What I Did This Year

Allow me to be immodest for a moment.

I’ve worked pretty hard this year to get fit, and I’m finally starting to see the result. I like it. By chance, I’ve posed for three photographers in 2010, about four months apart. That means I have visual documentation of my progress, which I’m proudly sharing below.

January 1st – 213 pounds (35% body fat, 30% muscle)
photo by J.D. Roth

At the start of the year, I weighed more than I ever had in my life. And I felt awful. I couldn’t sleep. Walking uphill to my office was taxing. I was stressed, and I ate to cope with it. It wasn’t good. I resolved to make 2010 the Year of Fitness, but I was slow to start. Here’s how I looked on our jungle vacation in late February:

Me in a Hammock in Belize
Here I am, lounging in a hammock in Belize. I am fat.

April 1st – 207 pounds (33% body fat, 31% muscle)
photos by Gabby Francis

My first photo session this year was with Gabby Francis, a Get Rich Slowly reader who e-mailed offering to take my photo. Gabby works as a production assistant in television, but wants to branch out into photography. She was very patient with me, and it was fun to chat with her while we worked. But I was more than a little uncomfortable. I hated how I looked and felt. In three months of trying, I’d lost only four pounds.

photo by Gabby Francis
I’ve been using this as my primary publicity photo.

photo by Gabby Francis
Let’s be very clear: I hate how heavy I am in these photos.

photo by Gabby Francis
This is me trying to be happy. It was tough.

July 23rd – 187 pounds (27% body fat, 34% muscle)
photos by David Hobby

You’ll remember David Hobby from my tale of win-win conflict resolution: I stole one of his photos from the web; he suggested a creative solution for restitution, and ever since we’ve been supporting each other. He’s a good guy. He’s also a pro, running Strobist, a giant among photo blogs.

When David told me he was going to be in Portland and wondered if he could shoot some photos of me, I was happy to agree. I’d lost 20 pounds since the photo shoot with Gabby, which allowed me to feel more relaxed in front of the camera.

photo by David Hobby
David’s a pro. I like that he specifically told me not to smile.

photo by David Hobby
“How about something at the table with you rolling pennies?” David asked. “Like a LOT of ’em.”

photo by David Hobby
“Would it be too much trouble to have you take a photo of both of us?” Kris asked.

Aside from the fact that I chose to wear the same shirts for David as I did for Gabby (what was I thinking?), I like how these turned out. I was still heavy, but the weight loss was starting to become apparent.

November 18th – 175 pounds (24% body fat, 36% muscle)
photos by Amy Jo Woodruff

My friend Amy Jo is an editor — but she wants to be a photographer when she grows up. After seeing her photos of Lisa, I agreed to pose for her too. This was my favorite photo shoot so far. I haven’t yet lost all of the weight I want to lose, but I’ve shed most of it. I no longer have those chubby cheeks or the bags under my eyes!

photo by Amy Jo Woodruff
“You can’t sit there,” said Amy Jo. “There’s a weird light across your eyes.” Psycho-killer!

photo by Amy Jo Woodruff
Now officially my favorite photo of myself. I can retire the one I’ve been using since 1999.

Amy Jo asked me to list fourteen words that I feel best describe me. I gave her this list:

  • Adventurous – I love to try new things.
  • Creative – I love to make new things.
  • Curious – I love to learn new things.
  • Evolving – I’m a different man today than I was yesterday.
  • Independent – I make and act on my own decisions.
  • Intelligent – I am smart.
  • Playful – I like to joke and jest.
  • Positive – I look on the bright side.
  • Resourceful – I search for ways to get things done.
  • Sociable – I enjoy the company of others.
  • Tenacious – I pursue my goals with vigor
  • Unguarded – I share myself freely, and I accept the word of others.
  • Versatile – I am good at many things.
  • Zealous – I’m passionate about my friends and hobbies.

“It’s funny,” she said as we were walking to the park. “Whenever adults do this exercise, all of their words are positive.”

I laughed. “Yeah,” I said. “Kris told me that she could think of some other words to describe me. Like ‘obsessed’. I told her that’s why ‘zealous’ is on the list.”

I have negative attributes, just like everyone else. I’m sure you all could name them. But I don’t think it’s productive to dwell on them. Instead, I like to focus on my strengths, and let those guide my life. Dwelling on the negative is a sure path to misery. I don’t want to be miserable.

photo by Amy Jo Woodruff
Welcome to middle age, my friend.

photo by Amy Jo Woodruff
I love in-jokes. This one’s for all of those who’ve read Foldedspace since the beginning.

