be doing FREE book giveaways during 2016 (minimalising my bookshelf) the first one being one of my favourites: Living on Purpose: Straight Answers to Universal Questions by Dan Millman, author of the bestseller Way of the Peaceful Warrior.

To enter, I want to hear your story! Please comment on this blog post or on the Minimal Student Facebook page your name, where you’re from, and tell me your minimalist story. That’s it!

You could also share some comments about the blog, and any suggestions you might have for future posts. I will select the best answer one month from today on February 28th, and post you the book, wherever you are, for free! No strings attached, I just want to share the love and wisdom. Looking forward to hearing from you 🙂

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Searching in 2015

by Jessica Dang
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searching

For me, 2015 was about finding happiness.

At the beginning, I thought I could find through my job—I’d started a new one mid-2014, and was excited by the idea of having a regular income. I thought it would mean I could afford to do whatever I wanted. I was wrong.

I worked 50+ hours a week, pouring over business deals, doing everything I could to make sure they went through. It was so stressful, I even thought about them at night, and I couldn’t sleep properly. After continuous disappointments, I felt I couldn’t trust anything anyone said, and I lost faith in people. Where I was successful, I was paid very well, but that didn’t matter because losing all those hours to work, and feeling exhausted after each day meant that I couldn’t do any of the things I wanted to do. I had more money than I had time to spend. I was cash-rich, but time-poor.

About halfway through this year, I was ready to quit. Instead, I was offered a promotion. I thought about it, and decided to accept. Despite the disappointments, I was actually good at my job. I got a pay rise. I had more responsibility. But I should have known it wouldn’t be enough. It wasn’t more money I was after. It was having my own time that I cravedthe freedom to choose how I spend my days.

Three months later, I resolved to quit again. No backing out this time. No amount of money was going to keep my from being happy. I handed in my resignation letter, and cleared out my desk. I didn’t even work off the full notice period. I was free. A weight lifted off me. I cried. The next day, I slept like a baby.

When I look back at how I spent my time this year, I like to think of it as as journey. As much as I was grinding away at that job, worrying about each little problem or email message, considering the bigger picture I accomplished very little. In fact, it felt more like I wasted the better part of a year of my life. But I don’t regret it. Why? Because I needed to learn a lesson.

what I found in 2015

I needed to learn that money isn’t the most important thing. It’s not even the second, or third, or fourth, of fifth…there are so many things that are more precious. Like having free time, meaningful relationships, good health, or the ability to just damn relax. Eighteen months doesn’t sound like a long time to stick to a job you hate, but when you’re constantly dealing with disappointments, and wishing that time would just hurry up, it’s long enough to learn lessons that will last a lifetime.

I wouldn’t have believed anyone if they told me swapping my freedom for cash isn’t worth it. Of course it is, everyone does it! But when you’re not living life to the fullest, what’s the point? Money bought me a comfortable life, but I didn’t have time to enjoy it. By itself, money didn’t give me the things I really wanted. It as only after being deprived of time and freedom that I really appreciated how much they meant to me.

My spiritual journey has been reflected in my writing. Despite being short on time, I made a special effort to publish at least one post a month in 2015. Many of the posts focused on Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life, which I had taken a deep interest in during the cold winter nights this year after a long day at work. His essay confirmed for me that I was wasting my one and only life, and it hardened my resolve to quit.

Later on the year, I moved onto the subject of happinessobtained through noticing the miracles that surround us every day and being more grateful for the little things. After all, minimalism isn’t about paring down your wardrobe just for the sake of it. It’s ultimately about finding happiness within yourself, not from anywhere else. After this year, I believe in it more than ever.

Posts of 2015

January: Zen in a lotus flower

February: On the Shortness of Life – Part I – Finiteness

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

April: On the Shortness of Life – Part III – Desire and life goals

May: On the Shortness of Life – Part IV – Learning

June: On the Shortness of Life – Part V – Death

July: Live life like water

August: Why Showing Up Is Not Enough

September: 5 Ways to Strengthen Your Spirit – A Minimalist’s Guide

October: Everyday miracles

November: Why Minimalists Live Happy Lives

Bonus: My article on popular personal development blog Early to Rise  Do you have a job, a career, or a calling? Written from my research and experience into finding fulfilling work. More to come next year.

