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It’s really hard to fire someone (so you’re probably not going to be fired)

2:23 PM James 0 Comments

The only people I know who’ve been fired, really legit fired, in the engineering world:
  1. A guy who literally choked his cubicle-mate
  2. Another guy who threatened to kill a coworker, and sexually harassed another
  3. A woman who basically talked herself into a job that she didn’t know how to do, and got found out a couple weeks in
  4. That’s it.

I know lots of people who’ve been laid off, including about two-thirds of my old R&D department coworkers at The Old Place, after a product recall slashed the company budget. There didn’t seem to be a single reason why they were laid off. They basically fell into these categories:
  1. Incompetent
  2. Old (sorry, that’s not politically correct - unproductive and close to retirement)
  3. Socially awkward
  4. A pain in someone’s ass
  5. Just clueless about interacting in a corporate environment.

The main things I learned about the fear or being fired or laid off are:
  1. If you’re not one of the above, you most likely will never get fired or laid off
  2. You shouldn’t be scared of this
  3. What you should be scared of, is staying at your job too long, and become stagnant, so that eventually you are one of those people who get fired or laid off.

There’s a guy I know at work who’s incompetent, a bad communicator, defensive, and slow. He’s NOT getting fired, amazingly. I know because I have it on good authority that his boss (a very patient man) is giving him time to improve. I’ve known this poor performer for the majority of my time at Rocket Inc, and I don’t have any reason to think he will improve. But, he’s survived this long, and he may continue to do so. And this is at Rocket Inc, a place that’s not known for coddling its workforce. (Edit: I'm happy to share that said guy has actually improved a lot in the last couple months!)

If you read this and your response is “awesome, I can most likely just coast at work forever,” then I pity you, but I don’t respect you as a professional. You should be trying your best at your job, because you shouldn’t be wasting your life taking up space in an office! Find what you’re good at or what you love, and save yourself and everybody else the trouble of dealing with you and your lack of competence and/or passion.

If you read this and your response is “phew, I’ve been sacrificing my well-being because I was afraid of being fired or laid off, but now I don’t have to do that,” that’s more of the response I was going for. Life shouldn’t be lived in fear. You shouldn’t let someone hold that kind of threat over you.

I used to have a boss who constantly berated, insulted, cursed, and bullied me. It was the worst. I would call in sick to work to avoid dealing with him. I was medicated for extreme hypertension (my blood pressure was 160/90, which any doctor will tell you is horrible for a young man). But I just dealt with it because I was scared of being fired.

I felt like I was literally at the breaking point, so I talked to HR and told them I was going to resign because of my bully of a boss. They told me they’d actually received complaints about him (but of course didn’t remove him!), and offered to mediate a meeting with us. Or, they said, “we can give you some training and support so you can have the conversation with him yourself, up to you.”
I figured I should talk with him myself, since bullies usually respect you more when you stand up to them. So I set up a meeting with him.

I was so nervous about this. Would I lose my job? Would my boss actually try to hit me with those pointy fingers he always waved in my face? I was shaking, but I told myself that any outcome would be better than how I currently felt. The meeting began, and before he could start his toxic routine, I took control of the conversation. I told him he would not be talking to me like that anymore, or threatening me. If he wanted to fire me, do it! Otherwise, stop being a bully. I actually called him that, to his face. It felt scary… but good. And the sick thing? He told me, “you know, I’ve been wondering when you were going to say that!” He went on to tell me that he respected me a lot for standing up to him, but that I should really be thankful for his abuse, because how else would I learn what it’s like to deal with an asshole at work? (So… he admitted to being an asshole, on purpose, to help me deal with hypothetical future assholes… OK, there’s no much wrong with that.)

Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent, but seriously, if this helps anyone in that category, I’m extremely happy to be of service.


  1. Don’t be concerned with getting fired.
  2. Do be concerned if you legitimately suck at your job, or if people make you feel that way. Do you really want to work there? There’s almost always a job that’s a better fit for you out there. Just go out and find it.


Living with your parents or in-laws (and challenging the traditional American stigma)

2:15 PM James 0 Comments

I’ve been living with my wife’s parents for about six months now. Since the birth of our daughter, they’ve graciously allowed us to rent two extra bedrooms for $1,000/month.