So, to summarize: Since the start of the year:

  • I’ve lost 40 pounds.
  • I’ve dropped from 35% body fat to 24% body fat.
  • I’ve increased my muscle mass from 30% to 36%.
  • I no longer use my C-PAP machine.
  • I can run faster and farther than I ever have in my life.
  • I can lift more weight, too.
  • And most of the time, I don’t crave ice cream. (Just don’t look at my work area right now, though!)

My physical transformation hasn’t happened by chance. It’s taken hard work and dedication. But I’m starting to believe I really have made a lifestyle change. I want to exercise more now, not less. It sucks when I don’t get a workout in. (And somedays, like I hope to do tomorrow, I actually work out twice.)

So, do I think Crossfit works? Hell, yeah!

Before   After

Maybe if I keep it up, when I’m 91 I can be like Olga Kotelko.

Stuck in a Moment

I’ve been stuck in a strange mental place for the past month, and I can’t seem to get out of it. During the second weekend of July, I traveled to Breckenridge, Colorado to be a speaker at a blogging conference. I had a great time and I learned a lot, but was relieved when the conference was over — it was the last large commitment looming on the horizon.

The following weekend, I met a life-long goal: I biked 100 miles in a day. I was a little short on training before the ride (having logged only 500 miles), but I felt fit. My weight loss was on-track, and I was exercising nearly every day, sometimes for hours at a time.

The first half of the century ride was, theoretically, the most difficult; it had all of the elevation gain. But I loved it. When I stopped for lunch at the 54-mile mark, I felt great. I felt like I could ride forever. Ha!

Unfortunately, the next 46 miles weren’t as easy as I thought they’d be. Sure the terrain was flat-ish, but I hadn’t counted on the wind. (As most bikers will tell you, we’d much rather bike uphill against a visible enemy than to bike into the wind against an invisible enemy.) Plus, the sun came out from behind the clouds and beat down on me with what seemed like searing coals of rage. Plus, whereas there were water stops ever ten miles in the first half of the course, there were only two water stops on the second half, with a gap of 28 miles between lunch and the first stop. Ugh.

I finished my 100-mile ride, but I did so a broken man. I was exhausted. I was sunburned. I was in pain. I was mentally shattered, and to such an extent that I still haven’t really recovered.

I’m not kidding.

In the month since that ride, I’ve biked a total of 73 miles, including a 53-mile ride from home to the box factory and back. (That ride included a nasty hill climb into the back side of Oregon City, which just made me even more resistant to get on a bike.)

Worse, my diet has been terrible since the century ride. Well, that’s not true. Mostly, my diet is fine. I’m eating lean protein and fruit and vegetables about 75% of the time. But it’s the other 25% of the time that’s frustrating me.

Take today, for example. I was exhausted, so I slept late, which meant I missed my Crossfit workout for the second time this week. When I woke, I craved donuts. I mean I craved donuts: It’s almost an ache for an apple fritter. Several days over the past month, I’ve caved; I’ve driven to get donuts. (Come on, at least I could walk or bike!) I’ve also eaten ice cream sundaes and other junk. Again, not a lot of it, but enough.

As a result, my weight has stayed very stead for the past thirty days. I’m not gaining weight because I’m still doing Crossfit four or five times a week. But I’m not losing weight, either, and my body composition has stayed roughly the same (25% fat, 35% muscle). This would be fine if I’d reached my target weight and body, but I haven’t. I still have a ways to go.

And another thing: Along with my physical stagnation has come a sort of mental stagnation. For the past month, I’ve been worthless at the office. I find it difficult to write about anything. I stare at the screen for hours, surfing aimlessly. It’s as if I’ve checked out of life. I don’t like it.

Again, this all goes back to Cycle Oregon Weekend and the 100-mile ride. It all started then. (I can even trace it to a particular stretch of road where I just sort of snapped. I was biking into the wind on a long never-ending straight-away and the sun was beating down and I was thirsty and I knew I had 30 more miles to ride before I was finished.)

So, what’s the point of all this? I’m not sure. I feel like I just need to get this out there so that other people know I’m stuck. Paul Jolstead saw it early on — within days of the ride — so he walked to lunch with me one day and we chatted. Kris is very aware of it, but doesn’t really know what to do about it. I don’t know either.