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Why Minimalists Live Happy Lives

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

“You were put on this earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose, and to do it courageously.” ― Steve Maraboli

jump

Why is minimalism appealing to so many people?

Because it grants freedom. It’s a way of living fearlessly, without caring what other people think.

Minimalists choose to live free and happy lives. Shedding our need to always buy more, enables us to live a life we want.

We’re not chained to a job we hate because we need the paycheck to cover the rent, or luxury purchases. We can live without it!

We’re not scared or ashamed of not being able to afford something. We don’t need fancy cars or designer perfume to feel validated. We’re not scared of having our houses repossessed, or having to pawn jewellery, because we only buy what we need and can afford, so don’t get ourselves into such situations.

We’re not afraid to challenge the social norms. We live the life we choose, not one that we’re told we’re ‘supposed to’ live.

We enjoy spending time with the people who matter most to us, not spending money. We pursue our interests and hobbies, cultivate our curiosity about this beautiful world, and fulfill our dreams.

We want to make a difference. We refuse to live a sad existence, wasting our talents on things that don’t matter. Everyone has something special to offer, if only everyone was brave enough to find it and follow through.

You only live once. Minimalists aren’t scared by that. In fact, we embrace it.

We’re not scared to live life to the fullest. We’re grateful for everything we already have. No matter what happens, we’ll make the most of it. That’s why we live happy lives.

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Everyday miracles

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

 

barefoot

What is a miracle?

A supernatural event? Something rare? Magic, or deception?

Yes, it can be any of these things, but I wonder how many people would say that a miracle can be something ordinary?

Or, at least, something that seems ordinary. Miracles happen every day around us, we just don’t see it.

Most people would call walking on water a miracle, but how about walking on earth? How special that is! Yes, most people can walk on the ground, but that doesn’t make it less of a miracle.

Think about it. Think of all of the things in the universe that had to come together so that you can take a single step. From the beginning, conditions on Earth had to be just right for life to blossomeverything from the temperature to the water and oxygen levels. That’s why life has been so hard to find anywhere else. And even when it wasn’t perfect, like when a volcano erupted, or a meteor struck, every one of your ancestors survived so that you are alive today.

That’s not all. If you want to take a shorter view on it, the fact that you’re healthy and alive right now, and able to enjoy this beautiful day is a miracle in itself! Be grateful for every moment you can feel the breeze through your clothes, or the rain on your face. Be grateful for every morning the sun rises and every evening you made it to the end of the day alive…because, sadly, a lot of people didn’t.

In our modern lives, we can’t expect too many miracles. But if we look carefully, they are all around us. The miracle is not to walk on the water, or on clouds or fire, but it is to walk on earth.

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5 Ways to Strengthen Your Spirit – A Minimalist’s Guide

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

In life, there are a lot of things that matter. For example, your work, your relationships, and your health. But there is something at the root of all these areas in our lives that connects them, which we can easily neglect like tending to flowers in the garden but not looking after the roots.

Even if things are going well for now, without looking after the roots, everything will eventually weaken over time.

The roots that connect all the areas in our lives is the strength of our spirit.

What do I mean by this? Your spirit is you, and all the things that make up what you are your mind, your body, your relationships, memories, character, actions, beliefs and values. These are the things that make us unique. Put together, in the end, your spirit will be your legacy.

It can be a story of weakness, discontentment, and regrets, or one of adventure, kindness and virtue. What you leave behind is up to you.

how to strengthen your spirit a minimalist’s guide

“Good timber does not grow with ease: The stronger wind, the stronger trees; The further sky, the greater length; The more the storm, the more the strength.” –Douglas Malloch

1. Cultivate courage. If you always stick to what you’re already comfortable with, you’ll never push past your current limits. Your spirit will never grow from being trapped in the confines of fear. Don’t fall into what is easiest, put yourself out there. Challenge yourself. It’s the hardship that builds strength. Try something new every day sometimes you’ll fail, but those are opportunities to learn and grow. You will have lived your life without regrets, because you tried everything that you wanted to. Through cultivating your courage, you can, and will, achieve great things.