It’s been a major challenge to my concept of being an adult. I thought being an adult meant being independent. I didn’t know what to think of the all-too-common story of the Millennial college grad who moves back in with her parents, the “boomerang child”.

It’s also a potential strain on our relationship. Being that close to one set of parents presents its own set of problems:
  1. Parents can get on kids’ nerves.
  2. Adult children can get on parents’ nerves.
  3. You don’t want to think about your in-laws seeing or hearing some of the normal married things you do with their precious son/daughter.
  4. There can be tension about your multiple roles. Should you be treated as a guest? As a tenant? As something entirely different?

However, there are many benefits as well:
  1. Parents can be an enormous help with the grandchild.
  2. It makes grandparents feel included, which helps their sense of well-being.
  3. You can also be a big help to the parents with various things (household repairs, shopping, etc)
  4. If your parents have a big house that’s now an empty nest, your financial assistance will help them pay their mortgage. It’s also a more efficient use of housing than to have two big houses (one for you and one for the parents).
  5. Parents don’t always like to take monetary gifts from children, so this can be a creative way to help your parents out. You’re also keeping more money in the family, instead of paying some stranger.
  6. Baby can get to know more family members, which is great for baby’s social, relational, and language development.
  7. You can save money on rent and increase your savings for upcoming expenses.
  8. If you’re at all concerned about your parents or how they live, it’s a way you can keep a closer eye on them and make sure they’re OK.

From a cultural perspective, living with one's parents isn't as taboo as you might think. In the US, it's become more acceptable since the Great Recession. In many European countries, more young adults live with parents, even up to age 40. And in Asia, multi-generational homes are very common.

From the family unit’s economic perspective, we’re saving my in-laws $1,500/month, and we’re saving ourselves about $700/month in rent and $1,200 in childcare costs, so the total economic benefit is $3,400/month. That’s over $40k/year tax-free in after-tax money, or it’s like making $56k/year more before taxes if your marginal tax rate is 28%.  

From the family’s relationship perspective, I think we’re building stronger family bonds, and we’re allowing everyone to spend a lot more time with baby, which is a huge win.

On the other hand, if you’re living with parents, you’re kind of on the same train with them as far as lifestyle, by default. You eat what they eat, if you share a fridge with them. You may not always do what they do, but your activities are compatible. And you may not spend what they spend, but you’re influenced by it to a higher degree. Herein lies the risk of diluting the benefit of multi-generational cohabitation.

How to beat this:

  1. Be really clear on your priorities. Get clear with your spouse on this if you’re married. One of you is related to these people, and may have a stronger emotional attachment to their way of living. On the other hand, they may be more effective or more knowledgeable at broaching uncomfortable subjects with them.
    1. Make specific plans as a couple.
    2. Talk about your specific goals, and any actions you need to take separate from your family’s normal activities.
  2. Make sure you spend time with yourselves, and not only time with family. If you don’t make an effort, you start to feel like siblings instead of romantic partners.
  3. Don’t feel like you need to always do what your family is doing. Chances are, your parents don’t want to always spend time with you either.
  4. You can score points with the parents and buy some leeway by doing thoughtful things for them occasionally. Wash the dishes, do some housework, take them to dinner, and be a good neighbor / tenant / child / in-law.
  5. Know how long you want to do this. Talk with your spouse about how long they’re OK with this arrangement. Decide when to reevaluate. Discuss how it’s going regularly. Have a plan to get out, and don’t be afraid to pull the trigger and reclaim your independence!


I wish I’d thought about alternatives to an MBA

2:00 PM James 0 Comments

As I’ve written about before, I really enjoyed going to business school, and I learned a lot of topics that I never covered in my Bachelors of Science in electrical engineering. Here are some great things about the UCLA Anderson MBA program:
  1. Learning about tons of topics outside of engineering (strategy, marketing, organization behavior, mergers and acquisitions, real estate) and models that I still use today
  2. Meeting non-engineers who are great people, ambitious, and curious (my class was ~25% current and former engineers, 20% consulting, 20% finance, and various other disciplines)
  3. Fun social events with said great people
  4. Many opportunities to explore different career paths, with varying levels of engagement and commitment: case competitions (marketing, banking, hackathons, startups, consulting engagements, real estate deals, nonprofits)

I’ve described UCLA Anderson as “a 5-star buffet of educational opportunity (and I’m not just coming hungry, I’m bringing Tupperware!)” (They love to put that in the promotional emails). But what if you don’t need a 5-star buffet? What if, instead of the $50 Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, you just feel like some high-quality sashimi and only need to spend $25 to get it?