I’m trying to make slow progress by regimenting my life. I’m making lists of things that need to be done, and I’m trying to use my calendar extensively. This is working…sort of. I’m also doing my best to clean everything around me. I’ve heard that an ordered environment fosters and ordered mind, and in my case, I’ve found that’s true. So, I’m trying to keep things tidy.

But the real key is for me to start doing the right thing. When I crave donuts, I need to eat something else. In April, I adopted a policy that if I craved something bad for me, I could give my permission to eat anything in the world that I wanted that was healthy. So, instead of donuts for breakfast, I’d have a filet mignon for breakfast. Expensive, yes, but much better for me, and strangely satisfying. And I need to attack my to-do list with vigor.

What about today? I woke late and missed Crossfit, and I’ve had a palpable urge to eat two or three donuts. Well, I think I’ve found a solution. I still haven’t eaten breakfast (it’s 10:11 am), but as soon as I finish writing this, I’m going into the kitchen and I’m serving myself some roast chicken and watermelon. No, it’s not donuts, but I’ll be happy once my belly’s full. And then, at 11am, I’m going to get on my stupid bike and I’m going to ride to Lake Oswego for the noon class at Crossfit.

This won’t bring me any closer to getting my other tasks done, of course, but it will be a mental victory. And right now, that’s what I need. I need a bunch of mental victories so that I can get out of this funk I’ve been stewing in for the past thirty days.

Update: It’s been nearly an ideal past four hours since I posted this. I ate a breakfast of grilled chicken and salsa, with some cherries on the side. Then I got on my bike and pedaled ten miles to the gym, taking the cemetery route for the first time in two weeks (That means a 1.5-mile steep hill.) I did the Crossfit workout: back squats, hand stands, and some very clumsy L-sits/tucks. Then I biked ten miles home. Now I’m eating an apple and some ham. I’m at the office now, and I stink — I can barely stand to be in the same room with myself! — but I’m a lot happier than I was this morning.

The Value of Relationships and Experiential Truth

Sometimes Kris wonders why I’m so easy-going, or why I don’t care passionately about politics like she does. Or a blog reader will wonder why I don’t get uptight about a comment. Or a friend asks why I don’t stand up for what I believe in. I’ve never been able to articulate it until now.

Colinmarshall recent posted this (awesome) Ask Metafilter question:

What in life did it take you a surprisingly long time to realize you’ve been doing wrong all along?

This question generated 750 responses from all over the map, both practical and philosophical. The response that resonated with me — the one that clarified for me why I’ve come to value relationships more than being right, than finding Absolute Truth — comes from joost de vries:

What I used to do wrong when I as younger is that I thought Truth was much more important than it is.

Yes, I could demolish a lot of positions by holding them up to the harsh glaring light of objective eternal truth. Hardly anything measures up actually. But then nothing much is left.

My discovery was that I realized that for me this seeking of ‘eternal truth’ had emotional and social underpinnings. Being happy and engaged with people would obviate the paramount need for logical truth.

Another take on this is that logic shows inconsistencies perhaps but can’t say anything about what is of value. What is of value is necessarily founded on subjective emotion and experience and thus inextricably linked with dependent truth, inconsistencies, experiential truths. Those people whose logic I criticized were much better in reasoning in this experiential logic than I was. I came to the conclusion that this kind of reasoning is an essential life skill to have a fulfilling life and that I had a lot to learn.

In other words: It’s better to be happy and have friends than it is to be right. Especially if what is “right” changes as you age.

This is why my personal motto is do what works for you. I really don’t believe there’s One True Way to anything. If you want to be Christian, be Christian. If you want to be Muslim, be Muslim. If you want to be atheist, be atheist. Choose the political party that makes you happy.

It saddens me when people feel the need to evangelize their positions, especially to the point that they say and do hateful things. What’s the point? What does that add to life?

The older I get, the more joy I get out of personal interaction, out of spending time with people of all ways of thought. What does it matter if my personal convictions are different than theirs? I can still learn from them and laugh with them. And it’s the learning and laughing that are important.

1000 Days of Doubt

I think I’ve figured out one reason writing this book is so tough for me. It’s because I’m wracked by self-doubt.

This self-doubt isn’t new. I’ve been struggling with it for years, and it’s just become more acute since I started Get Rich Slowly. I never set out to be a personal finance expert. In fact, I’m sort of the opposite of an expert. I’m an average guy who’s made a lot of mistakes. Sure, I’ve turned things around and that’s what I blog about, but I struggle with the idea that people expect me to know more than I do (or have more training than I do).