Read: 5 Lessons Learned from Repeated Failure

2. Open your heart. Humans are naturally empathetic creatures. You can end up expending huge amounts of energy blocking out others and ignoring their suffering. In terms of spiritual growth, being selfish certainly doesn’t pay. Instead, be generous and give what you can not just money, but your time can also be as valuable. When you open up your heart, in a way you become vulnerable, but that’s not a bad thing. You’ll be more open to new ideas, listening to others, and learning new things. Challenge what you know, so that with reason you are able to support your views, or better yet, amend them. Put yourself on the line, and when you make it to the other side, you’ll be stronger.

Read: Be Vulnerable, Be Alive

3. Maintain balance. Demands in our every day lives pull us all over the place. Work, relationships, staying fit, all can take up our time until we feel like we have none left. It’s difficult to juggle it all – we can’t spend equal amounts in all areas, and we can’t all be perfect all the time. But with a bit of awareness we can identify areas we’ve been neglecting, and with practice, we can adjust until we feel we’ve reached an equilibrium between work and play. Along the way, we have to ditch the things that are wasting time, like too much TV, or more drastically, even our jobs if it’s sucking away too many hours and too much energy from what we really care about. Just like your body needs a certain amount of activity versus sleep to be fit and to get stronger (and too much of one will lead to breakdown) your spirit builds in the same way.

Read: Balancing Work Life With A Minimalist Life

4. Eliminate the weeds. Weeds are like parasites that creep up on us and suck away our energy. If you don’t pay attention to them, they’ll spread and take over our lives. If we are to cultivate a strong spirit, we need to eliminate these sources of toxic energy. This includes people and relationships that take up our time and emotional energy, but don’t give anything back, and things like partaking in gossip, complaining too much, and talking about people behind their backs. Other timewasters, like too much TV, social events that we feel obliged to go to but don’t enjoy, also need to be cut down if we are to spend more time on growing ourselves, or the relationships we care about. A more simplified lifestyle where we spend less money also has the benefit of saving us from working as much to sustain our lifestyle.

Read: Let go of your most toxic habit

5. Build integrity. Integrity is like food for our spirit. It energises it, and gives us life. Things like being honest and admitting to your mistakes so you can learn from them, and build your strength. Keep promises, to yourself and others, and follow through with what you say you’re going to do. People will come to rely on your word. When you are faced with a decision, try to do the right thing that’s best for the most people, instead of what’s right for just yourself. Be kind to others, and approach others with sincerity. You’ll attract more friendships this way, with other open and honest people. The relationships in your life will be much more fulfilling when they’re with people who love you back, and who give you back as much as you give them.

Read: Minimalism & The Noble Eightfold Path II – Ethical Conduct

The effect of doing all this is that you’re bound to leave the earth having a left a better impression than when you entered it. Your courage will inspire others, your open heart will make you closer to those you know and love, your balanced life without the weeds that sap your energy will allow you to do what you love, and your generosity and integrity will encourage others to do the same.

It won’t be easy. We don’t do all of these things by default. Rather, they are small actions that we build into habits, and through doing something small everyday, we build up a strong foundation for living a good and fulfilling life. The best thing is, none of these habits cost a penny.

In the end, it’s not how many things we own, or how many hours we’ve worked, or what title we have that matters. It’ll be the strength of your spirit that counts.

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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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Live life like water

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

clouds

Take a good look at yourself. What do you see?

Would you think that you are a wonder of the universe? If you’re living and breathing, you already are a miracle.

Why would you seek to be anything else? Look up at the sky. Watch how the clouds float contently by. A cloud is happy to be a cloud. The water within it is happy to be in that state, and doesn’t seek to be anything else. When the time comes, that water will naturally turn into rain, flow along rivers, and into trees and dams, doing what water does. It goes with the flow, and is happy to be that way.