Here’s a decision flowchart that can help you decide whether an MBA is right for you:

Some quick takeaways from this flowchart:

  1. Instead of a full-fledged MBA from UCLA Anderson (and other top business schools), you could enroll in targeted certificate programs if you’re more sure about what you want to do after school.
  2. If you’re curious about other jobs, and you work in a company with people who do those jobs, talk to them before committing yourself to an expensive degree. Go out to lunch / coffee / drinks with them and say you’re considering a career change. Ask them how they got into this field, and what experience and education helped them. Ask if they ever hire internally. Ask if you can help out with a project, something they’d use an intern for.
  3. There are many ways to learn the same thing. Some career paths require a name-brand education, or formal training, and some don’t. Knowing which you need can save you lots of time and debt.
  4. I’m not against getting an MBA! Far from it, I’m happy I got a part-time MBA. It’s taught me many helpful concepts that I still use today. However, when I was deciding whether to pursue an MBA, I didn’t have this whole picture at my disposal. As informative as they were, the various info sessions I attended didn’t point us toward non-MBA paths (imagine that). I remember wanting to feel like I was making active effort and measurable progress towards my dream job. For some people, these paths do not require a fancy piece of paper.


Why at 33, I’m saving for a rental property instead of retirement

1:59 PM James 0 Comments

Conventional financial advice says to invest for retirement as early and as much as possible. As for the first, that’s what I did - I started saving in a Roth IRA when I was still in undergrad at 20, and started investing 10% in a 401k when I started my post-college engineering career at 22. For the second, I started off maxing out everything, because I didn’t know what else to do, but in my mid-twenties lowered it to guarantee the full company match (my employer matched up to 6%, which is a great deal).

When Life Priorities Change, So Do Financial Priorities

When I got engaged, I prioritized saving for the wedding. When I realized I wanted to go to grad school, my wife and I made the tough decision to pause retirement savings and cashflow an MBA (for me) and a JD (for her) to the maximum extent possible. That went against my instincts, but it saved us from taking out $100k in student loan debt at 6% APR. (We still took out a ton of money in student loans, but not as much as we would have.) Weighing the risk of student debt and the interest rate, I feel like we did the right thing.  

Once we graduated, we attacked the remaining student debt mercilessly. We had a $900/month payment on various 10-year loans from Nelnet, but we routinely threw $3-6k/month at them to obliterate the principal as fast as possible. We also refinanced to a 5-year APR from SoFi, which knocked the interest down from 6% to a measly 3%. We continued to sacrifice a little 401k growth, but to us, managing our student debt made sense from a numbers and from a risk perspective.

During my first year of grad school, we made another huge financial commitment by buying a 2-bedroom condo in a working-class neighborhood. We’d been living in a cool part of Downtown LA in a 1-bedroom for $1750/month, but this condo dropped our monthly payment to $1300/month. We were able to do that because I HADN’T put all my savings into retirement. I knew at some level that I’d want some spending money before I turned 60, and I’m really happy I’ve made that decision, because it’s given me a lot of flexibility.

Riding The Market Up

We got the condo in 2012, not the bottom of the California housing market, but close enough that the purchase made a lot of sense. It was a Real Estate Owned property, and we got it for $252k after closing costs with a down payment of around $50k. Two years later, we sold it for $320k ($304k after transaction costs), which turned our initial $50k investment into $102k, essentially doubling our money. Doing the math on this, that’s an IRR of 42%. While retirement savings isn’t a bad investment, you don’t get anywhere close to 42% on $50k even when you factor in incentives like matching contributions and tax savings. Our stats:
Purchase price: $252k
Down payment: 20%, or $50k
Holding period: 2 years
Sales price: $320k ($304k after sales fees)
Gain: $52k on $50k
IRR over holding period: 42%

After we sold the 2-bedroom condo, we bought a 3-bedroom detached townhome in another working-class neighborhood. This was a new construction in a planned gated community, by a builder with a good reputation, in a practical location close to freeways, a Target shopping center, and several aerospace and tech companies. Since the home wasn’t built yet, there were pros and cons to this deal. The obvious con is that you’re not 100% certain the community will be finished the way you hope it will. However, there are buyer protections in case this happens (which you should read VERY CAREFULLY before you decide to buy new construction!). There are also great positives about this situation, which I’ll get into next.