And so every day at Get Rich Slowly, I brace myself for failure. A part of me thinks, “This is the day. Today everyone will realize that I don’t know what I’m talking about, that I’m just a regular joe.” I wake up every morning expecting to find tons of negative comments about whatever it is I’ve written. (Or whatever my guest writers have written.)

For over three years — for over a thousand days — I’ve wrestled with daily doubt.

Kris has tried to talk some sense into me. So has Lauren, my wellness coach. “You don’t claim to be anything but a regular guy,” they say. “Nobody expects you to be an expert.”

Lauren tries to trace my thought process. “Did the blog collapse today? Yesterday? At any time over the past three years? Why should today be any different? How can you look at a thousand days of success and still expect to fail?”

I don’t know, but every day I do. I think that today will be the day that I fail.

“And if you do fail today, so what?” she asks.

Anyhow, the thousand days of doubt at the blog is one beast. I understand it. I know that it rears its ugly head every night before I go to bed, and that I tackle it head on every morning when I check to be sure everything’s okay. It’s a daily cycle — one that I know by heart.

But the book…the book takes this doubt and fear of failure to whole new levels. At least with the blog, I get immediate feedback. If I say something stupid, people let me know. If I stumble on something that resonates with readers, I can see it right away. I’m able to make constant course corrections. Not so with the book.

As I write it, my audience for the manuscript is small: Kris, my editor, two tech reviewers, and occasional folk that I let read a chapter for whatever reason. This is a tiny tiny sample size. And they’re looking at work I did days or weeks (or months!) ago. I have no chance to make course corrections.

And so every day I sit down to write the book, I drown in doubt:

  • Does money really bring happiness? What if I have my facts wrong?
  • Should I really be defining S.M.A.R.T. goals, or does everybody know them?
  • Should I include a detailed budget, or is it okay to cover the general idea?
  • Am I giving too much detail about frugality? Not enough?
  • What the hell should I write about banking?

It’s true that I’m proud of a few chapters (happiness, which required a lot of research; debt, which summarizes my philosophy on the subject and contains lots of useful resources; income, which came out much better than I’d planned), but I also loathe a few, as well (frugality, which is so damn big!; banking, which started fine, but which seems incoherent to me now).

Every day, my stomach is tied in knots as I start to write. Will I do this subject justice? Have I included enough useful tips for the readers? There’s so much to cover — what if I leave out the wrong stuff?

In the end, I have to trust my editor. She’s been awesome so far, and she provides an excellent sounding board. She puts up with my neurotic angst (as does Kris, who is earning a million wife points through this whole process). And I have to admit to myself:

I’m doing the best I can considering the circumstances.

What more could I possibly do? If my best isn’t good enough, there’s nothing that can be done, right? So, if I’m doing my best, why worry? But I know that tomorrow I’ll wake again filled with doubt.

Consumed: The Burden of Writing a Book

“You’re doing it again,” Kris told me last night.

“Doing what?” I asked.

“You haven’t posted a new entry at foldedspace in nearly two weeks,” she said. “You’re in danger of letting it get all musty again.”

Kris is right, of course (as she nearly always is). But she also knows the reason for my silence: The Book. The Book is consuming my life. I’ve always wondered why my friends and colleagues allowed their blogs to lapse as they were working on their books. Now I know. The Book is going to kill me.

I can reveal The Book’s title now, by the way. It’ll be Your Money: The Missing Manual, and it’s scheduled to be published next spring by O’Reilly. O’Reilly is best known for its wide range of well-respected computer books, including the “Missing Manual” series. They’re trying to expand a little, and have recently published Your Body: The Missing Manual, Your Brain: The Missing Manual, and Living Green: The Missing Manual. Mine will be another entry in this series.

But writing a book isn’t like writing a blog. When I sit down to write a blog post — like this one — I can just go with the flow. Sometimes I have a beginning and/or an end in mind, but often I just start telling my story. I trust that after years of doing this I can shape my piece into the form I want.

That’s not how it works with a book. A book is planned meticulously. And even when it’s planned, you have a tendency to go off course, which just makes writing it more difficult.