As people, you can be as content as water. Imagine the waves at sea. Each wave has a beginning and end, each has a rise and fall, and each is beautiful in its own right. Does a wave feel fear and anxiety? Does it compare itself to other waves? Does it strive to be a better wave?

If it could look into itself, it will see that it is water, just like the wave behind it, and the wave behind that. The entire sea is one. Once it realises this the wave laughs as it goes up, and laughs as it goes down.

Like a wave at sea, things are changing all the time. You are changing all the time. Things will go up, and things will go down. All you can do is laugh and cry. Life doesn’t always work out the way that you want it, but you are already perfect in your own way.

You are already like water. Just flow, be content.

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On the Shortness of Life – Part V – Death

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

This is the final part of a five part series on Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life.

Read Part I – FinitenessPart II – Protecting time and living in the presentPart III – Desire and life goals, Part IV – Learning.

5. Learning how to live takes a whole life

A typical person living in the Western world is expected to live until about 70-80 years old. There are other factors that come into play, such as income, lifestyle, and access to healthcare, but all that aside, the average life span of a healthy adult is about 70 or so years if you’re lucky.

Do you know how many days that is? Answer: it’s about 25,000.

That’s about 25,000 sunrises, and 25,000 sunsets for you to enjoy during your one and only time on Earth.

Sounds like a lot, right? But there’s a small catch. If you’re like me, in your mid-20’s, you’ve actually already used up about 9,000 of them.

Okay… so that leaves about 16,000  still, not bad right? But that’s supposing you really are going to live until your mid-70’s… which, of course, isn’t a guarantee.

What if you only lived until you were 60, or 50, or even 40? (If you’re roughly my age and you only live until 40, that’s less than 6,000 days left). Sh*t.

Now consider how quickly, say, the last 7 days went by. Hm, pretty quick right? It seems like it was just a day or two ago that I was in spin class, but I only go once a week, so that was a whole week ago… Now that I think about it, the last month went by quickly as well… I can’t believe we’re halfway through the year already… and it seemed like it was just a few weeks ago I was living in Japan, but that was an entire year ago now… wow, where did those 365 days even go? 365 is a sizeable chunk out of 6,000! Sh*t. Sh*t.

… and so on. So far, I’ve realised two things:

  1. That we all have a set number of days left, and,
  2. They’re going by stupidly fast.

If this is a depressing subject to you, then you might be thinking about it in the wrong way. It’s only when you realise that your time is finite that you can start to do something about it.

Knowing this, what are you going to do in the next 7, 30, or 100 days? Would you live your life differently?

Well, if you are already making the most out of your life, then the answer would be, ‘Nope! Everything is perfect!’ and that’s fantastic. But if you’re unhappy because you’re putting up with a life/job/relationship you hate, then Seneca has something to say to that:

“How late it is to begin to really live just when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived!”

 

How do we know we’re going to live until we grow old? We don’t! Nobody does. So I can’t help but think why do so many people waste their precious time being unhappy? Why do people put up with jobs they hate for 40 years, just to save up holiday time for when (or if) they reach 65?

I’m no exception to this kind of thinking. We can’t always do the things we want to, and we’ve got to make a living somehow, but if we’ve really only got a few thousand days to live, why spend them doing things that our heart isn’t into?

I’m not advocating a hedonistic lifestyle in a ‘let’s-spend-every-penny-and-destroy-everything-because-tomorrow-might-never-come’ way, but even Seneca realised it thousands of years ago, when he said that,

“[Only when life] is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realise that it has passed away before we knew it was passing.”

The saddest thing is that most people don’t realise how much of their lives they had wasted until they reach the end of it. Usually, these are the same people who don’t like thinking about death at all, because they’re living in a deluded world where if they don’t think about it, it won’t happen to them. But by then, it’s too late to do anything about it.

all their labours were but for the sake of an epitaph

At the end of your life, if everything you did could be summarised into an epitaph, what would it say? What would you want it to say?

You might not get an actual epitaph, but no matter what, you will have a legacy.

Your legacy could be celebrated by millions, or remembered by no one. At the end of your life, it wouldn’t matter to you which one of those it is. You won’t be bringing it with you anyway, wherever you’re going.