First, buying new construction means you get to watch your house get built. If you know what you want, and you have good people helping you, you can make smart design choices and conduct quality control to know you’re getting a top-rate residence. In our example, we had an excellent home inspector who caught issues along the way, so the builder fixed them before things got too far. My wife also has an amazing aesthetic sense, so she picked out the flooring, tile, colors, and fixtures to make the place really pop. I figure this added about $30k in property value, just by making smart choices along the way.

Second, new construction is purchased differently than already-built homes, and this allows you to buy at below market price. Demand for this community was extremely high, but purchase prices were set by the builder. They didn’t want to deal with vetting multiple offers, even at higher prices - they just wanted to sell their units and finish the project. In a sense, the builder left money on the table, because they chose to sell their units rather than maximizing their unit price. As a result, the homes all quickly sold out, and once owners were allowed to sell their homes, they started going for much higher than the initial purchase price. We’re closing next week, and these will be our stats:
Purchase price: $436k
Down payment: 20%, or $89k
Holding period: 2 years
Sales price: $603k ($576k after sales fees)
Gain: $149k on $89k
IRR over holding period: 63%


You may be reading that and saying “it’s great that you made such high returns, but you just got lucky!” That’s partly true - anyone who bought a home at a low point in the market got lucky. If I’d bought my first home in 2006, I probably wouldn’t be so bullish on real estate. However, bias can occur from both positive and negative experiences! I think the more productive conclusion is that I got in early on a trend, by analyzing the information available to me. I’m not a genius, but we saw that a condo that was priced at $360k in 2007 was now priced at $252k. That looked like a good deal to us, and we jumped on it like a Black Friday special.

You may also say “you can’t expect consistently high positive returns because buying individual homes is inherently risky, and volatility will bite you eventually.” I’d say that’s a pretty long sentence, but I’d agree for the most part. My wife and I were gifted another property that didn’t do nearly as well. The stats for that one:
Purchase price: $440k
Down payment: 40%, or $176k
Holding period: 2 years
Sales price: $508k ($483k after sales fees)
Gain: $43k on $176k (I forget how much principal we paid off)
IRR over holding period: 11.5% (not bad, but not great either)

You may still be reading this and saying “real estate isn’t a very passive investment, unlike stocks,” to which I’d absolutely agree. Real estate isn’t what investors call efficient. It’s not liquid, transactions take weeks and require multiple humans who need to get paid, and it’s not easy to know everything about what you’re buying. However, it also means that Wall Street won’t buy all the good deals in microseconds and leave you with the bad end of the deal. There are plenty of good articles about why real estate is a good (or bad) investment asset class, so I leave the research and the final judgment to you. But for us, it’s been the best financial investment in a sellable asset we’ve made so far.

There Are Better Investments In Your Future Besides Retirement

My top investment decision has been marrying my lovely and amazing wife. She makes me better in an infinite number of ways, and I can’t possibly reduce her awesomeness to a simple financial decision (nor do I want to). But the one relevant to this post is that her wisdom and vision have given me the courage to invest in other things that matter in our lives, including these real estate deals.

My second top investment decision has been going back to grad school. It cost about $110k over 3 years ($60k after the $30k tax savings and $20k tuition reimbursement, that’s for another post - yes, you can deduct your MBA), but it paid for its entire sticker price in less than a year after I graduated. I estimate that about 4 years after I made my first tuition payment, it’s had an IRR of roughly 44% over that period based on allowing me to get my current job, and it’ll continue to serve me well for the next 40 years of my working life.