Also, a blog post is 250 words. Or 750. Or, in extreme cases, 1500 words. I don’t usually pay attention to the word count. I just say what I want to say and leave it at that. But a book has a specific length. I know going into this project that Your Money: The Missing Manual will have 250-300 pages (with a preference toward the high end). I also know that other books in this series have a about 300 words per page. That tells me that I’m going to write 75,000 to 90,000 words, which will be divided into chapters of 5,000 or 6,000 words. These chapters are much longer than a blog post, have to possess continuity, and have to be packed with information.

Some of the chapters require research. I had to spend days surveying the literature on money and happiness, for example. Other chapters will require images or figures, which are easy enough, but which are time-consuming. And if I want to quote extensively from another source, I need to get clearance. (Dave thinks I need to get clearance if I quote at all.)

I guess what I’m trying to say is: Writing a book is work. It’s taking all of my time. And the deadlines are killing me.

A typical schedule for a book is: Write for a year, give the publisher a year to put it on the market. That’s not how this one is working. This one is: Write for three months, give the publisher three months to get it on the market. In other words, I’m doing this in a quarter of the time it takes for most books.

I’m required to turn in one chapter every Monday. That’s a chapter a week. A normal book schedule would require about a chapter every month.

As a result, I live up here in this office, surrounded by my Diet Pepsi bottles and pork rind wrappers. My diet sucks. I have barely any free time. Gone are those recent days of walking and reading. Instead, I come up here, I write (and eat like crap), I go home to have dinner with Kris, we watch an episode of All Creatures Great and Small, and I go to bed.

The good news? This is a finite project. I can see the end of it — even if it’s still more than two months away. I now know that this is not how I want to live. I love to write, but on my own terms and my own schedule. Once the book project is over, I’m going to return to my beloved pastoral lifestyle…

Through a Glass, Darkly

At book group Sunday, we discussed Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Though the book is not about comic books, comics provide the background for the action. The entire story is informed by comic-book themes. I’d argue that one of the characters (Joe Kavalier) is intentionally drawn as a sort of comic-book hero, complete with a series of comic-book villains and a comic-book secret lair.

During the discussion, Kris wondered aloud why it is that men — or some men — are obsessed with the things of their childhood, stuff like comic books and videogames. Her question implied several sub-arguments, including:

  • Women are not interested in the trappings of their youth.
  • Comic books and videogames are something that only young people are interested in (or should be interested in).
  • It’s somehow wrong to be interested in the things we liked when we were younger.

The group discussed the first point at length. We talked about reasons men might like the toys and activities of their youth. We even noted that some women do cling to girlhood toys and activities: dolls, Nancy Drew books (of which Kris has a large collection), etc.

But I don’t feel like we explored the second and third topics much at all. Since I disagree with Kris’ premise, I’ve given this some additional thought.

Kris calls this fixation on the things of youth “childish”, and she means it with the negative implications of that word. I don’t agree with her. I think it’s fine to like the things we enjoyed as children.

For one thing, I’m not convinced that comic books and videogames (or dolls or Nancy Drew) are meant only for children. Many people come to these things as kids, it’s true, but many come to them as adults, too. It seems artificial to label these things as childish — especially when the labeler doesn’t have much experience with them.

What’s more, collecting the things from our youth, doing the things we used to do, can provide a heady sense of nostalgia, a visceral connection to the past. It’s a great way to feel connected with our personal histories, with our family and friends.

Hobbies kept from childhood can also help us better understand our selves. I’m able to look at my life-long interest in astronomy, for example, and trace its role in my life. I can do the same with comic books, tracking how my tastes have changed — or stayed the same.

I think it’s foolish to just blindly cast off our childhood interests as “childish” simply because we’re older.

Best. Summer. Ever.

I had lunch with my friend/colleague Mike today. He told me that his income has really taken a nose-dive this year. His family has had to cut back. He told me that despite the lower income, he’s made some changes to his lifestyle in order to emphasize the things that are actually important to him.

“You know what?” he said. “I’m happier. I’m really so much happier.” Mike and his wife have spent a lot of time discussing the Ideal Lifestyle. They’re asking themselves: In a perfect world — if money weren’t an issue — what would their life look like? And they’re trying to make that a reality.

I nodded in agreement as I listened to Mike’s story. I was suddenly able to articulate something I’ve been feeling lately. “Actually,” I said, “I’m happy now, too. This may have been the best summer of my entire life.

“Tell me about it,” Mike said. So I did.

I’m finally getting my workload under control. I love to write. I love maintaining my personal-finance blog. But I did not love the 80 hour weeks. Those have declined this summer, thanks in part to bringing on two staff writers. In fact, my actual obligation at the site has been reduced from about ten posts per week to about two post per week. I’m still doing work that I love, but now I have time for other stuff.

