A lot of blogs are centered on people’s personal journeys.
They are chronicling some aspect of their life or using personal anecdotes to help teach lessons. They talk about themselves and give you a behind-the-scenes view of their finances or their decision-making or whatever other topics they cover.
That’s not generally how I write.
I understand the appeal and it seems like a great way to build a devoted following, but it isn’t my thing. They say you should write what you want to read, and I don’t really want to read about me.
I also don’t feel like my story is necessarily all that helpful to many people. I am a lawyer, but I don’t make much money for a lawyer, while at the same time making more than most non-lawyers. I have a huge amount of student loan debt, but I am participating in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, so the normal debt payoff stories don’t apply. I am pursuing financial independence, but at a leisurely pace. My financial story feels a bit too disjointed to be all that useful to anyone.
Once in a while, though, I get meta and chronicle my thoughts on this blog, my personal situation, and relevant goals going forward. That’s going to be the case in today’s post.
The last time I did something like this was around this time last year.
In 2018, I had kept up an intensive blog schedule, posting twice a week. Each month I explored a different theme based around self-improvement and living a better life.
At the end of the year I decided that I wanted to blog less. The reason was twofold.
First, I wanted each article to be more thorough and nuanced. I wanted to focus on less well-trodden territory, do good research, and write detailed pieces. I needed more time per article to do that.
Second, I wanted to free up some extra time so that I could spend more time with family, writing fiction, and playing music.
I certainly succeeding in blogging less.
In 2018, I added a baby to my life in January, moved to a more time-intensive job in August, and published around 100 articles.
In 2019, I added a second baby in July and published 10 articles.
I think I did well in writing thorough and nuanced content.
This ranged from participating in ongoing conversations, like the role of politics in personal finance and anger surrounding harmful views on diversity and financial independence, to starting conversations and listening to opposing views on subjects like charity and victim mentality, to exploring policy proposals that others weren’t talking about, like Kamala Harris’s LIFT Act and Cory Booker’s Baby Bonds.
The reception to this shift in direction has been good. Almost everything I wrote in 2019 is among my most viewed and most shared content. I’ve also gotten a lot of positive feedback from readers here, on Twitter, and in email.
I was less successful in reallocating the saved time.
I have spent more time with my family, which is great.
I have spent exactly 0 hours playing music and barely more than that writing fiction. I still want to work on finding more time for other creative projects (as well as ramping up volunteer work and activism), but I think I will stick with the current trajectory of the blog for the coming year.
I recently wrote about the baseball statistic VORP, or Value Over Replacement Player, with regards to blogging.
The idea is that you can’t look at the value that you are creating in a vacuum. Instead, you should look at what you are doing to create value over and above the average person in the space.
In baseball you have to ask what you are bringing to the table that your team couldn’t get from calling up a minor leaguer or picking up a free agent. In blogging you have to look at what you are providing to readers that they can’t get from hundreds of other blogs that are already out there.
I think my highest VORP is in the type of writing I’ve done over the past year. Making detailed analytical work accessible and understandable. Working to understand opposing points of view and bridge gaps between people. Covering political topics that others don’t want to touch.
Those are areas where I can add value above and beyond other blogs.
Matt Explains Things
The idea of doing nuanced explanatory writing was there when I started Optimize Your Life. My original idea was something more akin to Matt Explains Things.
I have a tendency to get deeply interested in a topic, learn a ton about it and study it obsessively, and then move on completely to a new subject. I wanted to have a place to share that passion, nuance, and detail without limiting the subject matter in any way. Hence the infinitely broad “Matt Explains Things.” My wife, who is a communications expert, shot that pitch down.
I went through a series of different pitches trying to create a cognizable theme while still allowing myself as much breadth of coverage as possible. Eventually I settled on Optimize Your Life. This would allow me to use an “optimization” lens to write about personal finance, investing, financial independence, happiness, productivity, decision-making, and cognitive biases.
Too Much Hustle
I’m not really a fan of the blog’s name at this point.
I think that we’re at a point where people are taking optimization too far. We’re working to maximize our productivity without stopping to enjoy life. We (at least within the personal finance community) are working to minimize our spending without thinking about the big picture. We’re working to save and invest and earn more without considering the tradeoffs in time, effort, or attention required to get there.
We live in a world of hustle culture where we are supposed to work harder, do more, achieve greater without stopping to enjoy ourselves or think about what we’re working towards.
The Race to FIRE
The same goes for FIRE.
The focus always seems to be on how to get to retirement faster. How to save a bit more. How to grow your money faster. This hit especially hard when I was talking to FIRE people who seemed allergic to charitable giving.
The whole point of FIRE is to live a better life. The idea is that removing the need for paid work opens up a wider range of options for how you spend your time. What’s the point of doing that without enjoying your life along the way?
Find a less stressful job. Find more meaningful work. Loosen the purse strings a bit. Help other people.
It’s better to live a life you enjoy and retire in twenty years than to live a life full of stress and anxiety and retire in ten.
Optimize Your Life by Optimizing Less
The point I’m trying to make, I suppose, is that truly optimizing your life requires specifically not optimizing each component of it.
If you want to live your best life, you shouldn’t be squeezing every ounce of productivity out of every minute of the day. You shouldn’t be maximizing your savings at all costs. You shouldn’t be racing to the FIRE finish line.
Learn what you can, optimize what you reasonably can, and then move on.
Living your best life is about finding balance. It’s about planning for the future while enjoying the present. It’s about hitting your goals without adding unnecessary stress and anxiety. It’s about managing your time while leaving room for spontaneity.
That’s the life I’m working towards, anyway, and I hope you’ll join me as we roll into this new year.