Becoming a better man

Many of us in the personal finance community like to focus on money. Our goals revolve around saving more, spending less, and investing better so that we can build up our nest egg over time.  While financial independence is certainly a laudable goal (and a goal of my own), it is equally important to pursue improvement in all areas of our lives.

If I had any advice to give my 18 year old self, it would be to always strive to be the best man I could be.  That can mean different things to different people, but in my mind it requires us to focus on four different facets of ourselves: mind, body, soul, and money.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.’  — Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love[

Mind

As Robert Heinlein tells us in his sci-fi work, Time Enough for Love, humans have the ability to do all sorts of things.  And yet, so few of us actually take advantage of our abilities, and as a result we’re forced to rely on others for tasks we could quite easily do on our own.

The internet has provided us with numerous resources to help us improve our lives, from learning basic accounting to reflooring our home.  With so much useful information at our fingertips, I like to spend some time every week learning something new.  Whether I’m taking a course online (Coursera and EDX are great) or just reading a good book, there’s something really fulfilling about continuing the learning process beyond school.  I personally like to mix things up, and lately I’ve been reading everything from books on meditation, psychology, and even good old spy novels every once in awhile. And don’t worry, I guarantee you’ll still have plenty of time to watch your favorite shows on Netflix.

“Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park.  Enjoy the ride.’ – Anthony Bourdain

Body

There was a guy on my trading desk who ate nothing but chicken breast, salad, and oatmeal every day for the 3.5 years we worked together.  He spent hours in the gym, and was easily at 6% body fat.  Whenever anyone would ask how he could eat such a bland diet, his response was always the same – “my body is a temple.”

I’ve included the quote from Anthony Bourdain above because people are generally in one of the extremes.  There’s always one person in the dining hall in college with a plate full of fried food, pizza, and finishes it all off with ice cream. And then you get the person who eats nothing but salad who is always on a diet.

I’d like to think we can be somewhere in between.  We only get one shot at this life, and unless you’ve got some sort of time machine, you’re likely stuck with the body you’ve got.  Just being cognisant of what you’re eating and generally sticking to healthy meals means that you can still eat burgers and pizza and all sorts of fried goodies from time to time.

Once you’re eating relatively well, spending a few hours a week being active doing something you love will be the difference between going up a pants size every year and staying lean and mean.  The way I see it – age is just a number, and we can easily stay fit well into our later years.  I have a feeling your significant other will appreciate it as well!

“Don’t gain the world and lose your soul, wisdom is better than silver or gold.’ – Bob Marley

 Soul

A few years back, I was working fairly long hours, tired of my job, and overall just feeling burnt out.  My days consisted of waking up at 5am, taking an hour train ride to the office, working until 630pm, an hour train ride back, and basically leaving me just enough time to eat and head to bed.  Work was such a huge part of my life that I forgot to really take care of myself.  After a few months I was feeling so burnt out that I knew I had to make a change.  I needed the job to pay off my student loans, but I made sure to include time for myself every day.

Call it what you will – reflection, meditation, whatever – but giving myself a time every day away from the distractions of “real life” was just what I needed to cope with the tough work schedule.  For me my soul food came in the form of playing acoustic guitar.  I realized that while I was playing guitar the problems of the day seemed to disappear (probably helped by the fact that I wasn’t very good initially and really had to concentrate).

Your soul food may be something different.  Spending time with friends and family, music, watching the sunset, yoga/meditation – all great ways to get yourself out of the monotony of “real life” and back to feeling like there’s more out there.

Money

Finally that leaves us with the one we’ve all been waiting for – money! We all know money is important – we need it to survive, we want more of it to live better, and yet many of us feel like we’re on a human-sized hamster wheel just trying to keep up.  We like to write a lot about money here, but it really isn’t that hard, and it just comes down to a few key principles.

Spend less.  Work hard.  Make your money work for you.

And that’s it! The more balanced you can be across all facets of your life, the easier it’ll be overall.  This is The Millennial Plan, so focus on whatever works for you, come up with a plan, and I guarantee you’ll be happier, healthier, and richer before you know it!