For example, I’m getting regular exercise for the first time since 1998. (That was the summer I rode over 1500 miles on my bike.) My goal is to walk at least five miles every day — and I’m doing it. I’m averaging about 35 miles per week. At least five days a week, I walk on my errands. And as I walk, I read. (I’m very talented, eh?) So, I’m killing three birds with one stone:

  • I’m running my errands.
  • I’m reading for pleasure (for the first time in years).
  • I’m getting exercise.

I’ve also begun to see more of my friends. For the past few years, my life has been Get Rich Slowly. That dedication proved to be financially and professionally rewarding, but I had to sacrifice a lot of other things. Like reading. And friends. This summer, I’ve finally begun to be social again. I’ve even reconnected with a group of high school acquaintances on Facebook. None of us were really close in school, but we’ve begun to see each other at least once per month. I enjoy this immensely. (I’m hosting the group at Rosings Park on Saturday.)

Meanwhile, I’ve been able to focus on a couple of hobbies. I’m very wary of adding new Stuff to our house. But with caution, I’ve begun to collect comic books again. And vinyl record albums. And old books. I’m being very particular about what I acquire. I’m setting a budget, and I’m targeting very specific stuff. And I’m having a hell of a lot of fun. When I was in college, I gave away all of my comic books. Now I’m looking to buy them back for a buck or two a piece. It’s a challenge that will take years, but I’m up to it!

Speaking of Stuff: Kris and I have continued the slow-motion decluttering that we began two years ago. I may be bringing a few new record albums into my soon-to-be-completed Man Room, but I’m ready to purge hundreds more. Yes to a Johnny Cash record and a Miles Davis record. Good-bye, my vast New Wave collection. I’m also purging a lot of books and comics — and clothes.

Finally, I feel like I’m getting physically fit again. After struggling with my weight for years, I bit the bullet and purchased one of those “body bug” monitoring devices. I strap it to my arm and it tracks how many calories I burn. Every night, I tell the software what I ate during the day. This process is keeping me honest, is helping me to lose weight again.

All of these things taken together yield one very happy J.D. I seem like a completely different man than I was last winter. Last winter I was dull and overwhelmed and depressed. Today I am sharp and happy and invigorated.

Yes, this just may be the best summer I’ve ever had.

Ad Astra Per Aspera

I was digging through some old e-mail when I came across a request to update my gigantic list of goals.

On my 38th birthday, I wrote about the 101 things in 1001 days project (which I learned about from dienu.com). I drafted my list of 101 goals on 25 March 2007, and then provided a single update on 01 January 2008. It’s now been 839 days since I made the list. How am I doing today?

Here’s the current state of my list:


Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve done well with my financial goals. I’ve met them all. In fact, I’ve exceeded my goals by a wide margin.

1. Pay off all non-mortgage debt

2. Fully fund Roth IRA (2006)

3. Fully fund Roth IRA (2007)

4. Fully fund Roth IRA (2008)

5. Fully fund Roth IRA (2009)

6. Establish a $5000 personal emergency fund

7. Open a high-yield online savings account

8. Automate bill payments

9. Automate IRA contributions

10. Get a safety deposit box

Health and Fitness

I haven’t done as well here. In fact, I haven’t done well at all. I think the contrast between this list and the first list demonstrates that what gets measured gets managed. The things we focus on are the things we excel at.

1. Give up sugar for a week

2. Eat only home-prepared food for one month

3. Eat vegetarian for one month

4. Get cholesterol to healthy levels borderline now

5. Have a colonoscopy

6. Complete a marathon keep getting injured during training!

7. Complete a 100-mile bike ride

8. Play a team sport

9. Do 100 push-ups got up to 50+ before giving up

10. Bench-press my body weight

11. Complete a one-mile swim

12. Maintain a weight of 170 or below for six months

13. Drink only water for one month

14. Give up alcohol for three months

Home and Garden

I did a little better with this list, though I still have many goals left to accomplish. I actually think I could finish some of these in the four months that remain of my 1001 days.