All that will matter is how you feel about it. After all, how you feel about your legacy is how you feel about the life you lived. Seneca also wrote,

“Learning how to live takes a whole life, and, which may surprise you more, it takes a whole life to learn how to die.”

Which is true. But it doesn’t have to take your whole life you could wait until you’re on your deathbed to lament on the time you could have spent on the people and things that mattered. Or you can start now, while you can.

Choose to spend today wisely, as if it was a single precious gold coin that you could never get back.

While we’re at it, we can do the same for tomorrow as well. And the day after, and the day after, until we reach the end, whenever that may be.

You could be happy from right now. Start today. Who needs a lifetime to learn how to live?

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On the Shortness of Life – Part IV – Learning

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

This is the fourth part of a five part series on Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life.

Read Part I – FinitenessPart II – Protecting time and living in the presentPart III – Desire and life goals.

Of all the things that we spend time on, learning is arguably one of the most important. It contributes to our knowledge of everything around and within us, makes us better people, and therefore the world a better place to live in.

We are so lucky to live in an age where there is more information out there than we can possibly consume in a single lifetime. Never before in human history have we been so connected to each others’ thoughts, teachings and discoveries.

This freedom, to be able to learn about whatever we want, is one of the most precious gifts we have.

we are excluded from no age, but we have access to them all

Seneca emphasized the importance of learning from great masters, whose teachings were once exclusive to certain people is now free for everyone.

“None of these will force you to die, but all will teach you how to die. None of them will exhaust your years, but each will contribute his years to yours.”

Lessons that otherwise would have taken a lifetime to learn are now accessible to us at our fingertips. The only obstacle we face now is whether or not we are ready to receive them.

Of course, we’re still free to make out own mistakes. But for those who don’t want to, or can’t afford to, we can always learn from the past.

“Of all people only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only those are really alive. For they not only keep a good watch over their own lifetimes, but they annex every age to theirs. All the years that have passed before them are added to their own.”

If there’s one thing that living a minimalist lifestyle is good for, it’s to take away distractions so that we can spend more time on the things that matter.

Without the distraction of chasing material gain, we can devote our energies towards continuous learning – whether that means to travel, or to stay at home to read, or reflect on ourselves, or anything in between. Ultimately, learning all comes down to expanding our horizons and opening up to what this beautiful world has to offer.

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Appreciating absence – A key to happiness

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

In our everyday lives, we tend to notice when something is off. Like when we’re feeling stressed because of work, or tired because there aren’t enough hours in the day, or that we don’t have enough money in our bank accounts to do all the things we want to do.

It’s easy to spot when we’re lacking something. When things aren’t going well, we tend to zoom in on all the good things that we want and don’t have, like fortune or fame, rather than all the things we don’t want, and don’t have.

When was the last time you stopped to appreciate that you’re not in pain? Or that you’re not terminally ill? Or that you don’t live in a war-torn country? Or that you’re not living on the streets? Or starving to death? Or any one of the million types of suffering that life can throw at us.

How often do we take time to notice when we’re not lacking something?

We crave for good things to happen to us, that’s natural. But much of the time, no news is actually good news. A life without much drama is actually a pretty good life.

taking the time to be grateful – for the bad and the good

It’s one of the secrets to happiness – to appreciate the absence of bad things as much as the presence of good things.

We can’t always get what we want, and many of us never will. But instead of concentrating on those few things, why not feel grateful for the almost infinite amount of things we don’t want in our lives, and are still lucky enough not to have, at least for now.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re living in a country with access to a computer, and the internet, which means that you are lucky enough to be living with a roof over your head, enough food to eat, and access to medical care, hopefully. If not, even without looking too hard, I’m sure there are still many things to be grateful for.

Things could change in the future. Who knows what will happen. But for now, let’s enjoy the present moment, when we’re lucky enough to have our health, or youth, or people who love us, or all three and more.

The ability to see, and appreciate, even just a few of the good things we have in life is key to being happy. The ability to still do that when life has dealt a mediocre hand, that’s a testament to our character.

 

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P.S. On the Shortness of Life series to continue soon!

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