After we close, we’re going to have around $333k to invest. I’m not going to plow it into a 401k (Roth or otherwise). Instead, I’m going to look for better returns, most likely in real estate. Prices have gone up considerably since 2012, but LA is a hot real estate market, and demand here is still quite strong. We have a rental property that’s cashflowing, but we hope to move there later and take advantage of the excellent neighborhood and school system. After all our costs and tax effects, I figure we’re getting around a 25% annual return on our initial down payment investment. In that case, if we can find another good rental property that cashflows, it’ll give us a lot of flexibility in the future. Early retirement, career switching, part-time work, sabbaticals, entrepreneurial ventures, and passion projects would be much easier with a cushion of extra rental income.

What will we invest >$300k in? Not sure yet. We might find a fixer and buy it really cheap, then renovate it. We like watching HGTV and talking like we have our own version of the show Flip Or Flop. We’re trying to assemble the right team that will give us high confidence in that type of undertaking, because they can be risky (or as my former real estate professor likes to say, “there’s a lot of hair on those deals.”) Or we might invest in a multi-family unit in an up-and-coming neighborhood that we know pretty well. One thing we’ve learned is that despite the stress and work involved, we think real estate is fun, and it can be a darn good investment as well.


My first 7 jobs

1:56 PM James 0 Comments

  1. Freelance writer at The Morgan Hill Times - wrote for my town newspaper (circulation: 35,000) covering junior varsity sports teams for $20 a story. I spent about 3 hours each week writing two 250-word stories, so I made about $13/hr. My work consisted of calling up coaches and asking them about the games they played and what was coming up next week. I took their summaries of the games, spiced them up with exciting verbiage, and banged out the stories.
  2. Page layout editor at The Morgan Hill TImes - when summer rolled around, the paper hired me to work 20 hours a week laying out the news section, including the front page, photos, captions, trimming stories, and proofreading. I made $8-10/hr, which was a little better than minimum wage. I spent a few late nights making sure we met deadlines. I continued doing this job during my last year of high school. I quit during the year to spend more time playing music in my band and apply to schools.
  3. “House man” at Eagle Ridge Golf Course - the next summer, I worked at a local golf course doing a bunch of random manual labor tasks. Building sheds, repairing golf carts, washing glasses behind the bar (only once!), and setting up for weddings and parties by assembling (and disassembling) dance floors, moving a lot of furniture, and setting and clearing dishes. The job was physically demanding, and I often woke up the next day with a sore back and muscles. Hours were nights and weekends - sometimes I’d work from 9am-1pm to set up, then come back at 9pm-1am to tear down. I made minimum wage + tip, which worked out to $11-15/hr. I only worked about 15 hours per week, and my mom thought I was lazy, but it left me free to play with my band and hang out with my friends before I went off to college.
  4. Camp counselor at Camp Leelanau - my freshman summer, I was coerced to work as a camp counselor at an all-boys summer camp in the forest of northern Michigan. It was an awesome place for kids to get outdoor skills, challenge themselves physically and mentally, and enjoy great brotherhood with other campers and learn from counselors who are positive male role models. I made $1,500 for 8 weeks of work, so the hourly rate was less than $5/hr (assuming a 40-hour work week… and this was basically a 130-hour work week!). I was responsible for a cabin of five 7-to-8 year olds, and for teaching archery, neither of which I had any experience doing before that summer. It was a memorable summer, but I did not want to do that again! It also made me realize that taking care of kids is TOUGH and I did not want to be a parent… yet.
  5. Lab assistant at Scripps Institution of Oceanography - in sophomore and junior year I worked in a computational environmental science lab that used big data and neural networks to predict weather patterns and stuff like that. I worked for a Principal Investigator (a guy with a PhD who ran the lab and got funding) and wrote and edited his papers, wrote scripts for data analysis, fetched coffee, and wrote his expense reports. That glorious job paid $11/hour, and came with a free helping of verbal abuse and high blood pressure from stress. The PI was a narcissistic asshole, but he helped me with some letters of recommendation down the road. I also learned C and scripting, so that was good on-the-job training.
  6. Engineering intern at General Atomics Electronic Systems - I started out working in the basement with a desk pretty far from everyone else. There were two other interns who I became friends with. We traded music and goofed off. I also occasionally built and debugged circuits, redlined engineering drawings, classified electronic component databases. Basically, they gave me really vague tasks, and I made tons of stupid mistakes and learned a lot of engineering jargon and practices the hard way. A few months in, they put me in charge of the next round of interns. I made $15/hr and they offered me my first full-time engineering job as a Component Engineer at $45k, then $51k. I refused because I knew that was way under market, and being a Component Engineer sounded like the most boring thing ever.
  7. Associate process engineer at Cubic Defense Applications - got this job thanks to my college buddy and lab-mate. At $55k/year, it was pretty average entry-level engineering pay. The job was really interesting: I didn’t appreciate many parts of it while I worked there, but I learned so much from it that I still use today, and I had some good people who taught me valuable lessons and gave me valuable experience. The cool thing was that I got a lot of autonomy - it was up to me to figure out how to solve problems, usually by just walking around, asking questions, and being resourceful - scary, but interesting. The bad things: waking up early (5:30-7am start times were not uncommon), feeling inferior to design engineers (which is not true), working with paper and command prompt legacy systems, feeling like I was supporting bad decisions regarding the Iraq War. Worked with some awesome people, though, and will always be grateful for the opportunities!