1. Get the birds out of the workshop ceiling

2. Repair ceiling upstairs in house

3. Clean all gutters and install gutter guards

4. Finish modernizing the electrical system

5. Build a patio

6. Prune the holly trees

7. Learn how to use the chainsaw properly

8. Finish building the horseshoe pit

9. Hire somebody to paint the house

10. Open all windows that are painted shut

11. Park my car in the garage (this entails a lot of sub-steps)

12. Remove debris file from beneath the cedar

13. Add new spigots outside

14. Get a rug or carpet for the library getting close!

15. Acquire some nice office furniture

16. Create home maintenance checklist

17. Erect a hammock keep trying to find a used one

18. Acquire a chipper

19. Set up workshop for woodworking no longer a priority


I made great start on this list, but haven’t done much on it recently. I really do need to purge my record collection, for example. And though I no longer want to sell all of my comics, I do need to organize my collection.

1. Purge wardrobe of anything I haven’t worn in the past two years

2. Get a massage uh, this is sort of an addiction now

3. Learn to shave with a safety razor

4. Update my address book

5. Sell record collection

6. Get rid of computer books

7. Sell CDs, keeping only hard-to-find favorites

8. Sell comic books

9. Sell board games

10. Hold a gourmet potluck

11. Create the Indispensable Comic Strip Reprint Library in progress


Wow. I haven’t even tried to do anything on this list other than the two interview items — and that’s because those come up in the course of my GRS activities. I need to do more here.

1. Take a speech-com class (Dale Carnegie?)

2. Take a drawing class

3. Take a Spanish class I’m more inclined to take French now

4. Take a yoga class

5. Take a cooking class

6. Give a good radio interview I can do this on a regular basis now!

7. Give a good television interview This is a little more difficult for me, but I’ve done it


Again, I haven’t done enough here. One of the things I crave is adventure, but I only talk about it. I never put my words into action.

1. Get tickets for World Cup South Africa Not going to happen

2. Skydive hahaha

3. Go on a trip by myself I should do this

4. Go white-water rafting

5. Ride in a hot-air balloon

6. Learn to shoot a gun Kris beat me to this and taunts me about it


The Wii bowling is no longer a priority, though I’m still making slow progress on the movies. Yay for Netflix!

1. See all Oscar-winners for Best Picture 59/81

2. See all Oscar-winners for Best Documentary 6/66

3. Bowl 300 on Wii Sports 264/300


Before I started Get Rich Slowly, I was actually interested in making money from photography. I was making good progress, too. This list of goals reflects the fact I hadn’t yet abandoned those dreams. Now I have.

1. Sell/publish a second photo

2. Digitize all photos

3. Sell $100 of images at iStockPhoto


Not bad progress here, but not as much as I’d hoped. I spend most of my time reading personal finance books!

1. Read all of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past 1/7

2. Read all of Shakespeare’s plays 13/38

3. Read all of Dickens 6/17

4. Read all Hugo & Nebula winners 23/82

5. Read all Pulitzer winners (for fiction) 10/56


Although I haven’t diversified my writing activities, I can’t say I’m disappointed here. I write a ton, and nearly every day. I haven’t sold a magazine article or published a book, but a book is in the future, I think, and I’ve contributed to three other personal finance books, so that’s a start.

1. Compile and print a Friends Cookbook

2. Sell a short story

3. Sell a poem

4. Sell a magazine article

5. Write a book well, no book written, but…

6. Publish a book …I’m getting close to this

7. Participate in National Novel Writing Month no longer a priority

8. Digitize all of my creative writing


15 goals

1. Implement GRS forums

2. Implement GRS book section

3. Implement GRS tools and calculators section

4. Start a GRS podcast

5. Complete GRS redesign

6. Complete Animal Intelligence redesign done, but I haven’t written at this site in a long time

7. Move all old foldedspace entries to the new database messed this up

8. Launch Success Daily unlikely to happen, though jdroth.com may play that role

9. Launch Vintage Pop on hold, but in the works

10. Launch Too Much Cat abandoned this plan

11. Interview Robert Kiyosaki (or host guest post) not going to happen

12. Interview Dave Ramsey (or host guest post) still a good goal

13. Achieve $10,000 web income in one month

14. 1,000,000 visitors in one month to GRS oh so close on a couple of occasions

15. 100,000 RSS subscribers at GRS not going to happen

I now know that some of these will never be accomplished. Setting up other web sites? Not going to happen. I don’t consider this a failure — it’s just a shifting of priorities. And I’d now rather beat “Super Samurai” on Dance Dance Revolution than bowl 300 at Wii Sports.

I may not achieve everything I set out to do, but I’ve done a hell of a lot over the past couple of years.

Two Glimmers of Insight

I’ve had a lot of amazing experiences lately that I’m not able to write about for a variety of reasons. However, I had two encounters yesterday that seemed especially important to me, and I wanted to write them down before I lost them. These anecdotes will be a little vague. Sorry.

I’m in San Francisco for some professional development and media relations training. (Yes, I’m serious.) It’s been a whirlwind of activity, but I love it.

In a morning meeting, I was complaining about the entire journalistic process in the United States. I’ve seen enough of it from the inside now to know that I cannot trust a single thing I see on television or read in a magazine. (Remember our five-year-old argument about Truth vs. truth? The media takes this to a whole new level.) These stories are manufactured, just like a cardboard box. They’re not reported. The “journalists” create the story they think their audience wants, and when they contact me, I’m just an ingredient.

Bill, one of the fellows working with me, listened to my complaints, and then he said, “J.D., you can’t look at it like that. You can’t expect it to be straight reporting because it’s not. You have to think of it like sausage. What they’re producing is sausage. The media is a giant sausage factory. You don’t want to know what goes into the sausage or how it’s made. You just have to trust that what comes out at the other end tastes good.”

I loved this analogy. Based on my experience, it’s so completely apt. It’s exactly what goes on.

I’m in the midst of participating in a bit for tonight’s episode of “On the Money” on CNBC. I’ll be on their Success Stories segment. But you do not want to know the ingredients to this piece of sausage.

Later in the day, I was working with Michelle, who is giving me public speaking training. She was asking me about my story and my goals. She wanted to know how I present myself. What do I want people to remember me as? I kept coming back to my old song-and-dance: I want people to trust my advice and listen to what I have to say, but I don’t want them to think of me as a financial expert. “I’m just a regular guy,” I said.

Michelle shook her head. “That won’t work,” she said. “You can’t kiss a girl through the screen door.” She didn’t even have to explain what she meant. I understood her meaning immediately. “The truth is, you are an expert. You’re an expert on the fundamentals of personal finance. You’re a common-sense advisor.”

Great stuff. (She also gave me a good disclaimer to use after I bill myself as a spokesman for common-sense fundamentals. She told me to say: “I am not an expert in this space. You should seek a professional advisor.” In other words, I should lay claim to what I can, and then offer people further options.)

I have another entire day of training ahead of me. I have to be over at the office in 25 minutes. I’m excited for what it might hold.

Genius and the Creative Muse

Over the past couple of years, author Elizabeth Gilbert has been something of a joke in our house. We read her book The Last American Man for book group, and neither Kris nor I were impressed. It was certainly well-written, but the subject was lame, and we felt as if Gilbert were writing a love letter rather than a biography.

We’ve had friends read Gilbert’s subsequent memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, and their reactions have mostly been ambivalent, as if they couldn’t understand the hype.

So, Kris and I are unimpressed.

Yesterday, however, Andy pointed to Gilbert’s talk at this year’s TED conference. (The TED talks are amazing. They’re like little nuggets of brainfood.) Her subject? Creative genius.

My opinion of Gilbert has changed. After viewing her presentation, I have new-found respect for her and her process. What she describes is similar to what I experience. I’m not saying that I’m a genius, but what glimpses of genius I may have often seem to come from somewhere outside myself. (I think of it as possessing a muse, but maybe that’s because I don’t really understand the word.)

Gilbert tells the story of a poet who, as a young woman, would feel poems coming at her from across the landscape. She would run to the house to grab pencil and a paper before the poem would pass her by. I experience something similar. I am not joking.

When people ask me where I get my ideas, I tell them the best ones come from mowing the lawn. It’s true. For some reason I cannot fathom, when I am mowing the lawn (or doing other yardwork), I come up with the most brilliant ideas. For a long time, I would lose these ideas. I wouldn’t remember them by the time I was finished with my work. Frustrated, I developed a system. Now I keep a pencil and a pad of paper near the door. If I’m working outside and the muse comes to me, I stop what I’m doing, and I go to my pad of paper to write it down. I capture these bits of genius.

Gilbert’s talk is brilliant — at least to me, as a writer. It captures some bit of writerliness, and for that I am grateful.

(On a sidenote: Kris and I watched Almost Famous the other night. I knew the plot going in, so I expected the film to be “about” rock bands. Sure, that’s a main theme. But I was impressed that this is one of the best films I’ve ever seen about what it’s like to be a writer. Capote? That’s a film about a writer, not about writing. Almost Famous is about writing, and I love it for that.)