What should you spend your career on? Inspiration, disillusionment, fulfillment, and chasing the wind

1:45 PM James 0 Comments

I titled this “chasing the wind” because I’ve found fulfillment in a career to be a moving target, perhaps a mirage that doesn’t really exist.

Inspiration: When I started working at The Old Place, I was swept up by the company mission “contributing to human welfare by the application of biomedical engineering to alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life”. Working on medical devices meant that I was applying my skills, education, and effort towards a noble purpose, and that felt great. I was excited to get into the office every day, because I had a new opportunity to make sick people live more normal lives.

Disillusionment: After a while, I realized that large organizations, even well-meaning ones, do things that disappoint you sometimes. A product previously claimed to be safe now has to be recalled because it’s causing, rather than blocking, pain in some patients. A device is found to malfunction in certain rare conditions that could potentially kill a patient. A company that claims to value innovation under-invests in R&D, and bleeds market share while its main product grows increasingly outdated. You see your friends laid off because the company misses earnings targets. Eventually, your company dodges billions of dollars in taxes in a legally and ethically sketchy acquisition. After seeing enough of these, enough promises to turn things around, a revolving door of VPs, presidents, and CEOs, you realize you don’t believe anymore. You have to leave.

Despite my disappointment, I still know many people who believe in the company mission and who still walk into that office, committed to helping sick people feel better. It’s noble, if quixotic. I also realize that managing a department, a business unit, or a global corporation is hard. You don’t always like the cards you’re dealt. You may not know the answers, but you do the best you can and hope it’s enough. I further realize that being unhappy with one’s job because it doesn’t inspire you everyday is such a Gen Y concept that it’s cliche. But still, it affects me.

You can see this two different ways: as the one who’s been let down, or as the one who can do something about it. If you see your company doing something dumb and you know a better way, let someone know. Figure out what it takes to convince the right people. I’m not saying commit career suicide, by golly. But showing that level of ownership and initiative will get you noticed at any company. Just be prepared to discuss what you see as the problem and the solution in a way that makes sense to the decision-makers. Of course, if you’re convinced you’re powerless to change the situation, or if your well-being is suffering, then you need to figure out a graceful way to move on.

Changing jobs fixed this for me at first. SpaceX inspires the hell out of me with its mission to make life multi-planetary. My coworkers inspire me to give my best, because they damn sure give theirs. I’ve sacrificed many long days and nights for the dream of sending humanity to the stars, and I’ve had some huge wins as well as some big disappointments. I feel like I have agency, so I dust myself off and walk into the office believing I’m doing my highest good.

Will I ever get disillusioned at this job? It’s definitely possible. Although we hire people all the time, people quit too. I’ve experienced frustration about certain things my team, department, and company have done. But nothing has made me lose faith in our mission, or in the commitment we all have to it. I’m also developing what I think is a healthy sense of perspective about how much you can really expect a job to fulfill you.

A good job should definitely give you satisfaction, and it helps to believe in what the company does, but I’m not sure it’s healthy to let it define you or your ethical or philosophical standards. Companies and other institutions, like governments and churches, will make decisions you disagree with, things that look like big mistakes, and you will be disappointed. It’s best not to put them on too high a pedestal. Sure, we should hold leaders to a high standard, but we should also forgive them when they act human and make mistakes. What’s more, we should help them recover if we truly care about them, and they let us help. That’s a positive way to show you believe in what you do.

It’s also helpful to value your self-development as your career goes on. Even if a company isn’t your “dream date”, a stint there can be worthwhile if you’re learning and growing in a personal and professional sense. A job doesn’t have to be forever.

I can’t close without emphasizing how important it is for all of us to have support that’s outside our company. Friends, family, and communities we belong to all play an important part in our well-being. Don’t place too much trust in work, expecting it to meet needs that should be met by other close relationships.

With that, I sincerely hope you find a job that inspires you and makes you want to get out of bed and walk into the office every day ready to make a difference. I also hope you have people who make you feel that way too.


I wish I’d been less of a hoarder earlier in life

1:43 PM James 0 Comments

I remember being jealous of people who seemed to be happy having few possessions. That’s never been me.

I’m also well-acquainted with the shame of having a messy car and a cluttered bedroom, the paralysis of trying to throw things away, and the frustration of feeling like I’ve hit a mental block and will never be free of stuff.

Much of these instincts came from my upbringing. My father was at times incapable of throwing away even old newspapers and empty peanut butter jars. My mother’s well-intended generosity meant I ended up with presents that I didn’t want, but felt bad throwing away. I developed an emotional attachment to things that symbolized parts of my life that I cherished. I still struggle with these attachments to this day.

I certainly wish I’d grown up with less attachment to physical objects. From college age, I moved often, about once every year or two, and moving all my cherished possessions was physically exhausting. I also remember it being mentally exhausting, because each move-out dredged up memories attached to those things. I didn’t think about them as much when I unpacked, which is why I think I still dread packing, but love unpacking. All told, my attachments have complicated my life for well over a decade.

I suspect my hoarding has kept me from being as mobile as I’ve wanted to be. Moving is always inconvenient. It’s really a pain with you have literally tons of stuff following you around. I’m sure it’s influenced me to spend extra money on a larger place instead of a smaller one. I know it’s cost me considerably mental energy.

I want this next paragraph to introduce some revolutionary concept, like SO THAT’S WHY THIS YEAR I’LL INTENTIONALLY REDUCE MY POSSESSIONS TO THAT OF A MONK TAKING A VOW OF POVERTY. But I don’t really want that. Facing that drastic of a reduction would be mentally… challenging.

However, I have accidentally reduced my attachment by living with my wife over the last four years and, together, living with her parents for the last six months. With few exceptions, I give my wife permission to toss anything she deems unnecessary. She’s helped me lighten my load considerably. We’ve also limited ourselves to one bedroom (and part of a garage) worth of stuff over the last several months, which has been incredibly eye-opening. Now realizing that I don’t ever think, let alone use, the vast majority of my things, I’m much more open to parting with them permanently.

My favorite technique for deciding if I can throw away something is to take a picture of it. If I can look at that picture and get roughly the same level of enjoyment as looking at the real thing, I let go of the real thing, and keep the picture. My second-favorite technique is a self-imposed requirement that for every new thing, I have to get rid of something else. Buy a few new shirts at the store? Time to donate some old clothes to Goodwill. A third “stuff” limit we implemented was investing in a 1600 sqft townhome in the neighborhood we love, and planning to raise our family there - we’ll have to make everything fit 1600 sqft somehow, and that will force me to reduce drag.

Some things I haven’t thrown away, but I’m thinking about letting them go soon:
  1. Bass guitar and amplifier
  2. Crate of books
  3. Snowboard gear

In the coming year, I hope to part with more non-essential possessions, and clear up more physical and mental space for the important things in life. Now that I’m married with an amazing six-month-old child, I’m willing to let go of some of the old parts of my life that I used to cherish, and make room for the present and the future. I should have realized that I didn’t need to start a family to benefit from that mindset.